I just read Martin Luther King Jr.’s Strength To Love, a collection of his sermons, and I found it enormously thought-provoking. One thing that amazes me is how relevant they still seem today. His preoccupation is understandably with segregation, and on that issue it’s no longer the same, but the mindset behind segregation that he criticizes remains. It feels like the same mindset behind the anti-immigrant sentiment today, an us against them mentality that denies the humanity of others.
His first sermon is entitled “A tough mind and a tender heart” and is based on Matthew 10:16 – “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” He contrasts the character reflected in this verse with their opposites – soft minds and hard hearts. And as I read, it felt impossible to not draw a parallel with today. Trump is the hard heart. He supposedly has no real friends, clearly has no compassion, and only cares about himself. He reflects his self-centered hard-heartedness in his demagoguery and scapegoating of minorities and immigrants. His followers are the softminded, who non-critically eat up his message. Sadly, this includes many Christians. And this apparently is nothing new. Much of MLK Jr.’s writings criticize Christians who support obviously non-Christian values – in his day segregation. His message resonates today. You cannot be a Christian and deny the humanity of all others, recognizing in everyone the image of God.
I’m going to quote a bunch of passages from the sermon, just because I found it so good.
Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.
This prevalent tendency toward softmindedness is found in man’s unbelievable gullibility…. Few people have the toughness of mind to judge critically and to discern the true from the false, the fact from the fiction. Our minds are constantly being invaded by legions of half-truths, prejudices, and false facts. One of the great needs of mankind is to be lifted above the morass of false propaganda….
This has also led to a widespread belief that there is a conflict between science and religion. But this is not true. There may be a conflict between softminded religionists and toughminded scientists, but not between science and religion. Their respective worlds are different and their methods are dissimilar. Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary. Science keeps religion from shrinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obstructionism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.
We do not need to look far to detect the dangers of softmindedness. Dictators, capitalizing on softmindedness, have led men to acts of barbarity and terror that are unthinkable in civilized society. Adolf Hitler realized that softmindedness was so prevalent among his followers that he said, “I use emotion for the many and reserve reason for the few.” In Mein Kampf he asserted: “By means of shrewd lies, unremittingly repeated, it is possible to make people believe that heaven is hell– and hell, heaven…. The greater the lie, the more readily will it be believed.”…
The toughminded person always examines the facts before he reaches conclusions; in short, he postjudges. The tenderminded person reaches a conclusion before he has examined the first fact; in short, he prejudges and is prejudiced….
The hardhearted person never truly loves. He engages in a crass utilitarianism which values other people mainly according to their usefulness to him. He never experiences the beauty of friendship, because he is too cold to feel affection for another and is too self-centered to share another’s joy and sorrow. He is an isolated island. No outpouring of love links him with the mainland of humanity….
The greatness of our God lies in the fact that he is both toughminded and tenderhearted. He has qualities both of austerity and of gentleness. The Bible, always clear in stressing both attributes of God, expresses his toughmindedness in his justice and wrath and his tenderheartedness in his love and grace. God has two outstretched arms. One is strong enough to surround us with justice, and one is gentle enough to embrace us with grace. On the one hand, God is a God of justice who punished Israel for her wayward deeds, and on the other hand, he is a forgiving father who heart was filled with unutterably joy when the prodigal returned home.
I am thankful that we worship a God who is both toughminded and tenderhearted. If God were only toughminded, he would be a cold, passionless despot sitting in some far-off heaven…. But if God were only tenderhearted, he would be too soft and sentimental to function when things wrong and incapable of controlling what he has made…. God is neither hardhearted nor softminded. He is toughminded enough to transcend the world; he is tenderhearted enough to live in it. He does not leave us alone in our agonies and struggles. He seeks us in dark places and suffers with us and for us in our tragic prodigality.