A lasting legacy of love

Published 12:49 pm Friday, January 17, 2020

Dr. Martin Luther King’s philosophy of passive, non-violent resistance had love for one’s enemy as its core trait.  Faced with the perils of what we would now call “domestic terrorism,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the symbolic head of the Civil Rights movement, implored his followers to love those who violently resisted equal human rights – regardless of race. This was counterintuitive, to say the least.

Reminiscent of the Apostle Paul, or any one of a number of the martyrs of the early Christian Church, King lived under the constant threat of death. He was viewed in many quarters as an enemy of America, publicly branded as a hated Communist — or at the very least a Communist sympathizer. 

He was spied on by the vast, virtually uncontested investigatory powers of J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Dr. King’s tax returns were also audited by the Internal Revenue Service for each year of his involvement with the Civil Rights movement. 

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Dr. King tested the limits of the constitutional right of lawful and peaceful assembly which landed him in many federal courtrooms.  Of course, there were also the many days he spent incarcerated – suffering unjustly for the cause of racial equality. 

Yet, Dr. King trained his closest group of followers not to engage in what he called “enemy psychology.” Dr. King knew that if African-American Christians branded people who were not like them or who resisted their views, or even those who called them by racial epithets, burned their homes, and lynched their loved ones as “enemies,” it would open the door to hatred and unsuppressed violence. That response would not have been in keeping with the Christian love ethic. 

America was at a crossroads culturally during the Civil Rights movement. Faced with the unrest of a racial minority that struggled for equality, that minority chose the way of passive, non-violent resistance that had love for one’s enemy as its core trait.  Dr. King was the face of that movement. 

At the crossroads, the violence espoused by the Black Nationalist Movement, represented by Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam and other militant groups, was rejected by Dr. King and other Christians in favor of self-giving love for one’s enemy, as typified by Christ. 

America is again at the crossroads.  Nationalism has reared its head once again, this time it’s White Nationalism.  My prayer is that God will once again raise up a leader, no matter how personally imperfect, who embodies the love ethic and can teach this generation a lesson in how to love not only our neighbors but also those on American soil who violently resist us. 

Although Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lived in far more fearful times than ours, I am thankful that as an American clergyman, he practiced the perfect love of Christ which casts out all fear.  Only then can we love even those who consider themselves our sworn enemies. 

Pastor R. D. Bernard leads King Solomon Baptist Church located on Oak Ridge Road in Vicksburg.