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Taking the “Reverend” Out of Martin Luther King Jr.

MLKLeftists have hijacked the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. It is now fashionable for social justice and civil rights advocates of any stripe to attach their cause to his. Gay rights and abortion rights activists regularly invoke the name of the slain civil rights leader (even though there’s dispute on both counts whether King would have supported their positions). His “dream” has been linked to the Palestinian struggle and “second wave feminism.”

So how is this possible? Would King really get behind Planned Parenthood, as the group recently suggested? Would he Occupy Wall Street and support same-sex marriage? How is it that liberals and their causes are seen as more aligned with King’s vision?

Simple: The LESS religious Martin Luther King Jr. is made out to be, the further Left he can go.

As Ambra Nykol writes in The New Black Magazine,

A great success of liberal groups has been to disconnect the work of Dr. King with the fact that he was a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. People love to call King “Doctor” but rarely do they refer to him as “Reverend”.

It is commonly asserted that religion should never come up in public discourse. Tell that to Martin Luther King Jr. Not only was the civil rights leader a Protestant minister, his philosophy of civil rights was openly driven by Judeo-Christian principles.

Take for instance King’s Letter from a Birmingham jail. This fascinating letter contains 15 direct references to God and numerous quotes from Scripture and mention of biblical figures and notable Christians. Look at this sampling (I’ve highlighted the biblical references and imagery for perusal):

A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law…

…segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness?

…There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.

We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands…

Imagine, if you would, someone in politics today using such phrases and references, describing certain conduct, beliefs, or lifestyles as “morally wrong and sinful,” and describing some campaign as “the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God.” Why, they’d be branded as an extremist, a religious nut-job.

If Reverend King were politically active today, he could rightly be charged with mixing religion and politics. Nevertheless, while we’re busy applauding him, Christians are scolded about being TOO political and co-opting the Gospel for their causes. So which is it?

The same people who claim to share Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision, often seem to ignore — if not openly deny — the religious principles which motivated him. They bark about a separation of Church and state, or the intrusion of faith into politics, while hailing King’s efforts. They demand equality for all, while protesting public prayer, Bible reading, and Christianity in the marketplace.

Nowadays, people want the fruits of King’s vision without the religious framework. They want to invoke his name, but not his God and Savior.

Perhaps one of the ways we can honor the vision and sacrifice of Martin Luther King Jr. is to invite the church back into the state, religion back into politics, and God back into the debate about civil rights. Would to God that, as King wrote, “the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; [but] was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”

Amen, Reverend!

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{ 21 comments… add one }
  • Nicole January 21, 2013, 8:36 AM
  • Gray Rinehart January 21, 2013, 9:28 AM

    Well said! A marvelous observation, and one I look forward to sharing with others.

    Keep up the great work,

  • jed January 21, 2013, 9:39 AM


    Point taken, however, the reality, of course, is that the Reverend, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed both Christian and {some} Marxist ideals. Being that he was a great man who made a huge impact on this nation, it is only natural that both groups would try to claim him as their own. That the one is inconvenient to the other, I think, goes without saying.

    “Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God’s children.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    • Mike Duran January 21, 2013, 4:39 PM

      It has been argued elsewhere that King was not even a Christian. Once again, I’m not using MLK as a paragon of moral living, Christian sainthood, or any cause of mine. I’m simply pointing out how liberals have co-opted King’s legacy and how far (and how fast) we’ve fallen from a Judeo / Christian point of reference.

      • jed January 21, 2013, 7:12 PM


        I heartily agree with your point that any mention of a historical person’s faith or religious commentary is being expunged from the public discourse. Right now, creating an ideologically driven narrative, that is, in most case,s hostile to Christianity, is more important than an honest assessment of the facts such as they are.

        But as to whether “Leftists have hijacked the memory of Martin Luther King Jr.”, I’m not sure that’s possible, since, in addition to being a Christian, he was, in fact, a Leftist. And by Leftist, I mean that he supported the Redistribution of Wealth, which can hardly be called a right-of-center position.

  • Jill January 21, 2013, 10:17 AM

    Being Christian to the core of your being, as MLK was when he wrote those words, is not the same as having a church government or using religion to draft laws. All laws in this country should fit the Constitution and Bill of Rights, not a religious philosophy. Consider for a moment that our Constitution and Bill of Rights made the oppression of women and blacks untenable. Also keep in mind that biblical law allowed for slavery and patriarchy, as long as it was regulated to prevent abuse. Therefore, our laws may be Christian in principle (Christ died for all), but they aren’t Christian in effect. They sprang from a mixture of worldly Enlightenment values that had infused the Christianity of the day.

    So I’m not really sure why this means we need to bring the church back into the state. And if we do, what church? And how much power of law will it have over us?

    • Mike Duran January 21, 2013, 11:03 AM

      Jill, King appealed to a specific religious worldview, a specific Church, a specific God, a specific Book. These things shaped his view of the nation and its laws. So should he have jettisoned his appeals to Scripture, sin, and “the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God”? If King were alive today, would you advise him against such rhetoric?

      • Lyn Perry January 21, 2013, 11:35 AM

        Fifty years ago, the nation was conversant in moral language, so his positions, while definitely informed and shaped by his Christian faith, were argued in that manner. I see no one like him today able to utilize such verbiage, not because he/she would be considered a nut-job, per se, but because most people wouldn’t understand what was being communicated.

        • Jill January 21, 2013, 11:57 AM

          Mike, rhetoric is used for persuasion. I guess I’m at a loss to understand what you’re saying. People can and do speak rhetorically in the same manner as MLK did if their audience is right for it. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be arguing that we need to have a state-sanctioned religion, or at the least, a state-sanctioned morality. That I completely disagree with. I don’t, on the other hand, disagree with reverends speaking out in whatever rhetorical language resonates with the populace, in order to sway people to correct for injustices.

          • Mike Duran January 21, 2013, 12:22 PM

            I’m not arguing for ” state-sanctioned religion” or “state-sanctioned morality.” I’m arguing that we’ve stripped MLK of the entire framework of his “dream.” We have become so intolerant of religion in the public square that, even while hailing King’s efforts, we gut it of its core philosophies.

            • Jill January 21, 2013, 1:11 PM

              We haven’t, to be honest. MLK was a great civil rights leader who didn’t easily fit into the framework of society. Therefore, everybody is trying to take his legend and use it for their own ends–the Left, the Right, the disenfranchised. They’re stealing his image and adding their own rhetoric to it.

  • Katherine Coble January 21, 2013, 3:09 PM

    I would be very wary of using King as an example of a life lived devoutly. Yes, he used appeals to faith in a country that, 50 years ago, was more receptive to that. And yes, he was a minister of the church.

    Yet like so many ministers he had his very human failings. He was a rounded individual. By appealing to his religiosity and attempting to use it to further your own societal goals, you are no different than those who would strip him of that religiosity to further theirs.

    As to “barking about separation of church and state”, I plead guilty. I don’t want to find myself living in a paradigm where a person of another faith could have control over my religious beliefs. The memories of the deaths of other Anabaptists at the hands of Catholics and Lutherans are still strong enough in my culture to keep me barking.

    I thought just a few short weeks ago you were “throwing in the towel” on having a religious state/culture. What has led to this change of mind?

    • Mike Duran January 21, 2013, 4:10 PM

      I’m not using King as “an example of a life lived devoutly,” but as an example of an iconic figure who’s been stripped of his religious beliefs in order to be embraced as a Leftist hero. And I don’t recall in that post you reference that I was “‘throwing in the towel’ on having a religious state/culture,” but that I was bemoaning our rapid slide into the secular sewers.

      • Jim Williams January 22, 2013, 1:41 PM

        I think it is clear that “leftists” cling to the ideals espoused by MLK, and do not routinely acknowledge his reverend status, so you are quite correct.

        I don’t, however, think this is in any way inappropriate. We use ideals that help explain our positions, whether they are found in the words of Karl Marx, Cesar Chavez, Ghandi, Martin Luther King or Ronald Reagan.

        As I think others have pointed out, the sticky part of mixing religion and government is WHICH RELIGION? I’m from a Christian-oriented family, and attended church regularly from a young age. This makes me fairly comfortable if Christian values are routinely referenced by my government.

        But what if I were Muslim? Or Wiccan? Or Buddhist? Shall we start introducing Yoga and Zen meditation to our kindergarteners? Shall we start observing Earth Mother day? What about insisting on a vegan cafeteria menu due to 7th Day Adventist dietary norms?

        As a leftist American, I insist that this MUST be considered, and I think that it is exactly what the founding fathers were thinking.

        Dr. King came from a religious angle to a place where he found many non-religious people who also wanted civil rights, and who’d gotten there from many other starting places. That’s exactly what’s right about America.

        • Mike Duran January 22, 2013, 5:32 PM

          Which religion? Let’s see… America wasn’t founded on Buddhist principles. It wasn’t founded on Islamic laws. It wasn’t founded on Hinduism. Or atheism. There is one religion that keeps popping up in our founding documents, declarations of independence, on the walls of our Supreme Court, etc. I’m convinced the inability to acknowledge this, even more, scrub its presence from our nation, has and will continue to lead to societal decay. I’m with MLK in believing “the [Christian] church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; [but] was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.” This assumes, of course, that society’s mores NEED transformed.

          • Katherine Coble January 23, 2013, 12:31 PM

            Judaism? Deism?

          • Jim Williams January 24, 2013, 10:31 AM

            Ok, Mike. So you seem to be asserting that America was founded upon Christian principles. But, you can’t seriously think that your modern, evangelical/fundamental version of Christianity was practiced at THAT TIME.
            But, set that aside. Please tell me which sect of the Christian church should be the “official” church inserted into public schools classrooms and government offices. Catholic? Baptist? Mormon? 7th Day Adventist? Jehovah’s Witness? Pentecostal?

            It’s pandora’s box. And anyway, congress shall make no law respecting any religion. Your Christianity belongs in your home, at your dinner table, in your children’s hearts.

            I am quite comfortable with the separation of church and state ideal.

            • Mike Duran January 24, 2013, 5:55 PM

              As I understand it, the First Amendment has been wrongly interpreted so as to allow federal courts to have authority over religious issues and expressions, the exact opposite of what it was meant to do. So now, LA County is FORCED to remove the small symbol of a cross on their seal… even though religious missions played a HUGE part in its heritage. This is the type of absurd levels secularists are going to to remove any vestiges of our religious heritage. No. There should not be one state religion. But acknowledging the religious heritage that this country was built on should also not be stripped from our textbooks, classrooms, colleges, or courthouses.

              And Jim, my Christianity STARTS at home. But I take it everywhere.

              • Jim Williams January 25, 2013, 11:48 PM

                I couldn’t help but notice you failed to address the point about your brand of Christianity NOT being around during the time of the founding fathers, therefore the crosses and other religious symbols you revere do not actually represent the America that you wish you lived in….but…….
                Near where I live they are seriously beating up the City Council for the huge cross that sits on top of Mt Rubidoux, owned by the city and operated as a pretty well-maintained city park, with walking trails and bronze plaques everywhere detailing the historical value of the landmarks.
                I think there is an out for the city, by naming the cross (which has been in place for over 50 years) a historical landmark. And you know what? I am fine with that.

  • Elizabeth Seckman January 21, 2013, 4:52 PM

    It seems the media does a pretty good job of ignoring his niece, Alveda King. She is also a minister and calls for a return to values and is hugely anti-abortion. I have stopped watching network news outlets, but I wonder, on this MLK day, how many networks brought her on to speak of her uncle’s legacy?

  • Donovan January 19, 2015, 11:46 AM

    Very well spoken. Rev. Kings paradigm was entirely Judeo-Christian. You simply can’t do what he did without the principles and power of Christ. Thanks for writing an enlightening post.

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