Acting Like King

In this moment, one of the things to which we must attend is the relationship of ends and means. Those of us who see a culture marked by division and hatred, and who long to contribute to healing, can’t think only about our final goals, but also the strategies we take up to achieve them.

In my own world of Catholic faith and education, then, I’m looking not only toward the renewal of truth pursued in love, but also considering carefully the question of what qualifies as fully Catholic strategies to get there.

kingIn this long and tumultuous week just past, my attention was turned again to the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. Next week, my students and I will read King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” and yesterday, I spent an hour with a hundred or so of them, talking about his commitment to nonviolent resistance. I couldn’t help thinking of the way that King’s Christian grounding included the fact that he, like Jesus himself, saw “the means” as an indispensable part of “the goal.” And I couldn’t help thinking of our own situation.

Six principles can be discerned in King’s work of nonviolence (and are especially clear in his first book, Stride Toward Freedom).

  1. Nonviolence is not simply a strategy to be used occasionally, but a way of life. 
  2. The ultimate goal of nonviolence is friendship. This goal must be kept in mind.         
  3. It seeks to defeat injustice, not people. Nonviolence insists that those who do wrong are human beings, for whose redemption we hope.
  4. Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform. It accepts suffering without retaliation.     
  5. It chooses love over hate. There is nothing sentimental about this form of love. It is a joyful, creative, stubborn commitment to the good. 
  6. Nonviolence believes that the ultimate reality is one of justice. The nonviolent resister has deep faith that God is a God of justice.    

In these difficult and confused days, what would our life together look like if it were shaped by these commitments? Would be interested in hearing your thoughts in the comments below.

See for more information on nonviolence resistance, and if you have a few minutes, take a look at King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Well worth reading—or rereading.


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