Weekly Question: MLK Less Prophetic Given His Mistakes?

Yesterday in my sermon I mentioned that many times in our celebration of an icon or folk hero, we forget that that person began as a person.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a prophet in our land, but he was also a man.  An investigation concluded that a portion of his dissertation at Boston U. was plagiarized.  There is also extensive documentation that King possibly had extramarital affairs.  Though controversial, I do not consider King’s words and leadership to be any less prophetic.  In fact, I’m comforted to know that even a man that makes mistakes (like me) can do great things.  But how about you?  Does King’s “humanness” comfort you or discourage you?

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2 thoughts on “Weekly Question: MLK Less Prophetic Given His Mistakes?

  1. I certainly respect his intellect and ability to grasp a strategy that would prevail. When much of his personal indiscretions began coming to light I have to admit I did lose respect for him as a man. Coupled with the fact that he didn’t stay on message with civil rights and instead ventured into the Vietnam War protests and possible Communist sympathies…it takes the luster off his brilliance in the way it does with Jefferson, JFK, or RFK. It makes the example of Lincoln all the more amazing because unlike literally every single other great American figure he was able to be great personally and professionally. So for MLK he is certainly someone I would look to in his professional life but I admit I have lost respect for him as a man over his personal shortcomings.

  2. Personal failings in a leader always, ALWAYS, weaken their personal moral authority and hamper the effectiveness of the organizations they represent. We need to pray for our leaders to be beyond reproach, and to hold them accountable if they fail. There’s a great example of the type of person our leaders need to aspire to be in Nehemiah. When he found out that the local Jewish elite had been subjugating their fellow Israelites, Nehemiah (appropriately) called them on the carpet. They had been oppressing the poor in an attempt to enrich themselves. Then, to completely shame them, Nehemiah tells them how for twelve years he’s given up the money and taxes that he was entitled to collect as Israel’s governor, so as not to be a burden to the people. His moral position was completely beyond reproach. There’s no arguing with a leader like that.

    As a person, as a beloved child of God, you’re forgiven for your sins – completely and utterly. However, you will still feel the natural consequences of those sins. The divine and spiritual consequences are the ones that are washed away. So, yes, MLK’s leadership is diminished in my eyes by his personal failings. If you’ll lie to your thesis advisor and peers – if you’ll lie to your wife and children – who won’t you lie to? How would the Civil Rights movement have been adversely affected if his infidelities had been more widely revealed at the time? What a tremendous setback that would have been to both the reputation of the organization and the morale of those involved.

    I don’t want to come off as judging or harsh. I’m not angry with leaders who make mistakes. We’re human. I’ll reiterate that I’d continue to love and interact on a personal level with a friend who’d made similar mistakes (and have done so). However, I’d counsel them to step down from any leadership positions that put them in the limelight. If nothing else, in the wake of adultery, it’s time to tend to your own household, and focus your time and attention on those closest to you.

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