Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born Michael Luther King in Atlanta, Georgia, where he grew up. King was assassinated by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968.
King was a Baptist who received his doctorate in theology from Boston College and was a pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
King was a deeply spiritual man. Much, if not most, of the theory behind his activism emanated from his religious beliefs. Christianity, to King, is “a spirit of brotherhood made manifest in social ethics.” In essence, we are all equal and we all deserve equally.
According to King, all people are strung together in a network of life–race, religion, gender, etc. simply do not matter. Our societies need to reflect equality for all of us to prosper:
All life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.
What is less-known about King’s religious beliefs is that he questioned many of the claims of Christianity.
King’s academic theology papers indicate that King’s understanding of Christ and Christianity were a break from the mainstream. Perhaps most radical is King’s view that Christ was not born of a virgin–that this myth was the result of a “pre-scientific worldview,” and that Christ was not born divine, but rather became divine during his lifetime.
Furthermore, King disputed that Jesus had, or ever would be resurrected. What that means for modern-day Christians? It’s all metaphor:
It is obvious that most twentieth century Christians must frankly and flatly reject any view of a physical return of Christ… Actually we are celebrating the Second Advent every time we open our hearts to Jesus.
Doubts aside, King asserted that literal Biblical interpretation would be inherently flawed, though the Bible, read as metaphor, contains “many profound truths which one cannot escape.”
Many of us are aware of King’s political contributions. He is widely considered the father of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, paving the way for racial and ethnic equality in the law and in the attitudes of Americans–a much more difficult task.
King drew heavily from the philosophy of social change of Gandhi–that being that social change must be facilitated non-violently.
Through tireless effort and charismatic speeches, King was able to mobilize countless people from across the political, racial, and religious spectrum to his cause. He always knew he must be accepting to be accepted. For this reason, King never endorsed or supported any political party or politician. He said:
I don’t think the Republican party is a party full of the almighty God nor is the Democratic party. They both have weaknesses … And I’m not inextricably bound to either party.
Many on the right claim King was a Republican because the Republican Party was the party of Abraham Lincoln and anti-slavery. But this isn’t the case:
The Negro has been betrayed by both the Republican and the Democratic party. The Democrats have betrayed him by capitulating to the whims and caprices of the Southern Dixiecrats. The Republicans have betrayed him by capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of reactionary right wing northern Republicans.
So while King was certainly hyper-aware of politics, he chose for various reasons not to pick sides. It was probably a good move.