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Martin Luther King’s rationale for love and nonviolence was an attempt to follow in the steps of Jesus. Throughout his life, he reminded himself and others about Sermon on the Mount’s (the Jesus Manifesto) call to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) and the arrest of Jesus (Matthew 26-36-56), which calls people to a nonviolent love in search for justice.

Consider this from Dr. King.

At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love. The nonviolent resister would contend that in the struggle for human dignity, the oppressed people of the world must not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter or indulging in hate campaigns. To retaliate in kind would do nothing but intensify the existence of hate in the universe. Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives.

Some might critique King’s admonition to love and nonviolence as a naïve, unrealistic, and cowardly submission to evil. Nothing could be further from the truth. For King,

True nonviolent resistance is not unrealistic submission to evil power. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflicter of it, since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart – (The Autobiography, 130).

 

While attending a meeting one month after the group was formed, his house was bombed. When King heard of the bombing, his thoughts went to his wife, Corretta, and their baby, Yolanda, who were home that night. Fortunately, when he arrived home, they were not harmed.

Within a few hours of the bombing, a crowd formed outside the house. Individuals in the crowd began calling for violent retaliation as they imitated each others desire for revenge in support of King. This imitation rallied the mob into a mimetic crisis, where nothing can satiate the discontent of the mob except violence. King knew that as the leader, he had to calm down the crowd, so he went outside and delivered an impromptu speech that would sum up his commitment to love and nonviolence.

We believe in law and order. Don’t get panicky. Don’t do anything panicky at all. Don’t get your weapons. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remember, that’s what God said. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. Love them, and let them know you love them (The Autobiography, 80).

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