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Though we see our current political and economic situation in the U.S. as dire, certainly the 1960's and 70's provided an even more troubling and darker time of conflict in our country based on widespread racial inequality, economic injustice, police brutality, political turmoil and an unpopular war.

While there were many reasons why our country survived the upheaval of those times I've always recognized the non-violent principles of the civil rights movement as the glue that helped hold many of our communities together. The six basic principles of non-violence as defined by MLK in his book Stride Towards Freedom, The Montgomery Story written in 1958, include:

  1. It is important to differentiate between a non-violent resistance to perceived evil and a do-nothing pacifism. A non-violent resister is not physically aggressive but his or her mind and emotions are always active, seeking to persuade the opponent that he or she is wrong;

  2. A non-violent resister does not seek to humiliate or defeat an opponent but win friendship and understanding. The hoped-for end is redemption, reconciliation and community;

  3. Attacks are pointed at perceived evil actions not the people who are doing evil;

  4. There is a willingness to accept suffering without striking back. Unearned suffering is redemptive and at the center is the principle of love;

  5. The non-violent resister avoids external violence and internal violence of spirit.

  6. Non-violent resistance is based on the conviction and faith that the universe is on the side of justice.

At the heart of MLK's non-violent principles was love, based on the Greek word Agape, which means, " understanding, redeeming good will for all men. It is not set in motion by any quality or function of its object. It is the love of God operating in the human heart." I would like to share a few of MLK's profound definitions of Agape, from Stride Towards Freedom, which I believe can help us as we attempt to rebuild trust and community today:

--Agape is not a weak, passive love. It is love in action. Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community. It is insistence on community even when one seeks to break it. Agape is a willingness to sacrifice in the interest of community and a willingness to go to any length to restore community;

--He who works against community is working against the whole of creation. Therefore if I respond to hate with reciprocal hate I do nothing but intensify the cleavage in broken community. I can only close the gap in broken community by meeting hate with love. If I meet hate with hate, I become depersonalized, because creation is do designed that my personality can only be fulfilled in the context of community;

--Booker T. Washington was right: "Let no man pull you so low as to make you hate him." When he pulls you that low he brings you to the point of working against community; he drags you to the point of defying creation, and thereby becoming depersonalized;

--Agape is disinterested love. It is love in which the individual seeks not his own good, but the good of his neighbor. It is an entirely "neighbor-regarding concern for others," which discovers the neighbor in every man it meets;

--Agape means a recognition of the fact that all life is interrelated. All humanity is involved in a a single process, and all men are brothers. To the degree that I harm my brother, no matter what he is doing to me, to that extent I am harming myself;

--Agape, is the only cement that can hold this broken community together. When I am commanded to love, I am commanded to restore community, to resist injustice and to meet the needs of my brothers.


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