Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is always an interesting one to me. In our area, many of the schools are in session, in part, because the annual school calendar doesn’t line up well with this third Monday in January (this is the start of finals week, and missing Monday is certainly not convenient for students, teachers or administrators). In many parts of our country, people will march, usually peacefully, or gather in some public meeting space in order to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and for the values on which he stood, and for which he ultimately died.
Volumes of books and countless hours of documentaries have circulated about the history of this man and the movement he invigorated. These tomes reveal the depth of character he displayed in the face of fierce, vile, and often explicitly evil attacks on him and the movement he was stirring to action in attempt to make the world aware of the disgraceful inequality that was present in America in the 1960s.
You can also read of his character flaws, his extramarital relationships, and the dangers and influences of some of his closest companions. Dr. King was a man surrounded by admirers, and people who longed to be a part of something big; they wanted to share in the picture he painted, the dream he articulated. He was also surrounded by scoundrels, and people who sought to attack him, or even profit from his work. And no matter what you read or watch, you will find it all steeped with opinion as authors and producers try to make sense of a man and movement that emerged in the backdrop of 1960’s America, a time with so much angst and cultural conflict.
I won’t pretend to know what Dr. King would think of today’s America were he here to lead a movement. It’s hard to imagine what he would say about what happened in Ferguson, MO in 2014, about how he would respond to campus outrage over conservative/liberal guest speakers, or how he would support (or not) the #MeToo movement in its current form. Would he have been behind Judge Kavenaugh or would he have organized a protest? Would he meet with President Trump or would he lead immigrants in peaceful marches at the border?
It’s impossible to know the answers to those questions, but there is one thing I can say with some confidence: he would urge everyone to stop fighting hatred with hatred, and to start winning the war with love. My favorite MLK quote is this: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” This last week I scrolled through my Twitter feed and in an admittedly small sample-size, over 50% of the tweets were attacks on others: Trump, Pelosi, Brady (those ones I find sympathy with!), a young man going eye-to-eye with another protestor in DC, the March for Life, the March for Women, some local municipality that apparently can’t fix a traffic problem in their town, Gillette razors, and a rant against some high school prep basketball referee that is apparently in need of glasses.
My Facebook feed sometimes isn’t much better and my newsfeeds are much worse. It doesn’t matter from what side of the aisle you get your news, it’s all loaded with angst, frustration, and ultimately hatred toward anyone who disagrees. It seems we have lost (maybe we never had?) an ability to disagree with one another without name calling, character assassinating, or over-shouting our opponent. It seems that our anger and frustration has spilled over to such hatred, that we can’t listen and we certainly can’t admit our faults or be willing to make changes. Our hated has become so intense that anyone who opposes our ideals, opinions, or politics, is considered stupid, is censured, and probably should be sued.
Angst and frustration, even anger, can be emotions that lead us to action and to create change, but hatred is the enemy of change. Hatred leads to impulsive, punitive responses and hatred expresses itself in revenge. Hatred needs to be right at all costs, hatred urges a person to compromise their character in order to “win,” and hatred blinds the eyes and vision of those who promote it.
Jesus knew the dangers of hatred, and so He told His followers, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” This was a radical shift in Jewish culture, a culture that was steeped in angst and frustration over Rome’s governing policies in the land. The “righteous” people of Jesus’ day had advocated hatred toward their oppressors and violent revolution if necessary, and Jesus’ voice stands in stark contrast: love your enemies, and pray for your persecutors.
I wonder if Dr. King had those words in mind when he talked about the burden of hate? There is a right way to stand up for the oppressed. There is a right way to speak to the problems of culture. There is a right way to voice opposition to political, religious, and cultural leaders and it is never from a position of hatred.
Maybe today, as we reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we would be wise to evaluate how much of our conversation flows from love, and how much flows from hatred. Maybe today we need to remove some social media posts that reflect a heart carrying the burden of hatred, and not one carrying the burden of Christ and His love. Maybe today we need to confess the sin of hating the people on the other side of political aisle, cultural debate, or social issue and do as Jesus said: love and pray for our enemies and persecutors.
Jesus didn’t turn a blind eye to social injustice. Jesus’s call for love wasn’t a way to weasel out of responsibility or an excuse to be passive. Quite the opposite: real love demands action, but it’s action that’s rooted in something—someone—greater than ourselves, because real love can only come from Christ. Thus Jesus would say, “…But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may sons [and daughters!] of your Father in heaven…”
Does your life reflect this kind of love?
Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water.
Do you struggle with anger? My friend Terry Porter, founder of Health From the Inside Out, has a video course to address the root of anger while giving you the tools to combat it. Check out his course, and his web site, here: https://terry-porter.com/product/dealing-with-anger/