On April 30th, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech at New York’s Riverside Church. It was one of his finest, and would later earn him a spoken word Grammy. The primary topic of his address was not the plight of black men and women or even race in general. No, that day his speech was entitled, “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam.” In it, he offered a profound nugget of truth:
Let me say finally that I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America. I speak out against this war, not in anger, but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and, above all, with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as the moral example of the world. I speak out against this war because I am disappointed with America. And there can be no great disappointment where there is not great love.
As King points out with characteristic eloquence, disappointment is not rooted in disdain or despair. It grows from the fertile soil of love. When we love someone, we are able to see the best parts of them, even when it appears sullied by the dirt of their worst attributes. Because we love, we believe that they can be better and do better.
What is true for external expressions of disappointment is also true internally. I think of John the Baptist, the Biblical paragon whose earmark message was, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near.” It was a difficult sermon to swallow growing up, and a portion of scripture I often rushed past focusing instead on the birth of Christ. Who doesn’t prefer singing Christmas carols to confessing sin? But perhaps my difficulty in swallowing John’s sermon was rooted in an incomplete understanding of repentance.