This year marks the 50th anniversary of the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. The Gospel Coalition and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission are holding a conference in April to commemorate it (MLK50: Reflections from the Mountaintop). Anticipating the conference, earlier this week Russell Moore took the opportunity of MLK day to write about what Christians still have to learn from Martin Luther King today.
My purpose in writing now is not to take issue with any of the matters related to King himself. That can wait for another time. But this delay does not mean that there are no such issues, such Robert Gagnon has raised. There are questions there that should be pursued—for a generation that is pulling down statues of Robert E. Lee, and sacking Matt Lauer, the question of consistency does arise. But that is not my task here today.
Neither is it my purpose to get into the pressing need for genuine racial reconciliation, to be distinguished from the “two bucks a bottle” variants that are currently being merchandised all over the place. But whilst here I would like to take the opportunity of denouncing all racial animosity and vainglory as very real sins that God despises. God hates that stuff and so do I. Genuine racial harmony is one of the central accomplishments of the gospel, and opposing that is like opposing love, joy, and peace.
And last, I should note that there were many things in this most recent article that Moore said that I agree with. I am not trying to throw shade on Moore’s hatred of the dehumanizing treatment that blacks in this country have gotten. That is certainly an important issue, but it is not the important issue I am pursuing here.
Not Whether But How
My purpose is quite different. What I want to do is juxtapose the howling contradictions that appear to have settled in as standard operating procedure over at the EFLC. On January 8, Moore wrote a piece called Why Theocracy is Terrible, filed under Politics. On January 15, he wrote his piece about Martin Luther King, filed under Justice.
When he was telling us that theocracy is terrible, he said this:
“Our call to the world at this point, Jesus tells us, is not to uproot the “weeds” in the garden (Matt. 13:29). We also are not to grab the sort of power that would cause people to pretend as though they were part of God’s kingdom—a kingdom that comes through the transforming power of the Word upon the heart—when they are merely cowering before earthly power.”
When he was telling us that Martin Luther King spoke with true biblical authority, he said this:
“With prophetic courage, he spoke to a watching world about a Christian vision of equality, justice, and human dignity, and his fierce advocacy of these convictions eventually cost him his life.”
When he was upbraiding the mountebanks of theocracy, he said this:
“Jesus told us to beware those who claim messianic authority between his first and second comings. He will come to us the next time not through some person or committee claiming authority from God, but with obvious, indisputable, and unrivaled glory in the eastern skies.”
While praising King’s activism, this is what came out:
“On the question of civil rights in the American Christian context, there is little question that, with few exceptions, the ‘progressives’ were right, often heroically right, and the ‘conservatives’ were wrong, often satanically wrong. In the narrative of the dismantling of Jim Crow, conservatives were often the villains and progressives were most often on the side of the angels, indeed on the side of Jesus.”
But King’s civil rights activism, while admittedly courageous, did not appear with glory in the eastern skies.
Ladies and gentlemen (Someone check with legal. That still okay? Actually, I don’t care) . . . Ladies and gentlemen, I would submit to you that this is simple incoherence, and not on a small scale either.
Jim Crow laws were a “weed,” right? So when Martin Luther King set about to uproot them, he was doing so as someone setting before Americans a “Christian vision.” He did what he did claiming the “authority of God,” which Moore rightly argues gave his protests their moral authority. Moore claims that this authority of God was the genuine article—progressives were on the side of the “angels,” indeed on the “side of Jesus.” Conservatives were not only in the wrong, but they were “satanically” wrong. They were the “villains.”
King’s words “were a theological manifesto.” Okay, but were we not exhorted in the strongest possible terms on January 8 to knock off that “theological manifesto” stuff? Now it doesn’t bother me in the slightest that Jim Crow laws were pulled up by the roots. And I don’t mind that it was done in the name of Jesus. But then again, I’m a theocrat, not a secularist. But Moore doesn’t have that freedom because he thinks theocracy is “terrible.” And when he gets into the particulars of his objections to theocratic protests from Christians, he makes sure to tell us not to ground our appeals in the name of Christ, and so on. Who do you think you are, Martin Luther King?
And so then he turns around a few days later, and praises King for being distinctively biblical.
“That’s why so much of [King’s] language evoked a distinctly biblical view of justice” (emphasis mine).
But why should a distinctly biblical view of justice be imposed on Bull-Connor-Americans who don’t share our biblical values? This is not a theocracy, pal.
When it comes to racial issues, Moore is all in. He doesn’t hold back at all.
“Jim Crow repeated the Satanic strategies of trying to convince human beings simultaneously and paradoxically that they are gods and animals” (emphasis mine).
There is no confusion here about what standard we are applying. Remember my oft-repeated question, by what standard? Here, let me tell you, Moore says.
“King’s understanding of human dignity was founded upon the Christian Scriptures. As the struggle for civil rights advanced on multiple fronts, he spoke courageously from this foundation. In the political realm, Dr. King pointed out how the American system was inconsistent with Jeffersonian principles of the ‘self-evident’ truth that ‘all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights’” (emphasis mine).
So then, when we address the great civil rights issues of our time (abortion being foremost, and then the great same sex mirage), are we to found our protest on the Christian Scriptures? Are we to speak courageously from this foundation? Are we to insist upon the rejection of Darwin? I would say yes, yes, and yes.
But how can I do these things without speaking with an open Bible, in the name of Christ? How could I do it without falling under the strictures of Moore’s January 8 article. The answer is simple—I can’t. This is just flat contradiction.
“Clearly, the struggle for civil rights for African-Americans in this country wasn’t simply a ‘political’ question. At its root, Jim Crow (and the spirit of Jim Crow, still alive and sinister) is about theology. It’s about the question of the ‘Godness’ of God and the humanness of humanity.”
Yes, and amen. But this is because everything is about theology. And how you can bring an authoritative theological and prophetic word to bear on a political issue without being theocratic (in the sense denounced just days before) is simply beyond me. It is squaring the circle. It is pouring out a jug in such a way as to fill that jug up at the same time. It is like sounding charge on a bugle while simultaneously imitating Herb Alpert’s A Taste of Honey, which is as good a way as any for getting that indistinct sound that leaves the troops confused. Again, this is simply incoherence.
And you can’t fix this problem by denouncing theocracy under the blog tag politics and praise a biblical under the tag justice. Politics is about justice. Justice is the lifeblood of any righteous political system. Injustice is the venom of the lawless and ungodly. You can only fix it by pulling one of these articles, editing it heavily, and publishing it again as a retraction.
Down the Wormhole
These things are hard. But I think everything said here is above the belt. Not only above the belt, but largely on the chin. This really needs to be fixed.
And look. I know that my name is toxic in certain Reformed circles. I know that I am not a welcome participant in the general bonhomie that is so characteristic of evangelical leadership today. I know that I am angular, and am under an embargo. I know that I periodically say things. So I know that when I admonish someone like Russell Moore over something like this, there will be no public acknowledgement of what I have said.
But my name doesn’t need to be attached to anything. Being persona non grata is part of how I groove. Let the name of Wilson go down the wormhole. That’s all fine, and will no doubt be good for my soul. But there are many people of influence in the Southern Baptist Convention who do see these contradictions, and who are in a position to fix it. And they really need to, because this is embarrassing.