June 4, 2019


Immoral Conduct and Moral Witness: Does the sexual depravity of Martin Luther King, Jr. negate his work and witness in the cause of racial justice? (REV. EUGENE F. RIVERS AND ROBERT P. GEORGE, 6/03/19, Public Discourse)

Like many Americans, we have long admired the work and witness of Martin Luther King, Jr. His leadership and courage in a supremely just cause have inspired our own work. What, then, are we to make of recent revelations that he exploited his fame and status to have affairs with countless women, treating them as mere sex objects, and perhaps even stood by laughing as a colleague committed a rape in his hotel room?

We will not hide the fact that we have been devastated by these revelations. Nor will we pretend that they have not lowered King in our estimation. Having said that, we have never been under the illusion that he was faultless or sinless. It has long been known that he was sometimes unfaithful to his wife Coretta. While we have not excused his adulteries, we believed that they represented the succumbing to human weakness of a man who was frequently on the road away from his wife and family and who was, for a variety of reasons, attractive to young women. We also believed that when he sinned he knew he was sinning, did not approve of his own conduct or recommend it to others, and was genuinely--if, alas, only temporarily--remorseful about having veered from the path of virtue.

On these latter points, it now seems clear that we were wrong. As he traveled the country, he sought out women to use for nothing more than sexual pleasure; he took advantage of his stature and fame to seduce them; he participated in orgies; and, as we've noted, there is evidence that he allowed a colleague to force himself on an unwilling woman--indeed, a woman who objected to being asked to perform an immoral act.

All of this is to be condemned. It is to be condemned unequivocally--no ifs, ands, or buts. It was against the biblical Christian faith that King presented himself as holding and in whose name he spoke against racial injustice. It was against the natural moral law, which he rightly invoked in denouncing segregation and Jim Crow. It was against the Gospel proclaimed then and now by faithful Christians of all traditions and, with special force, by those of the Black church tradition which King inherited from his father, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr.

As was pointed out by the late historian Eugene D. Genovese, the principal philosophical difference between King, Jr. and King, Sr. was the former's embracing of theological liberalism--especially the denial of the historicity and literal meaning of Christian doctrines such as the Resurrection of Christ. Were King Jr.'s personal moral delinquencies underwritten in part by this theological liberalism? It is, of course, impossible to say with certainty. Yet, if we look at the Christian denominations that over the past several decades have abandoned traditional Christian moral teachings--especially on questions of marriage, sexual morality, and the sanctity of human life--they are the traditions into which theological liberalism made the biggest inroads decades before.

By contrast, Christian traditions that have resisted theological liberalism have remained faithful to traditional Christian moral teachings, including the belief that marriage is the conjugal union of husband and wife and that sex outside the bond of marriage is morally impermissible, and the teaching that the life of the child in the womb and that of the frail elderly person must be protected against the crimes of abortion and euthanasia.

Posted by at June 4, 2019 4:10 AM