Martin Luther King, Jr. is a well-known, and I think it’s fair to say, beloved figure of the civil rights movement. He is one of only three individuals whose birthday is celebrated as a federal holiday. His story is told to school children and studied in Universities. King has clearly made an impact on the country if not the world. And yet, only a portion of those who revere King as a transformative figure would recognize that much of his work was borne out of the teachings of the Old and New Testaments. This might be due to the fact that while millions of people have heard lines from his speeches, only a handful have heard him preach. Those who did (and those who read his sermons today) recognize that the nonviolent movement that he led was ultimately a faith movement informed by the Gospel.
Recently, I have wanted to connect the dots between this movement and King’s theology. I have started with a little book of sermons titled *Strength to Love*. The first sermon is “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart,” based on Matthew 10:16 “Be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” In it, King argues that love lies in the intersection of tough mindedness and tenderheartedness. One has to be tough minded in order to see reality clearly—to recognize when nefarious or misguided interests seek to manipulate, cajole, or intimidate into submission. Tough mindedness resists getting swept away in the unrelenting waves of political or economic propaganda, prevents one from getting lost in the vacuous mire of consumerism, and holds to principles and values even when threatened by the loss of important social bonds.
Yet, King goes on, as important as it is to be tough minded, it must not come at the expense of tenderheartedness. Tenderheartedness is the ability to truly love. It gives the capacity for genuine compassion and grants vision to see infinite value in the meekest person. Tenderheartedness is found in those who are truly humble—those who can envision the grandeur of God through the life energy bursting forth in a tiny blade of grass. But tenderheartedness alone can leave a person without an anchor in a tumultuous world. Without tough mindedness, the tenderhearted person has a hard time holding to their convictions and commitments. They are vulnerable to “complacency and do-nothingness” Their compassion offers comfort but no strength to start again.
Ultimately, our faith compels us to act with both compassion and courage. It is by no means an easy task—in fact it may be the most difficult accomplishment we ever achieve. And yet, those who manage to embody both a tough mind and a tender heart find themselves on the road to that place where the world of time meets the realm of eternity.