Martin Luther King – Canonize or Demonize?

          Today we celebrate the legacy of a man of great stature, influence, and ability to polarize people years after his assassination. Oh, you don’t celebrate anything about MLK?  You demonize him as a Commie-loving, philandering, theological liberal, and await the unsealing of his FBI files to confirm your stance.  Or, maybe you venerate him as a saintly man with the highest of ideals and liberator of his people.  Will the real MLK please stand up?

          Last summer my wife and I stood at the site of a 1965 speech by MLK where he addressed 10,000 people. The spot is a stone’s throw from our ministry center in a predominantly Afro-American community. We were among a handful of white people in attendance. There is a now a bust and plaque commemorating that event.  I observed the pride in the faces of people who have benefited from MLK’s challenges to the systemic injustice and discrimination against black people. His was a needed voice and if you can’t see that, with your informed or formed opinion, then you were probably born into privilege or prejudice that continues to blind you to the realities of the day.

          I wonder sometimes how things might have been different if Bible-believing Christians had joined MLK in his bold struggle  against discrimination. I’m afraid that they were mostly white, mostly silent, and mostly happy with the status quo of segregation. Of course we’ll never know if things could’ve been different.  All-in-all black people have benefited immensely from King’s sacrificial activism which in the end cost him his life. Think what you want but don’t discount for a moment that MLK was a courageous voice and spoke like the Old Testament prophets in denouncing the evils of his day, evils yet present today and in the face of which God’s people should not remain silent. Much has been done. Much remains to be done. In the end no laws or political solution can accomplish what only the good news of Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection can bring to pass –forgiveness, reconciliation, redemption.  

          Should we canonize or demonize Martin Luther King? To either demonize or canonize MLK can easily miss the point and overshadow his monumental accomplishments.  He was a man with the frailties of humanness, a child of his time as we all are, with strengths and weaknesses which have been magnified respectively depending on one’s opinion of MLK.  We should celebrate his accomplishments, honor his legacy, recognize his faults, and continue the struggle for freedom found truly in the gospel.    


          p.s. If you don't think MLK deserves honor or a holiday in his name, remember that we honor men, as we should, who were slave owners. They were also children of their time. It doesn't excuse the evil they did. Neither does it erase their accomplishments. It reminds us that blindness is non-discriminatory.

One Response to “Martin Luther King – Canonize or Demonize?”

  1. Observations: Not all whites were against discrimination. MLK was a great man. We have the MLK holiday and I am enjoying it off today myself. Too bad that there used to be a Washington's B/D and a Lincoln's B/D holiday (my youth) and now that is toned down and blended together as Presidents' Day.
    You must visit Memphis and the site of his shooting. An important memorial to a tragic day and the loss of a great man

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