Recently I came across a timeless reminder of what a pledge of nonviolence demands. Students in the marches, demonstrations and sit ins of the 1960s were expected to sign a pledge that their actions would be nonviolent regardless of the circumstances. There were ten commandments they promised to follow and I believe are just as important for those demonstrating today as in the 1960s.
They read: “I hereby pledge myself—my person and body—to the nonviolent movement, therefore I will keep the following the commandants:
Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
Remember always that the nonviolent movement seeks justice and reconciliation—not victory.
Walk and Talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
Pray daily to be used by God in order that all people might be free.
Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all people might be free.
Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue or heart.
Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain on a demonstration.
This seems like a good prescription for peace among individuals, groups or countries. Martin Luther King modeled this pledge in his words and actions and demanded the same from others who would follow. Soon after King’s assassination Robert Kennedy spoke to a crowd in Indianapolis informing them of his death. He called for peace and a nonviolent response. Indianapolis was one of a few cities that did not experience violent gun fire, burning of buildings and cars and threats. The pledge calls for our better angels to take over.
Violence has become the norm in our cities with demonstrations of gun fire, destruction of buildings, throwing rocks and threats. Violence has never solved problems of discrimination. What has made progress is persistence, joining hands with like-minded people, intelligent voting and demands for change with nonviolent sit ins and negotiations. Town halls have become the center of dialogue with forceful demands for change. Progress has been made in many cities, but much more is needed to effect changes in police forces, state and city governments.
Unless conversations on race, in our cities, churches, colleges, congregations and venues of power take place, where understanding, not winning is essential, racism and violence will continue to be the norm. We can and must make a difference.