In Strength to Love, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. concentrates his word skills and expertise in philosophy and theology on a variety of social justice initiatives. Strength to Love received its copyright in 1963 which was the same year as Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech, a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a year before the 1964 Civil Right’s Act. The book is a collection of some of Dr. King’s sermons that demonstrate his passion for a more loving and peaceful world. Common themes of Dr. King’s life, such as non-violent protest, addressing racism and race prejudice, and opposition to war, are brought to the reader’s attention.
“…life at its best is a creative synthesis of opposites in fruitful harmony.” – Strength to Love (King, 1963, p. 9)
The book opens with a verse from the Gospel of Matthew that emphasizes a need for balance between toughness and gentleness. Dr. King states, “…life at its best is a creative synthesis of opposites in fruitful harmony.” Dr. King encourages is readers to strike a balance between toughness and softness, and the old common sense cliche “Everything in moderation” may also be applicable here. Dr. King goes on to suggest a relationship between “soft-mindedness” and lazy thinking.
“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.” – Strength to Love (King, 1963, p. 10)
Dr. King was not shy about sharing his conception of truth, but it’s clear that he deliberately prepared and reflected upon the social justice issues he addressed. Dr. King was not a lazy thinker, and in Strength to Love he calls upon the reader/listener to boldly align his or her convictions with his or her actions (King, 1963, p.17-25). Dr. King talks/writes about the need for higher standards of love and human behavior (King, 1963, p.33-34), and he asserts that truth can be pursued by all, not only those in academia or positions of authority (King, 1963, p.45).
In chapter 5, Dr. King encourages the reader to respond to aggression and offenses with peace and forgiveness, and in chapter 6 he continues his admonishment and encouragement of the church. In chapters 7-8, Dr. King opposes materialistic and superficial world views through emphasizing the importance of relationship and faith, and in chapter 9 Dr. King continues his previous themes of faith and hope during times of trial. In chapter 10, Dr. King, no doubt speaking to Cold War tensions, provides cautions on his listeners/readers’ interpretations of communism, and in chapter 11 he notes the sufferings and trials of his work in the Civil Rights Movement. In chapter 12 Dr. King speaks to what may be a common underlying reason for hate and racism – fear, and in chapter 13 Dr. King briefly critiques naturalistic humanism and reasserts Christian themes of redemption.
“I have discovered that the highest good is love” – Strength to Love (King, 1963, p.145)
In chapter 13 Dr. King makes another petition to a divided and segregated American church. He encourages unity action concerning the Civil Rights Movement, and he uses the doctrines of the Christian faith to bolster his argument. In the same chapter, Dr. King makes what could be his thesis statement for the book, “I have discovered that the highest good is love” (King, 1963, p.145). In Chapter 15, Dr. King ends the book with some background on his beliefs concerning non-violence.
Strength to Love is an easy read that can be taken up and set down at a whim. The book can be consumed chapter by chapter, in 20-30 minute reading portions, or fairly quickly over the span of a few days or weeks. Because the book is fashioned from some of Dr. King’s sermons, the language is clear and concise. If you are curious about Dr. King, his beliefs, and his life work, Strength to Love, written in the midst of the Civil Rights Era and sandwiched between the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and the 1964 Civil Rights Act, may be a great place to start.
King, M. L. (1963). Strength to Love(1st ed.). Glasgow, GB: William Collins.