Pastor, Blogger Divided on MLK Legacy

As celebrations for Martin Luther King, Jr., Day begin, interpretations of what the civil rights leader stood for remain diverse and sometimes conflicting.

For J.D. Greear, lead pastor of the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., Dr. King helped the country to see that it is the Gospel of Jesus that ultimately liberates people from oppression and violence.

For gay rights activists, King stood up for basic civil rights for all and today that would include gays and lesbians.

"Dr. Martin Luther King never spoke on the issue of gay rights, but he never declared that any specific group of people should be denied basic civil rights in this country," Pam Spaulding, founder of the national political blog Pam's House Blend and a monthly columnist for The Durham News, stated in a letter to Durham officials.

The blogger addressed city leaders in protest of their choice of Thursday's keynote speaker at the City-County Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.

Pastor Greear, whose church has been active in serving the community, was selected to address the city.

Spaulding criticized the selection because of Greear's views on same-sex marriage. The Summit pastor supports marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

"Pastor J.D. Greear has sadly represented the opposite view, castigating the LGBT community as sinners and undeserving of civil rights in this arena," Spaulding wrote in the letter. "[I]t reflects badly on the Bull City to commemorate the memory and work of Dr. Martin Luther King with J.D. Greear as its keynote speaker. Dr. King worked side by side with the openly gay organizer of the March On Washington, Bayard Rustin."

Despite the protest, the pastor was welcomed to speak to the public.

"One of the unfortunate legacies of men and women who accomplish great things is that they are often commandeered by lots of people in support of their cause," Greear said in his address. "Martin Luther King's name is now invoked in support of all kind of causes today which have nothing to do with Dr. King's passion… and in one sense, this is a great compliment to him. In him we see the character and the fortitude that inspires us to be bold in our own purposes."

He acknowledged during the speech that "people of God can be wrong," as they were with slavery.

"We believe the Bible we teach from is infallible, but we, its interpreters, are not. And many Christians, sincere Christians, cannot see past some of their blindspots," he said.

But as he laid out what Dr. King stood for, the Summit pastor looked not to the battles he fought but the faith he carried in those battles.

He said King's dream was not necessarily racial equality, but God's dream.

"Martin Luther King called for an end to racial injustice not by appealing to current laws or even to the will of the majority ... but to a Higher Law," Greear said. "He said that God had created of one blood all races and thus all men of all races were all brothers."

"Ultimately our racial problems go back to a God problem," he offered. "You see, the racist is actually a very insecure person. The racist feels like he needs to have power over others. The racist needs to hear that God accepts him, and that in Christ he is safe and significant in the eyes of God."

As Americans prepare to celebrate on Monday what King stood for and achieved, Greear encouraged them not to mimic the battles King fought in the 1960s, but rather to "imitate his faith and courage, to see the justice and peace of God roll down like a mighty stream all over this great city of ours."