Nonviolent Response and Self-purification

Here is a lengthy quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. This is from an annotated version of “Letter from Birmngham Jail” that can be found HERE.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants—for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained.

As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self-purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct-action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

I put in bold red that which I am focusing on. Imartin-luther-king-jr-quotes-8 could bold the whole section since all seem pretty relevant.

It seems to me that Christians could learn greatly from King here.

  • Some Christians are promoting violent action either through direct action or indirect through encouraging violent response of military or paramilitary— or passively by cheering violent acts (or aggressive language) of others.
  • Christians are failing to use words to negotiate or dialogue, but only to rile up supporters and demonize the opposition.

But I am especially concerned about the failure of so many to address seriously the third step. There should be a period of self-purification… of motives, of intents and goals, and responses. Rather than purification, I see the promotion of ideas such as “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” or “choose the lesser evil.” Some may see these as necessary responses… (“The world will fall apart if THEY,” whoever ‘they’ are, “win.”) but I would like to think this is a mistake. When evil seems at its greatest… we must look at ourselves the most closely… and to God. God is our strength not guns or demagogues.

While some feel that in times of trouble, we “have to get our hands dirty,” maybe it is time for just the opposite… to have our hands and actions and hearts especially clean before God and the opposition. It may be the best time to choose the inexpedient response.

One thought on “Nonviolent Response and Self-purification

  1. Pingback: Top Post Views in 2022 – MMM — Mission Musings

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