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 choose Martin Luther. Hier stehe ich. The father of the great MLK chose him. Ich kan nicht anders.

  2. Terrible, terrible choice. Almost awful, in the original sense. But while MLK had a huge impact on me, I don't see him having the continuing impact of his namesake. Luther's insistence on reading scripture, and the importance of grace over works, continues to have an impact on Christian thought. I don't always like it, but it's there. For this Calvinist historian of the 16th and 17th centuries, it's a natural choice.

  3. MLK all the way! Junior, that is. A good A.M. to you Jane Papa.....etc.....etc.....etc.! Well, I don't know what happened here but I need coffee...NOW!

  4. All set to vote for the first ML but the comments swayed me to vote MLK .... Inclusion for all & reflection on how powerful MLK's message was but not an easy choice. Somehow I think all of choices will be nailbiters -kind of like the weather in the Plains today.

  5. Toughest choice yet! Hoped reading comments would help me decide.... yet I'm still on the fence... come on voters... leave your most persuasive arguments and help this fence sitter make a decision!

  6. Despite my appreciation for his remark, "It is much better to think of the church in the ale house, than to think of the ale house in the church," I will go with my status quo "martyr ticket" approach to Lent Madness.

  7. I grew up in Atlanta during the Civil Rights movement. Observing the movement--because I was too young to participate--was a crucial aspect of my spiritual formation. I voted for MLK, Jr. because his life (and death) touched me directly and gave me the courage to reject the racism of my white family and culture.

  8. Martin Luther gave us some good theology and had great influence on the church, but for me MLK truly lived the Gospel and changed the world. It was a rather easy decision for me today.

  9. With full acknowledgement and veneration to Martin Luther for his wisdom, insights, and courage in speaking the truth of the gospel to power, there is, for me, the massive problem of his "Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants". The witness of MLK seems to me for congruous and consistent and his flaws much less egregious. Voting for MLK.

  10. voting for MLK Jr---steadfastedly calling for inclusion of all persons in the realm of God --not re-interpreting dogma and making it more palatable for some. MLK Jr called for a revolution of the Heart very much needed today.

  11. I think I shall abstain today; I truly can't decide.

    May I just say, though, to the SEC: Truly, I never imagined, and at the same time was shocked, to see how deeply you still cling to your errors. *

    (* Via the Lutheran Insulter: )

  12. It grieves my heart to think of my wonderful sister-in-law Rhonda having to sit at the back of the bus or not being allowed to use a drinking fountain. While we are still not a perfect world, we are closer than we would have been without people like Martin Luther King Jr. showing us what God's kingdom is all about. Love Wins!

  13. A pox on you, SEC. I am torn apart here. The Protestants Reformation was the greatest event since the Resurrection. However, MLK spoke of God to me when I would not hear such a message from any other source. What to do? What to do?

    Surrounded by Lutherans here in Minnesota, though lacking a Luther bobblehead, he is something of a homey.

    Truly, I may cast no vote but just thank God for both witnesses.

  14. MLK all the way. In my life, so many people I love and admire have shared "walking with Dr. King" stories. In my life and ministry...Dr. King has been a HUGE influence. Gotta go with MLK. But huge respect and bowed head for those of you voting Dr. Luther. Tough choice...this is a good thing SEC.

  15. Dr. King for me today. He walked the walk. I spent time in seminary truly trying to understand Dr. Luther, but could never wrap my head around the fact that whilst he wanted to preach a Gospel of love, he was hateful to Jews ... and peasants ... and others with whom he disagreed. Dr. King is one of my heroes because he has shown me a way to live that is Gospel. Dr. Luther? Not so much.

    1. Lauren, as one who was in Selma in '65, I agree however, MLK could not have done what he did if ML hadn't done what he had done. I served as an ELCA pastor for 3 years and agree with you on his theology, but I didn't live at his time or in the German states. I just can't mix apples and oranges.

  16. Asmuch as I admire MLK, I voted for Martin Luther. It was his introduction to book of Romans that John Wesley responded to with his heart warming experience, and as a United Methodist, felt I had to vote for Martin Luther and his contribution to my faith story.

  17. Both men were men As is the wont of men, both did remarkably brave, remarkably stupid stuff. Both lived their lives working for reformation; a reformation that is and always shall be on-going. I went with the Intolerant Smug. (Would we have had the second minus the first?)

  18. As a child of the Deep South who still sees so many vestiges of that era alive today (though not just in the Deep South, mind you), I have to vote for MLK. I am deeply grateful that Luther spoke his mind and did the work he did, but my heart still soars for what is possible when I hear King's speeches, read his words or remember the tears on the faces of the two black children in my second-grade Virginia classroom the day after Dr. King's assassination.

    1. I agree with the needs you point out 100%t, Fr. Rico, and thank you for your shared incites. Yet, I voted for Luther because many still see God as far away and distant or believe "even if God is love, God surely still couldn't love me." This was how I was when young. As an ex-troubled youth who seeks to help troubled youth, I hear it again and again. I suggest (at least for me) that much of Luther's theology is very immediate as well.

      1. "Incites" is a great word for comments that come from a person's "angry place". : )
        Doesn't apply in this thread, thank heavens!
        ...but I'd say Luther had a lot of he himself would freely admit.
        Love him anyways...and God does too. And I know that from ML's hard won and beautifully expressed insights on grace, which I wish were getting more press here than his occasional hard words.

        1. Good catch with both my spelling error and your main point - Luther was more about a loving God and grace than anything else. If more people would read further than the well known obnoxious writings, that might be more clear.

          1. Hi, Lou. I've read Martin Luther's commentary on Galatians, and I agree that he writes beautifully and copiously about a loving God and grace more than anything else. You are so right. Every holy person has their foibles, too. (Embrace the jerk!). But I voted for MLK, Jr. because he achieved so much with nonviolence and love of enemy, and that is hard to find in Christendom. But don't worry: I put in a good word for Martin Luther's writings wherever I can.

        1. Watched both rap videos (not really my kind of music) however a very clever way to present ML s story. Thanks for the videos.

  19. This is definitely one very whacky match up, and my vote could have gone either way because I admire both Martin Luther, and MLK, Jr. I knew one of the priests in Birmingham who received Dr. King's letter from jail, and know how much King, and his mission for justice, changed the hearts and minds of those Southern whites with eyes to see and ears to hear. One thing missing from the MLK, Jr. write-up was any mention of the man who mentored him in non-violence: Bayard Rustin, a Quaker and gay African-American and architect of the famous 1963 March on Washington. Rustin went to India to learn from Gandhi's disciples and to strengthen his own practice of non-violence. He met with Dr. King, and became part of his inner circle, but was pushed aside because of fear that his "known" homosexuality was going to undermine the movement. Please see the documentary film, "Brother Outsider" to get this side of the story. I love and admire the work of Dr. King, especially knowing Rustin's role in it. I voted for Martin Luther because he saw through the corruption that was being done in the name of Christ. And, boy, that's still needed today!