Agape: an active love

by Lowell Chilton

A reflection on John 15:12-17 and Chapter 6 of Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, the second half of which was also publish as "An Expirement in Love" in Jubilee magazine in September 1958. I presented this at the midweek Lenten worship service at University Lutheran Church in Seattle, WA on February, 29 2012.

"Just love each other just as I have loved you" 

On December 1, 1955 Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. This triggered a boycott of the Montgomery bus system by the city's black residents, who were the primary users of the public transit system.

For three hundred and eighty days, the black community endured physical and psychological violence. The city council set a minimum fare on taxi rides so that black drivers couldn't offer rides for the same price as a bus ride. Four churches were firebombed. Many leaders of the protest had their homes bombed, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Graetz, a white Lutheran pastor originally from West Virginia who was very active in the protest.

Yet the community of protestors held to nonviolence as a way of resistance.

In an article published in Jubilee in September 1958, Dr. King recalls the tenets of the nonviolent resistance used by the protestors.

Nonviolent resistance should target the underlying forces of evil, of injustice, rather than the individual people who happen to be doing the evil. As he would often say to the people in the Montgomery protest, "We are out to defeat injustice and not white persons who may be unjust."

This is the path of Love, or more specifically through Agape. It is not affectionate love, for as Dr. King points out, "It would be nonsense to urge men to love their oppressors in an affectionate way." Rather, he calls it "disinterested love;" love that someone seeks for the good of their neighbor, not for themselves. It is loving others "for their sakes."

Agape springs forth from the need of the person that receives the love. It is the love the good Samaritan shows the robbed Jew on the road to Jericho, love that comes from the human need of the man in pain. It is the love God shows humanity in coming into the world in Christ. It is love that we must show our opponents and oppressors, because they need our love to remove their tensions, insecurities, and fears. It is the love Christ commands us to show our neighbors.

Agape is an active love. Dr. King calls it "a willingness to go to any length to restore community." Meeting hate with hate only furthers the division in the community, the only way to close the gap is to meet hate and evil with love and grace. For the sake of humanity, the extent of God's willingness to restore community is made manifest in Christ's death and resurrection. The love induced path of nonviolence "is not a method of stagnant passivity." No, it is a method of strong, intentional active nonviolent resistance. We are called to be willing to take action and send ourselves to love our enemies and persevere in restoring community.

After three hundred and eighty days of steadfast resistance, the policies on city buses in Montgomery were ruled unconstitutional.

When we are faced with injustice and hate, we are called to meet it with love, not with hate. No matter how hard it may be, we must face it with an open heart and an open mind. We are called to be steadfast in our resistance. And we are called to carry God's love to all people always.

Amen and Amen