CP Opinion

Saturday, Apr 19, 2014

Who Stole MLK?

  • (Courtesy of Paul de Vries)
    The Rev. Dr. Paul de Vries poses with a park ranger in front of the Stone of Hope.
January 21, 2013|3:54 pm

We live in a time of magical secularism. Right before our eyes the Gospel truth is ripped off, stolen, or at least seriously "dumbed down." For what reason do we allow fables to replace facts – even when the marvel and splendor of the facts far exceeds the secularist's ingenious fabricated fables.

Barely a year ago the majestic memorial to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was dedicated in Washington, DC. Just prior to that dedication, I paid a visit to admire the park area, the inscribed walls and monumental creative sculpture, themed from Rev. Dr. King's sermonic reference to the need for a "stone of hope." (That is me in the picture talking with a park ranger in front of the Stone of Hope.)

How very grateful we are that there is such a memorial to a Christian giant who so positively impacted America and the world with his overtly Biblical values! He belongs in the company of Jefferson, Lincoln, Washington and F.D. Roosevelt, all of whose stately memorials stand nearby.

I speculate that the Lincoln Memorial is behind the monument to Rev. Dr. King because President Lincoln had his back, in a way of speaking. The monumental Rev. Dr. King is also staring forward, in the exact direction of the Jefferson Memorial, across the Tidal Basin. Is it his forward, hopeful perspective? Is it a grateful glance to the author of "All men are created equal" and "they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights," great words that had also inspired and empowered Rev. Dr. King's leadership and ministry? Or perhaps is it a critical, disappointed look toward the historic, slave-holding Jefferson who was notably inconsistent in living those great words he wrote – and who never resolved the continuing crisis of his conflicted conscience? Or perhaps it is both divine gratitude and great disappointment. So I think.

Interesting as these artistic speculations are, everyone should be deeply disappointed in the complete absence of any reference to God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, the Church or his ordination – all absolutely central to Rev. Dr. King's awesome leadership. The entire monument area also ignores even that Rev. Dr. King was a Gospel minister. The nearby memorials include numerous references to the Lord, so the standard of telling the whole Godly truth was established long ago. Why suppress the most essential Truth about Rev. Dr. King –who was much more than an activist, but a church pastor for 14 years of his brief life, a Bible expositor, and an accomplished theologian? Public money has been spent to tell the truth about Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln and their sincere trust in God – and their frequent references to determinative dependence on our Creator. What pathology suppresses the truth when we honor someone with an even more explicit God focus – a model pastor and Christian thinker? That same magical secular pathology eliminates the true Rev. Dr. King in most approved school textbooks and teaching modules allegedly about the man. What keeps the rest of us quiet?

Why ignore that he was an ordained minister? Why pretend that he did not have a seminary degree from Crozer at age 22? Why disregard as well his PhD degree in systematic theology from prestigious Boston University when he was a young 26 years old? Why not a single mention that he was a professional theologian, minister, pastor and preacher? Why make the special effort to select fourteen quotes from Rev. Dr. King without a single acknowledgement that he drew his prime inspiration from the Bible? Why no mention of Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, or the Father, or the Gospel, or Church or any one of his other significant spiritual anchors?

There is even a lovely waterfall at the memorial, but someone nixed the Bible verse (Amos 5:28) to go with it. Why keep the waterfall?

Why did the designers of the monument not even include a word about his extraordinary name that explicitly references Dr. Martin Luther (1483-1546), another monumental minister of the Gospel, transformative theologian, courageous civil-rights hero, and profound and passionate preacher.

And how did the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. get that unusual name? This story needs to be told. He was originally named Michael King, Jr., the eldest son of Rev. Michael King, Sr. (1899-1984) and Alberta Williams King (1906-1974). "Michael King, Jr." was his name on his birth certificate. It is how he was first introduced to the world. His father and mother were proud of their first child. Everyone called their precocious child "Mike." Mike King's parents were also very bold in their efforts to transform their world toward the goal that all people would be recognized for their Divine human dignity and God-given inalienable rights.

Then the plot thickened. All this changed when Mike King, Jr. was five years old. Rev. and Mrs. Michael King, Sr. took a tourist trip to Germany, seeing a variety of sites over a few days, including visiting famed Wittenberg. That is the town in Germany where Dr. Martin Luther, a pastor and theologian, in the face people wanting to murder him for it, courageously took a stand for the Bible, for the Gospel, for the civil right to choose faith and to worship God as God guides. Luther had his flaws, but he was an articulate minister of the Gospel whose words so transformed the world around him that we all continue to benefit – especially in terms of religious choice, free market, and open access to the Gospel of God's amazing grace. Rev. King understood that palpable courage of Luther. He already embodied it, and he and Alberta wanted to raise their children to have such Godly bravery, too.

Then the plot really thickened. Rev. Michael King, Sr. was so deeply moved by the Luther model that he decided to openly embrace the paradigm – in the most public statement possible. When he and Alberta returned home to Atlanta Georgia, he brought his son down to the courthouse with him to have both of their names legally changed! In an instant he became Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr., and his five year old son became Martin Luther King, Jr. What a statement! Can you imagine a precocious five year old being told that he and his father are now walking monuments to Gospel clarity, human liberty and divine courage? Names matter so much. An official name change matters even more – especially to a young, impressionable, brilliant child. And by God's amazing grace, the walking human monument Martin more than lived up to the awesome name change.

In one of the most stressful and dangerous times of his ministry, in the aftermath of leading the successful, lengthy Montgomery bus boycott, in 1957 the Lord spoke to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: "Stand up for righteousness; stand up for truth. God will be at your side forever." Three nights later someone bombed his home. No one was injured – and Rev. Dr. King was amazingly calm. Later he wrote about this crisis, "My experience with God had given me a new strength and trust. I now knew that God is able to give us the interior resources to face the storms and problems of life." So he reported in his Strength to Love, 1963, at the end of one of 15 great sermons, "God is Able."

We do not need a public acknowledgement of the Lord's ministry through Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King for God to be present at the Martin Luther King Memorial. However, I am sure that Rev. Dr. King would then be much more pleased. And so would the Almighty.

Dr. Paul de Vries is the president of New York Divinity School, and a pastor, itinerant speaker and author. Dr. de Vries is Senior Pastor of Immanuel Community Church in lower Manhattan, and since 2004, he has served on the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals, representing 40 million evangelical Americans.
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