MLK and the Real Power of Non-violence
January 13, 2011
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - With the nation debating the role of violent rhetoric in our political life in the wake of the shootings in Tucson, Ariz., an associate of Martin Luther King Jr. says we can mark his birthday by remembering the power of non-violence.
The Rev. Ron English of Charleston, an associate of the slain civil rights leader from Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, says that for King, a posture of non-violence did not mean passivity or weakness. English describes what King told a biographer about feeling overwhelmed after a threatening phone call during the 1955-56 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott.
"He broke down over a cup of coffee in his kitchen, and he was able to pray out loud. It had him to feel as though what was at his back was something stronger than what was against him."
In the wake of the killings in Arizona, many have defended the use of violent political rhetoric as protected by the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment. They say words do not necessarily lead to acts. And some have argued that the Second Amendment was specifically intended to allow for armed violence against the government.
Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has defended her use of what look like rifle sights that targeted congressional districts in a website during the last election. But newly elected Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has said he would have second thoughts about a TV ad in which he shot a piece of environmental legislation with a rifle.
English says what's lacking is what King called for: a balance of interpersonal compassion with firmness on issues.
"That kind of imbalance is what we have seen, where the vitriolic ways of attacking an enemy has left little room for compromise or little room for tenderness."
English says King believed in a religious notion of redemption that applied to political life - that people could change, and that room should be kept for compassion because of it.
"Redemptive suffering has a way of bringing about new awareness. We often go through a period of confusion. But then confusion can lead us to a place of seeing things differently."