Are White Evangelicals Guilty Of Assassinating Martin Luther King, Jr?

Five Easter BabiesI’ve spent all week trying to articulate how Christians should respond to racism. I’m not certain I’ve done the greatest job of handling this topic. Most of the time, I’ve felt as if I was trying to put pantyhose on an octopus.  As I remarked Monday, writing on racial issues as a white woman pretty much sets me up for accusations of racism, white privilege and any other invectives liberals might care to hurl my direction.

So I worked hard at my attempts to acknowledge that American blacks have suffered mistreatment. That mistreatment sometimes affects their perception, causing them to cast unfair judgments such as when the young man in the nursing home bit my head off for calling him “boy.” I continued by arguing that I am grieved and embarrassed because of actions that my great-great-grandfather and my grandmother took, but that God doesn’t hold me responsible for their sins.

I’ll add today that, regardless of Thabiti Anyabwile’s demand that white evangelicals repent of our complicity in the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. (please, I was only 14 at the time!), such demands are unbiblical and unnecessarily divisive. It both puzzles and saddens me that Anyabwile, a prominent figure in Reformed circles, would write something so opposed to the foundations of the Protestant Reformation.

In requiring that white evangelicals repent of our parents’ and grandparents’ supposed participation in King’s assassination, Anyabwile seems to ignore basic Gospel teaching. Those evangelicals who are truly saved (and my regular readers know that many evangelicals are false converts) have experienced complete forgiveness at the cross.

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. ~~Colossians 2:13-15 (ESV)

Certainly, we must daily confess and repent of sins we commit after the Lord saves us, but Jesus paid the penalty even for those. If we’ve engaged in racist attitudes and/or behaviors, by all means we should repent! You can be sure I’ll never call a young black male “boy” again!

Yet even in our sorrow over sin, we mustn’t wallow in guilt.  Continual penance looks back to Roman Catholicism and its endless efforts to remain in a state of grace. Worse, repenting for the sins of ancestors, grandparents and parents for their roles in slavery, Jim Crow laws and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. seems all too reminiscent of buying Indulgences to free loved ones from Purgatory.

Has Anyabwile forgotten that we can’t atone for our own sins, much less the sins of our parents and grandparents?  If so, he has forgotten why the Reformation happened in the first place! I would hope that he would go back into church history and brush up on Martin Luther and the 95 thesis.

And as long as he is studying history, I suggest that he think about Martin Luther King’s Dream  Speech. Rather than holding white evangelicals accountable for King’s assassination, perhaps he should see us as individuals. Perhaps he should judge us, not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our individual characters.

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