As we’ve noted, the truth is the truth. It doesn’t cease being the truth because of who spoke it or for what reasons. What King said about racism and segregation was true: they are contrary to the biblical teaching that each and every human being is made in the image and likeness of God and is, as such, the bearer of inherent and equal dignity; they violate the natural law—the law “written on the hearts of even the Gentiles who have not the law of Moses,” but who, by the light of reason, can know the difference between good and bad, right and wrong, justice and injustice; and they contradict our nation’s foundational commitments, as articulated in the Declaration of Independence and enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. At a time when these truths were ignored, and even denied, King proclaimed them boldly.
And this brings us to a point very much in King’s favor, a point that must not be forgotten, even in our sorrow and anger. In proclaiming these truths, he exercised and modeled for Americans of all races tremendous courage—moral and physical. His safety and very life were constantly under threat. He knew he would likely be murdered—indeed, he predicted his assassination. That he had a dark side—a very dark side—does not make him less than a martyr, someone who was targeted and killed for speaking truth and fighting for justice even in the face of intimidation and threats.
Shocked by what has recently come to light, some may call for monuments to King to be taken down and for boulevards, schools, and the like that are named in his honor to be renamed. We ask our fellow citizens not to go down this road. The monuments and honors are obviously not for King’s objectification and exploitation of women, but for his leadership and courage in the fight for racial justice. Everyone understands that. Future generations will understand it too. Just as we ought not to strip the slaveholding George Washington of honors but continue to recognize his courage and leadership in the American Revolution and the crucial role he played in establishing an enduring democratic republic, we should not strip King of honors for his wrongdoing. While acknowledging his faults and their gravity, we should continue to recognize and celebrate all he did to make our nation a truly democratic republic—one in which the principles and promise of the American founding are much more fully realized.