Dr. King, Nonviolence, Love, and Christ

Dr. Martin Luther KingThe leper, trusting in Christ, begged Him for help. The Lord was “moved with pity.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., outlined six principles of universal, nonviolent love:

  1. Love eschews violence, but remains spiritually active. The truly strong individual resists evil by non-violent persuasion.
  2. Love never seeks to defeat or humiliate. Love always resists evil, but only for the sake of winning the brother over to the good. Moral shame leads to reconciliation and harmony.
  3. Love resists, even attacks, the forces of evil. But not another person. Here’s a direct quote from Dr. King’s sermon ‘An Experiment in Love:’ “The nonviolent resister of racial injustice has the vision to see that the basic tension is not between races. The tension is, at bottom, between justice and injustice.”
  4. Love accepts suffering without resistance and embraces it “as a bridegroom enters the bride’s chamber.” Because suffering has “tremendous transforming possibilities.”
  5. Love not only avoids external violence. It avoids internal violence of the spirit, refusing to hate the neighbor who is an enemy. “Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate.” Love involves good will toward every human being, and does not discriminate between those worthy of love and those unworthy of it. Love willingly forgives “not seven times, but seventy times seven times.”
  6. Love involves faith in the goodness, justice, and love of the Almighty One, the One Who makes creation a unified whole.

In his time Dr. King had many followers who do not know the Sacred Scriptures very well, who missed many direct references to the Bible in the great man’s doctrine. Around the time of Dr. King’s death fifty years ago this April, a lot of the captains of culture thought that Dr. King taught something that “underlies” all the great religions, but does not require the practice of Christianity. I think he partially held that idea himself. But I would say that close scrutiny of Dr. King’s work, and the test of time, have proven that idea untenable.

From my relatively ill-informed point-of-view, Dr. King’s life and doctrine make no sense without Jesus Christ Himself at the center of the whole picture. Jesus Christ not simply as a teacher, although certainly Dr. King’s doctrine and witness rely on Jesus’ gospel. But the Lord Jesus is not just the pre-eminent teacher of Dr. King’s ideas. Underlying the ideas about nonviolence is the revelation of divine love, and the triumph of that love over evil, which occurred  with Christ’s incarnation and redemptive death and resurrection. That fact of history—the coming of the Christ–is what makes Dr. King’s teaching and life understandable, I would say. Maybe we can meditate on that, on MLK Day this year.

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