Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
January 18, 2015
Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
— Romans 13:7, ESV
The context of Romans 13:7 is the Christian’s duty to be subservient to one’s government, insomuch as one’s government does not coerce Christians into disrespecting God or disobeying God’s word. In the case of those of us who live in the United States of America and the great state of Arkansas, this is not a daunting task, at least not yet. Taxes, revenue, respect, and honor are to be given by the church when required by the state.
Will you pay your taxes this year? I propose they are too high! However, the penalty for not paying is not worth the defiance in not paying, so I plan to pay. I hope you do, too.
Will you pay your revenue this year? If, like me, you recently purchased a used car, you must go to the revenue office and pay the fee to have it registered. After pushing my budget to the limit to get the car, I’m now over budget after paying the revenue. But, it beats walking, so it will be paid.
Will you pay your respect this year? I most certainly hope so, to every worthy form of authority our sovereign God has placed over us for His glory and our good. Love and respect are due parents, teachers, bosses, law enforcement officers, and even government officials. Love may be hard sometimes, but respect is automatic, unless they have forfeited said respect with illegal or immoral use of their authority.
Will you pay honor, to whom our state has deemed honor is due? Perhaps this will be a test for some of us. For the third Monday of our new year has been set aside by the USA and Arkansas to honor two important men: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and General Robert E. Lee.
These two mighty men could not be more different in many ways. One came to prominence in the 1960’s, the other in the 1860’s. One man is black, the other is white. One man fought valiantly to bring equality to the races, the other fought reluctantly to maintain a system of superiority of once race over another. One man expressed a very liberal view of theology and often failed to keep one of the most sacred commandments of the faith, the other was quite orthodox and conservative in his Christian views and was well known for the highest virtue in moral matters. One man championed a great cause and won, the other battled for a lost cause and, well, lost. One was murdered in cold blood by an assassin, the other died in relatively old age after a distinguished military and academic career. One is universally hailed as a hero by black people while many whites remain skeptical, the other is not really known or appreciated by black people, yet he is the patron saint of many whites. So, the differences are great, as are the similarities.
Both men professed to be Christian, and practiced their faith with active service in Christ’s church. Neither of them expressed personal prejudices and both advocated love and harmony between the races. Each was considered to be the preeminent leader of his people in his time, Dr. King as the spokesperson and de facto head of the Civil Rights movement, and Gen. Lee as the supreme commander of the armies of Northern Virginia and the Confederate States of America. Both men had faith, both men experienced failures, both men won great battles, and both men have an official holiday named after them. Our country, our state, and the word of God have asked us to honor them both.
White Christians and Martin Luther King
I became a follower of Christ in the early 1980’s, the very time at which people were pushing to make Martin Luther King Day a national holiday. There was much opposition, all white opposition, and some of it came from my own fundamentalist church. My pastor called him a communist and a womanizer, the man who was my first Christian mentor followed suit and followed through with the “n” word, and my impressions of the man were painted in nothing but negative colors. I can honestly say that I did not share their prejudice and scorn, but I must also admit I made no defense of the great civil rights leader.
As I grew as a Christian and eventually became a pastor, I took the time to read about Dr. King and occasionally included quotations from his sermons in mine. I’ve always been outspoken against racism and discrimination. My convictions are wrought mainly through the Holy Spirit and the Holy Bible, but no doubt they were refined and sharpened by the sacrificial work of Dr. King and others. Yet for all the biographies I’ve read in my lifetime, including a few on Robert E. Lee, I had never read one about Martin Luther King, until this past year.
After reading the biography, written by a great admirer, I was astonished. Young Martin was a rascal, even through his college years, with questionable morals and deviant theological views. He plagiarized the entirety of his first sermon, most of his doctoral dissertation, and some of his early books. When he began to travel incessantly for the movement, he frequently engaged in adulterous behavior in houses and hotel rooms, even on the evening before his assassination. I could not believe that what some white Christians with racist tendencies had told me was true, and then some.
But our government has mandated a holiday in his honor. U2 wrote a song about him. Major motion pictures are beginning to be made about his life. And after all, like me, he was a Baptist preacher. What am I going to do? I am going to give honor to whom honor is due.
I am going to honor Martin Luther King because his successes far outweigh his failures. If someone does a good or righteous deed, it should not be denigrated because of their erstwhile bad or inappropriate behavior. The Apostle Paul knew that some preachers in his day were charlatans and opportunists, but he praised God for anytime and through anyone that the gospel was preached. Martin Luther King was far from perfect, but I praise God for the courageous and sacrificial stand he took to awaken our country’s conscience against racism and for equal opportunity. His dream is still alive, and I still pray for the day when in every corner of our country,“People are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.”
I am going to honor Martin Luther King because my race and ancestors were unequivocally guilty of racism and discrimination against people of his race. We are our forefathers’ sons, and we must always try to right any wrongs that they may have done. Dr. King’s sins are troubling, especially now that they are more and more made public. But perhaps if he had not been discriminated against as a black man, he could have had better theological mentors, stayed off the road and at home with his wife and children, and many of those temptations and sins would have never come to pass. Dr. King does not need me for an apologist, and I am not personally responsible for my ancestor’s sins, but I am mandated by God and inspired by Martin Luther King to pass on to my children and grandchildren a world view free of racism and discrimination.
I am going to honor Martin Luther King because he honored our Lord Jesus Christ by demonstrating faith and obedience to the greatest and hardest of God’s commandments. Try speaking up for truth when you know it will cause people to shoot at you, figuratively and literally. Try loving your enemies when they are beating you, dragging you off to jail, and killing some of your friends. Try non-violently turning the other cheek when your cheeks have been battered and bruised just because they are a different color than that fists that are plowing into them. Jesus did this, didn't He? Martin Luther King did this. One is worthy of worship, both are worthy of honor.
Now, let me address the other side of this Roman holiday coin.
Black Christians and Robert E. Lee
When states were pressured to approved the national holiday for Martin Luther King, Arkansas passed a resolution establishing the day of honor, with a caveat. They placed another man’s name alongside Dr. King, the late, great Confederate General Robert Edward Lee. It was part veneration, partly vindictive, and totally painful for many people of color. If you were a black person, would you want a holiday for your hero draped in a Confederate flag?
So what are black people, particularly black Christians, to do? Most will honor Dr. King and totally ignore Gen. Lee, which is completely understandable. But I would encourage them, and all of us, to take a look at Robert E. Lee’s life more closely, in its historical context and using colorblind glasses.
In an age where black and white youths alike idolize mindless music artists and moral-less professional athletes, a historical figure like General Lee offers a distinct alternative. His Christian faith was biblically sound and actively robust. He displayed supreme devotion to Christ and church, God and country (in his day allegiance to the State was higher than the Federal), family and friends, service and vocation, and duty. I believe he should be greatly honored, on MLK Day or any other day.
I am going to honor Robert E. Lee because of the way he revered God and the gospel. His high view of Scripture informed his deeply held faith. He kept the commandments of the Bible when it was convenient and when it was not. He loved his enemies, too, even the northern soldiers who ravaged his home state of Virginia. He modeled Christian virtue before, during, and after the war, after which he spoke out for forgiveness, freedom, and unity. He was a Christian first and foremost because He put Christ first without capitulation, compromise, or compartmentalization.
I am going to honor Robert E. Lee because of the way he reached out to black people. On this day it bears pointing out that while Lee fought in defense of states’ rights to legislate slavery, he and others like him, like General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, were well ahead of the curve on progressive race relations. Lee agreed with the great Arkansas General Patrick Cleburne that southern slaves should be freed, given full citizenship, and even allowed to serve in the army if they chose to do so. Along with Jackson he advocated integrating churches and society, albeit in moderate steps. When your dentist is pulling your abscessed tooth too slowly, it’s hard to remember that he is still on your side all the while. Lee was a product of his times, but a shining and sterling product in every way.
I am going to honor Robert E. Lee because of the way he touted personal responsibility. If people old and young, black and white, rich and poor, would simply pull their own weight the way General Lee did, the burdens of our nation would not be so heavy. The greatest thing one can do with one’s life, according to Lee, is your duty. This is true in the religious, family, governmental, vocational, societal, and every other realm of life.
And on the third Monday of January, it is all of our duty to honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., General Robert E. Lee, as well as the rest of our fellow, fallen human beings.
All Christians and All People
All Christians should honor all people, for all people have been made in God’s image. Every person on this planet is covered by common grace and deserving of equal rights. Christians should understand that even people of other religions, or no religion, are loved by God and blessed by God to make great contributions to society, education, art, and government, and we should honor those who do.
All Christians should honor all people, for all people are eternal souls. Saving grace is what all people really need, and we cut off paths to preach the gospel when we denigrate other people personally or other races generally. The greatest thing you will every do for someone in this life is lead then to eternal life by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and honor and love can pave the way.
All Christians should honor all people, for all people are who Paul had in mind when he wrote this commandment. “Pay … honor to whom honor is owed.” For if we would humbly honor one another, we would have what Martin Luther King and Robert E. Lee live for. We would have a more honorable church, a more honorable country, and a more honorable world.