April 4th is the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was in Memphis, TN to lead a peaceful, nonviolent protest in support of the sanitation workers who wanted better working conditions and more pay. (1968, sanitation workers made and average of $1.75 per hour.) It is sadly ironic that this prophet of peace and nonviolence was the victim of gun violence.
Dr. King had a vision of the “Beloved Community,” where poverty and hunger would not be tolerated because the core values of human decency and human respect will not allow them. The concept of the “Beloved Community” for Dr. King was deeply rooted in his understanding of the “Kingdom of God” that Jesus Christ taught and lived. Like Christ, Dr. King found himself on the side of the marginalized, the outsiders, the “other.”
Like Christ, always his method was nonviolence, in thoughts, words and deeds. Although, obviously not perfect in his aim for nonviolence, he constantly pursued it as a way of life. Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence emphasized ‘love in action.’ This ‘love in action’ is grounded in the agape concept of love, the selfless concern for the well-being of others. Agape stretches across the human-constructed barriers of race, religion, ethnicity, language, culture, class, etc., to persistently strive for the well-being of others.
Recently, I was reminded of this agape while viewing the film “The Best of Enemies” which is based on true events in Durham, NC in 1971. The two heroes of the story, Ann Atwater, an African American community activist, and C.P. Ellis, the president of the local KKK chapter, became friends after discovering the inherent worth and value of each other as human beings. I strongly encourage you to see this film.
The friendship between Ann and C.P. was born out of a series of deep and profound ‘love in action’ transformative incidents. Those incidents are closely connected to Dr. King’s Principles of Nonviolence.
Over the coming months, I invite you, my beloved friends; let’s recommit ourselves to these principles. Each month, I will remind us of these principles. Principle One: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. It is active nonviolent resistance to evil. It is aggressive spiritually, mentally and emotionally. We must resist violent thoughts, words and deeds in order to create the “Beloved Community.” Let us diligently strive to become instruments of “love in action.” Let us persevere with hope for the future!
— Ron Swain, Convener of Courageous Conversations