In a discussion with a co-worker last week, I discovered with shock that some people are still not aware of M. L. King’s chronic cheating: plagiarism in his literary production, and serial adultery and worse in his personal life. The burden of this post will be to examine the discussion of this facet of King’s life given by Rev. Michael Eric Dyson in a book summarized elsewhere. Page numbers in parentheses refer to that work.
“From his teens, King enjoyed sharp suits and light-skinned women” (193). His exploits in college led to him and a friend being nicknamed after an Atlanta wrecking company: King bragged “we wreck all the women.” Later, in seminary [!] and graduate school, King’s seduction of women was aided by a dapper wardrobe and possession of a new car. (Someone: follow the money for us.) His addiction to sex was such that he even cheated on Coretta after they were engaged. This was in the 1940’s and 50’s, before the sexual revolution on college campuses, before coed dorms and the Pill.
Later, after he had become a professional demonstrator and speech-giver, it was claimed that he had a girl in every town (194).
When King went to Oslo in 1964 to receive the Nobel Prize, a gaggle of Scandinavian bimbettes serviced him and his entourage but then stole their wallets (194). (The assistants got their share of action by promising access to the Man himself.) King & Co. decided not to press charges because of the potential negative publicity that might be cast on his “cause”.
According to his close associate Abernathy, King had three girls in succession the very night before he was killed (155). At least one was a white girl, and as King felt orgasm approaching he shouted “I’m not a Negro tonight!” (163)
Why did Abernathy spill the beans? Some have suggested jealousy (156). The FBI had tapes, not just of King’s trysts, but of full-scale orgies in his hotel rooms. It appears that King and Abernathy sodomized each other. Dyson quotes Carl Rowan as explaining the evidence away in that black men alone with each other “talk” that way, so that the tape does not prove that sodomy actually took place (164). Note however that in the background the sounds of another couple groaning can be heard, so that the orgy either included another fudge-packing pair, or there were women present, in which case the claim about how male Negroes talk amongst themselves already needs modification.
Enough. There is no possible justification for lowering ourselves into this filth, except that we as a nation are asked collectively to honor a man of this character for a whole day every year.
Dyson is embarrassed by King’s perversion, yet also makes excuses for it that I now turn to.
1. King’s adultery is mitigated by the fact that he sometimes shouted out God’s name as orgasm approached.
Instead of bringing his duties and desires into conflict, King momentarily fused them…At the height of his infidelity, King calls God’s name in vain to bless his fleshly frolic as a way to call attention to his paradoxical predicament: by invoking the divine presence, he is both seeking sanction and inviting scorn on his divided soul. Even though he is breaking God’s law in committing adultery, his reckless invocation of God is at once profane and the ultimate predicate of his existence. No matter what, King’s theology reminds him that God “promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.” (162f.)
First, Dyson does not know that some kind of piety was the cause of King’s shouting the name of God during his excitement: this is wishful thinking. But second, sensing the presence of God during willful and persistent sin is not a mitigation. For the regenerate, it may be an inducement to repentance — a repentance that we see no evidence for in King’s life. For the unregenerate, it is simply a sign of extreme hardness (Heb 12:17).
2. King’s separation from home heightened the temptation, and the need for this was whitey’s fault
In the comparative moral context in which we inevitably view history, their sins were far less grievous than the racial apartheid that led figures like King to spend most of the year away from home, making them more vulnerable to their weaknesses. White supremacy didn’t cause their sins, but it surely gave King and others ample opportunity to succumb to temptations that they may have otherwise been spared. (157)
And not just separation, but escaping the “heat of white hatred”:
King’s desperate hedonism was also a profound gesture of sanity making as he sought release into the forbidden realm of erotic excess as an escape from the unbearable heat of white hatred. It was perhaps a convoluted way of keeping in touch with his own flesh — flesh that was being ransomed to redeem racial justice as a condition of his commitment to black freedom. (162f.)
However, as Dyson’s honesty itself is forced to concede, King’s pattern of sexual promiscuity was already established before he ever hit the road for racial justice (161).
The biblical ethic is more direct, however. Very clearly, if a man cannot take up a cause without it causing him to fall into deep and unavoidable sin, then he ought not to take up that cause.
Let’s state the matter even more bluntly. We are talking about crusades, not to end child pornography, but to end “separate but equal” bathrooms and drinking fountains and such. It is easy to forget this in all the long-faced pontificating and moralizing about the King crusades.
It is simply not possible to excuse chronic adultery in terms of the need to march for the divine right to share a bathroom or a drinking fountain.
3. King was “pure in heart” even if bodily impure
If King was pure, it was in the biblical sense of being “pure in heart’ — that is, obsessively single-minded about the greatest good; loving God and one’s neighbor. King was so committed to that good that he died for it… (158)
First of all, King did not “die for it.” He was shot by someone.
Second, King David was identified as “pure in heart” long before the Bathsheba episode. If David can (as I think) be identified as such afterward, it was in spite of the sin, and exemplified by the depth of his remorse and repentance when confronted with his sin by Nathan. Dyson presents no evidence that King was repentant in a life-changing way.
4. Fornication is common in ministerial circles
Rev. Dyson’s theologico-sexual confusion here is already obliquely evident in his use of the feminine pronoun in references to God (182, 193). But consider what he says: “King was certainly reared in a preacherly culture where good sex is pursued with nearly the same fervor as believers seek to be filled with the Holy Ghost” (157). And earlier:
While black ministers rail against the sexual deviance of rappers, teen mothers, and gays and lesbians, they often fail to confront the rituals of seduction they practice from the pulpit. Bedding women is nearly a sport in some churches. (135)
God help us!
Lest the suspicion arise that this is a Negro thing, he points to Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggart (135). But that is quite preposterous. Both those men were disciplined by the Assemblies of God, whereupon they simply left that group. In fact, white churches that still claim the gospel do not tolerate this kind of behavior in ministers. Consider this section from the form of government of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA):
When a minister, pending a trial, shall make confession, if the matter be base and flagitious, such as drunkenness, uncleanness, or crimes of a greater nature, however penitent he may appear to the satisfaction of all, the court shall without delay impose definite suspension or depose him from the ministry. (Book of Church Order, 34-7).
It is not legalistic to suggest that ministers should be held to a moral standard that makes behavior such as King’s unthinkable. Justification by faith does not negate minimum levels of sanctification for ministers: Titus 1:5-16 is nothing less than that.
To be sure, it is hard to talk about this kind of thing without lapsing into self-righteousness. We can indeed say, “but for the grace of God, there go I.” But it is also true that a man should not be a minister absent the grace of God. If the kind of situation that Dyson describes as being typical and widespread in the Negro church is indeed the case, and if nothing is done about it, we cannot say that it is a church at all any more. Let Martin Luther King, Jr. serve as a scarecrow for how bad things can sink. It can reach a point that even such a wicked man can be extolled by men who are regarded as part of the holy catholic church of Christ. A nation can sink so low as to honor such a man with a holiday. God help us!