This message from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. comes from his great speech, “A Time to Break Silence,” given at the Riverside Church in New York City, where the Rev. William Sloane Coffin would later be Senior Minister and where Bill might have been that day, on April 4, 1967, a year to the day before King’s assassination. You can read the speech online here: https://loseyourmother.voices.wooster.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/132/2018/04/MLK-Jr._Beyond-Vietnam_A-Time-to-Break-Silence.pdf
You can also read a slightly longer quote and where I went with it in the sermon this past Sunday by going to https://unitedchurchofstrafford.com/category/past-sermons/
King calls for a “revolution of values.” He moves beyond racism to include materialism and militarism as threats to our survival. He uses “unconditional love” to represent what the revolution of values must lead to, but he is careful to explain that he does not mean a sentimental emotion.
He is talking about an ethic applied to every aspect of life–individual, corporate, cultural, governmental–so that our global civilization will operate by the Golden Rule and treat all life as sacred. “I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life.” Since King’s death that principle has been codified in the “Earth Charter” and the “Parliament of the World Religion’s Global Ethic.” They are both documents that we need to know and promote, if we honor the dream of MLK Jr. You can find them online.
King said fifty years ago that this ethic of unconditional love for all was an absolute necessity for the survival of humanity. Now it is clear that it is an absolute necessity for the survival of all living species. Only by changing our consciousness so that we recognize the oneness of all people and all life and treat all with love can we hope to survive.
This principle is also essential to Strafford, to us as neighbors, as we face the challenges and changes ahead. A crisis can drive people apart or it can bring them together. We can believe that no one will be there for us, that we must be survivalists competing ruthlessly for our own wellbeing, or we can commit to being there for our neighbors and trusting that they will be there for us, knowing that our oneness will not only increase our chance of success but also fill the challenging time with grace and peace and love.
That kind of unconditional love requires forgiveness, acceptance, tolerance, the valuing of our differences as a strength, the appreciation of one another’s goodness and gifts while having compassion for one another’s weaknesses and mistakes.
It takes conscious intention, choice and practice to live this way. King knew it wasn’t easy. He not only practiced it with violent, racist segregationists but also with people on his own side who attacked him for his insistence on nonviolence or for expanding his dream to include more than an end to racism. Some people hated him for preaching love. He knew it was hard to practice unconditional love with difficult or very different people.
He also knew that the ethic and values of unconditional love and the Golden Rule constituted our only hope of surviving on this tiny, fragile planet where we are completely interdependent, like it or not. He said our only choice was “nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation,” love or death.
Thank you for all you do for the side of love in the revolution of values underway in our world today. Thank you especially for every small act of lovingkindness you do that makes Stafford the blessed community that it is.
PS For a continuation of this letter, “Part Two,” click here.