“The Higher Principle of Love”
Each year around the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, I try to read one of his speeches that I haven’t read before. This year, my attention was drawn to a speech he gave earlier in his public life. It was August 11, 1956. King delivered the featured speech at the 50th anniversary convention banquet of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity in Buffalo. The speech is entitled, “The Birth of a New Age.” It is a speech that insightfully lays out his early vision and strategy.
Here is an excerpt from the end of the speech:
“Never forget that you are where you are today because the masses have helped you get there and they stand now out in the wilderness, not being able to speak for themselves, they stand walking the streets in protest just not knowing exactly what to do and the techniques. They are waiting for somebody out in the midst of the wilderness of life to stand up and speak and take a stand for them.
God grant that the resources that you have will be used to do that, the great resources of education, the resources of wealth, and that we will be able to move into this new world, a world in which men will live together as brothers; a world in which men will no longer take necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. A world in which men will throw down the sword and live by the higher principle of love. The time when we shall be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daylight of freedom and justice…
You don’t have to get too far into the speech to see that King saw the burgeoning movement of which he was a part in divine, universal, and world-changing terms. He said, “We stand today between two worlds — the dying old and the emerging new.”
Remember, this was 1956. The period that we know as the civil rights movement was still relatively young. Yet he expressed a vision — a vision of hope and deliverance and freedom that, when you are in the throes of oppression, can only come from the mind of God.
It wasn’t that he didn’t know how bad things were. He had no rose colored glasses on. He details the evils of oppression in worldwide and historical terms. He talks about the long and harsh legacy of colonialism. He talks about our very own Supreme Court, in 1896, in the land supposedly founded upon freedom, affirming the principle of “separate but equal.”
But then in 1954, in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court essentially reversed this, which clearly gave him a new hope and a new vision for what God was calling him to do:
“Let nobody fool you, all the loud noises we hear today in terms of nullification and interposition are nothing but the death groans of the dying system. The old order is passing away, the new order is coming into being. But whenever there is anything new there are new responsibilities.”
He then went on to give examples of what these responsibilities and the “higher principle of love” would look like in practical terms.
He says, “We must rise above the narrow confines of our individualistic concerns, with a broader concern for all humanity…No individual can afford to live alone now…We are all linked in the great chain of humanity.”
You see, this is a higher principle. That kind of idea is on a higher plane. Because still today, perhaps even more so today, we live as if we are kingdoms unto ourselves. Still today, we ask the old question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9).
Love is on a different level.
He also said in that speech:
“We must prepare to go into this new age without bitterness. That is a temptation that is a danger to all of those of us who have lived for many years under the yoke of oppression and those of us who have been confronted with injustice, those of us who have lived under the evils of segregation and discrimination, will go into the new age with bitterness and indulging in hate campaigns. We cannot do it that way. For if we do it that way, it will be just a perpetuation of the old way.”
This is a higher principle. That kind of idea is on a higher plane. Because still today, perhaps even more so today, we chant that old law, ‘An eye for an eye, a life for a life’ (Deut. 19:21).
I think we must remember, a fallen world does not usually see love as the higher principle that it is. As the apostle Paul said, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight” (1 Cor. 3:19). King said we must live together as brothers; but a fallen world might see that as foolhardy and tell you that you don’t want to get tangled up with the needs of the world. King said we must “throw down the sword” — or beat our swords into plowshares as the prophet Micah put it (Micah 4:3). But a fallen world might see that as weak, ill-advised. They may think you a ‘snowflake.’ But anyone who knows what love required of these women and men of the civil rights movement know that they were anything but.
The higher principle of love takes courage that only God can give. It takes vision only God can give. It takes selflessness that we don’t learn on our own. In King’s honor, and for God’s sake, may we choose the higher principle.