Love Amid Injustice

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Chalice lighting

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.“
May the flame we kindle now shed a light that drives out the darkness of suspicion and mistrust
May it awaken the love that brings justice.

Reading: from the Tao Te Ching, attributed to Lao Tzu

If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbours.
If there is to be peace between neighbours,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.

Message part 1 – by Rev. Andy Pakula

“Welcome to a radically inclusive community of love and justice.”

I say this every Sunday morning and I have for a while now. I know that the part that comes after is probably more impactful - the part where I proclaim that this congregation welcomes you no matter what - no matter what you are hiding or feeling or what you think is so bad and unloveable about you - you are welcome here. I know this is something we all need to hear.

But I begin with love and justice. I started to do that maybe a year ago when it became clear in a few key settings within New Unity that “love and justice” is a powerful pairing that speaks very compactly and very powerfully about why we are here – and identifies our purpose. We aim to build more love and justice in individuals, in the community and in the larger world.

I suspect you may be glazing over a bit. “Love and justice” sounds very much like two nice uncontroversial things to put together. Of course, we’re for love and justice. Who isn’t? It’s like ‘liberty and justice for all.’ No one is against that. We’re all for love. We’re all for justice, aren’t we?

But I’m going to talk today about why and how this pairing of words is so important and hopefully get you to feel less “ho hum” and more “YES!” about putting these two words together as we do.

I’ll be talking about Martin Luther King, Jr. as we go. The 90th anniversary of his birth is this Tuesday. King was the best-known leader of the American Civil Rights struggle. His words and his actions moved a nation and had impacts worldwide.

King’s approach was nonviolent. He did not turn to violence or arson despite the cruelty of his enemies. King spoke powerfully about the relationship of love and justice and he led a movement based on those principles.

Combining love and justice is not easy. It is the opposite of easy. Martin Luther King said we must love those who oppress us - those who prevent us from experiencing justice.

We’re living in a time where an American president is encouraging racism, separating children from their parents, and allowing the destruction of the environment. And here, we have a government that is increasing homelessness, cutting benefits, making life miserable for immigrants, cutting programmes that help young people, and pulling us out of the EU.

Love is not the feeling that comes easily to us when we think of the people who are doing such things. In fact, what we want to do is fight. We become angry. We become vengeful. We become hateful. We want to defeat them, toss them out, humiliate them, and - in the case of the US - see the leaders indicted, convicted, and sentenced to at least a few years in prison.

Why shouldn’t we? It feels good to tweet something snarky about your enemies. It feels good to embarrass them and make them look stupid. It feels good to see them defeated and disgraced.

When we are fighting for justice for ourselves, our friends, our neighbours, our children and our children’s children, why shouldn’t we use every bit of power and every tool at our disposal?

Why did Martin Luther King want us to love our enemies?

Reading: Martin Luther King, Jr., from Facing the Challenge of a New Age (1956)

the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption;
the end is the creation of the Beloved Community.
It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends.

It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age.
It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.

Message part 2 – by Rev. Andy Pakula

Martin Luther King’s strategy for securing justice was not only love. It was an approach inspired by Gandhi who was, in turn, inspired by Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau was a 19th century Unitarian dropout who defiantly refused to pay taxes that would support an American war of aggression against Mexico.  His approach was non-cooperation with an oppressive system - nonviolent action of the kind that Gandhi later took up.

This was King’s strategy and both he and Gandhi saw it as the most effective way for the oppressed to demand and win justice from their oppressors. It was practical - after all, the British Raj had all the advantages over the Indian peasantry. And in the United States too, the oppressed African Americans were no match for their establishment oppressors if and when it came to violence.

But King goes further than simply nonviolent non-cooperation. In the reading we just heard, as he says that “the end is reconciliation” and “the end is the Beloved Community”, he is explaining that boycotts and other nonviolent actions are not only for winning - that they are not enough on their own.

They are insufficient if they do not also lead to understanding and reconciliation and the transformation of enemies into friends.

This is what King meant by love of enemies and oppressors.

King drew his inspiration from the Christian scriptures where Jesus tells his followers to love their enemies. To be fair, this was not new to Jesus. The Hebrew scriptures also speak of treating an enemy as a friend. And lest we think that anything is ever truly new, consider these words:

“Do not return evil to your adversary; requite with kindness the one who does evil to you, maintain justice for your enemy, be friendly to your enemy.” That is from Babylonian civilisation, some two thousand years before Jesus was born.

Buddhist writings that predate Jesus said this: “Shame on him who strikes, greater shame on him who strikes back. Let us live happily, not hating those who hate us. Let us therefore overcome anger by kindness, evil by good, falsehood by truth. Do not hurt others in ways that would be hurtful to yourself.”

Taoist wisdom from centuries before Jesus: “Return love for hatred. Otherwise, when a great hatred is reconciled, some of it will surely remain. How can this end in goodness?”

Martin Luther King, Jr. so beautifully offered us a reason to love your enemy, saying that: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

In the Buddhist writings, the Dhammapada, we find a much earlier version of this wisdom: “In this world, hate never yet dispelled hate. Only love dispels hate. This is the law, ancient and inexhaustible.”

So, the wisdom of love for enemies is ancient. It precedes King and Jesus and the Hebrew scriptures. Loving your enemy, they said, is the only way to end enmity. It is the only way to end hatred.

Does it still hold in modern times? Does it hold for people who enrich themselves at the expense of the poor? People who separate tiny children from their parents? People who commit terrorist attacks against innocent civilians? People who encourage and spread racism? People who consort and collude with national enemies? People who abuse the needy stranger? Leaders who put their own desires above the needs of their citizens?

The ancient world was different from today’s world. Enemies were not likely to be people we would never meet or see. They were not halfway around the world. They were people we lived with or at least people we would see again and again.

It is obvious that, when the enemy is our neighbour, it is better to love and befriend them than to treat them in a way that will continue to build their hatred and anger against us.

What about Donald Trump? Why shouldn’t I hate him? He is not my neighbour. I have no relationship with him and will almost certainly never meet him.

Wouldn’t it be better to hate him and work to have him impeached, indicted, and imprisoned?

That would certainly be my hope, and if Trump were a lone person working entirely on his own who could be defeated without raising the hatred of others, it would be my sole aim. But, in today’s world, the very notion of neighbour has had to change.

We might wish to see Trump jailed or those responsible for austerity or Brexit here disgraced, but those who follow and support and identify with these leaders are indeed our neighbours.

When we treat these enemies with hatred, we reinforce their enmity. We stoke the fire of their hatred. Their defeat is only a temporary solution as their anger smoulders and builds until they can once again lash out at us.

Martin Luther King famously said: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

What enemy can we hate and defeat without their hatred growing toward us - without their waiting and working for the day when they can strike us as we struck them?

The world is too small for this. Perhaps it always has been, but we were not close enough to see the loathing we fuelled. We live today with the hatred of people who were hated and harmed by our ancestors. Colonialism was a hatred and oppression that has built a hatred that has strengthened to attack us. Our treatment of other parts of the world also created enemies who want to return our abuse with their own.

Loving your enemy is practical advice. It is not just a lofty aspiration or something we will do when we become fully evolved, perfect people. It is what we must do to create a peaceful, loving, and just world for ourselves, our children and their children.

And there is no question that loving your enemy is a big ask. Even if it is essential for the world we want to see, it does not come naturally.

Love in this use is not about affection. It is not some sticky sentimentality. It is about understanding and compassion. When we think of a Trump supporter or a Brexiteer or someone else whose views we despise, we must begin to look deeper. We must first recognise that this person is a human being like us. It is not that we are good and they are evil - we all have the same kinds of motivations. We are afraid. We want comfort. We want to be highly thought of. We want to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

The same motivations lead us in different directions and toward different views. If I had grown up in a gun-loving, racist culture, my fear would encourage me to hate people who are different from me and arm myself to the teeth.

Instead, in the liberal culture where I found myself, my fear drives me to want to fight in a different way - to ban guns, to welcome immigrants, to protest against xenophobic policies, to support a woman’s right to choose, to take action to bring about same-sex marriage rights - and these, at least in part, are driven by the same motivations that might have pushed me toward racism and guns.

When I encounter someone with views I abhor, I have to remember our shared humanity and the fact that our shared fears and dreams underlie our painful differences. This is compassion - to be in touch with the feelings and needs of others. It is where love begins.

When we begin to recognise our deep similarities over our surface differences, the door is opened to love.

We must open that door and, as hard as it is, we must step through. Everyone is our neighbour today. The future of justice depends on love.

May it be so.

Closing words

Let love grow in our hearts
Let love grow in the relationships between us
Let love grow in this community
Let love grow in the cities and in the nations
Let a love that creates justice be among us all.