As a disclaimer, I want to say this post was written after I listened to this panel discussion from the T4G conference this week. I haven’t listened to the other speakers from this conference. I didn’t listen to the speakers from the MLK50 conference. If you want to know why, it’s because I’m busy being a first-time, mid-year, homeschooling mom to my 6 year old with a 2 year old who is intentionally mischievous…..basically, my hands are full right now. But some very persuasive people encouraged me to put something together, and here it is.
My Gut Reaction
I noticed that this panel wanted to highlight particularly “what we may glean from his labors”. I think that if there is something to glean, it is this: It is quite possible to be a public success, and a private failure.
I (as a woman and a wife) am FLOORED that they would hold King up as an example of Christian love and modeling Christian love for all that he did in and for the Civil Rights Movement. And don’t get me wrong, King did a lot… a whole lot! But I will say this, the one thing he failed to do was love his wife and his children.
He was not in a covenant relationship with any other person in this world other than with his wife. He didn’t make a vow before God about loving any other person other than his wife. And you know what? He failed. Yes, it is true that he loved humanity and the people in his community. But like the priest and the Levite, he stepped over his nearest neighbor….the neighbor that he should have loved the most, his wife.
And you know, as a wife, I see my husband do a lot of work in his actual field and then in writing blogs, helping on podcasts, and assisting the church in whatever ways he can. He does very commendable work, and the Lord clearly uses him for His own glory. But I will state this with great surety, if I found out my husband was running around Charleston committing adultery, I would see to it that he was thoroughly shutdown with great haste….especially if he was a minister/pastor. How King lived is absolutely no example of Christ’s love! Absolutely none, whatsoever! Christ died for His bride. King wouldn’t even die to his own sinful lusts and adulterous desires… and that doesn’t even include the effects of his continual absences on the lives of his children!
I graduated from Spelman College (right across the street from Morehouse where you can see King’s statue prominently displayed), and I heard the constant exhortations to do something to “change the world” or better the world around me, along with the constant exhortation to “leave a legacy”. And for a long while, I had those desires. With a degree in Economics, I pursued graduate work in urban affairs and public policy, intent on finding a way to improve impoverished communities within our nation. I soon realized that little permanent change can be done in communities without the changing of the minds and habits of the people living there, because if they were unable to maintain the better conditions, they would either be displaced or the community would eventually degenerate, and I found myself increasingly drawn to education policy in my graduate work. However, it appeared that God had other plans for my life.
When my husband and I married, I was attempting to complete my Master’s degree for the third time. Within 6 weeks, I was pregnant and upset again that I couldn’t finish my degree and have the career I desired. The Lord forced my hand. Was I going to follow the path presented to me in college, or follow Him? Did I really want to be a public success and risk being a private failure with my family? Would I be content enough to put my focus on my family first and not have the public success everyone else was expecting from me? It was a very difficult time for me because a lot of things had to be weighed in the balance, but I did realize something very important, and that is that if I fail here…..if I fail at my marriage, if I fail at being a mother to my children and caring for my home because I feel so compelled to advocate for issues/changes in this world, than I have failed. And most importantly, I’ve failed to do the basic things the Lord has providentially set before me and given me responsibility to do. And any servant who fails to do his master’s commands is not going to remain a servant in his house.
I have had a lot of thoughts while listening to this discussion, but I want to draw this to a close with these thoughts, questions, and considerations:
For all Christians:
What are the marks of a true Christian? How can you test to see if someone is truly of the faith? (1 John may be a great place to start if you are struggling to find an answer for this.) Is doing “good” or being a “good person” enough to merit you eternal life? Why not?
I find that a lot of Christians have a hard time saying that goodness is not equal to righteousness…that goodness doesn’t save you. In fact, I think we will all be surprised by the sheer number of “good people” in our lives that won’t be spending an eternity in the presence of the Lord. There will be good people in hell, and God will still be right in His judgments. I think that we ought to be careful in how we evaluate how other people stand, and we should pay far more attention to what we are standing on….prayerfully, it is Jesus’ blood and righteousness, not our own.
Another consideration is this: After hearing and knowing all of the work King did in his life, would you ever want Martin Luther King, Jr. to actually be your pastor or elder? Would his availability be a problem? Do you think he would be able to spend adequate time each week preparing for sermons or offering shepherding care for his own church? Or would he be far too busy and engaged in other “more important” matters to be a good pastor for you?
There are so many calls for church leaders to stand up for this issue and that issue. I’m not saying that these issues are not important at all. But I will remind you that for those called to the work and role of pastors and elders, they are called to shepherd and care for Christ’s flock, the flock they were entrusted with. They are not called to lead political causes, but they are called to protect the flock of Christ from the evil one and preach the gospel. They are called to exhort us to examine ourselves continually, repent of our sins, and discipline us when we don’t. They have a tall, but narrow, job description. Please be mindful to evaluate them and commend them accordingly.
If MLK was able to use Protestant Liberalism to gain confidence in the Bible to address social issues leading to a personal “revival” of his faith, than why can’t we all immerse ourselves more in the various liberal theologies and ideologies of today so that we can all be stronger in our faith? What could possibly go wrong? If a fellow brother or sister was languishing in the faith, how would you attempt to stir him or her up in the faith again so that their faith is fixed in Christ alone?
For church leaders:
If King came to your church seeking membership, and you questioned him on his beliefs, the marks of conversion, fruits of repentance and sanctification in his life like you would any other person who wasn’t as important or well-known; would you allow him to become a member?
How important is personal integrity and holiness in the lives of pastors and elders? Would you excuse and/or overlook gross sins in the lives of your parishioners? What about in the lives of your friends in church leadership? What about in your life? Is it ever worth failing with your own family to have public success and honor?
For the Black Christians who disagreed with MLK’s desire to spring his platform from the Black church, are they also guilty of racism, like the White Christians who disagreed? If so, doesn’t that mean that Black Christians who remained in the National Baptist Convention should be drawing up statements of repentance too?
There have been many other civil rights leaders throughout the history of the United States other than MLK. Why not someone else? Why don’t we honor any other civil rights leaders?
Why is it necessary to maintain the view that Martin Luther King Jr. was a great Christian? Why is it necessary to attach him to the Christian faith? What is the problem in not associating him with the Christian faith?
It appears that King used the Black church as a means to get to the end of addressing social injustices. Is that something we are willing to admit? Are there people graduating from seminaries today with credentials to get more leverage and be more credible in pursuing other causes and advancing other agendas that we may not want to acknowledge or admit? Is it possible for people to use the church as a means to another end that is not even related to the kingdom of God? And how should we approach this issue?
What is the relationship between our citizenship here in this country and our citizenship in the kingdom of God? Is being a good citizen (or great American) like King mean that we are being good Christians? Does being a good Christian mean that we are being good citizens in our country? What kind of relationship should there be between being a Christian and civic engagement? Are we assuming that people will just “pick up” good, Christian ethics, or should we be more intentional in teaching and discipling people on how to live and walk wisely as a Christian in this world as we encounter difficult situations and circumstances?
I think it’s time to pull Martin Luther King Jr. off the pedestal and evaluate him like you would any other professing brother in Christ. In my evaluation, he was clearly passionate about social issues and God used him to do good work in our nation, but he neglected to keep watch over his own soul. And I can hope that maybe in his last moments he pleaded to God for mercy, but it is very likely that he perished in his sins because he drifted away from the only anchor for his soul and has consequently led countless others away in his zealous passion as well. We can be great citizens of this country and lose our profession of faith.
I know that a lot of Black Christians have been “indoctrinated” with this belief that civic engagement, fighting for civil rights, or addressing any problem that affects Black people is a part of the Christian life. And unfortunately, very few of them will ever exercise any discernment or apply Biblical wisdom to what they do. But I’m praying that more Christians learn how to use and strengthen their ability to be discerning. As Spurgeon said, “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.“
As my pastor preached this morning, it is quite possible to be close to the Kingdom of God, but not make it in. May our Lord shorten these days that His elect would not be deceived, and may He continue to build His Church and the gates of hell not prevail against it.