“Love Thy Enemies”
January 18 is Martin Luther King Day, a national holiday set aside to honor the great civil rights warrior who fought in the 1950 and 60s against racism in the United States. Even after one hundred years following the Civil War, our nation was still plagued by the continuance of blatant unfairness and subjugation visited upon many of our black citizens. While the Civil War did halt institutional slavery, it fell grievously short in bringing true equality and fairness to its many newly freed citizens. The demoralizing, penalizing, and hateful practices of racism – never truly ceased for many black people, especially so in the South.
What were some of these abuses built up over this one hundred years that stirred Rev. King and the Civil Right Movement to take to the streets and highways in passionate protest?
One injustice and barbarity after another was piled on top of the Southern black man: disenfranchisement of voting rights, separate but very unequal schools, lynching, industrial slavery (Read Slavery Under Another Name), Jim Crow laws, the terror of the Klu Klux Klan, the withdrawal of Federal protection starting in 1877, debt slavery via sharecropping, – all these and many more abuses – created an overriding oppression of their humanity, of their God-given dignity, and of their equality as worthy citizens.
The focus of this column is to underscore how such abuse by one set of humans visited upon another is to be resisted and fought to bring about a measure of victory. The oppression of the black man in the United States beginning with its importation of slaves from its earliest days as a colony to the atrocities still in place into the 1960’s, and even today with its hangover from racial prejudices from the past – is just one more sorry episode in the history of mankind. The facts of human history tell us that oppression, subjugation, and genocide will never cease, and that there will always be a need to resist and defeat evildoers if one desires to live in freedom with dignity. There will always be a war to fight; the challenge is to find the right way to wage such a war.
So, back to Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. How did their fight the vicious racism suffered by his fellow black citizens? Answer: their tactic was Biblical nonviolent resistance using God’s precept that one should LOVE his enemies! Their protest marches were peaceful demonstrations designed to call attention to the hideous practices visited upon black people in the South. The brutal reactions, beatings, and even murder by many Southerners and their racist leaders – both political, economic, and religious, was now exposed and seen on TV by millions across our land. The vicious acts of stoning and clubbing peaceful protestors, hauling them off to jails and prison cells was now out in the open. The wrongdoers were now exposed and shamed, creating a backlash crying for justice reaching all the way to the White House and Congress.
The tactic of nonviolent resistance produced some notable victories: after wading through some prolonged political resistance, the 24th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, prohibiting the use of poll taxes. This was followed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which forbids discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion or national origin in public accommodations. And finally, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, prohibiting any procedure that denied the voting rights of individuals because of their race.
The greater victories, however, were the changes in the hearts of many men and women throughout the U.S. as one by one recognizing the ugliness they harbored against a fellow human being, they sought forgiveness from God and the offended. Racial barriers slowly started to recede. Integration was a step in this corrective direction. The battle continues today, however, as the heart of man is notoriously stubborn. What is needed now more than ever, is for each individual – black, white, brown, and yellow – to ask God for the strength to love and not hate another person – be it friend or foe. May the hated never become a hater!
Next week: Can this approach of loving one’s enemies be used in our battle against the Muslims who seek to destroy us?