Tuesday, January 18, 2011

AL Gov. Distorts King's Legacy At King's Church in Montgomery

This year's celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday had no shortage of interesting takes on Dr. King's legacy, with particularly painful examples including the Pentagon's invocation of Dr. King to justify the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Glenn Beck's reassertion of parallels between his own work and the legacy of Dr. King. However, new Alabama Gov. Rob Bentley threw his hat into the legacy-distorting ring with a speech delivered Monday in the very church in Montgomery, Alabama where Dr. King served as pastor from 1954 to 1960.

Shortly after declaring himself to be "colorblind" to the historically African American congregation at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, Bentley went on to claim:
Now I will have to say that, if we don't have the same daddy, we're not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother.
Now, the theological underpinnings of Bentley's claim are fairly common, and he shares them with many contemporary evangelicals. But to make such a claim from the very pulpit where Dr. King once preached is an affront to the legacy of a man who deeply valued not only his own Christin commitment, but who saw shared values and commonalities in other religions as well. It is common knowledge that King's understanding of nonviolent social change drew deeply from the social and spiritual teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, and King's friendship with Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh influenced King's controversial decision to publicly denounce US involvement in Vietnam. Eboo Patel explored Dr. King's commitment to interfaith work in an article published earlier this week, observing:
In his famous sermon "A Time to Break Silence," King was unequivocal about his Christian commitment and at the same time summarized his view of the powerful commonality across all faiths: "This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality" is that the force of love is "the supreme unifying principle of life."
So while Gov. Bentley's narrow vision of religious brother and sisterhood might serve him well, let us please not confuse Bentley's claims with the legacy of a man who saw at the heart of all religions a path of love that led "world brotherhood."

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