Martin Luther King's progressive Christianity


The San Francisco Chronicle reports on a book to be released today that is the result of research into a collection of his writings that his widow asked Clayborne Carson, a Stanford University professor, to examine. What came out of the research was greater insight into Martin Luther King's theology. What I found of particular interest was that King was not a biblical literalist, and that this related strongly to his vision of the social gospel. According to the Chronicle article,

"Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and not concerned about the city government that damns the soul, the economic conditions that corrupt the soul, the slum conditions, the social evils that cripple the soul, is a dry, dead, do-nothing religion in need of new blood," King preached in 1962 to his congregation at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

It wasn't known until these papers were released how consistently King had been developing the social gospel. Nor was the extent to which King rejected a biblical literalism.

King didn't believe the story of Jonah being swallowed by a whale was true, for example, or that John the Baptist actually met Jesus, according to texts detailed in the King papers book. King once referred to the Bible as "mythological" and also doubted whether Jesus was born to a virgin, Carson said.
The Chronicle article also reports,
King "wanted to develop an intellectually respectable form of Christianity that did not require people to simply abandon their rational, critical abilities," Carson said. The essential truth King saw, according to Carson, was the social gospel -- "to see the Bible as a message of spiritual redemption and global social justice."
I had not realized this about King before, and now that I know this, my respect for the man is even greater than it was before.


Joey said...

Great entry. I knew that King has gone to seminary at Union Theological Seminary in New York, so I assumed that his Christianity was fairly progressive, but I had not heard much about his theological outlook (with the exception, of course, of his vision for social justice - a theological concern if there ever was one!).

Eileen said...

I agree Mystical - adds another layer of "impressed" for me too, for dear Martin Luther King, Jr.