MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
“The way of nonviolence leads to redemption and the creation of the beloved community.”
While Gandhi was demonstrating the transformative power of nonviolence in India, African-Americans in the United States were seeking ways to resist the oppressions of racial segregation in the American South. A young seminary student named Martin Luther King, Jr., almost despaired that the power of love could deal with the vast social problems weighing on his heart, including the oppression of black people in racist America.
Then he found works on the life and teachings of Gandhi, especially the biography written by E. Stanley Jones. “As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi,” King wrote, “my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time that the Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in
their struggle for freedom.”
King was ready to move from despair into liberating action. During the Montgomery bus boycott of 1954, King said, “Christ furnished the spirit and motivation, while Gandhi furnished the method.” King frequently referred to Gandhi’s philosophy and example as he trained the activists in Montgomery and preached from his pulpit every Sunday.
Some of the key points King gathered from Gandhi in his practice of nonviolence included that the method was not for cowards in that it called for resistance. Suffering that was willingly embraced could be redemptive, the secret power within nonviolence. Furthermore, nonviolence did not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent but rather to understand and even win the opponent’s friendship. Gandhi also taught King not to personalize the attacks against evil, to focus on the forces of injustice, not the people acting out through those forces.
A key part of religious nonviolence for both Gandhi and King, which is not accepted by all practitioners of nonviolent struggle, was that nonviolent resistance rejects the internal violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence.
In 1959 Dr. King traveled to India. He met with the followers of Gandhi in their continuing struggles for justice and shaping the government of India. He was particularly moved by the lack of rancor after the independence struggle. Violent revolutions leave an aftermath of bitterness and hatred, but King saw that “the way of nonviolence leads to redemption and the creation of the beloved community.”
King continued to see with eyes of both the learner and the prophet. He was moved by the desperate poverty he saw and affirmed the global connection of all people in the struggle for justice. He also noted how the Indian government, growing out of the history of Gandhi’s advocacy for justice for the untouchables, had developed programs for special treatment to help these victims of centuries of discrimination leap forward politically and socially. He saw this as a moral responsibility for governments to seize an opportunity to profoundly address the damages of discrimination. Perhaps this insight was the birth of efforts at affirmative action in the U.S.
(Originally published at http://www.ReadTheSpirit.com/)
- Interfaith Heroes: Mohandas Gandhi and the roots of nonviolent action
- Interfaith Heroes: Peacemaking wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—his sources and his legacy
- Interfaith Heroes: Aung San Suu Kyi and the legacy of Gandhi and King
- Interfaith Heroes: E. Stanley Jones and Gandhi’s legacy