Martin Luther King, Jr. melded together ideas from two of his great role models: Jesus of Nazareth (The Christ) and Mohandas Gandhi (The Mahatma). Dr. King’s struggles to find justice and equality relied first on his Christian faith, and secondly on the principles of non-violence.
We should never forget that equality is a core Christian value. Paul wrote: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28 NIV).” But, how could King persuade others to accept this truth? Here he had to focus on non-violent activism.
Why non-violence? Dr. King said violence is both immoral and impractical. It is immoral because it humiliates your opponent and thrives on hatred. It is impractical because it leads to more destruction and it doesn’t help people understand you.
It was therefore imperative for King and Gandhi before him that non-violent forms of protest be used. There needed to be “peace” in the midst of conflict. This was a lesson clearly taught by Jesus: “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles (Matthew 5:39-41 NIV).”
Gandhi had used non-violence to great effect. He was motivated in part by his own religion’s belief in ahimsa “to do no harm,” but less known to many is his reverence to the Christian scriptures as well. He said: “You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilisation to pieces, turn the world upside down and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. . . [the Bible].” So King and Gandhi shared not only motive, and technique, but inspiration as well – God’s word.
Dr. King famously said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Jesus gives us our starting point in driving out darkness and hate: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43-44 NIV).”
Let’s start bringing some peace into our world of conflict.