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Jul 01 2013

Gary Glenn and MLK Jr., Round 2

I wrote last week about Gary Glenn, the leader of the American Family Association of Michigan, claiming that Martin Luther King Jr. would have supported governors ignoring any Supreme Court ruling that supports same-sex marriage. Glenn responded on his Facebook page and threw a little more manure around. So let’s get right to it. He quotes this from MLK’s famous letter from a Birmingham jail:

One may well ask: ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust.

I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws…

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust?

A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code out of harmony with the moral law.

…I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust…is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

…It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions rather than submit to unjust laws.

If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.”

Well yes, MLK did support, as I do, the use of civil disobedience against unjust laws. But in order for this to be at all relevant, he has to provide some compelling argument for why MLK would have considered a law allowing same-sex marriage to be unjust. And that is where he fails miserably. I’m sure you’ll all be shocked to hear that he cites Alveda King, MLK’s niece who has made quite a name for herself in wingnuttia by claiming that her uncle was a social conservative who was opposed to gay rights and reproductive rights.

Notably, during the 2004 ballot campaign for Michigan’s Marriage Protection Amendment, Gary hosted and traveled across the state with Dr. King’s niece — former Georgia Democratic state Rep. Dr. Alveda King — to campaign in favor of our state marriage amendment.

Dr. King’s daughter Bernice, now president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference founded by her father, led the march on Georgia’s state capitol in support of that state’s Marriage Protection Amendment…

Both Alveda and Bernice, who knew him, assert there is no doubt that as a Biblically conservative southern Baptist pastor, Dr. King would have preached in defense of Christ’s definition of marriage as found in the book of Mark: “For this reason shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife.”

Which means Dr. King did not, as Mr. Brayton does, define “freedom and equality” to mean legalizing so-called homosexual “marriage” and then punishing churches and individual Christians who refuse to endorse it.

Well no, actually, it doesn’t mean that. It means that two people related to him make such a claim, but they don’t have any actual evidence to support it. And in fact, they have been entirely wrong before in making such assertions. Alveda King has repeatedly claimed that MLK was opposed to abortion, but that simply isn’t true. In fact, he was a proponent of reproductive rights who was given the Margaret Sanger Award by Planned Parenthood. And his acceptance speech, read by his wife Coretta Scott King on his behalf, offered strong praise for Margaret Sanger, saying that there was “a striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger’s early efforts.”

Like we, she was a direct actionist — a nonviolent resister. She was willing to accept scorn and abuse until the truth she saw was revealed to the millions. At the turn of the century she went into the slums and set up a birth control clinic, and for this deed she went to jail because she was violating an unjust law. Yet the years have justified her actions. She launched a movement which is obeying a higher law to preserve human life under humane conditions. Margaret Sanger had to commit what was then called a crime in order to enrich humanity, and today we honor her courage and vision; for without them there would have been no beginning. Our sure beginning in the struggle for equality by nonviolent direct action may not have been so resolute without the tradition established by Margaret Sanger and people like her. Negroes have no mere academic nor ordinary interest in family planning. They have a special and urgent concern.

So when it comes to abortion and family planning, MLK clearly considered the laws banning those things, which Sanger fought against, to be unjust and necessary to defy. So if Alveda King could do blatantly lie about her uncle’s position on reproductive rights, why should we believe her when she makes an identical claim about his position on gay rights? Besides, we have the testimony of Coretta Scott King that counters Alveda’s claims:

For too long, our nation has tolerated the insidious form of discrimination against this group of Americans, who have worked as hard as any other group, paid their taxes like everyone else, and yet have been denied equal protection under the law…I believe that freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience. My husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” On another occasion he said, “I have worked too long and hard against segregated public accommodations to end up segregating my moral concern. Justice is indivisible.” Like Martin, I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others…

Gays and lesbians stood up for civil rights in Montgomery, Selma, in Albany, Ga. and St. Augustine, Fla., and many other campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement. Many of these courageous men and women were fighting for my freedom at a time when they could find few voices for their own, and I salute their contributions.

And Glenn’s claim that MLK was a “conservative southern Baptist pastor” is also false. He was not a theological conservative, he was an advocate of a liberal theology that focused almost entirely on matters of social justice, something Glenn sure as hell doesn’t do. He was, in fact, quite radical — a democratic socialist, a pacifist and a staunch critic of American imperialism.

These attempts to turn MLK into a member in good standing of the Christian right are laughable and incredibly dishonest.

36 comments

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  1. 1
    grumpyoldfart

    I’m not surprised to find members of the Christian hierarchy telling lies for Jesus – that’s been happening for thousands of years – but I am surprised that so many of the hoi-poloi accept the lies. What’s in it for them?

  2. 2
    matty1

    I’ve got an idea, all those against gay marriage should show their dissent by refusing to get gay married, that will show exactly how much this affects them.

  3. 3
    Kevin

    I’m with matty1.

    Let them be civilly disobedient. Not one of them (or two) should get gay married.

    Oh, you want the right for preachers to not officiate at a gay wedding? OK. That too. No preacher should have to officiate a gay wedding unless he/she wants to.

    You win.

    I can see one area where there might be an issue — and that is the rental of church halls for wedding receptions. But if the church wants to limit the hall’s use (and their income) to only members of their own church, I don’t see the harm (except to the church’s income). As long as they’re not turning it into a public accommodation, I suspect they have the same right to discriminate as the Augusta National Golf Club did in denying membership to blacks and women for so many decades.

    It outs them as being bigots, but so be it. It’s their choice.

  4. 4
    Scr... Archivist

    I’m having a difficult time picturing what civil disobedience against same-sex marriage would look like. Is this about Christian businesses denying wedding-related accessories, such as catering and flowers? Or not changing insurance rates for married people?

    Or, instead, is this civil disobedience suggested as a response to the feared government-forced gay weddings in anti-gay churches? But, really, has anyone ever tried to have a wedding in a church that hates them? I can’t imagine anyone bothering when they have so many alternatives.

    This fear of persecution has gotten real old real fast. I wonder how many years will it take for the totalitarian Christians to figure out that no one has been forcing their churches to have same-sex weddings?

  5. 5
    yoav

    My answer to anyone who is arguing that MLK or any other historical figure would support (or oppose) any policy position being debated is always the same, who gives a fuck?

  6. 6
    theguy

    “Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust?”

    The proper answer, of course, is that a just law harms no innocent person, and upholds people’s rights and freedom. An unjust law harms innocents and limits freedom.

    But is that the answer Glenn gave? Of course not! Whatever his God commands, no matter how harmful or theocratic, is automatically defined as “moral law.”

    We have strong evidence that homophobic laws harm both gay and straight individuals (gay couples and the children they might otherwise be able to adopt into stable, loving homes).

    There is no evidence that gay marriage would be harmful to straights, gay people or children.

  7. 7
    CaitieCat, in no way a robot nosireebot

    Why referring to MLK’s beliefs on social justice matters: because the antidote to an appeal to authority fallacy is to identify that the authority is, in fact, an authority.

    Are there many USan people who would insist that Dr. King was not a recognized authority on social justice? Because if the general consensus is that the authority is an authority, then it’s not irrelevant at all. If it’s non-fallacious, an appeal to authority can be a sound and valid part of any reasoned argument.

  8. 8
    hotshoe, now with more boltcutters

    What’s equally weird about the bigoted Gary Glenn/AFA trying to co-opt MLK for their propaganda is that – besides having to lie about MLK’s desires for equality for everyone – they also have to lie about their own feelings towards MLK. They HATE him. They hate everything he stood for: not just his call for equality for “colored people” but also for federal intervention to assure that states don’t trample on civil rights. Half a century later, they still hate the fact that MLK disrupted their unquestioned white-supreme lifestyle; and yes, it was a white-supreme lifestyle everywhere in Michigan (minus the worst of the crossburning and lynching). Gary Glenn is old enough to remember. He and his family almost certainly cheered when MLK was assassinated. I know the type, I was raised among them.

    For Gary Glenn and the AFA to use one of their lifelong enemies in an attempt to support their bigotry is beyond piiful. None of them have enough self-awareness or decency to be ashamed of themselves, but they should be ashamed.

    I hope their children grow up to be ashamed of their parents.

  9. 9
    democommie

    “He was, in fact, quite radical — a democratic socialist, a pacifist and a staunch critic of American imperialism.”

    Well the only good, uppity, black atheocommonist is the one you can “re-purpose” after his death (killed by Eric Rudolph’s ideological father) into a staunch conservative.

    “they also have to lie about their own feelings towards MLK. They HATE him. They hate everything he stood for:”

    Polemicist! How can you even think such a thing, never mind blurt it out!?!

    If what you suggest had a nugget of truth in it, all of the black Baptist churches and white Baptist churches would NOT have joined and become the Café au Lait Baptist Church of America!!

    “I hope their children grow up to be ashamed of their parents.”

    I hope that at least of few of them get gay married.

  10. 10
    naturalcynic

    There is no evidence that gay marriage would be harmful to straights, gay people or children. You just can’t imagine the damage hurt feelings can cause.
    It’s all about narcissism. Of course ______ [insert dead heroical figure] would be on my side.

  11. 11
    tbp1

    @8 & 9: Absolutely. One of the most disgusting things in recent political history is the attempt by religious conservatives to co-opt the legacy of MLK and the civil rights movement. Their ideological forebears, and in some cases they themselves, opposed everything he stood for, not just racial equality, but his commitments to pacifism and social justice. They called him every name in the book, spat on him, set dogs on him, put him in jail, and finally killed him. Now they pretend they were on the right side all along, and they get away with all too often, at least in their own systemically closed circles.

  12. 12
    cptdoom

    Two words – Bayard Rustin. A known leftist and gay man, Rustin organized the 1963 March on Washington and King was urged to replace him because of Rustin’s homosexuality. King refused. Enough said?

  13. 13
    Leo Buzalsky

    He has to provide some compelling argument for why MLK would have considered a law allowing same-sex marriage to be unjust.

    But hasn’t he? Just look at this part of MLK’s statement: “An unjust law is a code out of harmony with the moral law” where the “moral law” is also “the law of God”. Glenn’s scriptures, while not calling out same-sex marriage explicitly, do discourage certain behaviors one would expect from such a marriage. So his argument seems rather straight forward:
    1. MLK says it’s OK to violate unjust laws.
    2. Unjust laws are laws that are “out of harmony” with God’s law.
    3. Same-sex marriage is out of harmony with God’s law.

    You’re not seeing the compelling argument because you reject a couple of his premises. Now, you’re certainly justified in doing so because he’d done nothing to demonstrate those premises to be true. But then neither did MLK! Both Glenn and MLK have asserted things on “faith.” Really, the only difference between the two men on this topic is that MLK’s faith would seem to have been, as you address, more liberal than Glenn’s.

  14. 14
    Modusoperandi

    cptdoom “Two words – Bayard Rustin. A known leftist and gay man, Rustin organized the 1963 March on Washington and King was urged to replace him because of Rustin’s homosexuality. King refused. Enough said?”
    YES. RUSTIN WAS STRONG ENOUGH TO MAKE EVEN A CONSERVATIVE ICON LIKE MARTIN LUTHER KING KNUCKLE UNDER.
    NOW DO YOU SEE HOW POWERFUL THE GAY LOBBY IS?!

  15. 15
    bmiller

    Buzz Saw: I partly agree with your analysis, but wanted to amplify one point. ALL Christianity is “CAFETERIA CHRISTIANITY” How can it not be given the inherent contradicitons and often vile moral “lessons” THE bIBLE TEACHES.

    Christianity is often NOT the primary source of moral opinions. Instead, it is used to justify opinions often derived from other sources. Glenn is a reactionary bigot steeped in a noxious history of superstition. MLK? Not so much!

  16. 16
    Childermass

    Guessing what position a long-dead person would take if alive today is just that, guessing. If MLK had left anything in the record supporting anything even remotely like marriage equality, the bigots would have long made sure that we all knew. And as King died prior to Stonewall which is often cited as the start of the gay-rights movement, I think it is historically dubious that King was in favor of SSM assuming he was even aware of it as a serious proposal. While the fact that he was very liberal both politically and theologically suggests that he would probably came out if favor of marriage equality if he was still alive today, the simple reality is that we don’t know.

    Besides, even if tomorrow some incontestable evidence came out that King was anti-gay, it would not matter bit. That King supported or did not supported something does not make it magically right or wrong. The human race has had four decades since King to learn things. And it it is certainly not hard to find stuff said and done by long-dead heroes that would be considered wrong today.

  17. 17
    joe321

    It seems to me that this whole debate is based on a fallacy. MLK was indeed a great civil rights leader and undeniably advanced the cause of civil rights for Black people and others. That proves that he was courageous and a visionary, but it does not mean that he was infallible. Trying to discern his opinion on other issues is much like Xtians who try to surmise what Jebus meant from some inane tracts in the bible. Who cares? MLK was very right about many issues, but he surely was capable of being wrong on others. So when the religious right tries to claim someone like MLK as there own, I suggest that our response should be “I seriously doubt that, but even if you are right, so what?”

  18. 18
    Pierce R. Butler

    Our esteemed host leaps to a conclusion unjustified by the evidence cited when he says

    Alveda King has repeatedly claimed that MLK was opposed to abortion, but that simply isn’t true. In fact, he was a proponent of reproductive rights who was given the Margaret Sanger Award by Planned Parenthood.

    At that time (1967), Planned Parenthood was not associated with abortion (an issue carried forward by more “radical” activists until the Roe decision in ’73). MLK’s acceptance of the Sanger Award, as shown in the words read by his wife, signified endorsement of contraception and women’s health care generally, but abortion per se did not register on political or religious radars, except for a few state legislative rows, until years after Memphis.

    Perhaps some King scholar will eventually find a letter or somesuch in which MLK discussed abortion, but the fact we haven’t all seen such a quotation splattered far ‘n’ wide by one side or the other strongly indicates nothing of the sort has come to light so far.

    King’s loyalty to and steady reliance on Bayard Rustin imply a great deal about his attitude toward gays. Had they both lived this long, we can have no doubt that King would have happily officiated at Rustin’s wedding to the man of Rustin’s choice.

  19. 19
    Pierce R. Butler

    Correction to my # 18: Planned Parenthood gave MLK the Margaret Sanger Award in 1966.

  20. 20
    kevinv

    Even if you think this is an unjust ruling what civil action can you even take? I guess even though it’s clearly illegal now they will:
    * not get gay married themselves
    * not perform gay weddings
    * dislike people that do get gay married

  21. 21
    Modusoperandi

    kevinv “Even if you think this is an unjust ruling what civil action can you even take?”
    1. Do not cry at the wedding. Blame misty eyes on allergies.
    2. RSVP as “+1″, bring member of the opposite sex.
    3. White shoes. White belt.
    4. Rush in and catch the bouquet.
    5. Give them a gravy boat, knowing full well they’ve already got one.
    6. Check “fish” on invite. Ask for chicken when you get there.
    7. Misspell your letter during “YMCA”.

  22. 22
    dan4

    @18: You can be loyal to and steadily rely on a gay person (especially, as is the case with King and Rustin, when said loyalty and reliance had absolutely nothing to do the latter’s homosexuality) without supporting gay marriage at all, much less being an officiant at said gay person’s wedding.

    It looks like our esteemed commentator, Mr. Butler, leapt to a conclusion unjustified by the evidence cited.

  23. 23
    dan4

    Also, I seriously doubt, as you (“you” being Pierce R. Butler) strongly imply, that Planned Parenthood, as late as 1966, had no publicly advocated for legalized abortion.

  24. 24
    dan4

    @23: yikes, substitute “never” for “no” in that last comment.

  25. 25
    John Phillips, FCD

    dan4 maybe they had or maybe they hadn’t, I would have to check, though I would be far from surprised if they had. But let us assume they had and MLK knew it, it makes sense that at that time he would have concentrated on the less controversial issue when responding to them, for a number of reasons. But if he did know and still praised them for their work, it couldn’t have been that important an issue for him compared to what he did consider important in their work, I.e. the contraception and health issues that PP do. After all, even today where abortion is technically legal, it is still only a small part of the work they do in dealing with women’s health issues.

  26. 26
    criticaldragon1177

    Ed Brayton,

    Oddly enough conservative Christians in Martin Luther King’s time would have never made him out to be one of them. Back than the country was increabibly racist, and the more socially conservative you were, the more likely you’d have been a racists. Racist hate groups like the KKK, were never fond of gay rights, and back than they had a ton of support, and Klan was always a conservative Christian organization.
    Strange as it might sound, I imagine that a hundred years from now, 22nd century America’s equivalent of Gary Glenn might try to make the gay rights activists of today look like social conservatives who would support him/her to further what would in be a socially conservative agenda for that time.

  27. 27
    criticaldragon1177

    Ed Brayton,

    To be fair I should have said far right conservative christian organization when talking about the KKK.

  28. 28
    CaitieCat, in no way a robot nosireebot

    Also, it wasn`t until the late 70s that the SBC became opposed to abortion. There are recorded statements by people like Bakker and that sort from that period where they were in favour of reasonable access to abortion. The die-hard “MUST SAVE GOD`S PRECIOUS PRECIOUS ZYGOTES“ thing came later.

    So it is not at all unreasonable, even were Dr. King to have been as socially conservative as suggested, and still have different positions than the pale (pun intended) imitations of preachers that hang about these days.

    Given his close personal friendship with and reliance on a gay man in the 60s, when gayness was WAY more closeted than anyone who wasn`t queer before the early 90s could really understand, and his many public statements about how every social injustice is linked and all must be fought, it`s quite reasonable to think that at this time, he`d have come to the position that gay marriage should be supported. It`s not like he wouldn`t have seen the arguments before; as has been shown many times, the arguments being made against marriage equality are pretty much copypasta from the arguments against interracial marriage. I find it difficult to believe that a man of serious principles like that would have failed to recognize the obvious parallels.

    And, frankly, if we`re playing dueling relatives, I`m gonna go with the wife over the daughters any day. How many kids from two-parent homes can honestly say they know one of their parents better than the other parent does?

  29. 29
    dingojack

    Buzz Saw – what did MLK actually say?
    A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.”
    Note the conjunction ‘or’. Therefore a “just law” conforms to either “god’s law” OR “moral law” (but only both if it’s really XOR)*.
    Thank you George Boole.
    :) Dingo
    ———-
    Therefore
    A) It’s justified to disobey an unjust law.
    B) Marriage equality is against the laws of some gods,[ most notably those of christianity.]
    C) But it is not against what the average person considers moral law
    therefore it’s justified to disobey a law that promotes inequality before the law.

  30. 30
    =8)-DX

    @bmiller #15

    Christianity is often NOT the primary source of moral opinions.

    Except in the sense where for instance, as a Catholic I was taught the official Church position on a whole host of issues, including the rationalisations for these. At a certain point in my life (in attempt to be a good believer), Catholic dogma really *was* the source of my moral opinions on abortion, homosexuality, marriage, premarital sex, contraception, etc. etc.

    Actually meeting these things in real life however – of course I started creating my own new moral opinions.

  31. 31
    matty1

    News from 2063

    Christian Conservative groups today condemned attempts to compare the cybernetic rights movement to the fight for gay marriage. A spokesman said “The fact is same sex marriage was pushed by conservative Christians like the Catholic Justice Kennedy and the ordained Bishop, Gene Robinson, these people would be appalled at granting civil rights to sentient computers and the atheist, fascist, hom.., um I mean robot, leftists should be ashamed to try and claim these believing Christians for their cause”. Martin Luther King Jr was not available to comment.

  32. 32
    Childermass

    criticaldragon1177 @ 26: Oddly enough conservative Christians in Martin Luther King’s time would have never made him out to be one of them.

    And oddly enough King would have never made out to be one of them. He was very clear about his dislike of fundamentalism.

  33. 33
    democommie

    Dr. King’s thoughts on homosexuality are NOT known to any great extent. Considering his advocacy for the rights of blacks I think that he would have been supportive of gay rights, up to and including their marrying each other–although that support might be given gradually and incrementally.

  34. 34
    jnorris

    I like how Mr Glenn advocates others practice civil disobedience. Just what will he do, drink from the Gay Only water fountain?

  35. 35
    Pierce R. Butler

    dan4 @ # 23: I seriously doubt… that Planned Parenthood, as late as 1966, had [never] publicly advocated for legalized abortion.

    Doubt away all you want – but reading up on the history of late-’60s/early-’70s feminism will provide an abundance of quotes from pro-abortion-rights activists complaining about PP’s conservatism, and a set of replies from PP (meaning the national Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s office; the organization is not tightly centralized, and a few individual affiliates may have taken different lines) about the importance of their clinics in preventing abortions and the need for same.

    Or you (dan4) can continue in your blissful ignorance, and not a single shit will be given.

  36. 36
    dan4

    @35: You were being so reasonable in your reply up until that unprovoked bit of snideness and rudeness in your last sentence/paragraph. One good turn deserves another in that respect: go fuck yourself.

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