That said, I am perplexed by the President’s invocation of Dr. King and his call for a nonviolent revolution based on the power of “unarmed truth and unconditional love.” These words are absolutely meaningless in light of what he said about hunting down and destroying human beings who engage in terrorism. To be honest, I don’t care if the President is a political and moral realist. I don’t care if he believes that ISIS and other groups like them deserve to be wiped off the face of the planet. That is his prerogative as Commander In Chief. But please stop summoning the name and legacy of Dr. King to endorse a worldview that advocates justified warfare. “Unarmed truth” does not mean having “the strongest military in the world.”
Furthermore, “unconditional love” does not mean loving everyone except people who commit atrocious crimes. The term unconditional means love without exceptions. It means to love the most heinous individuals despite how much danger that act of love puts us in. It means to love ISIS even when they behead journalists, bomb patrons at restaurants, rape women and children, and basically tear at the seams of our way of life.
I am not claiming to possess this type of love. I am ashamed to admit that I have too much egoism, anger, and fear inside of me to harbor this degree of mercy. But President Obama should not claim to believe in it when he orders drone strikes, authorizes black op raids, asks for war making powers from Congress to escalate conflicts, legalizes assassinations of foreign leaders, and strips citizens of fundamental privacy rights in the name of national security. The whole campaign to close Gitmo has been a complete and utter farce from day one. Besides the State of the Union how often have we seen the President out on the trail pleading for Americans to support his call to shut down this gulag?
Again, I am not challenging the President’s executive action to wage a relentless campaign against supposed enemies of the state. What I have a problem with is his use of King’s legacy to sanitize the slaughters which accompany these decisions. When the President highlights the efficacy of 10,000 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan and Yemen and Pakistan and… that celebration can be retranslated to mean that hundreds of innocent children have died, countless animals have been mutilated, natural resources have been squandered, and the Earth itself has been immeasurably scarred. Dr. King would not support — under ANY condition — the killing of children, the destruction of our planet, or the random massacre of other nonhuman lifeforms.
President Obama finds ways to rationalize and stomach these killings as a matter of official duty. I know that he neither seeks out or relishes having to make these decisions. But that has nothing to do with King. Dr. King would never bring himself to sanction institutional violence on this level. Like Christ, King died nearly alone, in a pool of blood, without a gun in his hand, or a vengeful desire in his heart. By the time he was taken out by the same forces which Obama touted in his speech he had stopped using his loyalty as an American to justify the use of violence against God’s children. Instead, he had given up his nationality for the prospect of a beloved community without passports, walls, tribes, armies, or restrictions on human love.
King died a free man but this blessing did not come cheap. It required him to have a love for diversity which goes way beyond skin tone, sexual preference, worship style, age, physical ability, or mental intelligence. Love of diversity includes loving what one finds unlovable. In the words of MLK: “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
For some reason I did not hear that quote in the President’s address.
George Payne is founding director of Gandhi Earth Keepers International, based in Rochester, New York, and professor of philosophy at Finger Lakes Community College. A member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, George is a graduate of the Candler School of Theology.