Personally, one of my favorite historical leaders is Martin Luther King Jr. Here’s why: he pressed a most radical hypothesis beyond a boundary that I personally have reasoned, and the test ended up true. I have had to accept his results in several personal conflicts in my life.
I hadn’t always held MLK up with such high regard. It wasn’t until later in my life — after painful conflicts and tribulations toughened me up a bit — that I began to appreciate what he did.
“Let us be Christian in all our actions. But I want to tell you this evening that it is not enough for us to talk about love, love is one of the pivotal points of the Christian faith. There is another side called justice. And justice is really love in calculation. Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love.”
Justice and love often appears contradictory, doesn’t it? There is plenty of injustice to go around, and “an eye for an eye” seems to make much more sense in handling conflicts. For most petty situations of unfairness and injustice, retribution and revenge handles a lot of disputes.
But then there are the biggies. For MLK, it was racism. It ran deep into the human and cultural psyche. I can only imagine the feelings of rage from MLK’s community that demanded justice. King’s great experiment was that love would prevail and ultimately bring the justice he desired. In other words, the only genuine way to bring justice to an unjust situation is to keep love as the benchmark for the movement forward.
Any movement without love is a move in the wrong direction.
Think about this for a moment. For me, this gets personal. I am called to make many decisions throughout my day, my week, my life. Sometimes they require judgments of others and decisions to make things right. When people have wronged me, I have rightfully responded with a sense of justice that demands for truth to prevail and my rights to be upheld. When I have wronged others, sometimes the simple response of paying the fine, giving the refund, doing whatever to get them off my back is the easy response.
But to love them? That’s sometimes most challenging. I have my enemies, people whom I fundamentally disagree with, and even people who are out to do me harm. This is an ugly world of eye-gouging.
Martin Luther King’s memory delivers a tall order, a consideration that doesn’t make much sense.
This love thing was risky. Really, standing up to billy clubs and hatred of the Jim Crow South took some guts. Facing the fire hoses, the KKK, prison, the fear mongering — it’s hard to comprehend today. Even the law was against him.
Don’t you ask yourself the same question I have? What kept MLK on the straight and narrow road to the justice he sought? According to his writings, the only road to justice was through love. It seems like a contradiction, but his results speak even louder than his words. History has judged him. Love won out.
Perhaps you’re not convinced. I know people who hold a subtle doubt in Martin Luther King and even this idea that love plays such an important role in a just life. These people — perhaps you’re one of them — don’t live the full life. They’re missing out. Perhaps they genuinely seek justice, but they are frustrated, and I believe love is what is missing. Love is “one of the pivotal points of the Christian faith.” God is love, and according to MLK’s quote, this is the Christian thing to do. I suspect this is what kept Jesus focused on his brutal, unjust road to the cross: his great love for his mission.
The older I get and the more I put Martin Luther King’s hypothesis to the test, the more I realize that love works. Even in the darkest of situations, I have been reminded of MLK’s resilience and unshakable love for his cause. And love for his enemies. He didn’t compromise one for the other, but kept marching forward with that which he hoped was true.
I’m glad it is true, that love prevails.