In August of 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) with the speech, “Where do we go from here?” Every person in the country should study it.
But then, we don’t like long speeches, do we? We prefer memes, soundbites, chants, and slogans. We get addicted to the adrenalin that comes from the things that incite our passion. The long, hard, strategic work that actually affects change over time, well, we don’t have the patience for that.
King reflected on ten years of the SCLC’s work for racial justice across the country. And in answering, “Where do we go from here?” he affirmed his commitment to non-violence. But at the same time, he challenged ministers and others who reduced the idea of love to a sentiment:
“Now, we’ve got to get this thing right. 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.
“And the other thing is, I’m concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood; I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.
“Let us be dissatisfied until that day when the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid.
“Let us be dissatisfied, and men will recognize, that out of one blood God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth.
“Let us be dissatisfied until that day when nobody will shout, “White Power!” when nobody will shout, “Black Power!” but everybody will talk about God’s power and human power.”
This Sunday, I’m preaching on the story of the first convert to Christianity in the Book of Acts: a black, sexually-altered man from a foreign country. For all those reasons, the man would have been excluded from Judaism. He was someone Philip would never have met on his own. It took massive intervention by the Holy Spirit to get Philip to seek him out. But when Philip explained the Gospel, the man was changed.
It was through transformations like this that the church, in the power of the Holy Spirit, transformed the world.
As King said, “Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.”
The light of the Gospel.