In Honor of MLK Day


Author: David Montague | MTR President 

MLK was the leader of the Civil Rights movement.  The defining aspect of the Civil Rights movement was the technique known as non-violent resistance.  MLK had to convince blacks that the only way for them to win rights and equality was by protesting… non-violently.

This, of course, was very hard to do.  So he constantly wrote and spoke about non-violence.  In fact, he came up with five points of non-violence and as cities took up causes (for example the Memphis sanitation worker strike) he, and people from his organization, would go to these cities and teach for weeks on non-violence.

I found his five points of non-violence brilliant, powerful and joyfully rooted in the gospel.

It is to each person’s benefit to have read his five points of non-violence.  It is historically and personally valuable.  Very much worth your time to read it.  Ideally today.  I’ve edited together some of his comments from an essay he wrote entitled An Experiment in Love to condense but keep the essence… and added a few of my takeaways.

An Experiment in Love

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Christian Love… imparts value by loving.  What gives man value is not what is in him; what gives him value is precisely the fact that God loves him.

“The guiding principle of the Civil Rights movement is Christian Love.  The Sermon on the Mount is the initial inspiration of the Negroes of Montgomery for social action.  It was Jesus that stirred the Negroes to protest with the creative weapon of love.”

Christian LOVE is the IDEAL (spirit / motivation); Non-violent resistance is the TECHNIQUE.  Protest with the creative weapon of love.

“Christ furnished the spirit and motivation”… and the method (cross).

Aspects of Non-Violent Christian Love.

1. Love leads to ACTIVE non-violence.

Violence would be both impractical and immoral.  This would only intensify the existence of evil.  Hate begets hate.  Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.

Non-violence is not a method for cowards.  It does resist.  No group must submit to wrong, nor do they need to use violence to right that wrong.  There is the way of non-violent resistance.  This is the way of the strong man.

It is not passive.  While he is not physically aggressive, his mind and emotions are always active, constantly seeking to persuade his opponent that he is wrong.  Passive physically but strongly active spiritually.

2. Non-violence does NOT seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent.

…But seeks to win friendship and understanding.

Non-violence means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent.  The end is redemption and reconciliation.  The aftermath of non-violence is the creation of a beloved community.  The aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.

3. Non-violence is an attack directed against the forces of evil rather than against the persons who happen to be the doing of the evil.  It is EVIL (Satan) the non-violent resister seeks to defeat, not the persons doing the evil.  The basic tension is not between races… The tension is between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and darkness.  And if there is a victory, it will be a victory for justice and light.  WE are out to defeat injustice and not white persons who may be unjust.

4. Non-violence is willing to accept suffering without retaliation.

“rivers of blood may have to flow before we gain our freedom, but it must be our blood.”

One may ask, “What is the nonviolent resister’s justification for this ordeal for which he invites men, for this mass political application of the doctrine of turning the other cheek?”  The answer is in the realization that unearned suffering is redemptive.  Suffering, the Christian says, has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities.  “Things of fundamental importance to people are not secured by reason alone, but have to be purchased with their suffering.”

5. Non-violent resistance avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. 

The resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but also refuses to hate him.

At the center of the movement is Christian love.

Along the way of life, someone must have the sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate.

This “love” is not referring to affectionate sentimental love.  It would be nonsense to urge men to love their oppressors in an affectionate sense.  Christian love is an overflowing love which is unmotivated, groundless and creative.  It is not set in motion by any quality of function of its object.  It is the glory of God operating in the human heart.  Christian love seeks not his own good, but the good of his neighbor.. It does not discriminate between worthy and unworthy people, or qualities of people possess.  It begins by loving others for their sakes.  LOVE discovers the “neighbor in every man.”  And the best way to determine if you have this love is to love those with nothing to gain in return.

This love springs from the NEED in the other person.

This form of non-violence is also known as GRACE.  And grace has a place in the Civil Rights movement… as well as in MTR, Memphis schools, our city, our nation… Non-violent resistance very much still has a role in our lives today.

20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—

Colossians 1:20-22