I’ve titled this post “Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” because I want to emphasize something that is often overlooked or obscured in our celebration of today’s national holiday. What is commonly overlooked or obscured is the religious nature of the civil rights movement; the way that faith in general, and Christian faith in particular, undergirded and provided the foundation for what was accomplished. Before he was a civil rights leader, before he rose to national prominence, before he had a federal holiday named after him, Martin Luther King was a pastor. For that reason it seems appropriate to share this quote from one of his many sermons:
“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. That’s why Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies. But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption. You just keep loving people and keep loving them, even though they’re mistreating you. Here’s the person who is a neighbor, and this person is doing something wrong to you and all of that. Just keep being friendly to that person. Keep loving them. Don’t do anything to embarrass them. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with bitterness because they’re mad because you love them like that. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”
— Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies,”
delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery Alabama, November 17, 1957.