Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King has died, and her death has me thinking of her husband. Although he was not an Episcopalian, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s name is included in our Church’s book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts. That means churches have the option of celebrating a Martin Luther King feast day, complete with its own designated Scripture readings. Some Episcopalians characterize those included in Lesser Feasts and Fasts as “saints,” while other Episcopalians are uncomfortable with that term.

Last weekend, at our diocesan convention, we approved a resolution asking our General Convention–that’s the governing body of the Church–to include Thurgood Marshall’s name in the same book. Inclusion requires approval by two consecutive sessions of GC. The first would have to come in Columbus this June, and the second in 2009.

People who don’t think Marshall should be included argue, among other things, that his candidacy is too political, that he may be a hero to liberal Americans, but that that doesn’t mean he was a saint. You can accomplish great things, this argument runs, but if you don’t accomplish them in the name of the Gospel it isn’t necessarily holy work. Folks who argue against including Marshall in LFF also say that participation in a great moral movement does not necessarily indicate you were a moral person.

I have more sympathy with the second of these arguments than with the first. But it is the first argument I’d like to focus on.

To what extent has someone who accomplishes a great social good–such as school desegregation–done something holy? And to what extent does it matter if they did it in the name of Christ, or just because it seemed to them like the right thing to do? I think Thurgood Marshall was motivated by faith, at least in part, but supposing he wasn’t, and he still made this extremely significant contribution to the lives of the people of God. Wouldn’t we have to acknowledge the sacred nature of this achievment? Or am I missing something?

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