Martin Luther King and Liberal Theology

Because they are familiar only with famous sound bites, there are many people who do not know that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an American Baptist minister, was a liberal Christian not only in his concern for racial integration and social justice, but also theologically liberal.

I recently had my attention drawn to this short video in which Martin Luther King speaks about the influence of Raushenbusch and the social Gospel:

Yet he was at the same time one who was able to see not only the strengths but also the weaknesses of liberal theology and liberal Christianity in his time. One weakness that he highlighted in a short assignment on the question as a seminary student is one that in our time continues to need attention drawn to it. Click through to read it.

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  • Rob Davis

    This article has been helpful for me to understand where King was coming from:

    And, to use as an example against those who wish to very narrowly define Christianity (implying that MLK was not a Christian).

  • Your premise is absurd, Mr. McGrath.  Dr. King was no more a so-called “liberal Christian” than Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Franklin Graham, Dr. James Dobson, Eric Ludy, or Chuck Colson.  He wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “how can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?”  The answer “is found in the fact that there are two kinds of laws:  just laws … and unjust laws.  One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws,” King said, “but conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”  How does one determine whether the law is just or unjust?  A just law, King wrote, “squares with the moral law of the law of God.  An unjust law … is out of harmony with the moral law.”  Then King quoted Saint Augustine: “An unjust law is no law at all.”  He quoted Thomas Aquinas:  “An unjust law is a human law not rooted in eternal or natural law.”  Far from waging war on traditional values, as some dishonestly teach about him, au contraire, he worked towards the restoration of our heritage of justice rooted in the Law of God.  Dr. King’s dream was to live in harmony with moral law as created by Almighty God.  I daresay he would be tirelessly working alongside his niece, Dr. Alveda King, to eradicate the murderous blight of abortion from our land.

    • I am very confused by your comment. I mentioned the uncontroversial fact that King was a theological liberal, and offered links to primary source material indicating this.

      Then you commented about abortion.

      Are you under the mistaken impression that, if someone is a theological liberal, that tells you what their view on abortion is?

      I really would love to make sense of your comment, but you simply have not given me enough information, and I suspect that you may have misunderstood what the blog post was about. Can you help me understand why you wrote what you did, and whether your argument is against indisputable historical facts, or something you mistakenly thought I claimed?

  • Erp

    I wonder what they make of Martin Luther King receiving one of the first Margaret Sanger Awards from Planned Parenthood back in 1966 (Coretta Scott King received it on his behalf).  

    I suspect some are trying to remake Martin Luther King into their image (admittedly all sides tend to do this since some on the more liberal side might want to ignore plagiarism in his PhD thesis, etc.).

    • Sojo_Truth

       Of course, Erp, has never cheated on anything a single day in his life.  For people who repeatedly regurgitate the whole plagiarism and other charges I always suspect that they know very little else about King.  Why only bring up these types of issues when mentioning his legacy?

  • LukeinNE

     I don’t think its an either/or situation.  Dr. King was both a transformative figure in our nation’s history and in the fight for civil rights….and he was also by just about anyone’s standard, a pretty immoral guy.  His personal failings do nothing to negate what he did for our country and what he did for the country does not negate his personal failings.  An honest historical memory of the man should not exclude either part.

  • Brad Magyar

    There’s nothing “liberal” about that theologically. I suggest you familiarize yourself with the terms that you’re using.