As a student at Boston University in the 1960s, I was part of a group that was bused down to Selma, Alabama, just before Martin Luther King’s Selma-to-Montgomery march. The atmosphere in Selma was like that of an evangelical revival; we sang gospel songs and listened to fiery sermons — one being by A. D. Williams King, MLK’s brother. We marched around Selma in a civil rights demonstration, jeered by the bystanders and soaked by a downpour. Later, as pastor of a small Methodist church, I heard Dr. King speak on Boston Common, and I and a few of my parishioners picketed the Massachusetts State House singing “We Shall Overcome.” As a Boston University graduate student I examined King’s typed doctoral dissertation in the School of Theology library, on a comparison of the idea of God in the thought of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman, and may have quoted from it in term paper.
Those were in my “liberal” days. Later, when I became an evangelical Christian, my perspective changed. The civil rights movement had lost its original Christian impetus — if that was, really, anything more than window dressing. I understood that the drive for “equality” was based on the New Testament principle of oneness in Christ (e.g., Galatians 3:28), but that divorced from its Christian orientation it becomes distorted and just one more example of totalitarian “political correctness.”
Combined with the contemporaneous “sexual revolution,” the civil rights movement has done much to destroy African-American family structure. It may have restricted economic and educational opportunities for black people by eliminating their distinctive institutions in the effort to integrate them into the larger social fabric. Shaping congressional districts to ensure the election of minorities has actually reduced the number of African-Americans in Congress, by making them non-competitive in the “white” districts that remain (non-competitive not because of their race, but because of their political ideology). As one African-American noted in a TV discussion I heard several decades ago, “we’ve been civil-rightsed to death.”
I do not blame Martin Luther King for what happened to the movement after his passing. My point is that he has become an inappropriate symbol for what passes for “civil rights” today, which includes homosexual “marriage” and all the rest. It is well for the evangelical church to steer clear of MLK Day. It grieves me that evangelical churches have adopted the secular and popular calendar as their “liturgical year” — Mothers Day, Valentines Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Armed Forces Day, even Pastor Appreciation Day. The liturgical churches, which follow the traditional church year, have been in a measure protected from this incursion.