One great legacy of love
On the week of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s death, it seems fitting to recall his most enduring legacy. King’s unbending commitment to non-violence turns on one central idea: revenge can never be a worthy substitute for love.
In order to appreciate King’s methodology, here’s my own quick review of five fundamental principles of non-violence that King taught with the example of his own life and words.
1. Non-violence seeks to defeat the forces of a particular evil, not the persons who happen to be doing the evil. With echoes of the apostle Paul’s denunciation of principalities and powers, King pushed protesters to go after crooked systems and laws, not the evildoers themselves who were often victims of the very same evil as the people they were oppressing.
2. Non-violence is the way of the strong, not the way of the weak, the fearful, or the cowardly. The impulse to resist evil is a requirement. But it’s a non-violent resistance that is not physically aggressive but rather spiritually forceful.
3. Redemption and reconciliation are the goals of non-violence, not the humiliation of opponents. King taught the value of seeking understanding and winning friendship among opponents, all for the sake of working to create what he called “beloved community.”
4. Non-violence means a willingness to accept suffering without retaliation. King actually viewed unearned suffering as redemptive. In other words, accepting the blows of an opponent without striking back is not only the way of Jesus it’s also a way of transforming one’s own life.
5. The principle of unconditional love as the center of one’s life stands as the heart of non-violent resistance. One must refuse more than engaging external violence; one must also refuse to hate an opponent. God working within the life of the non-violent protester gives this principal its chief power.
As different communities in America teeter on the edge of turning to violence whenever angry or disgusted, King’s methodology stands as a call for all of us to grasp the value of non-violent resistance. Here is the essence of King in his own words:
“We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. We will not hate you, but cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children; send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities, and drag us out on some wayside road, beating us and leaving us half dead, and we will still love you. But we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. And in winning our freedom we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process.”