Winning. That’s the focus when I turn on my television or computer as I pour my morning coffee. Whether its elections, football games, or debates, the goal is to come out on top with little concern for any cheating, attacking, or mudslinging employed along the way. But as I remember one of my favorite heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I am empowered by a different message – one centered in reconciliation and anchored in Christian faith. In his sermon titled, “Loving Your Enemies,” Dr. King is clear that the road to victory is as important as achieving it.
“But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win YOU in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”
King’s focus was not exclusively on results but, as importantly, relationships – not solely about conquering the cause but winning opponents over in the process.
In his book, Martin Luther King Jr. for Armchair Theologians, Dr. Rufus Burrow Jr., author and my seminary professor, explains Dr. King’s embodiment of God’s agape love teamed with Gandhi’s non-violent approach:
“King’s primary aim was not to win or to be successful, but to be faithful to the God who called him to ministry. … Reminiscent of Gandhi, he admonished the protestors that their aim must never be to defeat or humiliate white oppressors, but to win their respect and friendship.”
Despite violent threats, physical attacks, home bombings, and the constant endangerment of his family’s lives, he was determined to embody God’s overflowing love. “For King, Christian agape was the highest good …” He further added, “It has no concern for who the neighbor is. Everybody is one’s neighbor.”
Today, as we remember Dr. King, I wonder if his double victory will ever be possible in our divided nation. We urgently need reconciliation and unification – we need the message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. embodied in our leaders whether in our workplaces, government, or at home.
And as I reflect on how to personally embrace his message, I am even more convinced that there is no point in winning if I lose the relationship along the way.