OPINION: By Dr. Steven Lambert
Written: Thursday, April 4, 2013
Today, as I write, this nation remembers the shocking and horrifying shooting of Civil Rights Movement icon, Martin Luther King, Jr.—45 years ago today at 6:01 PM on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. A single .30-caliber rifle bullet entered King’s right cheek, traveled through his neck, severing his spinal cord, stopping finally at his shoulder blade. Blood gushed so profusely from the gaping wound he would bleed out in minutes. The impact of the projectile was so forceful it blew his necktie off his neck. Though King within minutes was transported to a nearby hospital, where emergency surgery was immediately initiated, it proved futile. Doctors pronounced the beloved prominent civil rights leader dead at 7:05 PM. He was only 39 years old.
I remember like it was yesterday the profound sorrow, sadness, and disbelief I felt as a recently married nineteen year-old teenager expecting the birth of my first child only two months hence at those first numbing television news-reports of the senseless slaying. Those feelings, echoed as they were by an entire nation of just over 200-Million people at the time, were so painfully reminiscent of those just beginning to heal wounds foisted upon the nation by the surreal assassination of President John F. Kennedy that transpired, with the seemingly never-ending television reports replete with firsthand film footage, virtually before our eyes, less than five years prior.
Only an infinitesimally few still-living Boomers do not carry somewhere in their psyche the cumulative of intense sentiments with which we were all stricken from the brutal executions of three of the most prominent leaders in our nation at the time: JFK, MLK, and RFK. Forty-five and 50 years this year, respectively, the pain and mourning of those events, remain with me, to the extent that I still can barely watch news reports and documentaries recounting them. I cannot fully or properly explain to this day what I felt as a 14-year old teenager personally that day when JFK was slain, except to say that there’s an ocean of mourning still flooding my soul. A similar reservoir of lamentation exists therein concerning the RFK and MLK murders as well.
King had relatively quickly become the most recognizable name in the then nationally known Civil Rights Movement. It was the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, that catapulted the charismatic and inspiring orator to center-stage in the then developing movement. King advocated, sometimes pleaded, for a nonviolent civil-disobedience methodology to gain national attention and empathy for a gradual systematic securing of equal civil rights for “negro”—the still commonly used term King himself used in mid-20th Century—Americans. “King believed that organized, nonviolent protest against the system of southern segregation known as Jim Crow laws would lead to extensive media coverage of the struggle for black equality and voting rights.” In 1957 King, Ralph Abernathy, and a number of other civil rights proponents founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which “was created to harness the moral authority and organizing power of black churches to conduct non-violent protests in the service of civil rights reform.”
No one did more in the struggle for civil rights than Martin Luther King, Jr. There is, of course, a long honor roll of others who put their lives, the lives of their families, their fortunes, and their futures on the line in the cause of placing the systematic oppression and suppression of black Americans in the national spotlight, some of whose names are well-known, and a host of others not so well known. They all qualify, especially those who endured the brutal persecution and attacks on their physical person as well as their psyches in those dark days of the 50s, 60s, and 70s before the first fledgling semblances of “social justice” and “racial equality” began to be achieved, to be held in the highest esteem and everlasting remembrance for their contributions to the movement’s achievements. If MLK himself were here today, doubtless wherever his image or likeness in the form of photographs, plaques, and statues appears, he would give effusive tribute to all those who courageously co-labored with him under real threat of unimaginable losses of every kind, including the ultimate losses, insisting that it be known that every single one of those brave souls who marched the many marches, rode the tortuous bus rides, stood helplessly in the peaceable public demonstrations, passively endured the dangers and humiliation of inhumane fire-hose hosings, police-dog attacks, the vicious threatenings of murderous mobs of teeth-gnashing racial bigots, and say that every one of them are heroes and should be honored and remembered right along with him. And, he would be absolutely right!
What those heroic, yet “ordinary” people, accomplished in those dark and depressing decades of the 50s, 60s, and 70s in laying the groundwork for the progressive securing of civil rights, racial equality, social justice, and so on, is deserving of every kind and quantity of regard and honorific commemoration that can be bestowed, and anyone who would so deign to in any way denigrate or defame such an inspirational, instructive, and noble legacy is deserving of the strongest denunciation and repudiation.
In no way would I propose to do that. Nor am I, and I mean no offense to anyone. However, my personal conviction is that from a theological perspective, it is vital to understand that while the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) he spearheaded for more than a decade is highly laudable for the voluminous victories obtained with respect to manifold social inequities and injustices, if the integrity of the legacy is to be preserved, it must be bifurcated and distinguished from the spiritual appurtenances historically associated with it. The fact is: it was not the spiritual aspects associated with the movement that won the victories that were won, but rather the hard-fought battles prosecuted on the legal and political battlefields. The spiritual overtones and associations with particularly black churches in America no doubt provided the inspiration needed on a human level to participants in the expansive and enduring war, but it was not the rectitude or the supposed empowerment of the spiritual theosophies—namely, the social gospel and so-called Black Liberation Theology—that secured the victories and the spoils of war.
The two aspects must be bifurcated if the integrity of the legacy is to be preserved because, for one reason, it is common knowledge that Martin Luther King Jr. as well as many of his colleagues and co-laborers in the Civil Rights Movement were in no way paragons of morality or spirituality, despite the fact that many of them were ordained ministers. As the Wikipedia article on King puts it, “Yet he was a man, not a God. He was most often overworked and overtired. And he had a fondness for the private company of women.” Many SCLC and CRM ministers in that day smoked and imbibed, and a smaller number were reputed to be users of illegal drugs. There’s no secrets revealed here.
FBI agents investigated him for possible communist ties, recorded his extramarital liaisons and reported on them to government officials, and on one occasion, mailed King a threatening anonymous letter that he interpreted as an attempt to make him commit suicide.
On a spiritual plane, there were/are many problems and controversial issues represented with the SCLC and CRM participants and leaders. They are too numerous to delineate here, but the doctrine and theology of MLK himself and that of many others is quite suspect juxtaposed to traditional Christian orthodoxy. Though MLK grew up as the son of a longtime Baptist preacher well-known and regarded in his own right, the doctrinal beliefs of Junior as to their consistency with Christian orthodoxy were questionable from an early age.
King was originally skeptical of many of Christianity’s claims. At the age of thirteen, he denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus during Sunday school. From this point, he stated, ‘doubts began to spring forth unrelentingly.’ However, he later concluded that the Bible has ‘many profound truths which one cannot escape’ and decided to enter the seminary.
King also, in essence, espoused the so-called “social gospel” now so prevalent in black American churches, the fallacy and ineffectiveness I will be addressing in a future article here on the Spirit Life Magazine. The specifics and thrust of the social gospel so closely resemble the teachings of socialism, communism, and Marxism that it has always been problematic to orthodox theologians and ministers of many Christian denominations and groups. But, more importantly to the topic here, the teachings of the social gospel so closely paralleled the tenets of socialism and Marxist communism and was so widely preached in black churches in the years before his assassination that many in the halls of government were justifiably concerned that King—and others in the movement—was a Communist and possibly a Communist operative for foreign governments:
The FBI, under written directive from Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, began tapping King’s telelphone in the fall of 1963. Concerned that allegations of communists in the SCLC, if made public, would derail the administration’s civil rights initiatives, Kennedy warned King to discontinue the suspect associations, and later felt compelled to issue the written directive authorizing the FBI to wiretap King and other SCLC leaders. J. Edgar Hoover feared Communists were trying to infiltrate the Civil Rights Movement, but when no such evidence emerged, the bureau used the incidental details caught on tape over the next five years in attempts to force King out of the preeminent leadership position.
Personally, I do not believe that Martin Luther King, Jr., was in any way a Communist collaborator or operative, though I cannot say the same regarding some of his closest associates, and do believe Communist/Marxist infiltration of SCLC and the CRM was a plausible possibility then, and further believe that today there are myriad SCLC, CRM, and black church leaders and members who are thoroughly steeped in socialism, communism, and Marxism due to heavy indoctrination with extreme forms of the social gospel and Black Liberation Theology. These avowed Marxists—of all races—pose a clear and present danger to America both now and to its future, and constitute, I believe, the “majority” of the electorate who elected and re-elected the first avowed Marxist to ever occupy the White House.