Chapter 12: Love and Social Justice

The Spirit and the Forms of Love
by Daniel Day Williams

Chapter 12: Love and Social Justice

Christians should get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today. (Albert Camus)

Christianity faces the world with terms, it does not merely suffuse it with a glow. (Peter Taylor Forsythe)

As love has a history, so there is a history of love in the cause of social justice. Love seems at best a whisper of the spirit in the clamour of history; yet our age of power is headed for catastrophe unless a new justice can be achieved. It is our aim in this chapter to see how the concern for justice leads the Christian ethic to some new forms of understanding love’s work in the world.

Superficial views of Christian ethics see love and justice as entirely separate aspects of human relationships. Profounder moralists see that love must be concerned with justice, but some argue that justice is a quite different thing from love, and therefore love’s work is different from direct action for justice. There are critical problems here for Christianity.

One position is that justice implies a different ethical criterion from love. Justice is impersonal where love is personal. Justice can be rationally defined as in Aristotle’s ethics where it is distributive justice, giving to each his due, or commutative justice, establishing a collective order of freedom and mutuality. Love, it is argued, transcends these rational principles. It goes beyond justice through the spirit of brotherhood and reconciliation. A strong argument for this point of view is made by Emil Brunner who relates the difference between love and justice to the difference between the I and Thou relationship of persons and the abstractness of justice as impersonal principle.1

An even weightier argument for interpreting love and justice as diverse though related orders has been stated by Reinhold Niebuhr.2 Niebuhr holds that the highest love is self-sacrificing whereas justice is always an accommodation of the interest of each in relation to the other. Niebuhr points out that every concrete system of justice rests upon a balance of power. It is a compromise of interests, an uneasy truce between unresolved forces, ideologies, and powers. There are transcendant rational principles of justice which most ethics recognize, such as freedom, equality, order, and mutuality. But these transcendent principles are always applied in history by contending interests. The minds which conceive them have vested interests in their definition and application. Democracy means one thing to American capitalists and another to Russian communists. The ‘just’ wage looks too small to the worker who receives it and too large to the employer who pays it. Exclusion of Asians from immigration to the United States seems just to those who fear competition in the labour force, but it looks otherwise to those who need jobs and do not find them where they are. Such conflicts about what justice requires are omnipresent in life.

Reinhold Niebuhr has not only exposed the ideological bias in definitions of justice, but he reminds us that the settlement of conflicting claims always involves forces which operate above and beyond considerations of principle. Agreements as to the terms upon which issues will be settled are reached by compromises which may appeal to enlightenment and generosity, but also depend upon the power to make the settlement.

A clear example of this dependence of justice upon social power is the achievement of voting rights for such minority groups as Negroes. This has certainly come about in part through the sense of justice in the democratic tradition, and through constitutional guarantees. But the history of the voting privilege in the twentieth century shows that it takes the combined power of mass movements, economic pressures, and the Federal Government with its military force to give even a relative assurance that this requirement of justice will be realized.3 It seems, therefore, that when we move from the perspective of love to concrete issues of social strategy and political power, justice is accomplished by a confluence of historical forces and humane considerations which indeed may be enforced by love, but which must have other sources.

Every Christian social ethic must take account of these facts about the search for justice. Love is not an alternative to involvement in the struggle for the rough justice of the world, but the love revealed in the Gospel leads to a distinctive view of the problem of justice. That view does not separate love and justice. It sees them as interrelated aspects of God’s work of creating a community between himself and man and between man and man. The Bible never treats justice as a lesser order than that required by love, but as the objectification of the spirit of love in human and divine relationships. A Christian ethic must reconsider the biblical outlook on relation of love and justice. Some qualification of Brunner’s and Niebuhr’s doctrine is possible.4


As we examined the biblical foundations of the doctrine of love we saw that the Bible regards human life as a history in which God seeks to create a community of those who love him and one another, and who celebrate his love in a life of faithfulness and joy. The covenant with Israel is established as an act of God’s love. Its structure is the human order which exhibits God’s righteous purpose. God’s righteousness is his justice, and his justice is manifest in his working to put down the unrighteous, expose idols, show mercy, and achieve reconciliation in a new order which expresses man s dignity as bearer of the divine image.

We have seen the apparent tension between God’s righteous judgment which points to his rejection of a sinful people and his mercy through which he calls them back to himself. The word of Micah may seem to reflect a duality of mercy and justice:

What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God (Micah 6:8).

But one of the clear notes in the ethic of the Bible is that the justice of God includes his concern for and mercy toward the hurt, the weak and the oppressed:

Give the King thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the King’s sons.

He shall judge the poor of the people, and he shall save the children of the needy and shall break in pieces the oppressor (Psalms 72:1, 4).

God’s righteousness is shown when he lifts the burdens of the weak and the hurt. This is echoed in Jesus’ condemnation of those who ‘lay heavy burdens on the poor’. Justice and mercy are both ‘weightier matters of the law’. Jesus does not separate them.

It is true that the biblical writers on the whole do not interpret justice in the form of general principles, but as a universal personal concern for every man, for the strangers and alien as well as the elect people. Human obligations are grounded in the will of God and in the disclosure of his righteousness in history. Thus the prophets appeal for decent treatment of the stranger, ‘because you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there’ (Deuteronomy 24: 18).

The New Testament keeps this historical concreteness in ethics. To serve God and the neighbour is to meet human needs. Indeed the New Testament may seem to take a further step away from the formulation of rational principles of justice. Love is the fulfilment of the law and therefore is the sole criterion of action. The eschatological expectation gave a certain freedom from responsibility for adjudicating every problem of social organization. Yet the state and its order is affirmed in Paul’s thought and the acceptance of its authority is a Christian obligation (Romans 13).

We can summarize the biblical development in this way: the Bible sees the issues of human justice arising in the history of the Christian community as the people of God seek to bring peace and reconciliation to all men, and to show a special concern for the hurt, the needy, and the weak, Before God every Christian knows that he is the hurt, the needy, the weak person for whom there could be only condemnation, if there were no mercy in God’s righteousness. Thus Paul asserts the foundation of all Christian consideration of the other, ‘Have this mind among yourselves which you have in Christ Jesus, who.. . humbled himself and took the form of a servant and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross’ (Philippians 2: 5-8).

Those who offer a contextual Christian ethic in our own day seem to be so far in accord with the biblical view that justice is to be sought as the expression of the life of the covenant community as it undertakes in the spirit of agape to bring reconciliation among men. Dr. Paul Lehmann has given a perceptive analysis of this conception in his Ethics in a Christian Context. He speaks of the ‘politics of God’ as the divine working toward the humanization of life. Men are being brought into a new community through reconciliation, and the Church is the initial and decisive expression of that community:

. . .the empirical church points, despite its ambiguity, to the fact that there is in the world a laboratory of the living word, or to change the metaphor, a bridgehead of maturity, namely, the Christian koinonia [community].5 In this view, the question of what are we to do is answered from within in the action of the atonement. Christ has renewed the human community through re-establishing the ultimate loyalty which restores man to himself. This action of Christ is present, known or hidden, in every human history. The Christian seeks the kind of human relationship which follows from and embodies the reconciling deed. ‘Every man is the brother for whom Christ died.’6

This conception of Christian ethics implies radical freedom and responsibility. The view of love taken in this book so far agrees with the contextualists that we must continually ask what love requires in each situation in the light of Christ’s dying for us. History is the scene of Christ’s conflict with everything that opposes or thwarts God’s creative purpose. He reigns until he has put all his enemies under his feet, and the last enemy is death. We live in that embattled reignt7 (I Corinthians 15).

There are three implications of this view which form a prolegomenon to a Christian social ethic. By social ethic I do not mean something opposed to a personal ethic, but one which is concerned with the issues between groups and nations where the decisions taken alter the lives of multitudes of people and the direction of history.

The first implication of this Christological ethic is that decisions taken in the spirit of love express the search for communion, not simply obedience to law. This is the solid foundation of a contextual or situational ethic. We have still to discuss the nature of ethical principles; but so far as love is the ultimate criterion every Christian ethic is contextual. To love is to respond to what is present in history, with these specific people and their needs, their sin and their hope, and our sin and our hope.

We see however that the context of ethical decision is not the immediate situation alone. It is the history of God’s reconciling work looking toward the new community. Action here and now has consequences for Christ’s work everywhere. To say that the ‘situation’ determines what must be done is not, in its Christian sense, to give a purely ‘practical’ or relative rule. It means responsibility toward what is at hand, but it also means responsibility within God’s atoning work as we, with all our limitations, understand that work.

The spirit of love leads to concern with the whole need of man in each concrete situation. It is participation in the movement toward the glory and fulfilment of all things. The suffering of love follows from this identification with everyman. It was said of Edith Hamilton, ‘She felt as personal agony, the giant burden of mankind’. Capacities for feeling differ, but the meaning of agape is suggested in such a characterization.

The second implication of the Christological foundation of ethics is that we never identify what God is doing with what we are doing. The Christian is to seek the will of God and to do it, and express the love of God to every neighbour, but no one should claim that his acts are true and sufficient expressions of agape.

Since this point is critical for Christian ethics, let us consider it further. Agape forbids self-justification; for agape is God’s love given for men whose deepest sin is their assertion of their righteousness before God, and their attempt to live independently of Him. God justifies us by beginning a new history; therefore every attempt at self-justification violates the meaning of love. But it may be protested, the coming of Christ and his forgiveness means that we are enabled to live the life of love. Surely Paul enjoins us to have the mind of Christ: ‘Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.’ ‘As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him’ (Romans 12: 2; Colossians 2: 6).

Paul speaks here through injunctions. He addresses the consciences of those who have been called into the new life. He implies that the new life has begun but is not consummated. It is in the new life that we begin to see clearly why we should not claim to possess agape, or that any particular act of ours conforms to it. Self-sacrifice may be an aggressive act against others or a form of self-destruction. Psychological discoveries have reinforced our awareness of this truth. It is not only that we can never prove purity of motives; but we can never extract ourselves from the history of our life with its guilt, its weakness, and its limitations. Certainly, agape can qualify our actions, and perhaps there are pure acts of love in this human flesh, but they are such only by grace and not by clarity of our motivation or the strength of our will alone.

This knowledge of love as grace is the real meaning of I Corinthians 13, which ought to be studied more often for the ethics of social action. It is false to interpret Paul’s hymn to agape as a recommendation to add something called ‘love’ to our actions so that we may know them to be true, and thus assure our justification. ‘If I give my body to be burned and have not love it profiteth me nothing.’ But Paul is not urging us to be sure to include love in our thoughts, speech and actions. He is not even demanding that we be certain it is love which guides our actions. He gives us not a recommendation, but the insight that where love is absent we do not do the will of God and do not fulfil our humanity. This is our real ethical situation, and we have to live, work and sacrifice within it, leaving the judgment to God about what love may do through us. In this light Paul’s characterization of love becomes far more significant than any list of special virtues. ‘Love is very patient, very kind, gives itself no airs, is always eager to believe the best.’ This does not merely tell us what virtues to exercise in any situation. It recalls us to the spirit in which every virtue has its fulfilment. In the light of this interpretation Paul’s final word that love ‘beareth, believeth, hopeth, endureth all things’ is not a rhetorical flourish by-passing logic, but a recognition that there are no bounds to love’s participation in the world, its endurance of what has to be endured, its everlastingness.

Love is spirit, and such understanding as we have of it takes form from the spirit of the Servant and within our faithful response in our situation. But what love really requires of us, and what God does in, through and above us, is more than we ever fully grasp.

There is a third consequence of this approach to the problem of love and justice. Since love is the spirit at work in the community of reconciliation, the work which love prompts is to be done in actual history where the neighbour is met. This means that to love is to be involved in the issues of political justice. If each person were simply an individual unattached to any structure of social life, entirely independent of the orders, laws, and institutions which surround him, there would be no answer to those who say that to love is purely an individual and personal matter.8

If, however, the neighbour’s life is bound up with the community, then he can be served only in relation to the social structure which shapes his life. Therefore the securing of a social order in which men can be neighbours to one another is a necessary expression of loving concern. We see that the development of strategies for social action through concern for a just political, economic and social order, is implied in what the New Testament explicitly enjoins. Loving the enemy, doing good to those who are persecuted, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, binding up the wounds of the captive, treating the slave as brother, freeing him, honouring the wife as one who is to be loved as Christ loved the Church, all this is the clear consequence of the biblical conception of love leading to social action.

Concern for justice, then, is not something added to love, or a concession to the weakness of those who have not learned to love. Justice is the order which love requires. It forms the skeletal structure of love, the terms on which men may be brotherly toward one another and find reconciliation. We can formulate the Christian principle of justice in this way: the objective order of justice consists in the terms upon which men may so live together that the way is opened to reconciliation and communion. Henry Nelson Wieman puts this point in a brilliant chapter on justice:

The constitution of a society prescribes the forms of justice only when it provides for that kind of interaction among individuals, and between individuals and the physical environment, which creates the human mind, and which sustains that scope of understanding, power of action and richness of appreciation which is distinctively human in contrast to the lower animals.

Wieman goes on to observe that

. . . if this fluidity of the social order should lead men to derive the principles of justice increasingly from the demands of that kind of interchange which creates the appreciative mind with its meanings, we might be entering the age when for the first time a civilization can pass in safety the crisis of power which heretofore has brought every civilization into decline and finally to disintegration.9

Justice therefore cannot be identified with one type of social order which exemplifies certain principles, even the highest, because principles are abstractions. But justice involves principles, that is, structures of value and law which enter into the determination of human relationships. Here we reach the limit of contextualism as an ethical theory. On what terms can human life be tolerably and fruitfully organized? To seek an answer to that question is to search for principles which articulate the conditions of justice.


We mean by justice an order of life which gives to each member of the community the fullest possible access to the sources of fulfilment. To seek justice is to be guided by the principles which must govern human conduct so that this concrete order of life can be realized. Love without regard for the terms of justice is sentimentality.

This point needs emphasis because in both traditional and contemporary Christian ethics there sometimes appears the suggestion that since love is personal it can dispense with principles. Love transcends law, it is said, therefore all law is merely a concession to human weakness. Luther says that so far as the real Christian is concerned no law is necessary.10 But surely this would be true only if the ‘real Christian’ not only had a perfectly loving spirit but also knew fully all the conditions required for the growth of community among men. But we can never fully know those conditions. Hence we require a structure of moral and legal principles with the agencies of courts, legislatures, and political processes which establish laws in the light of the judgment of the people about their needs. For example, there is the question of punishment for crime. That there must be some penalty for violation of persons or their property is an accepted principle of every human society. The answer to the question ‘what penalty’ involves moral issues as well as legal fiat. The use of punishment as a deterrent, and the effect of the penal system upon persons and society as a whole, raise issues for moral judgment. In the discussion about the death penalty, there is the ultimate moral issue of the right to take life, and whether even the state has this right. There are the questions of the actual effectiveness for deterrence of the penalty and its effect upon moral sensitivity in the society. One of the strongest arguments in recent years for abolishing the death penalty has arisen, not from the moral prohibition against the taking of life, but from the fact that with rare exceptions those who are executed are people who lack the means to secure good legal assistance, or lack the educational background to make full use of such assistance, or lack the social status which brings the case to public attention.11

The search for justice is a many-sided task. Our present argument is that responsibility exercised in love leads to continual inquiry within the social and political processes where complex issues are decided. Certainly the question of what justice requires is not decided by abstract principle alone, nor does the answer arise spontaneously because love is present. The moral decision takes place in the context of human struggle with the realities of history. But the question of what is to be done involves the search for principles which can guide to the fuller realization of that concrete good which belongs to all.

For example, a child’s right to privacy is a moral right, even against the will and good intentions of his parents. Loving concern should mean a respect for this principle, which can hardly be made a matter of law. It is a matter of the sensitivity of parents and an understanding of the worth of privacy for the growth of the person. By contrast, a child’s right to protection from a parent’s brutality is a matter of both moral principle and law which the courts will enforce. William Ernest Hocking points out in his Man and the State that the humanizing process requires the search for the principles which men can honour in their mutual relations.12 The ‘I-Thou relationship’ which neglects this function of principles will degenerate into sentimentality or ruthlessness. If I love my neighbour I will seek and respect the principles which guide us toward common goals and which protect us from each other’s whims and violence.

When we thus argue for involvement of love in the search for justice we are only transposing into a more general framework the Hebraic conception of the covenant. God offers his loyalty to his people with requirements. He declares the conditions which ought to govern human relationships. The prophets summon the nation to fulfil its obligations under the divine justice.

Our doctrine of love therefore leads to a qualification of a contextual or situational ethic. While abstract principles in themselves may give no absolute guidance in the concrete situation, responsible and loving action will seek the principles of equity and order which ought to govern human life. Ethics always has a future as well as a present reference. We can never know the full consequences of present action. Therefore we have to respect those principles which point beyond present decision to an order of life which we can specify only in general and revisable terms. The right of petition of a people for redress of grievances must be affirmed as a right precisely because we do not know what grievances will occur, whether they will be real grievances, or what the future government can do about them. The affirmation of human rights is the demand upon present action for respect of guiding principles as we move toward an undefined future. Love needs law.

In some contemporary Christian theories of law the need for principles is recognized, but it is held that in a Christian ethic all principles must have an exclusively Christological derivation. The Christian moralist, it is argued, does not need a secular approach to jurisprudence since he derives his principles exclusively from the final revelation.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his Ethics:

What the church has to say about the secular institutions follows solely from the preaching of Christ, and the Church possesses no doctrine of her own which is valid in itself with regard to eternal institutions and natural or human rights such as might command acknowledgement even independently of faith in Christ. The only human and natural rights are those which derive from Christ, that is to say, from faith.13

In the first part of this statement Bonhoeffer might be saying only that the Church cannot impose some tradition of its own upon the human search for justice, as if it could dictate those terms; but the last sentence seems to say there can be no basis at all for human rights except within the Christian faith.

This would mean that Christians would have to ask all men to accept the Christian faith before discussing human rights. With all respect to Bonhoeffer’s position, this surely will not do. Men have always discussed justice on the basis of’ reason, experience, tradition, and sometimes arbitrary dogmatism. To say that nothing whatever has come out of that discussion is to make nonsense out of all the great moral traditions — Stoic, Buddhist, humanistic, or democratic, as well as Christian.

One of the profoundest interpretations of the law in our time is that of Edmond Cahn. His book, The Sense of Injustice, shows how legal terms for human relationships have been won painfully and slowly out of long experience, guided by the religious tradition. Cahn gives full weight to the Old and New Testaments, but also to the secular growth of law in concrete cases.14

William Stringfellow has criticized Edmond Cahn’s book, The Moral Decision, calling it blasphemous and immoral ‘for the only affirmation Professor Cahn is really making is an affirmation of man as one who is justified by his own decisions founded in his own knowledge of good and evil. Professor Cahn is simply affirming Adam (Genesis 3: 5).’ Stringfellow seems to want to establish a Christian approach to law on the basis that only from within the Christian faith can anything humane or significant be said. We may remark that his assumption that since a legal theorist does not invoke the name of Christ he knows nothing of sin or grace is certainly gratuitous. But Mr. Stringfellow leaves no basis for a meeting of people of different faiths in a search for principles of human justice. He says:

Human justice is not a substitute for divine justification, nor is it even a corollary in preparation for the consummation of history.

The preservation of human life in society, though it is a tenet of natural law and the basic norm which informs positivism, is not a Gospel tenet. In fact, in the Gospel the preservation of human life in society has the fundamental meaning of death. . . .

The tension between law and grace is such that there is no Christian jurisprudence. . . . The Christian sees that the striving of law is for justice, but knows that the justice men achieve has no saving power; it does not justify them, for justification of man is alone in Jesus Christ. The grace of God is the only true justice any man may ever receive.15

This is surely confused doctrine. It can lead to sheer opportunism without principles or terms, or to an ecclesiastically dominated society in which only those who share the religious orthodoxy control the pattern of the common life.

Reinhold Niebuhr recognizes this secular wisdom in the western legal tradition as he traces the development of democratic government. He shows how the weaknesses of traditional political ethics, both secular and religious, were exposed by hard experience. He traces the development of the fundamental democratic insights to a kind of ‘common sense’ which repudiated ecclesiastical control and the dogmas of individualism and collectivism.16 The point is not that we should make an idol of the democratic tradition in any historical form. It is to see in history a process in which term-making achieves significant results through the struggle of men of different persuasions with the stubborn facts of human life guided by a developing ‘sense of injustice’. Certainly that sense can be informed by the love of God and neighbour, but even the highest ethic of love must learn from history. Love requires participation in the historical process, always looking toward reconciliation and knowing that our sense of injustice needs reformation.

The question will be asked, ‘If we admit secular knowledge and experience into the term-making process, have we not brought something alien into the Christian ethic?’ Have we left our Christological foundation? The answer is that we have not done so if we understand Christology in the authentic sense of the theological tradition. Christ is the Logos incarnate, and this gives a basis for the linking of common insight and experience with the truth which Christ fulfils. At the same time our final criterion is not in human reason and experience by themselves, but as illuminated by the Truth that has become acted out in love in the history of Jesus.

The logos tradition is complex. Logos as used in the New Testament means the Word of God. It includes logic and reason but points to their metaphysical ground.17 Logos is the structure of being, the foundation of rationality and order, and of the interlocking character of all things in God’s creation. The identification of Christ with the logos supports the search for rational coherence in the Christian faith. The inquiry for logos in ethics is the search for the principles which are required for human relationships. Logos implies the rights of reason as an open, inquiring, experimental, reflective, self-critical formation of mind. Without this man is less than human, and without this no ethic can light the way which the spirit of love should take.

The spirit of love requires participation in the ‘dirty work’ of history. The search today for some minimal order under law must go on in the threatening world of nations, some armed with nuclear weapons, and others preparing to be so armed. The politics of international power, the strategies of population control, the discriminating use of force to check destructive outbreaks of violence, the patient search for new terms of internal co-operation, are all part of the task. There is a tragic element here as the conflicts disfigure men in one another’s eyes. We become enemies. We contend. We injure. There is killing. Yet love allows us no way through this dark reality except to live within it so as to find how men may so live together that they cease to be enemies and begin to become friends.


Ex-president Nkrumah of Ghana had inscribed on his monument in the capital city: ‘Seek ye first the political Kingdom and all else shall follow.18 Every historical order elicits and organizes group loyalties which are among the most powerful forces in human life. The achievement of justice is impossible without such loyalties. Agape as concerned with Justice implies a positive appreciation of the loves of nation, of soil, of kindred and of tradition, just as it implies the created goodness of sexual love. Indeed, group loyalties always have elements of sexuality within them. At the same time, the spirit of agape is that of universal concern. It opposes the absolutizing of any loyalty other than the Kingdom of God. Therefore a Christian ethic must interpret the relationship between agape love and the group loves or be a pious irrelevance in history.

There is, of course, an important distinction between group loyalties which assert in principle the universal claim of all men to justice and brotherhood, and those which make an idol of one group. The great religions, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam, have embodied the loyalties of particular peoples within a universalistic ethic, and in principle reject the idols of clan or race. There are also universalistic political faiths such as Marxism and democracy which are rooted in the cultures of particular nations and civilizations, yet which hold the ideal of universal justice. There is an essential difference between a faith which recognizes responsibility for the universal human community but does not seek to dominate it, and master race theories such as Nazism, or the interesting new Japanese version of Nichiren Buddhism known as Sokka Gakkai (Value-Creating Society). In the following words we hear the ring of an imperious universalism which has been present in much religious history, and which has certainly had its parallels in some forms of Christianity:

Born in the Land of the Rising Sun, We are the True Buddha, far more glorious than the moon. As the moon moves from west to east, so Sakkamuni’s Buddhism, born in the ‘Land of the Moon’ was brought to Japan from India.

As the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west, Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, born in the country of the Sun, is destined to go from Japan to India, and moreover, to all the world, from the East to the West.19

The complex relation between universalistic ideals and group loyalties requires careful analysis. Group loyalties are blends of many emotions, the sense of belonging, the will to power, the memory of past battles and sufferings, fear of others, the insecurities of life, gratitude for heritage and homeland. Universalistic ideals become fused with these emotional dynamics. Russian communism has drawn upon the spirit of Slavic nationalism. Chinese communism is empowered with national pride and historic resentment of the West. This blending of national and religious loyalties is a pervasive feature of most contemporary political ideologies.

U Ba Swe, whom Mr. Frank Trager, editor of a study of Marxism in Southeast Asia, calls one of the five most important political leaders in Burma, speaks of his comrades in the following terms:

architects of revolution. . . building a Burmese Socialist structure. . .with Marxism (as) the guide to action . . . but only a revolutionary movement which is entirely Burmese, conforming to Burmese methods and principles can achieve any measure of success.

He further asserts:

Marxist theory is not antagonistic to Buddhist philosophy.

The two are, frankly speaking, not merely similar. In fact they are the same in concept.

Mr. Trager observes that Marxism in Southeast Asia has always come in ostensible support of nationalism.20

The democratic ideal in America carries a dynamic component of the ideals of the American heritage, ‘a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal’. Thus both democracy and Marxism have incorporated elements of national tradition, and both have tried to appreciate and encourage the nationalistic loyalties of the peoples they have been trying to win.

Leopold Dedar Senghor’s address at Oxford University on the meaning of Negritude expresses succinctly the spirit of a particular loyalty and its relation to mankind. The President of Senegal said:

Our revised Negritude is humanistic. I repeat, it welcomes the complementary values of Europe and the white man, and indeed of all other races and continents. But it welcomes them in order to fertilize and reinvigorate its own values, which it then offers for the construction of a civilization which shall embrace all mankind. The neo-humanism of the twentieth century stands at the point where the paths of all nations, races, and continents cross, ‘where the four winds of the spirit blow’.21

An ethic of agape must incorporate the spirit revealed in such a statement, the integrity of group life within a universalistic and brotherly concern. The spirit of agape hovers over the group spirit as it does over authentic love between men and women, affirming the human loves while it holds before each of them the requirement of transformation by the Kingdom of God.

There is, however, a special difficulty in the group loyalties which Reinhold Niebuhr has exposed in an unforgettable way. This is their capacity to mask idolatrous or self-centred love under the form of universal benevolence. The temptation to this besets not only political loyalties, but also the highest religious aspiration. In fact, the universality of religion makes it peculiarly useful for the sanctification of imperious and parochial group interests.

We have come here to the heart of the problem of agape as a foundation for a visible social ethic. We say that the vital impulses manifest in love of homeland, of tradition and of the group must be affirmed. Even when corrupted by sin they retain the force of authentic humanity. But they all become at some point questionable in the light of the ultimate obedience in the spirit of agape. An ethic grounded in the love of God manifest in Christ must live in an ambiguous and difficult relationship to every concrete form of group loyalty. This most certainly includes the forms of life in the Church, the community founded on agape. No serious participant in the ecumenical movement can mistake the judging and purging power of agape as it moves within the centuries-old forms and symbols which have guided Christian devotion and have become infused with the very human loves of the familiar and the satisfying.22

In this clash of group loyalties the search for an ethical way which expresses agape has often taken either the way of humanitarianism or the way of protest. We need to examine both.


‘The fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man’ is a familiar phrase in modern Christian cultures. The brotherhood of man has often been affirmed as a humanistic ideal apart from a specifically Christian rootage. There is a concern for the needs of humanity, and a sentiment of benevolence toward every man just because we share a common human lot. This concern was given philosophic expression in the stoic sense of humanity as a universal community bound by the divine law to which the moral man can give his rational allegiance. It was recognized in the French revolutionary ideal of the ‘fraternity’ which binds ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’ together. It had another philosophic rationale in the idealist doctrine of the absolute truth and good reflected for every man in the community of value, as in Josiah Royce’s thought. It has informed the American democratic ideal. The inalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence are held to be endowments from the Creator. Later democratic thought has sometimes found human idealism sufficient, as in John Dewey’s philosophy.23

There are superficial and profound types of humanistic universalism. From a theological point of view we may see in every Western humanitarianism an element of ethical commitment which has been given substance to the universalistic attitude. We may regard that commitment as in part a deposit left by the biblical heritage in the humanistic philosophies; but we cannot deny that a form of universal human benevolence has appeared in both Western and Eastern traditions. It exhibits a concern for every man as a companion in the great community, and it leads to ethical sensitivity and self-sacrificing devotion.

Is such humanitarian love an authentic, though truncated version of Christian love? The identification of love of neighbour with humanitarianism has been vigorously criticized by some theologians. The Bible, it is said, does not call us to recognize a universal idealism as the basis of dealing with men. It finds the basis for a humane treatment of the neighbour in the historical revelation of God’s love for a people. Only in this history do we discover who our neighbour really is, and therefore only here do we know the real meaning of the command to love.24

It is clear that every Christian ethic interprets the obligation to the neighbour within the action of God’s creative power and mercy. But we may yet regard humanitarianism as a form of human love which, though it cannot be identified with agape, reflects human values which agape incorporates and fulfils It is true that the Bible does not speak of a general fraternity of humanity which we recognize just because we are human. The Bible sees humanity in the concrete history of peoples and nations where the neighbour is present, sometimes as enemy, or as stranger, and always as one who bears the image of God. Yet the universalistic note in the Gospel is unmistakable. The Noachian laws, promulgated before the flood, have formed a basis for a Jewish version of natural law. The prophets assert the demand of God for just, humane behaviour toward all peoples, not just the Jews. There are obligations to the stranger, to the hurt and the oppressed, without regard to race or religion.

The parables of Jesus reiterate the demand to serve every man in need — the hurt, the hungry, and the enemy. These are not merely abstract commands, they are made in the name of God, not of any particular national tradition. God sends his rain on the just and unjust, so man ought to be merciful (Matthew 5: 45). Christ is present in ‘the least of these’ (Matthew 25). Paul interprets the history of Jesus as the fulfillment of the history of Adam who represents everyman. Jesus restores to all humanity the imaging of its divine origin.

If we cannot say that a disposition of benevolence toward other human beings, or a concern for humanity as a whole, is necessarily an expression of love as agape, neither can we say that agape is not present. The New Testament is quite explicit about this. Those who sit at the Lord’s right hand at the last judgment had not known who he was when they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited those in prison. That does not mean that every act of feeding the hungry is an adequate service of Christ. It might reflect a paternalistic, arrogant, self-centred spirit. But it is God’s judgment and not man’s as to when the love which redeems is present. Love which leads to human concern and mutuality is, so far as any objective test can go, that which expresses the mind of Christ.

What the Gospel does reject is the tendency to impersonality in humanitarianism. But humitarianism can have its own personalism of involvement in the neighbours’ needs, and when this happens a Christian ethic can affirm that in this love for the other Christ is present incognito.

Humanitarian sentiment need not be abstract, impersonal, and unrealistic about what men need. Those who say that it is impossible to ‘love’ three billion human beings are certainly right if love means only person to person relationship. But they forget two important facts. First, there are elements of universal predicament and need in human life, and it is only through sin or a pathological condition that we forget this. The plea to remember that the other is a human being with feelings, hopes, pain, joy, may on occasion be ineffectual but it is never irrelevant, and it has its place in any ethic.

The second consideration is that in the twentieth century as never before there is one world and one common human plight. The inter-relatedness of mankind is both a grim and a hopeful fact. Failure to control population, the possibility of the possession of atomic weapons by dozens of nations, the issues of race and colour which affect every society and every civilization, disclose the human condition shared by all. One of the authentic forms of humanitarian love appears in the response to this common plight. It is found in those who seek to deal objectively and dispassionately with the meeting of different cultures. It is expressed in the lives of a few persons, such as Albert Schweitzer or Jane Addams, who became spokesmen for mankind, not because they made this claim, but because they articulated a humane and universal spirit. Eugene V. Debs, one of the minor prophets of American democratic ethics, had this insight:

So long as there is a lower class, I am in it;

While there is a criminal element, I am of it;

While there is a soul in jail, I am not free.25

There is a sense in which humanitarian love serves as a corrective to expressions of agape when we are tempted to claim superiority of ethical wisdom. In Taiwan in 1960, the following statement was made by some interpreters of Chinese culture:

It is true that Westerners often have what Orientals do not have to such a degree: loyalty to ideals, a spirit of social service and enthusiasm and love toward others. But the highest feelings between human beings do not consist of enthusiasm and love only. Man’s will to power and his possessive urge can pervade enthusiasm and love. . . . An ultimate solution can only come from removing the roots of the will power and of the possessive urge. To do this, love must be truly fused with respect. The most significant feature of this fusion of love and respect is the feeling that, since love towards others is based on God’s boundless love, my respect for others is likewise boundless. It means that I must equal my respect toward others to my veneration of God. This is what is meant in China when it is said that the good man ‘serves his parents like serving heaven’, and ‘governs the people like performing a great sacrifice’. There is no room here for any reflection on the fact that I myself believe in God and that I know His love, but that the other does not. Such an attitude places the other person on a lower level, and then my respect towards others remains unfulfilled. True respect must be unconditional and absolute. Then, human love, expressed in

the forms of etiquette, preserves its inner warmth and becomes mellow and mild. Thus the deepest human love is transformed into the feeling of commiseration and humanity.26

The danger of the prideful assumption of superior ethical knowledge is rightly exposed here. Identification with the other means respect for him and his truth, even when we believe ours is more profound.

Agape can incorporate humanitarianism, but it transcends humanitarianism. The reason lies in the history of sin and grace. Agape is identification with the neighbour and meeting his needs, but it is identification at the level of confession of our betrayal of the divine image, and hope for the possibility of renewal through the grace of suffering love. Agape is known in the history of the incarnation and the atonement. Therefore, while it recognizes human sympathy, fellow-feeling and identification, it has a new basis for identification with the other. This is participation in the history of the love which gives itself for sinners. To believe that ‘everyman is the brother for whom Christ died’, requires an identification with the neighbour which is deeper than any humanitarian sentiment, for now the neighbour is seen as one who is created to share in communion with God and his fellows in eternal life. It is the saddest of all commentaries on those who have glimpsed the meaning of redemption that they should take the knowledge of agape to give some kind of superiority over others, whereas agape implies confession that each stands in the same need of grace as every other.

In the confession of mutual need there is the meeting point of humanitarian ethics and Christian ethics. Certainly the love of God and neighbour may be recognized and practised by those who do not profess a biblical faith more adequately than by some who stand inside. Reinhold Niebuhr says in a classic sentence in his Nature and Destiny of Man:

While Christians rightly believe that all truth necessary for such a spiritual experience is mediated only through the revelation in Christ, they must guard against the assumption that only those who know Christ ‘after the flesh’, that is, in the actual historical revelation, are capable of such a conversion, A ‘hidden Christ’ operates in history. And there is always the possibility that those who do not know the historical revelation may achieve a more genuine repentance and humility than those who do.27 This does not make the historical revelation of no importance. It means that those who recognize the agape of God in the historical revelation can be thankful that it has come to them there, while they remember that it does not give them an exclusive possession of the truth.

In this discussion of humanitarian love we see again how agape uses the human loves, incorporating them into the human vitalities and the will to belong. The natural drives, longings and passions belong to the essential goodness of human nature. The love of home, of work, of soil, homeland, the tools of one’s trade, the tradition, history, and language of a people, the comradeship of the community of work and celebration, the love of freedom, group spirit, indignation at injustice, and respect for common ideals are all affirmed within the ethic of agape. Every human community and nation lives from the vitalities of such loves. The Church itself draws upon them. Ecumenicity is, in its roots, the reality which unites the deep love of different traditions in new forms of community.

So far we must go with a theory of creative participation in the loves which inform human history. They are to be accepted with gratitude and honour and at the same time to be purged as they are brought into the service of the Kingdom. Yet because all the loves, even agape, work within the history of sin and idolatry, agape creates a double mindedness toward the human loves. They are affirmed yet they cannot be accepted as they are. Here the work of agape becomes protest.


Agape always has an aspect of protest. It may be overt or silent, but it will resist the tendency to absolutization in every group cause. The protest arises when we claim too much for our purity of intention and the adequacy of our goals. Pretensions of absolute righteousness are as offensive to love as positive unrighteousness. Even in fighting an enemy whom we believe to be wrong we may protest that in the enemy and that in ourselves which makes us enemies. As Paul Tillich says: ‘Protest is a form of communion.’28 Agape creates that freedom of spirit which transcends all self-justification. Thus the moral life receives from agape that which is essential to its integrity, the transcendant dimension in which the limits of our ethical justification can be confessed without our falling into nihilism and despair. Agape leads to the radical protest against the underlying sins of society and culture in which all share.

Protest involves the attempt to point unequivocally to what is demanded by love. It exposes the City of Wrong by pointing to the City of God. The work of Christ incarnates this ultimate dimension of protest. He is the protest of love against the unlove of mankind, and he will be in agony until the end of the world.

We have to ask then what this means for the ethical life of the Christian. Protest has to be enacted in history with the resources which human life provides. Every significant Christian ethic has sought a strategy for protest.

Augustine saw the City of God moving in history within the Church which preserves the truth in love, and represents the absolute sacrifice of Christ through the sacraments. The Church is the protest against the Kingdoms of this world. But how can there be a protest against the Church as it is? As we have seen, the Church protected itself against St. Francis’s protest by enfolding his witness within the larger structure.

The Franciscan way of protest seems the most direct and sacrificial. It renounces many worldly involvements for the sake of pointing to the way of love. But we have also seen that this is done at the cost of losing direct effectiveness in the guidance, restraint, and judgment of the structures of power which shape the social order. Albert Schweitzer consistently refused political involvements and judgments, though he did join in protest against the use of nuclear weapons. Another example is the pacifist protest against war, which has been a form of Christian witness from the early days of the church. To some this has always seemed a clear case of where love requires an absolute stand against the killing and destruction of warfare. Some Christian pacifism has made its radical protest on that point alone, the refusal of military service, but more often it has appeared as the declaration of a way of life intended to express love directly, as in the Society of Friends.

Sectarian and confessional forms of protest can both be found in Protestantism. The sectarians created religious communities which at first sought detachment from worldly involvements, and tried to express the spirit of love in intimate personal communities. Sometimes they withdrew from participation in the wider communities, but they could also take the form of radical political movements as in the Diggers and Levellers in England. Most Protestant churches have made an adjustment to the structures of the general community while claiming and fighting for the freedom to witness to the Word of God, and to protest against the absolutizing of any form of power. In the Calvinist tradition this was first coupled with the attempt to create a form of theocratic society in Geneva, and then broadened out into the reformist temper of modern Christian liberalism with its effort to bring a wider democratic justice into all social relationships.

The sects and the churches both tend to become involved in the secular order, however radical and pure their initial dedication to the way of the Kingdom. Existence in history means involvement in established powers and orders. Even the most radical forms of individual protest are in some way dependent upon the existing society, for no individual exists without the structures of communal life. The revolutionary joins with a group or party which has its own structures of power with their ethical ambiguities.

While thus recognizing the pragmatic element in all protest, we must say that the witness to God’s love as protest even when it is not given in absolute purity, and when its consequences may not be visible, is still an indispensable work of love in history. Socrates’ protest against compromise with the truth remains a point of light in the human pilgrimage just because the same issues persist in every age. Albert Camus’s interpretation of the call to the contemporary artist to ‘create dangerously’ is founded upon the spirit of protest made all the more convincing by Camus’s recognition of the involvement of the protester in the evils which he fights:

We writers of the twentieth century shall never again be alone. Rather, we must know that we can never escape the common misery, and that our only justification, if indeed there is justification, is to speak up, insofar as we can, for those who cannot do so. But we must do so for all those who are suffering at this moment, whatever may be the glories, past or future, of the States and parties oppressing them; for the artist there are no privileged torturers.29

There is, finally, the work of love in the inwardness of the spirit. Protest appears in prayer, and in inner resistance when no outward remedy appears. Jesus’ word, ‘render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s’ does not give a guide to social action. As protest against all false claims upon the conscience it offers the ultimate basis for Christian ethics, and it leads to action against concrete evils.


All human life involves conflict of person with person, life with life, and will with will, If love means renunciation of conflict then it must be the ‘impossible possibility’ without direct political relevance. Andre Beaufre’s study of international conflict, An Introduction to Strategy, is an admirable introduction to the discussion of ethics and love; for he sees strategy in politics as the means of conducting conflict. He defines strategy as ‘the art of the dialectic of force, or, more precisely, the art of the dialectic of two opposing wills using force to resolve their dispute’. Force does not always mean overt violence. It includes direct threat, indirect pressure, actions combining threat and pressure, protracted conflict when resources are thin, and, finally, violent conflict aiming at military victory. Beaufre also adds logistic strategy, that is the production of new weapons to render an opponent’s obsolete.30

Here the spirit of love meets the ultimate ethical dilemmas which have reached their most terrible form in the nuclear weapons whose destructive capacity approaches totality. The conscience informed by love must seek strategies which offer an alternative to wholesale destruction and lead to reconciliation. We have then to consider the relation of non-violent strategies to the ethical claims which arise from the love manifest in Christ.

The experiment with strategies of social change through nonviolent action is an important movement in the modern history of love. Non-violent action can, of course, be undertaken without reference to love, but one characteristic of most of the non-violent ethical movements has been the conviction that this strategy is required by love and provides a way of giving love a direct expression in social conflict. Gandhi’s conception of the strategy of non-violence was coupled with the doctrine of Satyagraha, soul force as a spiritual power, which is exercised in love against all material power.

Belief in non-violence is based on the assumption that human nature in the essence is one, and therefore unfailingly responds to the advances of love.31

The word ‘unfailingly’ here is usually interpreted by Gandhi to mean ‘ultimately’. When he recommended non-violent resistance against an invading army he said:

The unexpected spectacle of endless rows upon rows of men and women simply dying rather than surrender to the will of an aggressor must ultimately melt him and his soldiery.32

And again:

In the case of non-violence, everybody seems to start with the assumption that the non-violent method must be set down as a failure unless he himself at least lives to enjoy the success thereof. This is both illogical and invidious. In Satyagraha (Soul-Force) more than in armed warfare, it may be said that we find life by losing it.

And Gandhi was not dissuaded but reinforced in his position by the atomic bomb:

The moral to be legitimately drawn from the supreme tragedy of the bomb is that it will not be destroyed by counter bombs even as violence cannot be by counter-violence. Hatred can be overcome only by love. Counter hatred only increases the surface as well as the depth of hatred.33

Here, then, the non-violent strategy for conflict is recommended, not only for individuals, but also for groups and nations as a direct expression of love. This strategy is a use of power which has its own tactics and leads to consequences which no other way can accomplish.

Gandhi’s doctrine of non-violence was a blend of Hindu, Christian, and rational ethics. In part it was based upon the Hindu doctrine of Ahimsa, the non-injury of any living thing; but this was usually coupled with Christian motifs. The non-violent action in the salt boycott, and the lying down in front of trains in India constituted passive resistance. Gandhi sometimes made non-violence synonymous with the kind of civil disobedience he found dictated by Soul-Force. At other times he would distinguish Soul-Force from passive resistance in so far as passive resistance may be undertaken from many motives, whether it is passive or not. It could involve the will to injure the opponent which Soul-Force forbids.

The influence of Gandhi on American pacifism and the development of non-violent strategies in the civil rights movements deserves careful study. The American pacifist minister and ethical leader, John Haynes Holmes, preached a sermon in 1921 entitled ‘Who is the Greatest Man in the World’.

When I think of Mahatma Gandhi, I think of Jesus Christ. This Indian is a saint in personal life; he teaches the law of love and soul force as its practice; and he seeks the establishment of a new social order, which shall be a Kingdom of the Spirit.34

The historian of non-violence, William Robert Miller, says that the first explicit reference to non-violence in the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott came from a white librarian, Juliette Morgan, who compared the boycott to Gandhi’s salt march in a letter to the Montgomery Advertiser on December 12, 1955.35 The development of non-violent strategies in the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s arose partly from belief in pacifism as an expression of love in the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Society of Friends from whom many leaders of the movement for racial justice came. The strategy also developed in spontaneous reaction to a situation in some ways analogous to that of the Indian masses confronted by the British rule. There are undoubtedly influences of Gandhi’s example, but these have been fused with elements derived from a wide range of American experience and from Jewish and Christian religious attitudes.

Whatever its sources, the civil rights movement has exhibited to an extraordinary degree both leadership and mass support which have been willing to seek a non-destructive strategy in which love and reconciliation are affirmed, and the suffering involved is accepted. This is not to say that love is the only spirit at work in this movement. Revolutions are never tidy. The drive for justice always has many types of emotional charge.

The development in the civil rights movement of doubts about the full effectiveness of non-violence may represent in part a yielding to emotions less disciplined by ethical considerations; but it also reflects the discovery of some complexities of effective social action. The question of the rights of self-defence for example have come to be asked more insistently.

It remains true however that the civil rights movement has written a new chapter in the possibilities of a social and political strategy which involves a commitment to a love which has elements both of humanitarian universalism and the will to reconciliation found in the biblical faith. This becomes all the more obvious when, as must happen, emotions become polarized and the depths of hatred and resentment in many quarters are disclosed as the background against which the will of love must take its stand. An account by a Protestant minister, the Reverend Andrew Juvinall, of the memorial service in Selma, Alabama held after the killing of the Reverend James Reeb is an authentic document in the history of love:

. . .this movement to procure civil rights is distinctly a religious movement, rooted in the conviction that God has ‘made of one blood all the nations of mankind’ and it is His will that all should stand erect in their full manhood. The movement of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference has political and economic aspects but it is most of all a profound spiritual movement. Its leaders, Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathey, Dr. Bell, Andy Young and the others are men of Christian conviction, unquestioned integrity, courage, intelligence and a sense of responsibility. The rank and file of the people who follow them are devout Christians who know more than any other Americans what it means to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake and to be imprisoned and reviled.

In our Bible we often read such beautiful phrases as: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and pray for them that despitefully use you’. To us this may be pious poetry but to these people it is reality.

. . .these people were able to sing: ‘I love everybody in my heart. . . .I love George Wallace in my heart. . . . I love Jim Clark in my heart. . . .I love the State troopers in my heart. . . .’ And their leaders again and again repeat their guiding philosophy of non~violence.36

The justification of non-violence as a strategy usually combines the appeal to love with arguments for the effectiveness of nonviolent strategies for overcoming the opponent and for opening the way to reconciliation. Non-violence means the refusal to inflict injury on an opponent, or at least to keep injury to a minimum. The problem of the boycott which may bring suffering even on the innocent must, of course, be faced, where that is recognized as a legitimate non-violent strategy. Non-violence in principle means that the opponent will not have the memory of violence done to him. It includes the possibility of direct expression of love for the enemy in personal address and in prayer. This has been a conspicuous feature of some civil rights demonstrations. The non-violent way involves the acceptance of suffering. The protester accepts the consequences of his actions and receives injury without retaliation in kind. This means refusal to inflict injury upon the other, and submitting to the power of the state to jail and fine. Since this is undertaken willingly the suffering becomes a witness to the will for reconciliation in the midst of conflict. We should not forget the pragmatic consideration that the non-violent resistance of an unarmed populace against armed police or military authority may be the only feasible kind of protest. It is a strategy for the masses against guns which may offer the most hope of avoiding disastrous retaliation. These practical advantages should not obscure the way in which the spirit of love may inform non-violent strategies.

Agape takes many forms in history, and although we cannot infallibly judge any human action or intention as the expression of agape, the Gospel love of neighbour and concern for the neighbour is surely present here. Purely sociological or political interpretations of this movement will misunderstand it.

At the same time, as we examine the ethics of non-violence in the search for the work of God’s love in history, we find some difficult issues concerning the place of coercion and physical force in society and politics.

We observe first that the strategies of non-violence presuppose that a certain minimal order has been achieved in society, else there may be no possibility of an effective expression of any ethical purpose. Minimal order is necessary not only to life but to love itself. Political chaos may be an impossible environment for direct strategies of love. This has been shown in the civil rights struggle. There are many forces at work, including the force of the Federal law, backed by Federal troops. The March from Selma to Montgomery had the United States Army alongside, a protection many members would have been willing to forgo, but which may have prevented violence.

It is true that law enforcement officers may be part of the structure of injustice. Policemen and sheriffs have been indicted for conspiring to deny civil rights. But society cannot exist without elements of coercive restraint which protect some from what others would do to them. That this is so may be regarded as a tragic aspect of love in this world. But if it is so, then the real difficulty in ethical doctrines based exclusively on non-violence is that they isolate love as spirit and as strategy from the full context of the situation in which it must work. If love is concern for the neighbour, it requires responsible attention to those things which are necessary for a common life in which the neighbour can be met, can live, and be restrained from violating the rights of other neighbours. This is the truth in St. Paul’s dictum, which indeed must not be interpreted too simply, that the state serves God when it wields the power of the sword (Romans 13).

A second point is that every social conflict is a contest in which each seeks to change the order of life for the other, no matter how purely the good of the other is intended. There is no political movement in which innocent people do not suffer injustice. So far Hans Morgenthau is right, that the art of politics is that of doing the least evil.37

This is a hard but necessary truth. There are well-intentioned people who resist all social change on the ground that so~me innocent people will be hurt. When the bracero programme for Mexican farm workers in the United States was eliminated a hardship was created for some Mexican families. Some who profited from the exploitation of farm-workers expressed deep concern for those who would be put out of work. The real question, however, was clearly a humane and decent pattern of wages which will cause higher prices for food. This will make life more difficult for families living on tight food budgets. There is no way to justice except through the re-ordering of human affairs, and this is never without its cost.38

Third, the adoption in a loving spirit of a well-intentioned ethical strategy does not guarantee that its specific goal is righteous. When Gandhi fasted on one side of issues dividing religious groups in India, others were fasting on the opposite side. Soul force can come into conflict with soul force. The judgment of God transcends our judgments in history.

An ethic of love has now to confront the use of atomic weapons. It is possible that the present issues for conscience over the use of nuclear weapons have no precedent in human history. The weapons seem to be those of maximum imprecision, and their use in the present state of armament practically guarantees mass destruction, and the possibility of total destruction of human life on this planet. Can there be any answer of an ethic of love to this situation other than to press for the total renunciation, unilaterally if necessary, of the use of such weapons?

We must distinguish between what love would lead us to choose in the realm of abstract possibility and what love may require us to do in the actualities of history. The absolute directive in love is to do what needs to be done to serve the growth of communion between man and man and between man and God. Even if unilateral disarmament by one nation were a genuine possibility, which is doubtful, we have to ask what its consequences would be. We cannot know it would prevent atomic destruction, so long as any nation possesses the weapons.

There is not a final contradiction here between what love requires and what we accept as political necessities so long as we recognize that the threat of nuclear destruction may help to restrain nations from all out war long enough to allow the growth of a minimal world order under law which can bring the weaponry under control.

This position does not require us to show that a nuclear stalemate can be permanently held, though we seem to have something like it at mid-century. We can see that the course of world history might have been far more terrible and destructive in the twenty years after World War II had the bomb not been in existence. There is sufficient threat of total destruction that no one can have any assurance of surviving a nuclear war.

An ethic of love will always allow for alternative political decisions. Love does not tell us what to do. It is the spirit which calls us to a responsible concern for all of life and the search for a wider, more adequate human community. Some will hold that violent resistance cannot serve that end, but that, too, is a judgment about conditions and consequences; it is not one which follows automatically from the nature of love. The spirit of love seeks communion with every other life. We are called to discover what will serve that end. Love alone does not tell us what that may be, and it does not give us freedom from the dialectic of force in human affairs.

This assessment of the ethical problem requires the imaginative search for possible new strategies. How can the love which gives loyalty to the Kingdom of God find rootage and power in this world?


Because the spirit of agape transcends group loyalties without renouncing them, the question of the nurture of the personal life and its love becomes a critical one for Christian ethics. There is no educational technique for producing loving concern, yet the forms of group life are the vital context of the nurture which is necessary to love.

There are two primary candidates for the role of providing the group life in which love may grow. One is the family and other intimate personal friendships where we have the depth of direct personal relationship. These are communities in which the I-Thou relationship is a possibility. The other is the community which has God’s agape as its own ground, the Church.

Every Christian ethic will show especial concern for the freedom of the churches to worship and witness to the faith. These are the nurturing groups in which man can realize freedom to know God and his neighbour in the spirit of love. But we must make two qualifications of this high estimate of the place of family and church in the history of love.

The first is that the quality of life in families and churches is in part a function of the public order in which they exist. Love in family and church is in part shaped by the social structure. Family love and fellowship in the church are conditioned by the attitudes, privileges, and spirit of a society and its classes. For example, attitudes of racial exclusiveness can be fostered both in family and by segregation in the church. Thus agape is twisted into a sentimentality or an illusion. A minister who has preached on Christian love for twenty years in a white congregation and then finds resistance even to the admission to the church of a member of another race experiences this hard fact.

Second, there is the possibility that the primary groups will become merely self-protective and exclusively self-centred. This can happen in the exclusiveness of one form of Christianity and in the absolutizing of one form of religion. The security of belonging within a familiar community is so great that it can create anxiety about anything which calls for assuming the risks of a larger experience. As Kenneth Boulding says, ‘One of the great obstacles towards the realization of the human identity is the fear that taking on the human identity will destroy our other identities’.39

Distortions of agape are often reinforced by appeals to love which exploit the group spirit. The Nazis used the word from John’s Gospel, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’. It is a tragic fact that love’s counterfeits, caricatures, and even its authentic symbols may become the tools of unlove. Every doctrine of the church must recognize that the community founded on agape may betray it.

In a study of anti-Semitism in Christian tradition Father Edward J. Flannery has traced a sorry history:

The chronicler of anti-Semitism is beset at every turn with the problem of superlatives. Long before reaching the contemporary scene he has exhausted his supply. . . the problem is not only verbal but real. From the first literary strictures against Judaism in ancient and early Christian times to almost any major manifestation of anti-Jewish animus in a later epoch, a crescendo in violence has unfolded, each grade of which has promised to be the upper limit but which unfailingly paled before what followed.

He makes clear that the incredible rationalizations and justifications of anti-Semitism which have been offered have been perversions of the very agape which Christ incarnates:

The sin. . . is many things. . . in the end it is a denial of the Christian faith, a failure of Christian hope, and a malady of Christian love.40

Since there are no certain remedies for the maladies of love, every doctrine must include the theme of repentance in the knowledge of agape. One of the marks of the presence of the Holy Spirit is the acknowledgement by fallible men that the pure love of God cannot be claimed for any human community, even the Church.

At the same time the Church is that community which believes that its life can be renewed by a fresh grasp of the meaning of love. The present ecumenical movement, and here we include the meeting of Christians and Jews, and the meeting of the Christian community with other religious communities, has an authentic element of charity within it. The history of the ecumenical movement is unintelligible without the recognition of love moving among the divisions of Christendom, and sustaining men in working through centuries old divisions. A commentator on the Pontificate of John XXIII says, ‘The warm love of his spirit melted and broke through this hardness, this crust, revealed tenderly the substance of our inheritance in the saints of God’. The author of this statement says that both Roncalli and Montini followed Cardinal Bea in adopting this theme of truth in love as the foundation of a new ecclesiastical attitude. Truth in love means:

‘Truth is one, but men seek it in different ways depending upon their background, education and environment; the only reasonable way for any modern man to act when faced with this pluralism of ethical and moral thinking is to seek to know the truth held by the other person, but with love and respect and openness.’41

The struggle for justice in a blood-stained history is one of the ways in which love does its work. The Church is not the only group in which man is moved by agape and seeks its leading; but it is the one community which in accepting agape as the meaning of its existence places itself squarely under the judgment of the love which seeks one redeemed humanity in the Kingdom of God.


1. Emil Brunner, Justice and the Social Order (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1945).

2. Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. II, Chap IX.

3. A. Milton Konvitz and Theodore Leskes, A Century of Civil Rights (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961), especially pp. 83-9.

4. For a discussion of these two theologies on this point see Daniel D. Williams, God’s Grace and Man’s Hope (New York: Harper & Row, 1949), chap. 4.

5. Paul Lehmann, Ethics in a Christian Context (New York: Harper & Row. 1963, p. 131; London: S.C.M. Press, 1963).

6. William Temple, ‘Christians in a Secular World’, The Christian Century, Vol. 61, March 1, 1944.

7. 1 have developed this doctrine of the ‘reign of Christ’ in God’s Grace and Man’s Hope, chapter 5.

8. For a statement of this view see Russell Clinchy, Charity, Biblical and Political (The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., 1951), in a series entitled In Brief, Vol. 6, No. 2.

9. Henry Nelson Wieman. The Directive in History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1949), pp. 97, 100.

10. Martin Luther, ‘If all the world were composed of real Christians, that is, true believers, no prince, king, sword, or law would be needed’. Secular Authority, To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed. III.

11. The Society of Friends Committee on Social Order for the State of New Jersey observed that capital punishment ‘is primarily applied to the poor, the friendless, the ignorant, the unfortunate without resources, and especially to Negroes’. Quoted in James A. Joyce, Capital Punishment (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons. 1961), p. 157.

12. William Ernest Hocking, Man and the State (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1926), p. 13.

13. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics (London: S.C.M. Press, 1955; New York: Macmillan, Paperback edition, 1965, pp. 360-1).

14. Edmond Cahn, The Sense of Injustice: An Anthropocentric View of Law (New York: New York University Press, 1949).

15. William Stringfellow, review of Edmond Cahn, The Moral Decision in The Christian Scholar, Vol. XL, No. 3, September 1957, pp. 251-2. The quotation from Mr. Stringfellow is from his paper, The Christian Lawyer as a Churchman, The Vanderbilt Law Review, ‘A Symposium on Law and Christianity’, Vol. 10, No. 5, August, 1957.

16. Reinhold Niebuhr, The Self and the Dramas of History (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1955; London: Faber & Faber, 1956).

17. C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge University Press, 1953), pp. 3-115, 263ff.

18. Quoted in The New York Times, January 1. 1967, magazine sec., p. 27.

19. Quoted from The Sokka-Gakkai (Tokyo: The Seikyo Press, 1962), p. 51. See also Richard H. Drummond, ‘Japan’s New Religions and the Christian Community’. The Christian Century, December 9, 1964, pp. 1521ff.

20. Frank Trager, ed., Marxism in Southeast Asia (Stanford University Press, 1959), p. 11.

21. Quoted in Paul E. Sigmund, Jr., The Ideologies of the Developing Nations (New York: Praeger, 1963), p. 250.

22. At the Lund Conference on Faith and Order these elements of particularist group loyalties were identified, too simply I believe, as ‘non-theological factors’ which have to be taken into account in ecumenical understanding.

23. See John Dewey, A Common Faith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1934). I am not certain that Dewey really rejects theism however. The book remains ambiguous in its statements about God.

24. Cf. W. W. Bryden, The Christian’s Knowledge of God (Toronto: Thorn Press, 1940, pp. 139-44, 237; London: James Clarke & Co., 1960).

25. Quoted in Wade Crawford Barclay, Challenge and Power (New York: Abingdon Press, 1936), p. 143.

26. Unpublished manuscript in my possession.

27. Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. II, pp. 109-10 footnote.

28. Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, Vol. I, p. 33.

29. Albert Camus, ‘Create Dangerously’, the Uppsala Lectures included in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death (New York: The Modern Library, 1960), p. 204.

30. Andre Beaufre, Introduction a ía Strategie (Librairie Armand Cohn 1963, p. 16; American ed., Praeger, 1965).

31. This and the following quotations are from Gandhi’s writings and are conveniently gathered together in an anthology edited by Louis Fischer, The Essential Gandhi (New York: Vintage Books, 1963, pp. 331, 333; London: Allen & Unwin, 1963).

32. My italics.

33. Ibid., p. 336.

34. 1 am indebted for this quotation to Dr. Carl Hermann Voss in his Rabbi and Master: The Friendship of Stephen S. Wise and John Haynes Holmes (New York: World Publishing Company, 1964), p. 198.

35. William Robert Miler, Non-Violence, A Christian Interpretation (New York: Association Press, 1964), p. 301.

36. Quoted in the San Francisco Sunday Chronicle, March 21, 1965.

37. Hans Morgenthau, ‘The Evil of Politics and the Ethics of Evil’, Ethics, Vol. LVI, No. 1, October 1945, p. 17.

38. Cf. Ernesto Galarza, Merchants of Labor: The Mexican Bracero Story (San Jose, Rosicrucian Press, 1964).

39. Kenneth Boulding and Henry Clark, Human Values on the Space-ship Earth, National Council of the Churches of Christ, U.S.A. (1966), p. 19.

40. Edward J. Flannery, The Anguish of the Jews. Twenty-three centuries of anti-Semitism (New York: Macmillan, 1965), pp. 205-7.

41. Michael Serafian, The Pilgrim (New York: Farrar & Strauss, 1964, pp. 104-5, 95; London: Michael Joseph, 1964).