“What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best … is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on.”
—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Where Do We Go From Here,” 1967
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr delivered an address to members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference entitled, “Where Do We Go From Here?” He addressed the many gains made by the Civil Rights Movement but he also asserted, “that the plant of freedom has grown only a bud and not yet a flower.” Fifty years later, on the day set aside to commemorate Dr. King and his profound contributions to our nation, we must—with sadness, pain and anger—acknowledge that that statement remains true today—freedom for all people is still a bud that has not yet flowered. The promise and possibility remain but have not yet bloomed into reality. As we consider Dr. King’s legacy today, we recognize two challenges that we must confront for that to happen.
First, our nation must transform its sinful and inexcusable history and practice of racism which prevents the full flourishing of all our people. This includes the rise in recent years of the rhetoric of white supremacy and hate crimes against people of color and other groups. Racism continues to permeate every aspect of our society. All of us, of every ethnicity, have a role to play in dismantling it. In this speech, Dr. King outlined clearly the many gains made the Civil Rights Movement; he shows that we can transform our world and lift up the dignity and wellbeing of African-Americans and all other Americans. It is up to us to continue that work day by day and to rededicate ourselves to it today.
Second, Dr. King mentions in his speech that African-Americans had moved our country from the depths of segregation to a day when “It is no longer possible to count the number of public establishments that are open” to African-Americans. This was an enormous accomplishment that required facing, as he recounted, bullies, guns, dogs, and vicious mobs; the people “moved with strength and dignity toward them and decisively defeated them.” We honor the tremendous courage and dedication that led to these victories. Yet we also recognize that there is a new threat to this gain of keeping businesses open to all people. Under the name of religious liberty, there are those who seek to allow individuals to refuse to offer services to those whose sexual orientation or gender identity they disagree with. We must continue to fight against efforts to segregate our society where all establishments are open to the majority but some are closed to a minority group. If you want to learn more about addressing religious liberty, check out our new curriculum, written by Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow, the coordinator of the CLGS African American Roundtable.
Dr. King spoke of how to get that plant of freedom to move from a bud to a flower—to do so, we must link love and power. We must confront those who exercise power without love, authority that becomes reckless and abusive. But is also not enough to simply love others as a sentimental feeling that is not backed by concrete action. Love—the kind taught by our faith traditions—requires us to implement justice. Justice requires us to remove all that stands as a barrier to love. In 2018, as we honor Dr. King, we at CLGS recommit ourselves to embrace a deep love of a justice and affirm all kinds of loving.