penguin, you may be right that I didn't use 'sympathetic' quite correctly. I don't think I necessarily had 'sympathisch' in mind, and I didn't just mean that he didn't seem like a nice person in some global way. But in the Guardian article at least, he did seem to really want people's sympathy for his loss, and to be really focused on his own emotions and his own experience, when it didn't seem clear to me that he was really that deserving of uncritical sympathy. I was a bit shocked to read the parts about him having lied over some period of time to conceal his husband's terrible addiction, and evidently encouraged the younger man to enter the clergy even when it must have been apparent that he needed treatment himself first before he could ever carry out a helping profession. And then all the public appearances, the selfies even in the hospital waiting room -- it just seemed to me that the thing to do when your spouse has a life-threatening health problem is not to keep seeking ever more publicity.
That may be an over-hasty judgment, and he must come across better in some contexts, since so many people seem to follow him. But it just didn't really make me want to read his book about grief, if that makes any sense.
Thanks for the link to the painting of the minister.
Perhaps I wasn't clear that it's perfectly okay, in my experience, to use an adjective like 'reverend' or 'honorable' in a way that functions as a title when capitalized and used together with the full name. It's even widely accepted in many US churches, in contrast to UK churches and US Anglicans following the English tradition, to omit the 'the' and just write the title as 'Rev. John Smith' -- which may have been what led some people to think that you could say 'the reverend,' just as you can say 'the doctor.' But to my ears, again, 'The reverend did X,' without the person's name, just seems as off-base as 'The honorable did Y.' That is, in standard usage, as opposed to just casual conversation in a place somewhere like a southern church with a less-educated congregation (where I'm also from, though not the Deep South), where I agree it is heard.
It's also true in my experience that, while BE speakers and Anglicans tend to stick with the traditional form 'the Rev. Dr. Smith' (BE 'the Revd Dr Smith'?), most other non-Episcopalian (and non-Catholic?) AE speakers tend to use one title or the other, but not both at once, which can sound to us a little like 'Dr. Dr.,' just too much. So even if a minister has a doctorate, we're likely to use 'Rev. Smith' or 'Dr. Smith' interchangeably, just as for a tenured faculty member we're likely to use 'Dr. Gates' or 'Prof. Gates' interchangeably.
As for MLK, Gibson is surely right to observe that black Americans tend to use his ministerial title (which, by the way, was an earned doctorate of divinity, not an honorary one) more than secular and/or white writers do. My impression is that it is indeed partly out of a deep respect, probably starting as a reaction to white southerners who would have just called him 'King' even in contexts where a white minister would have been granted the courtesy of his title.
But I would also say it might be partly because generations of black Americans have tended to approach civil rights directly from the church context, unlike other writers who view the civil rights struggle through the secular lenses of journalism or history. It's not unusual in those 'reporting' contexts to simply refer to any famous person by their last name without a title. In fact, publications like the NY Times were unusual for retaining polite references like 'Mrs. Merkel,' long after most other newspapers adopted the normal press style of just 'Merkel.' That shorthand last-name style, which is now standard in most publications with only a few holdout exceptions, served mainly to save space, so to me it comes across as just a neutral, objective tone. So I would say that while using the title 'Dr. King,' or 'Rev. King,' is indeed often a sign of particular respect, omitting it, especially in mentions after the first, isn't necessarily a sign of disrespect.
I would also say that referring to a minister over-casually as 'the reverend' in standard writing just sounds to me like a clue that the speaker may simply not be very familiar with the Christian church and its traditions, or may even be dismissive of religion or condescending toward it. Though, again, that's in AE in my experience, which is why I asked about BE. The other possibility is that some BE speakers might just be relatively unfamiliar with the nuances of American English with regard to religious titles. So they might have somehow gotten the impression that just because some Americans may say 'the reverend' very casually in some regional or rural contexts, it's okay to generalize to that as supposed standard AE usage in reference to any minister. My point was just that it's not.
In any case, my impression is that a usage like 'The reverend is X' or 'does Y,' which is jarring and noticeable to me, probably simply wouldn't have been as likely in the past, when church membership, or at least familiarity with Christian usage, was once the default for a large majority.