Doesn't Being Protestant Count for Anything?

It is one thing to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. It is another to claim him as one of your own. That distinction seems to be lost on the left and right of U.S. Roman Catholics. First, from Catholic Vote an attempt to turn King into a social conservative:

I too have a dream, that across this land, every one of us will feel the marks of God’s infinite and unselfish love in our hearts and recognize that we are not flesh-bound automatons, but as St. Paul tells us, created spiritual beings made for a higher purpose than mere selfishness and self-gratification. I have a dream today, that we will at last fulfill the promise of our founders and of Lincoln and of Dr. King, and that all God’s children, black babies and white babies, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will all be allowed to live and to grow and to know the love of a mother and father, and that even the least among us will be finally be treated with dignity as human persons in both body and soul.

But only Michael Sean Winters can up the ante:

“Always faithful to the Gospel.” Another part of Rev. King’s legacy that is too often overlooked is that he was a preacher of the Gospel. He was not simply a civil rights activist. He was not a social commentator per se. His vision sprang from his Bible. His doctorate was not in political science or engineering. He was most at home behind a pulpit not a lectern, and he tended to turn most lecterns into a pulpit. King was not afraid of the fact, certainly obvious to him, that preaching the Gospel would be divisive but he did not indulge the kind of culture warrior tactics that characterized subsequent generations of politically active clergy. His commitment to non-violence affected his tactics: He did not demonize or degrade others, even while he condemned their actions and confronted their attitudes.

What likely makes up for the difference between Dr. King’s Protestantism and these bloggers membership in the Roman Catholic Church is race. If you can claim an African-American for your “side,” especially one of King’s stature, you move your set of convictions closer to the mainstream while beefing up your reputation for not harboring unacceptable prejudices (which strikes me as a form of microaggression — seeing King’s skin color but not paying attention to his ideas). But shouldn’t the authority of the Pope (which King didn’t recognize) or doctrinal truth (which King may have fudged) count for more than this?

In today’s ideological struggle between religion and secularism, though, Team Religion doesn’t ask too many questions (except when it comes to Islam).


17 thoughts on “Doesn't Being Protestant Count for Anything?

  1. Fudged? That’s like saying Ananais & Sapphira fibbed or that King David was something of a flirt. If Bro. Machen had lived to see King’s day he may have respected his work, but would have rejected his claim to be a Xian, I think. King’s theological liberalism might find a welcome home in the V2 RC, though.


  2. And while I’m saying unpleasant things — does the fact that King consciously and deliberately took on the Moses (a Christ figure) mantle not bother anyone else? I get that it’s an effective rhetorical and motivating device, but should any Xian do that? He’s definitely a martyr of sorts and as close to a saint as many so-called prots will ever have. Well, him and Bonhoeffer.


  3. And I call racism. If Piper, Chandler, et al are going to fall over one another gushing about King why not Fosdick, Pearl Buck, Pastor Caitlin at the local PCUSA, and friends? Why are the Redeemerish and the Coalitional so hostile to white liberal Xians?


  4. Why not Lutheran? Lutheran clergy (not in an official capacity) marched with King in his early days, but withdrew when it became apparent that the tide was turning more towards the Panthers rather than peaceful protest. Why can’t Lutherans claim MLK? I mean, check out his name!

    Bonhoeffer may get a bad rap from some conservative Christians, mostly because they focus on his Liberal Christianity (and fairly so). Reading his letters from prison prior to his execution seem to show a changed Bonhoeffer – one more concerned with grace and forgiveness than social justice. But then, that’s not too surprising when one has a gallows right outside one’s cell window. But the assassin-pastor thing still makes most Confessional Lutherans pretty uncomfortable.


  5. People who want to claim King as social conservative have read neither his economic views, which included a guaranteed income for everyone and his desire to synthesize the best of capitalism with the best of communism, nor his views on American wars and militarism. In addition, he claimed that as long as our society was a thing-oriented society in that it valued gadgets, profits, and property rights more than people, the inseparable problems of racism, poverty and materialism, and war and militarism could never be solved.


  6. And Seth, the “Luther” name was an affectation, as much a tribute to his father as to Luther — not his or his father’s original given name.

    “Michael King Sr. stepped in as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church upon the death of his father-in-law in 1931. He too became a successful minister, and adopted the name Martin Luther King Sr. in honor of the German Protestant religious leader Martin Luther. In due time, Michael Jr. would follow his father’s lead and adopt the name himself.”


  7. Seth, yes, father Dwight does like to pile up his scalps (did you know native Americans were Roman Catholic too?):

    Alec Guinness converted to the Catholic faith in 1956 and was a faithful Catholic for the rest of his life. His delightful conversion story is told in his autobiography Blessings in Disguise He was playing Father Brown and filming in France. Wandering home from the film set in costume as a priest a young boy ran up and took his hand, chatting animatedly and cheerfully before scooting off with a sweet, “Au revoir mon pere!” Touched by this show of childlike trust, and astounded by an answer to prayer, Alec Guinness came home to Rome.

    If abortion had been easy and legal in England in 1914 the world would never have experienced the witty, smart, subtle art and the quiet, steady witness of Alec Guinness….
    …and Star Wars would have had an enormous void.


  8. The South, too, per Flannery O’Connor. Or Christ-haunted at least. I guess because of those dozen black robes and six missions they set up in Dixie about 500 years ago. The mosquitoes and proper Redneck indians took care of them pretty quickly.


  9. Team Religion doesn’t ask too many questions

    I’m glad I found this again via google, I can’t remember who brought it in here first at Oldlife. Feel free to add a hat tip, I would if I could..


  10. But the assassin-pastor thing still makes…

    I was under the impression (from one of the early MoS podcasts, I think) that Bonhoeffer at most only knew of the plot, but it was being coordinated by a different section the Abwehr/Resistance altogether. (And that his actual crime (other than guilt-by-association) was fudging the counts of Jewish deportees.)

    Granted, the rush by (American?) Christians to ascribe attempted regicide as a virtue is still instructive in and of itself…


  11. While Mencken said something about the boobooisie in a democracy getting it good and hard, he said nothing about guilty white liberals. Likewise seeing’s how the first plagiarist sat for twenty years in a black version of a KKK church, he’s also a racist, but what else is news – just for starters?

    Today’s America could be described as a country led by a plagiarist, with the help of another plagiarist, which celebrates a holiday in honor of a third plagiarist: Barrack Obama, Joe Biden, and Martin Luther King. What MLK Day Says About Today’s America


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