Lesson 14: Christian Love Involves Suffering

I have been receiving so many thoughtful responses to Dr. King’s sermon that I decided to address them in the lesson next week. However, I thought it would be helpful to present his conclusion before doing that. Everyone of the responses acknowledged Jesus called on individuals to return good for evil. Almost all questioned how this applies to social groups and systems. How do parents love an enemy whose bombs have killed their children? How do you love politicians whose policies harm the vulnerable? What are you expected to do when your friend is attacked?

One of my teachers maintained Christianity is the only religion that teaches love of enemy. Dr. King’s primary contribution might well have been demonstrating how this kind of love applies to social groups and institutions as well as individuals. He was far from naive when doing this. We often overlook his insistence that those participating in his civil rights demonstrations undergo rigid training and practice highly disciplined conduct. As his conclusion indicates this is necessary, because their work inherently involves suffering.

The relevance of what I have said to the crisis in race relations should be readily apparent. There will be no permanent solution to the, race problem until oppressed men develop the capacity to love their enemies. The darkness of racial injustice will be dispelled only by the light of forgiving love. For more than three centuries American Negroes have been battered by the iron rod of oppression, frustrated by day and bewildered by night by unbearable injustice and burdened with the ugly weight of discrimination. Forced to live with these shameful conditions, we are tempted to become bitter and to retaliate with a corresponding hate. But if this happens, the new order we seek will be little more than a duplicate of the old order. We must in strength and humility meet hate with love.

My friends, we have followed the so-called practical way for too long a time now, and it has led inexorably to deeper confusion and chaos. Time is cluttered with the wreckage of communities which surrendered to hatred and violence. For the salvation of our nation and the salvation of mankind, we must follow another way.

While abhorring segregation, we shall love the segregationist. This is the only way to create the Beloved Community.

To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.”

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