“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
These are the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. in one of his published sermons focused on Christ’s teaching to love our enemies. Once again, my thoughts linger on the difficulty and transformative power of this uncompromising directive to us. I am writing this on MLK day and the brink of inauguration day, and the nation, our families, can feel a simmering with hate instead. With otherness. THEM. Us. I doubt you can find in the modern age, a human being who embodied the spirit of love your enemy more than this faith-driven, courageous minister we celebrate this day.
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. 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.”
Would I be capable of this degree of love? Of forgiveness? If the suffering was mine or my children? Lucky for me, this is not what loving my enemy demands of me in every-day life. Nor for many of us, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do. In his sermon, MLK offers this guidance forgive, seek the good in your enemy and seek understanding not humiliation. This is when I revert to where we are, right now, in this world. It seems that our hate is not directed at people we actually know, which makes these 3 steps seem impractical. We live in a different world of segregation than MLK. Our segregation separates us in so many complex ways – age, gender, wealth, geography, religion, immigration status – but it still functions as it did in the time of MLK; to grow divides, block communication, prevent understanding, and crush any hope of love or compassion. We hate because we don’t know the faces, the lives of the others, their crippling challenges, their triumphs. How can I find good in THEM when I don’t interact with THEM? So maybe the essential first step of loving THEM is to actually know them, see them, and listen to THEM. How can I possibly find the good in THEM when they’re not in my life. It’s so tempting to embrace like-minded people, isolate ourselves into our “echo chambers,” be in fellowship with US. But how can we, together, know THEM, if only so we can love THEM as our master taught us. So this year, a starting place is just to resolve to go new places, make an unlikely acquaintance, strike up a courageous conversation, or read a book from a new perspective. I suspect in doing so we’ll find all of THEM to be much more like US than we ever knew.
~ Amanda Thompson