Reading the paper or watching the news lately has sent me straight to my bookshelf –where I usually end up whenever I need someone much smarter than me to lend a hand. I settled on a volume by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called Stride Toward Freedom. It is there that King outlined six principles of Christian nonviolence that shaped his life and his work. I’ll share parts of that wisdom with you.
- Nonviolence offers a Gospel way of life for courageous people. It is not passive, but an active resistance to evil through peaceful and loving methods. While it may be passive physically, it is strongly active spiritually.
- Nonviolence seeks to win both friendship and understanding. It works to make visible the unity and reconciliation that already exists in humanity and uses creative methods to build up the beloved community. Put simply, it is the way of God and tries always to honor the face of Christ present in every human person.
- Christian nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people. Nonviolence looks at evildoers as themselves victims rather than as evil people and the nonviolent resister seeks to defeat that evil, not the people who do it. Nonviolence recognizes that every human being sins, every human being does evil and every human being commits violence. Active nonviolence seeks to halt evil and to heal the human family. Echoing the words of Scripture and especially of Jesus, it transforms injustice into justice, war into peace and death into life.
- Nonviolence holds that suffering has the power to educate and transform. Nonviolence struggles actively for peace and justice but will accept suffering rather than inflict violence and death on others. We do not seek out suffering but when it comes to us we respond not with violence in return but with love. These last two principles are incredibly difficult –the work of a lifetime –and even more so when considered in the face of the violence we see in our world each day.
- Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate. Given how violent our world is, choosing active resistance to that risks hostility. “Along the way of life,” King writes, “someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. Love is the only cement that can hold a broken community together.”
- Nonviolence flows from a deep belief that the universe stands on the side of justice. This means that we believe that God’s way of nonviolent love will eventually transform everyone into God’s reign of peace and justice. If God created the universe and the universe bends toward justice, how can we believe in any other tactic but nonviolent love?
I invite you to reflect on these in light of this bit of wisdom from Martin Luther King:
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate...Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Some things to think about:
Consider a recent conflict in your own life and what you have done to heal things. What worked? What failed?
How can we fail to embrace what reflects the nature of God?
What it would mean in your own life to choose nonviolence?
The next time you are confronted with violence in the media, in speech, in international relationships, what would it look like to choose love instead of hate?