Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
This is surely a book that will change your life. It has mine. I’ve never said this about another book thus far. The title itself tells us how to transform our lives by loving all people with strength. Our beloved Pope asks us to do the same.
As the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. prepared for the Birmingham campaign in early 1963, he drafted the final sermons for Strength in Love, a volume of his most well-known homilies. King had begun working on the sermons during a fortnight in jail in July 1962. While behind bars he spent uninterrupted time preparing the drafts for works such as “Loving your Enemies” and Shattered Dreams” and he continued to edit the volume after his release. In the decades since its original publication in 1963, Strength to Love has become an indispensable source of spiritual guidance and moral reckoning.
Originally written for his parishioners in Montgomery, Alabama, King went on to preach these sermons across the nation. His teachings are a call to nonviolent action, equally eschewing the Intellectual “paralysis of Analysis” and the temptation to address injustice with further hate and violence. Delving deep into the age-old struggles of loving your enemy being a good neighbor and surpassing fear, King’s sermons address our societal inequities and personal insecurities to propel us all forward.
Strength in Love presents these classic sermons selected by Dr. King for their permanence to the personal and collective crisis in his lifetime. They are as poignantly relevant in our modern society as ever. Collectively they present King’s fusion of Christian teachings and social consciousness, and promote his prescient vision of love as a social and political force for change.
My favorite chapter is titled: “Transformed non-conformist”. In this chapter he writes “Have we ministers of Jesus Christ sacrificed truth on the altar of self-interest and like Pilate, yielded our convictions to the demands of the crowd? We need to recapture the Gospel glow of the early Christians, who were non-conformist in the truest sense of the word and refused to shape their witness according to the mundane patterns of the world. Willingly they sacrificed fame fortune and life itself on behalf of a cause they knew to be right. Quantitatively small, they were qualitatively giants. Their powerful Gospel put an end to such barbaric evils that put an end to infanticide and bloody gladiatorial contests. They captured the Roman Empire for Jesus Christ. Gradually, the Church became so entrenched in wealth and prestige that it began to dilute the strong demands of the Gospel and to conform to the ways of the world. And ever since, the church has been a weak and ineffectual trumpet making uncertain sounds. If the church of Jesus Christ is to regain once more its power, message and authentic ring, it must conform only to the demands of the gospel. The hope of a secure and lovable world lies with disciplined non-conformists who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood. The trailblazers in human, academic, scientific, and religious freedom have always been nonconformists. In any cause that concerns the progress of mankind, put your faith in the non-conformists!” To me this is the message of Pope Francis who exhorts us to listen the marginalized (non-conformist). Continuing to listen to our many effective leaders, we can transform to the Gospel stories together.