MLK and Religious Liberties
“USA Today” columnist Kirsten Powers kicked the conservative Christian hornet’s nest this week with her article, “Jim Crow laws for gays and lesbians?,” by arguing that religious business owners should not be able to refuse service to same-sex couples. The column questioned the legitimacy of a recent bill, which passed the Kansas House of Representatives, that would allow religious employers and individuals to discriminate against gays and lesbian customers. Powers rankled conservatives by accusing Christian business owners—such as the bakers and florists who refuse to serve same-sex couples who are being wed—of double standards. After all, she said, they serve “unrepentant murderers through prison ministry.” In the article, evangelical mega-church pastor Andy Stanley echoed Powers’ sentiment, noting that if companies refused service to every couple entering into an unbiblical marriage, they’d go bankrupt.
Many criticisms of Powers’ piece centered on her comparison of the Kansas law with Jim Crow era discriminations of black people by white people. But there is at least one religious leader from the past who would likely agree with Powers: Martin Luther King, Jr.
In a lecture King delivered in 1961 to an ethics class at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Civil Rights pioneer addressed the issue of whether a business owner in the United States should be allowed to “choose his customers” and those he serves. He responded thusly...