Strength to Love is a collection of sermons written when pastoring at churches in Montgomery and Atlanta. There are also three sermons written while King was in jail. The sermons that were written in jail will be highlighted with a star (*).
A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart
To be a good Christian one must marry idealism and realism. Realism characterized by a “tough-mind” is defined as incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgement. Idealism characterized by a “soft-heart” is the ability to empathize and love in the form of agape. Tough-mindedness alone leads a person to be cold and detached. Soft-heartedness alone drives someone to be gullible and timid.
There is a lengthy discussion on the false conflict between religion and science. King asserts they are not in conflict, but complementary. They use different methods that lead to different types of truth. So it is acceptable for Christians to offer historical and philosophical critique of the Bible. Both types of truth are necessary to navigate the current world.
He also talks about how science has been perverted to lead people to believe black people are genetically inferior. King asserts disparity in wealth and education are the result of policy current and historical injustice.
Nonviolent resistance is the synthesis of idealism and realism. In that, it realizes blacks will not be able to defeat the most powerful military the world has ever known but still needs to fight for its dignity.
Christians are charged with mimicking the life of Jesus which was a life of non-conformity. Christians should be moved by their convictions and a fear of social reprisal. The current state of the world will not allow a true Christian to live a “well-adjusted” life.
Many in the field of psychology say mental and emotional health is reflected by conformity to society. With conformity comes a large social circle, wealth, and comfortable life. Jumboism, is how Dr. King defines the zeitgeist of the age, the need to grow in numbers and be part of something large. Modern day churches have a large quantity of low-quality worshipers.
On Being a Good Neighbor
It takes more than following a creed to be Christian. One must actively manifest their faith in the world. One must show the same universal altruism the Samaritan showed. On the road to Damascus. The Samaritan did not worry in the injured Israelite saw him negatively. He just helped even though doing so would mean he could be ambushed and robbed himself.
Interestingly King says even in the Bible G-d didn’t always show this love. In the Old Testament G-d commands Israel not to kill other Israelites, but slaughter Philistines. Ethnic level morality was not only in Israel. It was in the way Greeks took care of aristocracy and not slaves. The current manifestation of ethnic level morality was American racism.
The following quote shows how Dr. King viewed the relationship between laws and morality:
“Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless…But acknowledging this, we must admit that the ultimate solution to the race problem lies in the willingness of men to obey the unenforceable. ”
*Love in Action*
This sermon was based around the Bible verse “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” He explains how those that perpetuate racism and discrimination are not fully aware of the hurt they cause. Then entreats Christians to offer limitless forgiveness.
King offers the example of Socrates’ execution as an example of respectable men not understanding what they did. The men that executed Socrates did not understand his concept of G-d. Socrates’s G-d had philosophical depth and went beyond traditional concepts and superstitions. King also gives the example of the same ills befalling those that persecuted Christians in the Roman Empire.
There is another discussion on what we today call racial realism, the idea that science supports the notion of black inferiority. He specifically mentions the work of Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, and Melville J. Herskovits in debunking the claim.
War has outlived its usefulness in Dr. King’s estimation. In the past, it was needed as a negative good to ensure dictators did not take over the world. Now with the invention of nuclear weapons, war could kill all life on earth. The world needs new methods to solve conflict.
*Loving Your Enemies*
Those outside the Christian religion see ‘loving your enemies” as impractical and/or weak. These people do not understand the concept of forgiveness. Forgiveness means an adverse action no longer affects the future relationship. It is no longer block in future interaction. The goal in Christian conflict is not humiliating to the enemy, but to it fosters love and understanding.
Love is often misunderstood. There are three types of love. Eros which is a yearning for union with G-d. Phillia which is reciprocal love between men, friendship. Lastly, there is Agape which is a love for all humanity as your brother. Often outsiders consider “love your neighbor” as “like your neighbor.” Like is a sentimental affection. It is impossible to like someone that actively works to harm you.
Lastly loving your enemies is not only beneficial for the other person. It is advantageous to the person doing the forgiving. Loving your enemies helps to build a relationship with G-d. Hate is cancerous and erodes vital unity and the agape love naturally inside the individual.
Knock at Midnight
In this speech, King urges the congregation to action by explaining society is at a midnight hour. He tells of conformity and comfort are the principle values of most people. It is the churches job to refocus these people. The loss of morality has lead to a mentality of “survival of the slickest.”
The church in recent years has become pro-war. The membership has swollen, but the quality of worship has not. The black church is burning with emotionalism and has turned worship into entertainment. The white church is freezing with classism in direct opposition to the teaching of Christ. The church should not be the master or slave of government, but its critic and conscious.
At the end of the speech, he announces the Supreme Court has deemed bus segregation unlawful.
The Man Who Was a Fool
King presents the Bible story of a rich man Jesus called a fool. He didn’t do this just because the man was rich. The man was called a fool because he mismanaged his wealth through lack of charity. The man saw himself as an island unconnected to those around him. His worldly possessions held more importance than the well-being of his brothers. By not taking his duty to his fellow man seriously, he acted like he was the creator not a creation. There is not a single event in a day that is not dependent on the community working together.
King makes a case against materialism and humanism. Materialism, the idea we are matter randomly organized, can easily be disproven by the complexity and beauty of the universe. Humanism, the idea humans are the greatest creation and destine for good, can be easily disproven by our modern world making us less happy. We have tons of labor-saving devices, but work harder for less reward. Also, science gave us the atomic bomb, proving science is as good as those the weld it.
This speech was updated in 1967. The 1967 version is far more popular.
The Death of Evil on the Seashore
This speech was given on the second anniversary of the Brown v. Board of education victory. He models history as chiefly a struggle between good and evil. The concept of an eternal struggle between good and evil is echoed not only in Christianity, but in Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and Platonism. King retells the story of Moses parting the Red Sea and its closing when the Egyptian tried to enter. The evil Egyptians died on the Seashore.
Good is inevitably going to win the fight. The evidence is not only Supreme Court decisions like Brown v Board. It can also be found in the successful struggle for independence in Africa in Asia.
He ends with giving the congregation reassurance that they are on the right side of history and to continue to struggle with oppressors using love.
Three Dimensions of a Complete Life
Already summarized in Measure of a Man
St. Paul’s life is used in this speech as an analogy for having a great dream differed. St. Paul planned to travel to Spain to spread the gospel but is abducted by Romans and executed in a Roman jail. St. Paul never realized his greatest dreams.
Not achieving goals can make people react in a few different ways. One can become bitter and cynical. The cynicism will cause the most harm to the person that holds it in the form of physical ailments. One can sink into fatalism, the belief there is no choice in life, and give up. The last option is to accept the bad while holding on to hope.
King believes there is an ultimate destiny for man, but man gets a level of freedom within that ultimate destiny. Due to G-d granting a degree of freedom to man he allows evil to exist on earth.
Gandhi was mentioned in this work as a historical figure that was not allowed to see a free unified India. Other historical figure mentioned were Woodrow Wilson, Handel, and Abraham Lincoln
What is Man?
Summarized in Measure of a Man
How Should a Christian View Communism
All Christian pastors must talk about Communism. Communism is a growing influence spreading over Asia, Africa, and Europe. As a philosophy, it rivals Christianity and is its biggest competition.
Communism is opposed to Christianity. In Communism, the state is central to reality, with the goal being the end of class. There are no moral absolutes in Communism so any method including violence and propaganda can be used to gain power. Because there are no moral absolutes Communism leads to authoritarian governments in practice. All personal liberty is suspended because the most important social entity is the state, not the individual.
Even though King is against Communism, he agrees with many of their criticisms of modern society. The church has lost the prophetic voice, that inspired Roman nobles to give up their life of luxury for persecution. Many Christians are more focused on heavenly freedom than human freedom. The otherworldliness has prevented Christian criticism of racism, poverty, and classism. Therefore Marx’s critique of religion as the “opiate of the people” sticks.
King’s goal is to establish The Kingdom of G-d, which is neither an individual or collective enterprise. The Kingdom is the synthesis of both universal truths.
Our God is Able
G-d is the center of the Christian universe. Many want to make man the center and science the new religion. Nothing man made can compare to the wonder of the natural universe. Science has led to the atomic bomb which puts us all at risk. Man can not save himself without divine intervention.
In Christian philosophy, evil is real, and G-d will conquer it. There is real-world evidence of history bending toward good. The ultimate defeat of fascism in WWII and the end of colonialism in the global south show that good typically prevails. Segregation will soon be added to the list.
He then goes into a personal story from his own life. The first 24 year of it was lived in ease due to his parent’s stability and wealth. When he began leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott his life changed radically. Death threats were constant. One night after a particularly frightening call he could not sleep. He went to the kitchen made coffee and paced the floor. He prayed to G-d for strength. Suddenly, King feels G-d’s presence. That event gave him enough strength to soldier on.
Later that month his house was bombed. No one was hurt, but King was able to take the news in stride. He knew he would be protected by a higher power.
Antidotes to Fear
Fear is ever growing in modern society. Some fear is good and keeps us out of trouble. Other fears force us to innovate. However, the fast pace of contemporary society can lead to constant fear.
King prescribes the antidotes to fear: introspection, courage, love, faith. Introspection will help in deciphering rational from irrational fear. Soldiering on in the face of fear is courage. Love is defined as mutual trust and goodwill. King gives the example of mutual nuclear disarmament. Faith is building an inner resilience to adversity based on spirituality.
Love was especially important to King. He explains as black people grow in political influence whites will fear retaliation. Blacks must reassure white people their fear is unfounded. Blacks want to forgive and forget and move forward in love.
To end the speech he takes time to remember an elderly woman named Mother Pollard. She was an activist in the Montgomery campaign remembered for the quote, “My feet’s is tired but my soul is rested”. After a meeting in which King was putting on a strong front to hide his inner fear and depression, Mother Pollard pulled him aside. She asked if something was wrong, he assured her he was fine. She realized he was covering and reminded him he had the full support from the team, but more importantly, he had the support of G-d. King was forever grateful.
The Answer to a Perplexing Question
The perplexing question is: “How can evil be cast out of the world?”
There are two views debunked by King. The first is the humanistic view that man can cast out evil with his ability. Modern society assumes the advances in science and technology will inevitably lead to a better future. The humanistic ideal is proven false by the current state of the world. The other model is G-d will solve our problems when he is ready, and man has no responsibility. This ideal leads Christians to become otherworldly. It also reduces G-d to a “cosmic bellhop” serving your every wish. The correct view is man acting as a tool of G-d will bring about change.
There is a brief aside in which King explains why he does not believe in infant damnation. Once one rejects the view that man has no capacity for good, one can accept that an infant is not tarnished with sin at birth. Therefore if a child dies, he will not go to hell. It is essential to understand King’s position on this issue to explain why he is pro-choice.
Paul’s Letter to American Christians
King creates a mock epistle in this essay. In it, Paul writes a letter to American Christians illustrating many points. “Paul” chides us in advancing in science but regressing in morality. Our church is divided into many denominations and by race. All divisions in the church are counterproductive. Also, America has high-income inequality with the top 0.1% owning 40% of the wealth.
Pilgrimage to Nonviolence
This essay is an explanation on how King grew past his fundamentalist upbringing. Seminary introduced him to liberal theology. This version of theology stressed reason and criticized the Bible.
There was one issue King had trouble grasping, the idea that man was inherently good. There were too many examples of men rationalizing bad behavior for King not to see reason as tarnished by sin.
Even though liberal theology had flaws, King could not go back to fundamentalism or neo-orthodoxy. It was too pessimistic on the nature of man and led followers to otherworldliness.
His disillusion with the nature of man led him to study social gospel, which is the study of how religion is used to enact change in society. In this study, Mohandas Gandhi was a giant. His idea of satyagaha, love force, was the Christian doctrine of “turn the other cheek.” Now he had a real-world example of non-violence that worked.
Non-violence was not only crucial for American race relations but international conflict. There was a time when war was needed to stop dictators from spreading. However, now with the advent of atomic weapons, war was just too dangerous. Nonviolence had to be the main conflict resolution method in the future.