MLK's prescription for healing hate was embracing 'agape'

tags: Martin Luther King, civil rights, politics, division

Eli Merritt is a visiting scholar in the Department of History and the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt University. He is completing a history of the American Revolution titled "Disunion Among Ourselves."

In early May in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr., Atlanta-born minister and galvanizing moral force of the civil rights movement, led nonviolent protests in Birmingham, Alabama, that after days of brutal firehosing and dog bites perpetuated on black demonstrators finally drove the white merchant community to desegregate lunch counters, restrooms, drinking fountains and fitting rooms as well as to consent to hire African-Americans as salesmen and clerks. 

King is most remembered in our history for his fearless practice and advocacy of nonviolent resistance to racial injustice. But, more universally and urgently across America today, he taught us a method for healing hate in all its manifest forms, whether racial, religious, ethnic or political.    

From his earliest speeches in the 1950s to one of his last, a sermon on peace delivered at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, King spoke repeatedly and breathlessly about the Greek concept of agape, or brotherly love and compassion, a social concept he defined as “understanding, creative, redemptive good will for all men.” 

King distinguished agape from two other types of Greek love, eros (romantic yearning) and philia (friendship). “Here,” he said of agape on another occasion, “we rise to the position of loving the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed he does.” 

Read entire article at The Tennessean

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