Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Thoughts on Dr. King and Violence/Nonviolence

"He was one of the great people in our country. He got his message across without burning the flag, without violence, without disrepect for others."
I saw the comment admittedly on a Facebook thread. I don't think of or recommend Facebook as a place for understanding the entirety of a person's experience, not by a long shot, but I have found it to be something of a place that can reveal more about people's intentions and thoughts than they may have intended to reveal, and I include myself in this.

This comment about Dr. King teetered on the edge of truth. And yet, something was off. Instead of centering the conversation on him, his legacy, his words, his sacrifice, his call for disruptive action...instead of all that, the words seemed to use him as a tool to cast thinly veiled judgment on something else. I fear that a point had been gravely missed, and this one comment is representative of more like it that conveniently ignore the fact that Dr King. wrote these words, too:


Meme created by Daniel Rarela
Much violence, indeed, was suffered by Dr. King and those who followed his lead. People died and suffered horrible bodily injury as a result of following him, committing to the nonviolent tactics he demanded. Indeed his own life was taken in one of the most violent ways. But this violence was not perpetrated by those who followed him. It was perpetrated by those who had a great deal of power, even the power to change unjust laws, against those who were demanding justice in disruptive but nonviolent ways.

It is indeed hard to know how much longer (if ever) it would have taken for certain laws to change without the violence of places like Selma. Or how much our country would be remembering the work of Dr. King had he been allowed to die a natural death at an old age. This isn't to say that violence is necessary, no, but to highlight the fact that our hearts can be so hardened that too often they are moved to softness only when we see violence. The focus when violence happens should not be on the fact that violence has happened, but on what we (individually and corporately) were so blind to that it had to get to this point for us to see it. 

My heart is like this. When I see how long it takes me to pay attention to Syria, to human trafficking, to abuses of power and the ongoing systemic racism within our own country, instead of listening early on to the voices telling us these things...I am certainly part of the perpetuation of these injustices.

How are we honoring Dr. King today by listening to the messages of nonviolent protestors? How are we honoring Dr. King today by examining the power(s) we hold and using them to rightly seek justice for all who are oppressed? How are we honoring Dr. King today by committing to nonviolence in thought, word, action even toward those who would actively oppress us?


If you would call MLK Jr. "a peacemaker" (and I hope we do - he is one of the greatest examples we have in the modern era and indeed throughout history), please recognize that a great deal of his peacemaking involved people becoming very agitated, very uncomfortable and very angry, even to the point that they committed violent acts against him and his followers. As I recently heard from Austin Channing Brown in a sermon, "MLK was not considered a peaceful unifier to most people while he was alive, least of all to those who liked the status quo of segregation and discrimination". 


(And, perhaps it's a good week to ask ourselves these questions: Is there anyone today that I am tempted to see as an "agitator" who, 50 years from now, will be remembered as a "peacemaker"? What is keeping me from seeing them as a peacemaker today? From seeing their work as peacemaking work today? May our hearts be so softened.)


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