Nonviolence, love, equality


Sermons: The words of Martin Luther King Jr. carry weight and meaning that still apply today.

January 20, 2003

Today is a national holiday in celebration of the life and work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was born in Atlanta on Jan. 15, 1929, and assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968, while trying to help striking garbage workers.

King rose to prominence in 1955, when he was pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white passenger and go to the back of the bus. King emerged as one of the leaders of the bus boycott that ensued. He soon came to national attention for his moving and forceful speeches, his leadership and his courage in the cause of desegregation and equal opportunity. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

Perhaps most famous for his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington and his "Letter from Birmingham Jail," King was also known for his powerful sermons. Following are excerpts from two of them:

From "Loving Your Enemies"

Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., on Nov. 17, 1957.

"History unfortunately leaves some people oppressed and some people oppressors. And there are three ways that individuals who are oppressed can deal with their oppression.

One of them is to rise up against their oppressors with physical violence and corroding hatred. But oh this isn't the way. For the danger and the weakness of this method is its futility. Violence creates many more social problems than it solves. ...

Another way is to acquiesce and to give in, to resign yourself to the oppression. Some people do that. They discover the difficulties of the wilderness moving into the promised land, and they would rather go back to the despots of Egypt because it's difficult to get in the promised land. And so they resign themselves to the fate of oppression; they somehow acquiesce to this thing. But that too isn't the way because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.

But there is another way. And that is to organize mass nonviolent resistance based on the principle of love. It seems to me that this is the only way as our eyes look to the future. As we look out across the years and across the generations, let us develop and move right here. We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world. We will be able to make men better. Love is the only way. ...

So this morning, as I look into your eyes, and into the eyes of all of my brothers in Alabama and all over America and over the world, I say to you, "I love you. I would rather die than hate you."

From "The American Dream"

Delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on July 4, 1965.

"It wouldn't take us long to discover the substance of that dream. It is found in those majestic words of the Declaration of Independence, words lifted to cosmic proportions: `We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by God, Creator, with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.' This is a dream. It's a great dream.

The first saying we notice in this dream is an amazing universalism. It doesn't say `some men,' it says `all men.' It doesn't say `all white men,' it says `all men,' which includes black men. It does not say `all Gentiles,' it says `all men,' which includes Jews. It doesn't say `all Protestants,' it says `all men,' which includes Catholics. It doesn't even say `all theists and believers,' it says `all men,' which includes humanists and agnostics.

Then that dream goes on to say another thing that ultimately distinguishes our nation and our form of government from any totalitarian system in the world. It says that each of us has certain basic rights that are neither derived from nor conferred by the state. In order to discover where they came from, it is necessary to move back behind the dim mist of eternity. They are God-given, gifts from His hands. ...

We have a great dream. It started way back in 1776, and God grant that America will be true to her dream.

About two years ago now, I stood with many of you who stood there in person and all of you who were there in spirit before the Lincoln Monument in Washington. As I came to the end of my speech there, I tried to tell the nation about a dream I had. I must confess to you this morning that since that sweltering August afternoon in 1963, my dream has often turned into a nightmare; I've seen it shattered.

I saw it shattered one night on Highway 80 in Alabama when Mrs. Viola Liuzzo was shot down. I had a nightmare and saw my dream shattered one night in Marion, Alabama, when Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot down. I saw my dream shattered one night in Selma when Reverend Reeb was clubbed to the ground by a vicious racist and later died.

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