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Charlie Dates Counters John MacArthur’s Declaration That MLK ‘Was Not A Christian’

Por Adelle Banks y bob smietana
macarthur dates king MLK
Pastor John MacArthur, left, and the Rev. Charlie Dates. (Left: video screen grab; Right: photo by Denis Contreras)

The Rev. Charlie Dates, the pastor of two historically Black churches in Chicago, is defending the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. after California pastor John MacArthur declared in February that the civil rights leader “was not a Christian at all.”

“We, the undersigned, regret that we have to write you this way, but we sense that this is the only way to address the egregious wrong that you — and those like you — have yet again inflicted on Black Christians in America,” Dates wrote in an carta abierta that appears on the website of his Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago.

“Undoubtedly, you, Mr. MacArthur, have made significant and helpful contributions to the reading and understanding of scripture for our present age. How ironic it now feels to write to you, a teacher, a word of correction. We hope that you will find within this missive a patient and reasonable rebuttal for your unwise and ill-timed slander of the Rev. Dr. Martin L. King, Jr.”

The controversy reflects the lines that have been drawn in disputes among Reformed Christians and other Christian groups over issues related to race or social justice.

MacArthur’s comments were made during a question-and-answer session at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, where he is the longtime pastor. He was asked what he thought of two influential evangelical groups, Together for the Gospel and The Gospel Coalition, which have been popular with Reformed Christians like those in MacArthur’s congregation.

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john macarthur
Pastor John MacArthur speaks at Grace Community Church, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024, in Sun Valley, California. (Video screen grab via Youtube/Grace Community Church)

After noting that Together for the Gospel had held a tribute to Reformed theologian R.C. Sproul shortly after his death in 2017, MacArthur added, “And the strange irony was a year later they did the same thing for Martin Luther King, who was not a Christian at all, whose life was immoral,” he said in a video al corriente on X, formerly Twitter, in February. “I’m not saying he didn’t do some social good. And I’ve always been glad that he was a pacifist, or he could have started a real revolution.”

The Gospel Coalition, he said, was once a good organization but is now “useless” and “woke,” said MacArthur. “It’s Christianity astray,” he said — referring to a satirical nickname for Christianity Today, an evangelical magazine MacArthur has disapproved of in the past.

A spokesman for The Gospel Coalition did not respond to a request for comment.

MacArthur has been at odds with The Gospel Coalition since 2018, when that group helped sponsor a major conference in Memphis, Tennessee, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and condemning racism and its negative effects on the life of the church. At the event were prominent leaders, including Dates, Reformed preacher and author John Piper, Texas megachurch pastor Matt Chandler, then-SBC ethicist Russell Moore and community organizer Juan Perkins. (Both Perkins and Piper are longtime friends of MacArthur.)

The 2018 conference led MacArthur and others to draft a statement on social justice — which warned against what he called dangerous ideas about race and justice. That statement helped launch the so-called “war on wokeness” that has polarized both churches and the broader culture.

Reacting to MacArthur’s recent statements, Justin Giboney, president of the nonprofit AND Campaign, who also spoke at the 2018 MLK50 Conference, wrote an essay in Christianity Today critiquing MacArthur’s stance on King.

In an interview, Giboney said that his organization, a nonpartisan think tank that promotes Christian civic engagement, supports Dates’ open letter. He added that MacArthur’s comments about King reflect a wider “culture-war dynamic” in which some try to “take down all the heroes” of social justice.

charlie dates
The Rev. Charlie Dates speaks at the Faith Angle Forum in Miami Beach, Florida, on Monday, March 18, 2024. (Photo by Denis Contreras)

After learning of MacArthur’s recent comments, Dates, who also is pastor of Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, said in a sermon, part of which was posted on Instagram on Feb. 26: “I’m so angry I could cry.”

He noted in his open letter that MacArthur had chosen to make his remarks during Black History Month. And in a later post on Instagram, Dates said: “Pastor MacArthur, You won’t do this to Dr. King … and you won’t disrespect millions of Christians without account.”

In an interview on Monday, Dates said, “He cannot get away with this. He has to know that Black and Black-adjacent clergy around the country wholeheartedly disagree with him on theological grounds. He’s not the keeper of who’s Christian and who’s not.”

In the past, MacArthur sought to align himself with the ideals of the Civil Rights Movement.

Phil Johnson, the executive editor of Grace to You, MacArthur’s media ministry, said that the pastor is not giving interviews or taking any additional questions about King. But Johnson drew a distinction between King’s work on civil rights and his doctrinal beliefs or conduct.

“As John MacArthur mentioned in his recent comments, he believes much of Dr. King’s work in the realm of Civil Rights, voting rights, and equal treatment for all ethnicities was good and beneficial,” Johnson wrote in an email.

Johnson added that MacArthur has long been critical of King on a doctrinal level. King’s “doctrine and morals do not make him a model Bible-believing (person) Christians should seek to emulate,” Johnson said. “That should not really be controversial to anyone familiar with the record of his private life and beliefs.”

martin luther king jr
Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream,” speech during the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of Creative Commons)

MacArthur’s comments echo similar comments by other conservative leaders dating back to the 1960s. During the Civil Rights era, Christianity Today ran a series of essays from then FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who despedido the work of King and other Black leaders as communist rather than Christian.

In the open letter, Dates invokes both Hoover and the segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace, calling MacArthur “them in postmodern dress.”

The letter closes with a statement of plans to boycott MacArthur’s work: “Perhaps we should tell you that we are calling on Christian Clergy of all colors to stop reading your commentaries, to dislodge themselves from your conferences, and to give your voice no amplification in their teaching until you fight for justice to roll down like a river in America and righteousness like a mighty stream for those who are marginalized.”

Adelle Banks and Bob Smietana are national reporters at Religion News Service.

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54 Respuestas

  1. His royal Imperial Majesty, John MacArthur, strikes again! I really believe there is no hope for this strutting peacock of a man to ever face the man in the mirror! The level of arrogance and pride that he has achieved is unmatched in the evangelical church – world. This guy really makes me sick.

  2. Truth is truth, regardless of the source. Ad hominem attacks on the source are childish and foolish. MacArthur is factually correct, in this instance. All Dates has to offer in response is emotionalism and cries of racism. It’s pathetic. If you haven’t researched MLK, you’re ignorant on this, by definition. If you have, you know MacArthur is right.

    1. Which “truths” should Christians be most concerned about? Being factually correct and being wise are completely different animals. I think most reasonable people would agree that disparaging MLK’s legacy demonstrates poor judgement in light of the good he represents.

      1. Jeff, there is something called TACT. Proverbs 15:1, Proverbs 16:21-24, Proverbs 25:11, and 1 Peter 3:15 (especially that 2nd part) have something to say about it. And the bit about speaking truth in love. Finally, the biblical requirements for a pastor in 1 Timothy 3 (being combative is NOT one of them). The FACTS and the TRUTH is that MacArthur is not biblically qualified to be a pastor. And this episode once again proves that point.

        1. I think you need to reread the article. You have mixed up MacArthur’s answer and the response from Dates. It was MacArthur who followed 1 Peter 3-15 in responding to a church members question. Dates clearly violated the scriptures you cited from Proverbs. 1 Timothy 3 addresses the qualifications and does not mention combativeness. I won’t comment on Dates future as it is up to his church to decide. He could have helped himself by bringing a few facts (and less emotion)to the argument. He also doesn’t help that he has a woman’s pastor on staff.

          1. I think you need to reread what 1 Timothy 3 (NASB) says:

            1 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. 4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), 6 and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. 7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

            Perhaps I used the wrong word. MacArthur is pugnacious, not gentle, and not peaceable here and in many other occasions. He is certainly not above reproach. And how do these remarks help him have a good reputation outside the church?

            The answer should be obvious even to the most obtuse of observers. MacArthur is not biblically qualified to be a pastor.

      2. Loren:

        As stated in the article, MLK has done a lot of good for our nation by refusing to belittle people based on their skin color and by refusing to resort to violence in order to achieve this goal.

        That said, it does not translate into him being a Christian of high moral character.

        Always seek the truth, regardless of whether you like what you find.

          1. There’s the Straw man, stick to the facts. We are talking about MLK, not fallen soldiers or firefighters, but yes if their moral character was provably false.

            Exodus 20:16

            16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

            That applies to the good and the bad character traits.

  3. John MacArthur, is out of place to say in 2024 that MLK was not christian. JM becomes a worse liar to all the people now this day, when not telling anyone , and everyone beginning with those who fill his building on sundays ,they are lost and not saved.
    Someone like that , has been missing for generations now.

  4. We cannot know if MLK was a Christian. We cannot know if John MacArthur is a Christian. We can only know that God knows.

    Easter is coming. It is a time to remember that our salvation cannot be gained through good works or theological correctness. It is only by grace that we are saved, through faith, and not by works, in case anyone wants to boast.

    Larnelle Harris has said it so well in his beautiful song, “Were it not for Grace” :

    “Time measured out my days
    Life carried me along
    In my soul I yearned to follow God
    But knew I’d never be so strong
    I looked hard at this world
    To learn how heaven could be gained
    Just to end where I began
    Where human effort is all in vain

    Were it not for grace
    I can tell you where I’d be
    Wandering down some pointless road to nowhere
    With my salvation up to me
    I know how that would go
    The battles I would face
    Forever running but losing the race
    Were it not for grace…”

    Thankfully, Jesus offers grace. He extended it to a criminal on a cross because that criminal acknowledged Christ’s deity and his own sin. He extends it to us, too.

    Happy Easter!

  5. “God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), but John MacArthur apparently is.

    He preached a sermon about lies, immorality, and leadership. I was pleasantly surprised that he was finally addressing the sins of Donald Trump. No! It was an old sermon about Bill Clinton!

    When revelations about JM weren’t flattering, he complained “he” was being persecuted. When women, children, or minorities address mistreatment, his message is suffering is noble, so basically suck it up and shut up.

    John MacArthur “claimed” to have been affiliated with MLK. Now, he’s denouncing his salvation? Adulterers do not inherit the Kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-20) Got it.

    Most of us are unfamiliar or concerned with the Biblical views of MLK, because he is revered, by all faiths, around the world, for the value of his civil rights message.

    MLK may, or may not, have been a Christian, but his message resonates because it is Biblical:

    “God created all in His image.” (Genesis 1:27)

    “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” I john 4:7

    “All sin is against God.” Psalm 51:4

    You would think a pastor teacher would spend “some time” warning of those importance facts.

    John MacArthur should realize his “knowledge without love, is making him a clanging cymbal.”

    Maybe he should start thinking about his own legacy. It is certainly not what it once was.

  6. According to John MacArthur, MLK was not a Christian yet MacArthur says any voter who claims to be Christian should vote for one DJT. ‘Nough said. Here’s my vote of no confidence in MacArthur.

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