In Strength to Love, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. reflected in a series of issues that affected the American culture of his times, expressing great disappointment with his society, which was experiencing an intense fight against marginalized groups.
Along with his society, Mr. King called out the American church to pay more attention to the rights of, not only the Afro-American people, but those who were not well represented by the status quo such as women, children, people from other religions, and non-white folks. Regarding his concern about human dignity and fight against the rampant racism of his times, he said: “There are those who are sufficiently soft-minded to believe in the superiority of the white race as the inferiority of the Negro race in spite of the tough-minded research of anthropologists who reveal the falsity of such notion.” It was during these difficult times that Mr. King composed his sermons developing his vision of social inclusiveness and non-violence philosophy. In that respect, among the variety of the topics Martin Luther King discussed, one common theme emerges: God’s divine presence working not only in people’s lives but also human history.
God’s redemptive and divine love is what helps humanity to overcome the issues that separate us such as indifference, hate, intolerance, poverty, racial injustice, and segregation. For Mr. King, love is not a sentimental emotion, but understanding good will. Thus, he writes, when we love on the agape level we love [people] not because we like them, not because their attitudes and ways appeal to us, but we love them because God loves them. This agape is the divine love of God working in favor of humanity, a kind of love which is not self-concerned but it looks for the wellness of the other. It is this same love by which God created human beings and formed the history of humankind.
The agape love also allows us to develop a strong desire to see God’s love displayed in his creation that is, a desire to see God’s plan done in the world. In this sense, the church should be proactive in doing the things God concerns such as defending the cause of the poor in both senses, spiritually and materially. By doing so, other people will have the opportunity to observe us as being guided by God’s divine presence to do what is good.
In addition, this love can help us to fight against any kind of injustice, the fruit of evildoers, and institutionalized systems of oppression, while at the same time it allows us to be builders of affirmation of God’s divine presence. Of course, this fight will begin within our hearts first, a fight against the idol of self-concerning and hyper-individualism. The agape love is then not a passive and temporal feeling, but a relational and strong force. It shapes our relationship with God, guiding us to love the other with the same passion we love ourselves.
Regarding the importance of this fight, Mr. King highlights that history shows that when people return evil for evil, the evil does not disappear. Instead, it multiplies. Only love, which is a positive force, can overcome evil. As God loved humanity first, he has also called every member of the church to live this truth out. It is in this aspect that Mr. King opens our eyes regarding the Christian duty to proclaim the Word of God not in our terms, but in terms of reconciliation, justice, and reflection of the image of God. By doing so, we will not define people in terms of their physical characteristics or socio-cultural aspects. As human beings, we all share the same human nature. It is this awareness one should live by, knowing that God will never agree with putting people at the margins, regardless of their skin color, religion, or social status.
Mr. King reminds us we should proactively look for justice and peace between each other in order to promote hope. While evildoers do the opposite of what God does, the church is called to love people while proclaiming the truth that God has created us equally and in his image. As Christians we should not have any room for discrimination or people’s objectification. Instead, we should understand God is actively working in the world because it is his divine and loving presence which transforms humanity and binds it.