Forgiving the Sins of Martin Luther King, Jr.
I've been intrigued with the life and legacy of Dr. King for many years. I've studied and written extensively about Kingian theology and his principles of nonviolence. At times I've been guilty of idolizing him, doing what so many of us do with our heroes, wresting them from their humanity in order to worship the idea of them we have in our minds. It's almost easier to make him a god or a devil, than it is to hold him in his complex humanity. Earlier in my life, I needed an ideal King that I could strive toward, but now that I'm older, I appreciate a broken King more. Someone who is deeply flawed but still able to offer their words, presence, and embodied acts for the world's healing. As we honor him this year, as we should, for the movement he inspired and the accomplishments he made as a civil rights leader, I hope we also take some time to reflect on who he was as a human for our sake, as well as for his.
Forgiving the sins of Martin Luther King Jr. You were perfect in my eyes The champion of truth and justice I longed to be Bearing the cross of love like a martyr Crucified by the ones you came to save Your legacy looms large in our collective consciousness Your words echo across time inspiring and indicting every generation Your message stirs our hearts and moves our feet to action Your ultimate sacrifice challenges us to take up your cause of freedom But you are more than the images we have of you in our heads The projections of who we think we are, who we want to be You were as much a sinner as a saint The most human of heroes Faithful to a movement but not to a wife A prophet and a plagiarizer Morally untethered under the heavy strain of leadership More like us than we are comfortable to admit Why could you not conform to our perfect image? Why could you not behave as beautifully as you spoke and wrote? Why did you have to make a mockery of our worship of you? Why could you not be the Messiah we needed you to be? How can I forgive you for what you've done When forgiving you means accepting the flawed parts of myself Seeing the world as it is, not as I pretend it to be Owning the ways I have idolized you to let myself off the hook Forgiving you means descending into the hidden caverns where dangers lie Confronting devastating failures and disappointments, painful loss and fear Storming the heavily guarded inner sanctum where the demons retreat after losing their angelic glow
Loving the enemies within and embracing the inner exiles like long lost prodigals
And now I see the folly of my thinking
The unjust burden you bore to be a god
The anxiety and pressure to perform to meet the world's expectations
The responsibilities you carried as a pastor's son, public figure, and Black man in White America.
So now I've come to the opposite conclusion
Forgiving the sins of Martin Luther King, Jr. is the only way I can forgive myself
It is the only way to free history from our pathological fantasies
It is the only way to humanize our heroes and in so doing, humanize ourselves.