The movement starts when Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” That is the radical moment in the Sermon on the Mount—when the tables are turned, when the tool to beat the sword into a plowshare is offered, and when those in power and control can feel the foundation cracking. Ever since then, when we love our enemies, justice stretches her arms and those movements take on depth. Dr. Howard Thurman, one of King’s mentors, speaks of the longing and loneliness of the seeker of truth searching for a love that lives beyond the boundaries. Mahatma Gandhi speaks of that kind of radical love as Ahimsa, the soul force that changes us as we change the world. Born into the segregated South in 1929 and catapulted into national prominence as the leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s call to love our enemies changed the course of our nation and the world. King’s call to action is to let love be the guiding principle for all our civil disobedience and moral protests. Whether experiencing a vision of mountaintops or the anger of racist throngs along a bridge, that call doesn’t change. He continues to call us to love our enemies today even as he did when he founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to spearhead non-violent mass demonstrations. Throughout the confrontations in Birmingham, Selma, and Chicago, he remains consistent—love our enemies. In victories such as the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, 1965, and 1968, we are called upon to love our enemies. Even as he turned his attention to economic empowerment of the poor and opposition to the Vietnam War—contending that racism, poverty and militarism were interrelated—he never wavers; love your enemies. Even as he lived in constant danger, including the dynamiting of his home, being stabbed, harassed by death threats, and jailed 30 times, he calls us to love our enemies.
It doesn’t mean we don’t feel anger, it doesn’t mean we don't rail against principalities and institutions that don’t practice radical hospitality, it doesn’t mean there is no conflict. It means we are a bunch of clanging symbols if we don’t act with love as our guiding principle. It is a costly way to live in the political, economical, and religious fields, but it grows a rich harvest for the whole world to glean. Martin, with his deep prophetic voice calling us to radical love, talks about moments like the midnight-coffee hour where he questions everything as he developed his course of action, but he keeps on loving. That commitment—first to love even as we question everything else—is what love requires of us.
Love has always been the beginning of movements. It is the mission statement of Thistle Farms to witness that love is the most powerful force for social change in the world. With national and global partners we are moving towards freedom for many women, compelling us to love our enemies. But whenever a new woman, who has survived the injustices of prisons, the backside of anger, and silence of child abuse asks how does love heal, I question it all. I question how we can love our enemies and what does love mean. I have to go back to the every basics: Love is taking the ideal and moving it into a daily practice. Love is what we allow to break our hearts, and through it, we find the path to freedom. Speaking on the night before he was assassinated on April 4,1968, he says “When people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don't know what to do.” He goes on to say that such a powerful movement cannot be stopped. “Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. Let us move on to make America what it ought to be.”
Whenever we act against the movement founded on the principle to love our enemies, it doesn’t sit well with our souls. It feels uncomfortable and shackles our spirits. We can try to justify that discontent in a million different ways or numb it or impose fear on others, but when we love our enemies, we are an unstoppable force. All of us are called to walk deeper into the waters of love. To love our enemies and to forgive those who have done us harm is a freeing and noble way to go deeper. Love unleashes us from the bounds of apathy that are shackled by resentment and fear. Love’s partner, Forgiveness, transforms brokenness into compassion. Love’s corollary, Peace, is rooted in the practice of love. It is costly, it is hard, and it leaves us knee-buckling deep in gratitude.
Peace and love, Becca Stevens