I first stumbled upon this quote over on Brad Brisco’s blog. It moves me every time I read it…
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. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, 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. . .
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.
King spoke these words in a sermon called “Love Your Enemies” at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama.
Here’s what stuns me about these words…his audience. I’m guessing there were next to zero white people in that church. Read those words again. There is no way his audience WANTED to hear these words. There is no way that a mother who feared for the lives of her kids everyday wanted to hear these words. What about the dad who walked to work through white neighborhoods? A young man who had watched his friends be beaten and killed? What about the young black women that had been raped and beaten in the name of “White Rule?” King captured them with the first sentence then proceed to stick a very sharp point of a sharp stick inside their hearts with the TRUTH. How many of those people wanted to hear “We will wear you down with our capacity to suffer?”
Speaking spiritual truth to audiences that NEED to hear it but don’t WANT to hear it is at the heart of good pastoral leadership. Love your enemies is a nice, pithy saying until there is a face to it. Putting faces and edges on this truth so that it can easily be understood and applied is vital for spiritual development. Smaller communities will keep us accountable. But the pastor that paints an unforgettable image of what obeying spiritual truth looks like gives that community a place to stand, a place to start. King did this not just for a church, but for a nation. “I have a dream…” gave an entire nation a clear picture of what the spiritual truth of unity COULD look like.
What almost goes forgotten 50 years later is that King spoke to both white and black audiences who did NOT want to hear this TRUTH…and neither side could stop him from speaking. King didn’t change America by himself. Those that marched, sat in courthouses wrongly accused, and put themselves at risk in places like Topeka, Little Rock, Birmingham, Selma, Atlanta, Jackson – those people were the ones that gave proof that the TRUTH was taking root and would not go away.
But the gift of a clear, compelling picture of spirituality was the fuel for the fire.
“Love your enemies” is allowing God to have the last word. King never backed away from this truth. It’s a model for those of us who speak today.