Wednesday, January 20, 2010

creative weapon of love

My recent review of “The Violence of Desperate Men” and “Beyond Vietnam,two examples of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s amazing insight and dedication. If you'd like, you can click the links above to read (or even hear, in the latter case) the texts. It's absolutely worth the time to catch a glimpse into the life and passion of this amazing man.

In “The Violence of Desperate Men,” Martin Luther King, Jr., tells the story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56, an important event in the African-American Civil Rights Movement, which was beginning to take shape at the time. Faced with discriminatory treatment in the public transportation system, the Negro residents of Montgomery, Alabama, confronted the political and social powers of their community and took a stand against the injustices perpetrated against them by boycotting the transit system. These dedicated men and women relied on one another not only for means of transportation but also for reassurance of the importance of their cause. Opponents of the boycott and the Civil Rights Movement attempted to intimidate and divide the Negro community; they spread rumors about leaders of the group and issued false reports of a settlement regarding the city’s transit laws. They arrested and imprisoned Dr. King for a minor speeding violation, and someone went so far as to bomb the Kings’ home. Even in the midst of such disheartening circumstances, however, the members of this fledgling movement withstood the temptation to resign or retaliate. King, despite his own doubts and feelings of inadequacy, sensed a calling from God to continue in this fight, and so he pressed on, leading those around him in a campaign which sought justice and righteousness by promoting the values of peace and Christian love.

Over ten years later, with America deeply embroiled in the Vietnam War, Dr. King continued to speak out for these values, for although the scope of the situation differed, the issues at the heart of the matter were quite similar to the Civil Rights Movement with which King’s name is nearly synonymous. Addressing his fellow Americans and his government, King begins his “Beyond Vietnam” speech with the statement that “a time comes when silence is betrayal.” This time, he emphasizes, has come regarding Vietnam, and his conscience compels him to speak out. Prominent among his reasons for opposing the war are its detrimental effects on American society, his general abhorrence of violence, belief in a spirit of freedom and integrity for America, and his commission as a leader and a Christian to work for the brotherhood of humanity and the salvation of all into the love of God. King gives a brief history of the struggle in Vietnam, speaking from the perspectives of various groups which have remained voiceless. He strongly indicts the powers which have destroyed the lives of the Vietnamese people. He gives immediate and definite steps which should be taken by the American government to resolve and withdraw from the conflict, and he suggests ways for the audience to demonstrate its commitment to peace. He concludes with an extended oration on revolution, quoting John F. Kennedy: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Calling on his fellow Americans to support a positive revolution of values and to fight against injustice, King presents his audience with the choice they must make: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation.

The most notable premise of these works of Dr. King’s is that resistance to injustice is a Christian duty which must be undertaken in a Christian manner. Even before the influence of Gandhi was felt and the terminology of “nonviolent resistance” was used, the philosophy which enlivened and directed King and many of his fellow protestors in the Civil Rights Movement was that of Christian love. King continually emphasizes that both his support for civil rights and his censure of the Vietnam War are based upon his Christian convictions. A belief in the equality and brotherhood of all humans as God’s creatures and a commitment to promote love, as both a means and an end, are the driving forces behind what King does and says. He continually entreats others to follow these philosophies as well, advocating—in a very Christlike way—nonviolence even in the face of hardship and the embrace of those who might be considered enemies. He calls on his listeners to “protest with the creative weapon of love.”

An important secondary theme of these words and deeds of King’s is the acknowledgement that our actions in the present have an immense influence on the future and must therefore be carefully chosen and employed. One the one hand, if not chosen wisely, they may set into motion a series of events which proves detrimental or even disastrous. The mess in which America found itself in Vietnam is an excellent illustration of this premise. Knowing this, King worked intently during the bus boycott to avoid an escalation into violence, enabling the movement to successfully avoid calamity. On the other hand, if chosen prudently, our words and actions may favorably change the face of society forever. King reminds his audience that they are living in revolutionary times and that there is an urgency to act in a positive way before it is too late and the opportunity is lost; indecision and uncertainty must be conquered if the world is to move forward. Even small actions can have a momentous impact, as is illustrated by one astute elderly woman who struggled to take each symbolic step to her destination during the Montgomery Bus Boycott: “I’m not walking for myself. I’m walking for my children and my grandchildren.”

No comments: