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Lions Roar : January 2005
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2005 53 soul searching, of King asking himself, “How can I say I worship a God of love and support war?” to transform his consciousness and his actions. Confessing that it was no easy decision to stand against the nation and oppose war, King declared in his historic address, “A Time To Break Silence”: “Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak... .” Because King united theology with working for social change, it has been easy for folks to overlook the extent to which he strug- gled to accept new ideas, new visions. While the American public is aware that King called us to love one another, relying on biblical scripture, it is essential that we understand the depths of his spir- itual devotion, a dedication grounded in his acknowledgement of god’s unconditional love and his awareness that god was calling him to proclaim that love to the world, even at the risk of losing his life. This is why King so often emphasized in his sermons that he had made a choice to love, proclaiming: “I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you find it through love. And the beautiful thing is that we are moving against wrong when we do it, because John was right, God is love. He who hates does not know God, but he who has love has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality.” As early as 1956, speaking to the First Annual Institute on Non-Violence and Social Change, King shared his views on love, explaining them at great length, telling his audience that the “virtues of love, mercy, and forgiveness should stand at the cen- ter of our lives.” Stating that “love might well be the salvation of our civilization,” he urged listeners to see love as the force that should shape the nature and outcome of resistance struggle, telling them: “...the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community... . It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.” King understood that many unenlightened white folks feared that if black people gained greater power they would violently retaliate against those who had oppressed them; hence his constant insis- tence that black people love our enemies. A teenager when Martin Luther King’s courage and charisma rocked this nation and the world, I admired his commitment to anti-racist struggle. However, that commitment did not seem to my adolescent mind as worthy of undue regard. In our white supremacist town, where racial apartheid was the norm, all our leaders preached working for civil rights. All our leaders preached love of one’s enemies. In my teens I was more mesmer- ized by the political resistance of black power militants. If we had to choose between Malcolm and Martin, my vote was definitely going to be for Malcolm. Yet when I left my small town, entered predominately white communities and colleges, became more involved in activists’ struggles for freedom, I turned to the writ- ings of King for inspiration and wise counsel. Like many Americans I read King’s slim volume of sermons, Strength to Love, first published in 1969, to give me hope. By then it was evident that King’s vision of transformative politics based on a love ethic was the most constructive way to create positive social change benefiting everyone. Motivated by our belief in a love ethic, masses of Americans worked in the late sixties and early seventies to unlearn the logic of domination and dominator culture. While militant black power struggle certainly helped bring about important social reforms, it also produced a culture of despair because support for violence was a central component of its agenda. King’s insistence on love had provided folk an enduring message of hope. Tragically, he did not live long enough to be an enlightened voice for self-love among black people. Focusing intensely on the project of ending the white racist assault on black people, King did not develop further his thinking about the necessity of self-love. However, in Strength to Love he spoke directly to those advocates of patriarchal imperialist vio- lence, be they white or black, when he stated, “The hardhearted person never truly loves. The hardhearted person lacks the capac- ity for genuine compassion... . The hardhearted individual never sees people, but rather as mere objects or as impersonal cogs in an ever-turning machine... . He depersonalizes life.” Aware of the need to end domination globally, King cautioned: “In an effort to achieve freedom in America, Asia, and Africa we must not try to leap from a position of disadvantage to one of advantage, thus subverting justice. We must seek democracy and not the substitution of one tyranny for another...God is not inter- ested merely in the freedom of black men, and brown men, and yellow men; God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race.” King’s vision of redemptive love held the promise that both oppressor and oppressed could recover from the wounds of dehu- manization. This is a vision not unlike that taught us during the Vietnam War by beloved Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, whom King nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Just as I turned to King’s writing in my early twenties to renew my spirit, more than twenty years later I returned to this work as I experienced renewed spiritual awakening, an ever-growing aware- ness of the transformative power of love. As I studied and wrote about ending domination in all its forms, it became clearer and clearer that a politics rooted in a love ethic produced lasting, meaningful social change. When I traveled the nation asking folk what enabled them to be courageous in struggling for freedom, whether working to end domination of race, gender, sexuality, class or religion, the response was love. All over the world people working for peace and justice evoke King’s vision of a beloved community, where people committed to nonviolence can create a new social order based on justice and love. This was King’s prophetic vision. In The Soul of Politics, Jim Wallis reminds readers that “the prophetic vocation is to challenge the old while announcing the new... . The Biblical prophets always had a two-fold task. First they were to be bold in telling the truth and proclaiming the justice that is rooted in God... . But in addition to truth telling, the prophets had a second task. They held up an alter- native vision, they helped the people to imagine new possibilities.” King’s vision of living our lives based on a love ethic is the phi- losophy of being and becoming that could heal our world today. A prophetic witness for peace, an apostle of love, Martin Luther King has given us the map. His blood lights the way leading to the truth that love in action is the spiritual path that liberates. ©