Power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose. And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites—polar opposites—so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love.
It has been less than a year since the electoral college of the United States made a man President of the United States, who had no experience holding political office. Additionally, he made campaign promises fueled by racism, ableism, sexism, heterosexism, and classism. Repeatedly, his rhetoric created a spectacle that brought white supremacist, nationalists, and Neo-Nazis out of hiding and back into the open. All of this culminated into Charlottesville. As I watched the footage, I thought of the civil rights movement of the 60s. I thought of how the state police, dogs and water hoses were used to combat the peaceful protesters. Fast forward to the present and I am seeing white men and women with tiki torches and combative gear protesting, but where are the state police? Dogs? Water hoses? The positive spin on all of this: I think we can let go of the rhetoric that we live in a post-racist society and take corrective action to heal the racist divide in this country. The negative thing about all of this: we have white leaders who have no idea how to do this.
Now more than ever, we have an opportunity to look at the use of power in this country. And we cannot look at the use of power in this country without acknowledging that much of the power is held within the hands of white people. Though there are more people of color gaining entry into leadership roles, the vast majority of positions of political power are held by white people. And many of these white leaders have no idea how to address the racial divide. Also, as we evaluate the political events in recent months, one can see plenty of examples of power without love that is reckless and abusive: families being torn apart by the travel ban, politicians voting to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act, and the possibility that the President of the United States colluded with Russia to manipulate the outcome of the election.
We’ve got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love. It is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our time.
---Martin Luther King, Jr., 1967
On the other end of the spectrum between love and power is anemic and sentimental love. Some people can’t even look at the fact that we have a race problem in the United States. They want everyone to get long. They either sit silently when hate erupts because they don’t want to rock the boat or they insist that there is only one race, the human race, and overlook the centuries of marginalization and oppression of native people, African people, Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Arab and many other immigrants to this country deemed not one of us because they are not white enough.
So where do we see examples of “love implementing the demands of justice”? Where do we see “power correcting everything that stands against love”? For me, I take hope in the judges who overturned the travel ban. I take hope in the leaders denouncing white supremacy and taking down confederate statues. I take hope in the senators who said no to repealing and replacing the Affordable Healthcare Act. I take hope in the special prosecutor investigating the role that Russia played in the election. I take hope in the number of people showing up to protest. I take hope in the scientists, who marched in protest even though that is not what they do.
So that leads us back to resolving within ourselves the ways in which we see love and power as complete opposites. As long as we as individuals want to hold onto the sentimental view that we are all of God’s children part of one race, the human race, while ignoring the centuries of marginalization and oppression, we will be unable to heal the racial divide within this country. As long as we as individuals engage in acts of power without compassion for all sentient beings that inhabit this planet, we will not know peace or justice. This time in our history is calling for us to be honest with ourselves and heal the divide within ourselves, so we can work on healing the divide we see in the world.