Tough Minds & Tender Hearts – Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. sermon: “Tough minds & tender hearts”
From 1959, this sermon still has great relevance. While he addresses those who believe whatever is in the print media, that issue is now compounded by those who believe choice bits in social media. This context is given from the King Institute:
King elaborates on a dichotomy found in Gerald Hamilton Kennedy’s sermon “The Mind and the Heart” to explore the need for tough-minded and tender-hearted Christians. Citing inaccurate media portrayals of prime ministers Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Jawaharlal Nehru of India, King regrets that most individuals do not look beyond the “subjective appraisals of the newspaper headlines to the actual truth of the situation.”
Sermon Intro:
Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. (Matthew 10:16)
… Jesus recognized the need for blending opposites. He knew that his disciples would face a difficult and hostile world, where they would confront the recalcitrance of political officials and the intransigence of the protectors of the old order. … And he gave them a formula for action, “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” It is pretty difficult to imagine a single person having, simultaneously, the characteristics of the serpent and the dove, but this is what Jesus expects. We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.
Let us consider, first, the need for a tough mind, characterized by incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgment. The tough mind is sharp and penetrating, breaking through the crust of legends and myths and sifting the true from the false. The tough-minded individual is astute and discerning. He [or she] has a strong, austere quality that makes for firmness of purpose and solidness of commitment.
…. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.
This prevalent tendency toward soft mindedness is found in [people]’s unbelievable gullibility. … Advertisers have long since learned that most people are soft-minded, and they capitalize on this susceptibility with skillful and effective slogans.
This undue gullibility is also seen in the tendency of many readers to accept the printed word of the press as final truth. Few people realize that even our authentic channels of information – the press, the platform, and in many instances the pulpit – do not give us objective and unbiased truth. Few people have the toughness of mind to judge critically and to discern the true from the false, the fact from the fiction. Our minds are constantly being invaded by legions of half-truths, prejudices, and false facts. One of the great needs of [hu]mankind is to be lifted above the morass of false propaganda.
Soft-minded individuals are prone to embrace all kinds of superstitions. … Such fears leave the soft mind haggard by day and haunted by night.
The soft-minded [person] always fears change. He [or she] feels security in the status quo, and … has an almost morbid fear of the new. For [them], the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea. … The soft-minded person always wants to freeze the moment and hold life in the gripping yoke of sameness.
Soft mindedness often invades religion. This is why religion has sometimes rejected new [understandings of] truth with a dogmatic passion. Through edicts and bulls, inquisitions and excommunications, the church has attempted to prorogue truth and place an impenetrable stone wall in the path of the truth-seeker. … Soft-minded persons have revised the Beatitudes to read, “Blessed are the pure in ignorance: for they shall see God.”
This has also led to a widespread belief that there is a conflict between science and religion. But this is not true. There may be a conflict between soft-minded religionists and tough-minded scientists, but not between science and religion. Their respective worlds are different and their methods are dissimilar. Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge that is power; religion gives man wisdom that is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary. Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.
We do not need to look far to detect the dangers of soft mindedness. Dictators, capitalizing on soft mindedness, have led [people] to acts of barbarity and terror that are unthinkable in civilized society. Adolf Hitler realized that soft mindedness was so prevalent among his followers that he said, “I use emotion for the many and reserve reason for the few.” In Mein Kampf he asserted:
By means of shrewd lies, unremittingly repeated,
it is possible to make people believe that Heaven is hell – and hell, Heaven.
The greater the lie, the more readily will it be believed.
Soft-mindedness is one of the basic causes of race prejudice. The tough-minded person always examines the facts before he reaches conclusions; in short, he postjudges. The tender-minded person reaches a conclusion before he has examined the first fact; in short, he prejudges and is prejudiced. Race prejudice is based on groundless fears, suspicions, and misunderstandings.
There are those who are sufficiently soft-minded to believe in the superiority of the white race …. There are soft-minded persons who argue that racial segregation should be perpetuated because Negroes lag behind in academic, health, and moral standards. They are not tough-minded enough to realize that lagging standards are the result of segregation and discrimination [i.e., systemic racism]. They do not recognize that it is rationally unsound and sociologically untenable to use the traffic effects of segregation as an argument for its continuation.
Too many politicians in the South recognize this disease of soft mindedness that engulfs their constituency. With insidious zeal, they make inflammatory statements and disseminate distortions and half-truths that arouse abnormal fears and morbid antipathies within the minds of uneducated and underprivileged whites, leaving them so confused that they are led to acts of meanness and violence that no normal person commits.
There is little hope for us until we become tough-minded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truths, and downright ignorance. The shape of the world today does not permit us the luxury of soft mindedness. A nation or a civilization that continues to produce soft-minded [people] purchases its own spiritual death on an installment plan.
[He then goes on to compare hard-hearted and tender-hearted people, and shows how God is both tough-minded (Justice) and tender-hearted (mercy), and how Love leads us to healing, not violence. The full sermon is available @]
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Brad Jersak

Bradley Jersak is an author and teacher based in Abbotsford, BC. He serves as a reader and monastery preacher at All Saints of North America Orthodox Monastery. Read More