Yesterday, April 4, was the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. I thought about writing something related to Dr. King, but I recognize that my understanding of him is clouded by my upbringing (raised in Alabama) and my recent education in church history (Southern Baptist church history).
Imagine my surprise when I found another Alabamian had written an excellent piece about Martin Luther King, Jr. and had expressed some of the same reservations about writing that I felt. Alan Cross at “Downshore Drift” has written an article called “40 Years Later… The Tarnished Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Among Southern Whites“.
Alan began his article where I would have had to begin my article – with what he had been taught:
Basically, I heard everything bad about him and almost nothing good. I was a little amazed at how much my elders knew about Martin Luther King from a negative perspective. I silently wondered why the rest of America didn’t how much was wrong with him. I recall watching one episode of the Cosby Show as a child when they remembered Dr. King and the March on Washington in 1963. They played his I Have a Dream Speech and sat around talking about how wonderful those days were. I was confused. What was so great about this man? Wasn’t he just trying to get hand-outs for blacks? Didn’t they have enough? That is what I had been told. I thank God that I never really incorporated those views into my own heart, but I still had to work through them with questions and investigation of my own. Children believe what they are told, or at least they have to work through it.
While admitting that he does not agree with all of King’s theology, he also now recognizes the benefit of King’s service and the blindness of the White Southern Church at that time.
I now have a VERY different view of Martin Luther King, Jr. than the one I was given growing up. I also see our past differently and recognize that “the good old days” of the 1950’s that we talk about so much were not very good at all. How could they be when we supported injustice on the level that we did, either through outright support or through silence? I recognize that that was a simpler time and there was much good during those days, but a whitewashed view of our history does not profit any of us.
I am a white Southern Baptist and I recognize that Dr. King will never be considered “one of us.” We admire him from afar because we now admit that what he did was right. We now admit that we were dreadfully wrong on racial issues and it is just idiotic to not say that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great man. But, as I think about him and the other ministers who stood up against oppression during that time, I am greatly affected by their courage. I look at my own heritage and see that we were on the wrong side of history and we opposed God. I do believe that Dr. King was wrong on some of his theology, but it is hard for me to blame him. If I were a black minister in the South during that day and the proponents of conservative theology were also the proponents of racism and Jim Crow, then I probably would have gone looking elsewhere for a theology that helped set my people free. Dr. King never completely left his conservative roots, however, and continued to believe that man was sinful and needed a Savior, namely Jesus Christ. He just also believed that all people should experience justice and equality under the law. He spoke straight to the heart of our Christian heritage and called us to be true to who we really were as a Nation. He called us to be true to our God.
Alan then wonders how America would be different today if the White Southern Church had stood against injustice to blacks instead of standing firm and violently in order to maintain their “Southern Way of Life”.
You should read all of Alan’s article. It is very thought-provoking.
I wonder, what are the issues of injustice today? Is the church actively working to relieve oppression in those areas of injustice? Or, is the church turning a blind eye and doing nothing about the injustice? Or, is the church working working to maintain “the American Way of Life” and actually working to continue injustice?