My role model for what a pastor and leader should be is Martin Luther King Jr.
One of my proudest moments as a 17-year-old teenager was, after delivering my first sermon at my home church, an older deacon that I admired said that I reminded him of King in my delivery and message.
I have looked up to King my entire life because he was an adamant defender of people who were typically outcast and downtrodden.
He defended the racially marginalized, the economically and socially poor, and those who were under political oppression in his own home country and abroad.
Even when his stance against racism, poverty and militarization became unpopular in society, King continued to advocate for political, religious and social action that would bring racism, poverty and militarism to an end.
Before King’s death, it seemed like the majority of the world had turned against him.
Politicians were tired of his constant attempts to usher equality into the world. His contemporaries were tired of his message of nonviolence.
Even his closest confidants who walked with him during multiple marches for peace were tired of him.
It was clear that King’s message of love was falling on deaf ears.
During a recent presentation discussing the last year of King’s life, social commentator Tavis Smiley asked the question, “Whatever happened to Dr. King’s notion of love within our public discourse?”
What was King’s notion of love and what could it mean to our public discourses?
King’s idea of love was that everyone is worthy of respect simply because they are human.
Every life has the same equal and precious value because life originates from the same source.
Every person that we interact with, whether we differ from that person’s political stance or dislike their favorite football team or disagree with their choice in religion, is worthy of being treated with dignity because we have all been created equal.
The addition or reinsertion of the idea of love, in this Kingian sense, to our public discourse about the problems our nation continues to experience will inevitably make us all uncomfortable because of what it means for those who use the word and what it means for those who hear the word being used.
Those that use the word, in essence, exhibit a certain amount of audacity in expecting an equal platform for participation in life.
Those that hear the word love face the challenge of not viewing its use as an imposition on their own ability to live their lives to the fullest extent possible.
What does this mean for the concerns that our nation and communities are currently facing?
We live in a wonderful nation, but the problems that continue to plague us (racism, classism and political wrangling, just to name a few) are never acceptable, reasonable or beneficial to those who experience those actions, or those who practice them.
It’s hard for me to imagine that our nation will progress past those practices unless Kingian love begins to play a part in our ongoing dialogues.
King once said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
Political parties, corporations and special interest groups may grow without love. But our nation, as a whole, will not make meaningful progress without it.
Terrell Carter is director of the Foundations in Ministry program for Central Baptist Theological Seminary in St. Louis and an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates. He is the author of “Walking the Blue Line: A Police Officer Turned Community Activist Provides Solutions to the Racial Divide.” His writings can be viewed at his website, and you can follow him on Twitter @tcarterstl.
A pastor, author and educator living in St. Louis, Missouri, he is the author of several books, including The Gospel According to Broadway and Taking Apart Bootstrap Theology: Gospel of Generosity and Justice.