Martin Luther vs. Martin Luther King, Jr.

February 25, 2013
Tim Schenck

Welcome back to Lent Madness! We trust everyone survived early onset Lent Madness Withdrawal (LMW) over the weekend and is ready for another full week of  voting. Thanks to Lent Madness more people than ever before now look forward to both Lent and Mondays. A Monday in Lent? Pure Nirvana.

In one of the most diabolical match-ups in the history of Lent Madness, we pit two heavyweights up against one another: Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr. This ranks up there with last year's Great Oedipal Battle between St. Augustine and his mother Monnica (which mom won). If you're looking to blame someone for this, why not focus your attention on MLK's parents rather than on the SEC? We wouldn't have this problem if they'd named him Bob King or Gregory of Nyssa King.

You'll be glad to know that PBS evidently foresaw this match-up and posted a quiz titled "Who Said What?" Quotes are presented and participants then guess which one said it -- Martin Luther or Martin Luther King. Test your knowledge!

And finally, it's worth noting that at this point we are precisely halfway through the first round of Lent Madness. Four match-ups for the Round of the Saintly Sixteen have already been decided: Jonathan Daniels vs. Janani Luwum; Oscar Romero vs. Lucy; Ignatius of Antioch vs. Hilda of Whitby; and Luke vs. John Donne. Yowza!

martin_lutherMartin Luther

“In any century in which he was born, Luther would have guaranteed a richly memorable night out, whether hilariously entertaining or infuriatingly quarrelsome.” – Diarmaid MacCulloch

Martin Luther (1483-1546) didn’t need to worry about his career since his father had already decided it would be practicing law. But when he feared he might die in a severe thunderstorm, Luther the law student vowed to become Luther the monk. He entered Erfurt’s Augustinian monastery in 1505 and was ordained a priest in 1507.

Luther’s visit to Rome wasn’t the spiritual highlight he expected. He ascended the Santa Scala on his knees, saying the Lord’s Prayer on each step to release his grandfather from purgatory. Afterwards, he asked himself, “Who knows if it is really true?”

He began to question whether these things could indeed bring him closer to God. He started going to confession frequently (and anxiously). He tried to be the perfect monk, yet his conscience remained troubled. Finally, Luther was sent to the Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg in 1511 and earned his doctorate in 1512. At the newly established University of Wittenberg, he began to teach the Bible, going beyond the official Latin texts to study the Hebrew and Greek texts. Several years later he came to understand the “righteousness of God” in the Letter to the Romans to refer to a gift of God’s grace rather than a humanly impossible demand.

Pope Leo X issued an indulgence to shorten time in purgatory for faithful Catholics and, more practically, to finance an unfinished building project –- St. Peter's Basilica. Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar, was the salesman for these indulgences in Germany. Luther’s anger at Tetzel’s theology and business practices led to his nailing of 95 theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg on the eve of All Saints' Day, October 31, 1517 (or at the very least he sent a copy of them to his bishop – yes, there is a nailing vs. “mailing” only dispute). Here’s number 27: “They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.” Words such as these made Luther into a bestselling author thanks to the newly invented Gutenberg printing press.

Several months after he was excommunicated in 1521, Luther appeared at the Diet of Worms before the Holy Roman Emperor. Luther refused to recant his writings. He was “abducted” on his return home and hidden in a remote castle, the Wartburg, for his own protection. Alone, he sank into a depression but began his greatest project – a translation of the Bible into the German language. The rest, as they say, is history (i.e., The Protestant Reformation).

Collect for Martin Luther
O God, our refuge and our strength: You raised up your servant Martin Luther to reform and renew your Church in the light of your word. Defend and purify the Church in our own day and grant that, through faith, we may boldly proclaim the riches of your grace which you have made known in Jesus Christ our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-- Neil Alan Willard

Martin-Luther-King-1964-leaning-on-a-lecternMartin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was, to quote the man who presented him with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, “the first person in the Western world to have shown us that a struggle can be waged without violence.”

Born Michael King, Jr., on January 15, 1929, his father, a Baptist minister, changed both their names to Martin Luther King in honor of the Protestant reformer.

At age 26 Martin, Jr., by then a Baptist minister himself, was chosen to lead the Montgomery (Alabama) bus boycott after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus to a white man. King’s strategy for this and all of his continuing efforts in the struggle for civil rights for blacks in the segregated South was to meld the precepts of non-violent resistance he admired in Gandhi with the Gospel of love espoused by Jesus Christ and the tenets of the Christian social gospel of Rauschenbusch with the strategy of civil disobedience championed by Thoreau. The result was a twelve-year career leading non-violent social protest against racial inequality through boycotts, sit-ins, and marches -- which led to the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, ending legal segregation in America.

For his efforts, he was vilified from every side. White clergymen told him that Jesus had nothing to do with civil rights and ministers shouldn’t get involved in politics. The young Black Power and Black Nationalist leaders repudiated King’s dream of (and struggle for) a non-segregated, non-violent world and obedience to Jesus' command to love his enemies. A black woman stabbed him with a letter opener at a Harlem book signing, and a white man shot him in Memphis. His house was bombed, and he was arrested thirty times -- the first time for driving five miles-per-hour over the speed limit. The FBI wiretapped his phones.

But he also inspired young blacks to occupy a segregated lunch counter and endure without retaliation white patrons putting out cigarettes on their necks, black citizens of all ages to walk everywhere for 381 days to protest segregated busses, and a white President Johnson to call out the brutality of the white response to Civil Rights efforts and push through the legislation that would end segregation.

And he did it all for the love of Jesus Christ and for the love of neighbor.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated on April 4, 1968. He was 39 years old.

Collect for Martin Luther King, Jr.
Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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181 comments on “Martin Luther vs. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

  1. I was raised Lutheran and survived three years of study of Luther's (so-called)
    small catechism. How could I not vote for Martin Luther after that?

    1. We always had a yearly movie to watch about the life of Martin Luther in Luther League. I remember the 3 yrs of confirmation classes and a big part was to study about the Monk. .It would be sacreligious not to vote for him. They both took on making changes but Martin Luther made big changes for the church as a whole. MLK took on changes for the colored race.

      1. MLKing's vision was bigger than any one race, gender, country, Linda. When I visited him in his home he was recovering from that so-near-fatal stab wound by a black woman -- just one, he said, of the many blacks who feared. opposed and hated him. His dream included all oppressed, unfairly treated people everywhere. (I love Martin Luther as you do, too: tough choice!)

    2. Thank you everyone for helping me think more about both of these saints. I did vote for Luther - as I felt he took great personal risks to strive for change. (MLK did also).
      We all "win" because of both of them.

  2. Gotta go with Mr. Reformation. All reverence to Dr. King, however. He is a modern martyr indeed.

  3. As deeply grateful as I am for Martin Luther's courageous contribution to reforms in Christianity, I am voting for Martin Luther King, Jr. today in Lent Madness because MLK, Jr. refused to vilify his enemies even as they struck him, and he taught others very effectively to also love their enemies. (Martin Luther, on the other hand, wrote in unloving terms about his enemies and the other, especially Roman Catholics and Jews.) One of the images I always carry of MLK in my head is of his marching with others--not just by himself. And those others included women and men, Christians and Jews, Northerners and Southerners. We hold MLK, Jr. up as a saint, but he was surrounded by a cloud of saints (such as Rosa Parks), and they fed one another. And he's a good reminder that our country has far, far to go in addressing racism.

      1. I know, Lou. You are right to promote Martin Luther's many, many gifts, not just to Lutherans, but to the whole world! I didn't NOT vote for ML due to his jerkdom. It's just that the SEC gave us an absolutely impossible choice yesterday. Today, the CHOICE IS CLEAR: Florence Li-Tim OI!!!

  4. This was the first one where it was hard because both men, while great achievers, also had very problematic sides: anti-Semitism and sexism for ML, and plagiarism and affairs (hence also sexism) for MLK. Ultimately went with the modern martyr and person of color--both because the former redeems some of his sins and because the latter helps vindicate Absalom Jones whose serious loss shocked and disappointed me.

    1. One of the things which impresses me most about Dr. King was his expansion from the civil rights platform to an embrace of the downtrodden in general, which you see in his opposition to the VietNam War and his support for the Memphis garbage workers. It's not that he was a greater saint than Martin Luther, but rather that I think his focus more closely follows the directions of Jesus.

    2. I was also saddened by Absalom Jones' showing. I have long been greatly impressed by Absalom Jones, but Luke is a very tough opponent. I hope the match up explains a large part of the loss.

    3. I too was a bit disappointed by the large gap of the loss for Absalom Jones, but unfortunately it reminded me that though I find the Episcopal church a wonderful home base for my faith walk, it still carries the face - a least for a little while longer - of the majority of mainline Christians. I would suggest that few lovers of Lenten Maddness holds an appreciation for how much Absalom Jones a d his friend Richard Allen ment to the "African" community of the early eighteen hundreds. Thank you for noticing.

      1. There is a big time lag in education. You will notice that many people who are voting for Martin Luther are doing so on the basis of education which they presumable received decades ago, when all of American history and literature were white boys clubs. Let's be honest. Education is the work of years, with many repetitions. Still looking for that long arc towards justice. Do not despair my friend.

  5. It's gonna be a long day here at LM. I am going for ML the first. MLK's witness and influence is indisputable, but ML's is wider, deeper, and longer still. And: kitsch is koming!

    1. I own a Martin Luther Bobble Head. It's awesome.

      I do think the earlier Martin paved the way for the later Martin (and others like him) to stand before the powers of this world, speaking the truth and challenging them.

  6. I have to vote for Martin Luther. If it wasn't for studying his teachings on grace, I wouldn't be a Christian today.

  7. Although I now attend an Episcopal church I was and raised in the Lutheran faith and once had to memorize Luther's small catechism to prove it! Much as I like Dr King it is a no brainer for me to vote for Luther. His concepts of salvation through faith and grace color every aspect of contemporary theology.

  8. I agree with Mother Laura. Today was a hard one. Both men were leaders of reformations, and MLK would not have been the man he was without ML. Still, I went with MLK.

  9. I expect a long, uphill battle for old Marty (aka Martin Luther) today based upon the precedent of voter madness within Lent Madness. (They have tended to like modern martyrs and more sharply critique people of the past than those of more recent times, placing modern standards upon them.) Still, his theology was life changing for me, and like him or not, he helped change the world for the better; sinner-saint that he most admittedly is. I voted for Martin Luther. Here I vote. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.

    1. When modern standards include justice for women, people of color, disabled people, and/or LGBT persons they are eternally relevant Gospel values and those who speak up for them-- whether members or allies of the relevant oppressed group--deserve respect and not criticism.

      1. Oh, my. No offense was intended, and you seem to misread my statement. Luther's work - in my opinion - had more international and long term impact than MLK at least at this time in history. Yet some won't even read his works because of his failings (which are certainly many, but often consistent with his time - very Dark Ages). Still, one shouldn't deny his influence or willfully ignore it. This is most certainly true and the intended target of my true criticism, not any of the moral and ethical ideals MLK fought for.

        1. I agree with you, Lou. If you look at what ML had to overcome, his progress and influence was incredible. In many ways his greatest strengths were his greatest weaknesses. His refusal to compromise his beliefs on grace and faith are key to the reformation. But his refusal to compromise meant that he wouldn't work with Zwingli. It also meant that he refused to listen to others, but that refusal is what got him where he was. I love ML because God used him because and in spite of his weaknesses. It reminds me of 2 Cor 12:9-10, "And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."

        2. I am a historical theologian so definitely love and read all the greats (and not-so-greats), but also believe in honestly assessing their strengths and weaknesses and the positive and negative aspects of their legacy.

  10. ACK! Reformation Studies was my undergraduate focus, but I remember the night MLK Jr. was gunned down, and the reactions of some Christians to that tragedy would have been the sort of thing that Martin Luther might have uttered...and di not do much credit to themor their profession of faith. I think I have to go with MLK Jr. in spite of the Luther's contributions to reforming the Church ever in need of reform!

  11. MLK for me. His American revolution not only opened doors for African Americans, but for other ethnic groups, women and those in the GLBT community.

  12. MLK's parents did not name him Martin Luther, but Michael. He decided himself to change his name to that of his father. I am going to vote for MLK largely because seeing a play (On Top of the Mountain - or similiar name) based on his last day. It was very moving and established beyond doubt that God is feminine. Logically, I should vote for ML, as his ministry has had a larger effect on my faith life, but "madness" defies logic!

  13. This is most painful and I will have to ruminate all day before voting. I was most aggrevated with the SEC when I saw the match up for today.

  14. Loved the Diet of Worms, but had to vote for the contemporary, non-violent saint. MLK all the way...

  15. The name change story says it all -- could you have had Martin Luther King without Martin Luther? Both are immensely admirable men. I could be happy with either winning. But for the sake of my bracket, MLK, Jr. is a must-win, so he gets my vote.

    As penance for voting against the great reformer, perhaps I will actually crack one of the volumes of Luther's Works that have been gathering dust in my basement since I inherited them from the library of my grandfather, an ELCA minister.

    1. You don't have to do penance, Brendan! That's the whole point! Voting for Martin Luther and then doing penance is like voting for MLKjr and then segregating something. lol

  16. As a Luther College (Iowa) graduate I voted for ML in this diabolical match-up-- after agonizing. His translation achievement influenced my vote.

  17. Ach, du lieber! This match-up reminds me of Solomon suggesting slicing up the baby! MLK, JR is one of my heroes (heroes are, by definition, flawed but exceptional human beings). But without ML, could there have been a MLK, JR.? I have to go with ML as one of the first and most influential figures in teaching Christians to think for ourselves and use our God-given reason.

  18. Surely Martin Luther supporters have cast plenty of votes for him in Lent Madness-like brackets of centuries past. Repeat after me, folks: MLK! MLK! MLK! (to the tune of the SEC! SEC! chants in that other bracket-like substance known as March Madness.)

  19. Went with MLK, Jr. today. My life transformed, my decisions influenced, my understanding of Gospel, what it looks like to live into what you believe, all too greatly revealed by him to do anything else. Here I stand, with thanks nonetheless for the incomparable ML.

  20. Breathtaking, the audacity of this forced choice.

    I had to go with ML 1.0
    Born and partially raised RC, this Episcopal priest is grateful that he asked the questions that made so much more outside the box thinking possible.


  21. I had planned to vote for ML, but realized MLK did equally as much to transform and reform his world as did ML.

  22. These two both deserve at least a semi-finals slot! Nevertheless, because my formative teenage years were spent in the midst of the segregation-integration tension and "re-formed" me, I vote for MLK.

  23. I was there the day of the "I have a dream" speech and was deeply affected by the next five years. Partly because those emotions are still raw and partly because i think that "peace and justice" churches are walking on one unsteady leg of american ameliorism and cultural arrogance, i voted for luther because his reforms are still desperately needed in rc, orthodox, and anglican circles. Without luther, no calvin, no free churches, no primacy of conscience. Without luther, mumbo jumbo. When i sang for ratzinger in istanbul, all present in the cathedtal were granted a plenary indulgence nearly 500 years after the Reformation. Not sure where or how to cash it in. So, voted for ML because only a cleansed and repentent church can honestly be in dialogue with the many persons of good will among whom we live.

  24. In spite of remembering all the "what does this mean" phrases I have
    to go w mlk. Luther was scared of God but was courageous Mlk loved God
    and was courageous

  25. Unbelievable match-up again, especially with current events in the Vatican really putting Martin Luther's work in relief. But my vote goes to MLK, largely due to his proximity in time and space; as a former elementary teacher who taught every January and February about MLK's work, I was always amazed by what he said and did, and I have found nobody closer to a modern-day saint whose example of a life of nonviolence and Christian love should be followed. We still need his teachings in our still racially segregated nation today.

  26. Have you noticed? In the Lutheran communion service, the minister is the last to take the elements, after everyone has been served.......and then, of course, we have to note that without ML, there is no J S Bach.......

    1. Well, maybe not the great cantatas, but surely the orchestral works, the Two- and Three-Part Inventions, the Mass in B minor, and of course The Coffee Cantata. (I don't know about the Lutheran Church, but for us Episcopalians, coffee is the eighth sacrament!)

    2. "without ML, there is no J S Bach" -- really? All the texts of the B Minor mass are used both by Lutherans and RC's.

  27. An impossibly difficult decision. It's true that without ML's courage we probably wouldn't have had MLK's. However, I think MLK's theology was more evolved and inclusive, although that is a natural thing when one follows the other by four centuries. I'm going with MLK by a micron.