Because many misunderstand the origin of King’s theology in the black church, they also misunderstand his relation to black theology. Many assume that black theology and Martin Luther King, Jr. have completely different theological and political perspectives. Persons who hold this viewpoint often explain the difference by saying that King was concerned primarily with love, non-violence, and the reconciliation between blacks and whites. But black theology, in contrast to King, seldom mentions love or reconciliation between blacks and whites and explicitly rejects non-violence with its endorsement of Malcolm X’s contention that blacks should achieve their freedom “by any means necessary.” Some claim that black theology is a separatist and an extremist interpretation of the Christian faith. But King was an integrationist and a moderate who believed that whites can and should be redeemed.
During a decade of writing and teaching Black Theology, the most frequent question that has been addressed to me, publically and privately, by blacks and especially whites, has been: “How do you reconcile the separatist and violent orientation of black theology with Martin Luther King’s emphasis on integration, love, and non-violence?” I have always found it difficult to respond to this question because those who ask it seem unaware of the interrelations between King, black theology, and the black church.