From Foe to Friend |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES

R. Clifford Jones

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. . . . Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. . . . Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Has it ever occurred to you that Valentine’s Day is smack in the middle of Black History Month? Is that a coincidence? What does love have to do with Black History? Do they go together, or are they mutually exclusive? Given what people of color have experienced in this country, can we love those who have oppressed and discriminated against us?

The history of people of African descent in the west is a saga of struggle and challenge in which de jure slavery gave way to de facto slavery, and today the African American experience in the United States of America provides proof that race is still a dominant force in this country that boasts that all people are created equal. Racism, subtle and stubborn, is a reality in America. Racial profiling, the killing of unarmed African Americans by police, and the demonization of America’s first African American president, etc, show that, as far as race is concerned, it is far from morning in America. The night of oppression and discrimination is resisting the dawn.

Throughout their existence in this country, African Americans have generally responded to their treatment by the dominant culture through accommodation or protest.  During the Civil Rights era, Malcolm X espoused violent protest, believing that African Americans should resist and fight back against their oppressors. “By any means necessary” was his mantra. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the other hand, embraced the ethic of non-violent protest, believing that the old Hammurabic principle of an eye for an eye would lead to broad blindness.

In his best-selling book, Strength to Love, Dr. King lifts up love as the dynamic and catalyst needed for racial healing and reconciliation. The venerable drum major for peace and justice believed that loving those who wronged you is a categorical imperative. For Dr. King, the road to the kingdom is the road of reconciliation, with love holding the cobblestones of that road together. Such love is impossible apart from forgiveness and an intentional determination to transform one’s enemy into one’s friend.

The human instinct is to render tit for tat, to trade barbs, and to fight back. Yet, in His inaugural Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenged His followers to love even those who do not have their best interests at heart (Matt. 5:38-48). Dr. King, whose grip on Christianity was firm, took the admonition of Jesus seriously, attesting, “Love is the most durable power in the world. This creative force, so beautifully exemplified in the life of Christ, is the most potent instrument available in mankind’s quest for peace and security. . . . Jesus started an empire that was built on love, and even to this day millions die for him” (Strength to Love, p. 55).

Preaching in 1967 at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. intoned, “I love you. I would rather die than hate you.” In the end, such love is what will usher in the Kingdom of God. Such love will turn the darkness into light and will transform an enemy into a friend.

R. Clifford Jones