Love was critical in the thinking of Martin Luther King, Jr., and it relates directly to the importance of community.
In King’s treatment of love in Stride Toward Freedom, he connects love to community. He repeats “community” 13 times in one paragraph, thus pointing to the importance of community in his thinking. To cite most of the uses of the word and reveal how King viewed community, here is a portion of the paragraph:
Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community. It is insistence on community even when one seeks to break it. . . .Agape is a willingness to go to any length to restore community. It doesn’t stop at the first mile, but it goes the second mile to restore community. It is a willingness to forgive, not seven times, but seventy times seven to restore community. The cross is the eternal expression of the length to which God will go in order to restore broken community. The resurrection is a symbol of God’s triumph over all the forces that seek to block community. The Holy Spirit is the continuing community creating reality that moves through history. He who works against community is working against the whole of creation. Therefore, if I respond to hate with a reciprocal hate I do nothing but intensify the cleavage in broken community. I can only close the gap in broken community by meeting hate with love. If I meet hate with hate, I become depersonalized, because creation is so designed that my personality can only be fulfilled in the context of community.
King adds later, “Love, agape, is the only cement that can hold this broken community together.”
A key phrase surfaces often in King and writings about him—”beloved community.” He did not coin the phrase; it surfaced earlier in the 20th century through philosopher-theologian Josiah Royce, who founded the Fellowship of Reconciliation. King, a member of the fellowship, “popularized the term and invested it with a deeper meaning which has captured the imagination of people of goodwill all over the world,” according to The King Center.
In his book about the Montgomery bus boycott, King wrote, “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.” He contrasted beloved community with broken community. “But something must happen so to touch the hearts and souls of men that they will come together, not because the law says it, but because it is natural and right.” In beloved community, there will be “genuine intergroup and interpersonal living.”
(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists web site.)