This is the latest on the controversy:

X wrote: “The question is not: is white America racist? Not even: is

America racist? Even if the answer is yes, in aces and spades. Rather the

question is: What was the content of MLK’s character? As a Christian? As a

minister? As a father and a husband? You tell me. In 25 words or less, if

1Tim.10 won’t do.”

Dear X,

Of course, I cannot give you an answer to that in twenty-five words or less,

and I would be a fool to try. It’s like all the times a reporter has taken

a sentence or two of mine and placed the sound bite on the evening news or

in a newspaper story. The only way that I know how to get a point across is

to lay out what I believe and why I believe it, and that usually takes more

than twenty-five words.

Was Martin Luther King, Jr. guilty of adultery? Sure. So am I, and so are

you. Have you never entertained adulterous thoughts? Our Lord’s point in

Matthew 5:28 is not to trivialize sin, nor is it to level all sins as if

they were all equally heinous; it is to cause us to take stock of ourselves

lest we become bloated with self-righteousness as we evaluate the conduct of

others. Would I bring disciplinary charges against someone in my

congregation or presbytery who refused to repent of adultery? Absolutely, I

already have on more than one occasion.

I do not excuse or wink at the theological errors that Dr. King evidently

embraced, any more than I excuse the theological errors of those who deny

justification by faith alone or who teach that everyone who is baptized with

water is regenerated. But I am not ecclesiastically connected with anyone

like that. I have already unequivocally stated that I could not ordain

Martin Luther King, Jr. into the gospel ministry — among other reasons, for

the same reason I could not ordain Martin Luther into the ministry: I am

Confessionally bound to the Westminster Standards. But I count both Martins

as heroes, just for different reasons. I despise some of Luther’s vitriolic

anti-Semitism, but I evaluate this not by the standards of the twenty-first

century West, but by the cultural period in which he spoke. I despise the

idea that Dr. King likely committed adultery, but I evaluate this by the

culture from which he came. The African-American Church, sadly, has tended

to be more tolerant of pastors’ sexual sins; whereas, sadly, the

European-American Church has tended to be more tolerant of gluttony and

unforgiveness. We all have feet of clay.

I do not march because I celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. as a paragon of

everything that a Christian minister ought to be any more than I participate

in patriotic activities on the Fourth of July because I endorse the

Democratic Ideal as the summum bonum of civil government, or salute the

American flag because I celebrate the state sponsored terrorism of General

W. T. Sherman toward the civilian populations of Georgia and South Carolina

or the genocide of the U. S. Calvary in the last half of the nineteenth

century toward the Native Americans of the West. I march on that day to

show solidarity with African-Americans as we celebrate the fact that one

hundred, sixty-seven years after the framing of the United States

Constitution it finally began to be applied to all Americans.

Martin Luther King Day isn’t fundamentally about an individual human being;

it’s about a series of events that began with the United States Supreme

Court’s overturning _Plessy v. Ferguson_, 163 U.S. 537 (1896) with _Brown v.

Board of Education_, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), continued on through the victory

of the Montgomery Bus Boycott a couple of years later, the March on

Washington in 1963, and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. Martin

Luther King Day celebrates those victories and memorializes the martyrdom

not only of Martin Luther King, Jr., but also that of four Black children,

Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carol Robertson, when

Birmingham, Alabama’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed by a White


Why Martin Luther King, Jr.? Of course, Dr. King had no part in the

original cases that were combined in _Brown_; he didn’t live either in

Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia or Delaware. But King’s shadow extends

over the rest of the civil rights movement, beginning with Mrs. Rosa Parks’

arrest on December 1, 1955, for refusing to give up her bus seat to a White

person. Even though Dr. King had been the pastor of the Dexter Avenue

Baptist Church for only a year, he was thrust into the leadership of what

became the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Why? It was his advocacy of the methods

of non-violent confrontation with power:

“We have no alternative but to protest. For many years we have shown an

amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling

that we liked the way we were being treated. But we come here tonight to be

saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than

freedom and justice.”

Several years later, Dr. King was incarcerated in Birmingham and he wrote:

‘You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth?

Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for

negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent

direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a

community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront

the issue.’

Just as a Christmas Tree functions to symbolize all the things that so many

people celebrate at Christmas, Martin Luther King, Jr. functions to

symbolize this struggle non-violently to force this nation ‘live out the

true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that

all men are created equal.”‘

I hope that helps.

Cordially in Christ,


“Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he

pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous

in his sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only

for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to

them, and received by faith alone.” (The Larger Catechism, 70)

Robert Benn Vincent, Sr.

Grace Presbyterian Church

4900 Jackson Street

Alexandria, Louisiana 71303-2509


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