Yesterday I posted on Facebook the following quote from James Baldwin: “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” Was Baldwin right? That question nagged at me all day as I repeated Baldwin’s quote to myself over and over again and thought about the statement I made when posting it: “There is nothing one can add.” The question rankling in my mind and soul throughout the day and through the night was, “Is this the length, height, depth and breadth of love?" What did Jesus mean, then, when he told us to love our enemies (most enemies or persecutors deny one’s humanity and right to exist)?
How can one love a person who oppresses, who denies your very humanity, and your right to exist? There is something deep inside me (especially having read Baldwin’s collection of essays in Notes of a Native Son and Nobody Knows My Name, along with Mya Angelou’s poems, Dr. Martin Luther King’s sermons, Frederick Douglass’ autobiography and the fairly recent book and film, Twelve Years A Slave), that answers that question with Baldwin: “No, love can’t reach that far.” But if Love can’t manage to love in disagreement, yes, and even in oppression and denial of one’s humanity and right to exist, then of what value is Love? For Christians it obliterates Good Friday and the words of Jesus, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” There is no Easter without a Good Friday—there can be no new life or new creation without the cessation of the old. Is there an “unless” involved in loving?
This morning I am in total disagreement with the Baldwin quote, preferring this one from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in its place: “Agape (Love) means nothing sentimental or basically affectionate. It means understanding redeeming good will for all men (and women). When we rise to love on the agape level we love men (and women) not because we like them, not because their attitudes and ways appeal to us, but because God loves us. Here we rise to the position of loving the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. With this type of love and understanding good will we will be able to stand amid the radiant glow of the new age with dignity and discipline.”
I think Baldwin saw this agape love coming through when he quoted Dr. King saying, “…And we’ve got to stop lying to the white man. Every time you let the white man think you think segregation is right, you are co-operating with him in doing evil. The next time the white man asks you what you think of segregation, you tell him, Mr. Charlie, I think it’s wrong and I wish you’d do something about it by nine o’clock tomorrow morning.”