Friday, November 23, 2007

Principles of Nonviolence

I have been reading a most interesting book. It is Gurdon Brewster's memoir of a summer spent as a seminary intern at Ebenezer Baptist Church. It was 1961 and Martin Luther King, Jr. and his father Martin Luther King, Sr. were co-pastors, though it was the father who was the primary leader of the congregation because the son was engaged in ministries that took him often from Atlanta. Brewster was a white Episcopalian studying at Union Theological Seminary, but a special program brought him to Atlanta and his life wouldn't be the same.
I will say more about the book later, but it is entitled: No Turning Back: My Summer with Daddy King, (Orbis Press, 2007).
Brewster talks in the book about attending a conference on nonviolence, whose main speaker was Martin Luther King, Jr. This conference would prove to be difficult for him -- because it pushed him into uncomfortable positions. It also provided him a set of principles for non-violent action, principles I thought would be worth sharing.

1. Principle one. Nonviolence is active, nonviolent resistance to evil. It is a way of life for courageous people. It is aggressive, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.

2. Principle two. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding. The end of nonviolence is reconciliation and redemption and the creation of a beloved community.

3. Principle three. Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims. The nonviolent resister seeks to defeat evil and injustice, not people. It is a struggle against an evil system.

4. Principle four. Nonviolence willingly accepts suffering without retaliation. Nonviolence willingly accepts the consequences of its actions. It recognizes that unearned suffering is redemptive. It has the power to convert the enemy.

5. Principle five. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate. It is unending in its ability to forgive in order to restore community and create the beloved community.

6. Principle six. Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice. It believes that God is a God of justice and that justice will eventually win.

Brewster struggles to understand these principles as an outsider -- as one whose experiences of discrimination and suffering stand far from those of the people he had been called minister among. His own experiences were transformative, because they opened his eyes to what others were experiencing.

2 comments:

Stephen said...

Glad to see this topic. I was in the Student Interracial Ministry in the same year (1961) in Nashville, working as assistant to the late Kelly Miller Smith. We need to ramp up nonviolence as a topic, and I believe, to show that courage and honor lie in its practice, not in the expansion of death-dealing military adventures and the creation of sanctioned violence (as in Iraq).

OneSmallStep said...

In a way, I think you could argue that the non-violent response is almost more active than a violent one. Humanity does seem to be an instinctive responder, so if someone attacks you, you immediatly want to attack back. To "turn the other cheek" requires that you take control of that instinctive response, and rise above it.