Why do we preach to the converted? Lessons of Martin Luther King Jr.

No doubt, somewhere within your world you are on a metaphorical team. It is your team. The players are all familiar – one of them is also you. The members of your team are all gunning for the same outcome – which to win in some way shape or form! It is Us versus Them – well, you have heard me rant about that before. Most sports teams have cheerleaders. Quite typically representing the outwardly attractive looking of the human species (male as well as female) that bounce, shout and perform their way into our hearts and groins cajoling support for “our” team. But why do I need to watch cheerleaders perform when the Boston Bruins or Manchester United already have my firm and devoted backing? Or put another way – why preach to the converted?

I used to subscribe to a particular newspaper here in Toronto because it ardently spoke to my political issues. This piece of journalism not only had more news items that warmed my heart and spoke to my spirit, but the content of it’s editorial page I found to be rarely contentious (to my way of thinking) and the letters to the editor were populated by opinions I enjoyed (interpret as supported) written by a regular cadre of faithful and devoted letter writers. I would rather read what felt good, seek out comments of those who thought like me and rant to others about “them” to other members of my team.

The difficulty I had with this is as follows: Was I growing or learning anything from that insulated experience? And what if I was wrong in some way? If so was I fortifying a perspective that was without challenge or reproach?

I am often bemused when on social media, individuals will quite graphically bring to the unrequited attention of their “friends” or “followers” articles, memes and the like highlighting and supporting with irrefutable evidence the justification of the correctness of their side – the “us” side. This is akin to convincing me of liking the Boston Bruins. Ya – I already do – so what is your point?

My point here has nothing to do with an allegiance to a sports team. And a cheerleader is an innocuous and trifling analogy on my part. I am talking about substance, the likes of which that helped to create a man like Martin Luther King Jr. MLK’s messages were the outright antithesis of “preaching to the converted”. He preached to those who were down so that they may rise. He preached to those who needed to hear who were deaf to the truth. He preached to those who were resistant to changing the way things were. Martin Luther King Jr. never preached to the converted. His was a mission of a cultural inflection point and it was wretchedly cut short. His unfinished mission must continue. It is desperately needed today.

So what is our point of “preaching to the converted” over and over again? Some positions are so relatively extreme that any friends of opposing viewpoints have either already unfriended you or you them. I personally know of this only too well. Therefore who is left on our “friend” list are those with your same intolerant and intractable viewpoints. And whom then are you trying to convince? Yourself perhaps? Against a wave of bitterness it is “us” who cling to the past. It is “us” who need to convince ourselves that our position is good and right. I do believe that it is not Us vs Them – it is after all Us vs Us …

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” MLK

7 thoughts on “Why do we preach to the converted? Lessons of Martin Luther King Jr.

  1. Stu,

    Your writing makes me see things from different perspectives and also makes me question how I see and react to others. Thank you.

    • So a blatant racist kills MLK. Does that in any way detract from the greatness in the man preaching the words to the masses? Where would we be if people like MLK chose to stay silent?

  2. I look at my ‘friends’ list and see widely divergent streams…I like that. The only people I’ve unfriended were needlessly abusive…very few. And I don’t appear to have lost many friends myself resulting from my opinions not always being broadly accepted. I don’t see that as an issue. As for Dr. King (and any other widely heard or read opinion leader), I believe the message, even if it’s unacceptable to some, coming from such a giant, is ultimately heard by those who don’t want to hear it. The other side, preaching to the converted, is a given. Everyone needs reinforcement. I like that you’ve decided to widely share your opinions, Stuart. Keep it up!

    • There is considerable narrow-mindedness (closed minds) out there as you well know Peter. For them, it wouldn’t hurt to expand their respective horizons. Thank you for your encouragement Peter!

  3. I am not sure I follow the “cause and effect” logic here. Who exactly are the converted compared to the non-converted? Martin Luther King Jr. preached “the truth” as he understood it from a Christian perspective. We often refer to King as “Doctor King” but rarely as “Reverend King.” He was for most of his life a devout and fervent Christian and he took seriously his duties as a preacher. So in a sense he was indeed preaching to the converted, as we can see from even a cursory reading of his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in which he took to task complacent Christians who refused to condemn racism or who withdrew from taking action. His message, however, and his tactics were always universal in nature. He was never speaking to any one segment of humanity but to all of humanity. Not sure what you mean when you claim King’s a mission of a cultural inflection point.” What strikes me as odd is the simplistic ease with which you use your admiring words about King to position yourself rather smugly on the side of “truth and justice.” In a response to a comment you refer to the “narrow-mindedness” of many people and suggest they would benefit from “expanded horizons.” Presumably you mean they would benefit from thinking more like you? Does that comment itself not strike you as elitist and arrogant and very un-Kinglike? Perhaps a lesson worth taking from the legacy Martin Luther King Jr. was not only his courage and intelligence but his estimable patience and humility.

  4. One has to wonder what life would be like if only his message of hope was to continue in “first person” as opposed to reruns.

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