Pacifism and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today, is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! It’s one of my favorite holidays, mainly because the teachings of MLK Jr. have changed my life in several different ways (more on that later)  So, I decided to write on the topic of pacifism in honor of his birthday.

When people find out I’m a pacifist, the first questions people are quick to ask is, “How does one defend and protect their families and children while at the same time remain a pacifist?”  Honestly, I have never actually attempted to answer this question, because there are so many layers to pacifism that I’m not sure if I have a way of organizing them.  However, today, I’m going to try my best to answer this question.

First of all, there needs to be a plan.  I remember when I was a kid, learning about fire safety, and then going home and talking to my mom about what our family plan was if there was a fire in our house.  What if I was trapped upstairs and couldn’t get downstairs?  Where would we meet as a family to make sure everyone got out safe?  What if Fatty (our cat) was trapped inside and I couldn’t find him?

The concept of having a plan is shared with children in other areas of life as well: what if someone tries to kidnap you? What if someone touches you inappropriately?  What do you do if you get bullied?  So my question is:  Why don’t we treat a break-in/gunman in the same way?  What if we came up with steps for family safety in this situations like in all the other situations?  It seems like common sense to me.  In fact, why don’t we teach this in schools?   Perhaps it’s telling kids, to lock their doors and hide under their beds or in a closest.  Maybe it’s having a person be designated to be the one to confront the armed person.  Who’s going to call 9-1-1?  Etc, etc, etc…  And just like everything else, it doesn’t guarantee safety, but it does increase your chances.

Secondly, even if a person does own a gun, it’s likely to be locked up, and good luck getting it accessible while being held up. Although, if a proper plan was put in place, it could happen.  But how likely is it? And even if it is likely to get to your gun, is it wise? Most people would say yes, but statistics tell us the exact opposite.  1 out of 5 (20%) unarmed people can talk a gunman out of firing a gun.  A good guy with a gun can talk a gunman out of shooting 3% of the time (1 out of 33).  So, actually, your chances on survival INCREASE by being UNARMED by 17%!!!  (RESOURCE: The Daily Show)

But really, these things are logistics, and avoid the problem at hand altogether.   I was recently in a conversation where someone stated something along the lines of, “But it’s your American right to defend yourself.”  However, this isn’t about an American right, it’s about doing what’s right… and just because it’s an American right, doesn’t mean it’s morally or ethically right.

…And that leads us to the next question brought to you by my friend, Amanda, “When did you realize that you were a pacifist, and what was happening that made you realize it?

I’m guessing I was about 12 years old, when I was sitting in our rocking chair in the living room watching something like “Inside Edition” on the television. My mom came walking through the living room with a load of laundry and I stopped her to ask a question pertaining to what I had just seen on television, “Mom, how come the 10 Commandment says we can’t murder, but its okay to murder in war?”

Mom answered, “Because in war you’re defending yourself.”

I was confused so I searched for clarification, “So God says it’s okay that we can murder in war?”

“Or if someone tries to hurt you,” she responded.

“But I thought we couldn’t murder. That doesn’t make sense,” I replied.

“Well, there was war in the Old Testament,” my mom stated.

That only perplexed me more, “So, God said, ‘Do not murder’ but then He sent people to war and said, ‘Go murder them’?”

“Well, ask Pastor Rick the next time you see him,” she replied.

I don’t think I became a pacifist in that moment, but it was the first time I thought killing someone in self-defense didn’t make any sense to me at all. God didn’t give any stipulations.  He only stated, murder should not happen.  This confused me, however, I was used to being spoon fed theology as a child, and so I just moved on with life and just accepted it as being part of Christianity.

In September of 2013, a friend and I went to Atlanta, GA, to see the King Center!  It was an amazing moment that I had waited 20 years to fulfill (I had done a report on MLK Jr. when I was in 5th grade for Black History Month, and ever since then, I have been fascinated with his story.)

While I was there, I picked up his book, “Strength to Love” as a souvenir. “Strength to Love” is a book full of several of sermons he preached during his activity in the Modern Civil Rights Movement.  King was a pacifist.  I had previously thought pacifists were wimps, but now I was beginning to understand that pacifists have several layers.  These layers are things such as: strategy, self-sacrifice, altruistic, peacekeepers, empathy, compassion, and love.  Pacifists do not love their lives so much that they have a fear of losing it, in fact, they believe that in losing it, they found it. (Matt. 16:25)  Pacifists do not overcome evil with evil, but aim to overcome evil with good. (Roman 12:21)  Pacifists love their enemies. (Matt. 5:44).  Etc, etc, etc,

During the Christmas season, my job requires me to drive A LOT of driving. A few years ago, while on one of those drives, I was listening to the last sermon MLK Jr. gave on his last Christmas Eve, entitled, “Peace on Earth.”  I still remember exactly where I was at the time I heard this profound quote.  I was waiting for cars going in the opposite direction to pass, so that I could turn into Wal-Mart.  King said, “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”  I had an “AHA Moment”, and I consider that my defining moment in which I became a pacifist.

What occurred to me were a few things: first of all, pacifism makes more sense than violence as a road to peace.  If I hit you in the face, your innate survival skill is to punch me back harder.  And my innate survival skill is to punch you back harder.  And so it goes, etc…  Violence begets violence, which begets violence, which begets violence, which… well you get the picture.  This is what Dr. King meant when he stated, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  Whatever we bring to the table, is what we are most likely to get in return.

Secondly, pacifism aligned MUCH MORE to Scripture, than war did. Yes, I know there were wars in the Old Testament, but there was also polygamy in the Old Testament.  Should we go back to that?  Women were property in the Old Testament, should we go back to that?  Just because something happened in the Old Testament doesn’t make it valid.  So, I think we need to weigh out which one carries more evidence.  And from my study, that’s peace.

Thirdly, the purpose of non-violence is to expose the violence as evil. Think of the Birmingham footage  or about Bloody Sunday from the Modern Civil Right Movement that we are so familiar with.  What makes us cringe when we see black people being sprayed with hoses for no reason, or beaten with police sticks, or chased after by dogs?  Is it not the fact no one was setting out to cause trouble?  Is it not because no one fought back?  We look at that footage and are heartbroken because we see violence for all it is: arrogant, inhumane, and a sickening power trip.  It’s impossible to expose sin with sin.  Only righteousness can expose sin.

Lastly, life is a value. We as Christians as a whole, just like the world, do not value life.  Death comes to everyone, and some people just deserve it sooner than others because of _____fill in the blank__________.  However, a lesson in Scripture will teach us that God was about LIFE! Death was a result of the fall, it was not initially God’s purpose.  The reason why lepers and people with deformities were not allowed in the Temple/Tabernacle was because they were considered to have dead skin or dead parts of their bodies, and death and holy could not reside together.  It’s the reason why there were so many rules surrounding dead bodies, such as the high priest was not to even be in the presence of a dead body.  Jesus stated, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). I am the way the truth and the life. (John 14:6)  I came so that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10) Jesus touched dead bodies to raise them to life.  Jesus was resurrected to give us life.  And someday, heaven and earth will be made new and we will have eternal life!  And why?  GOD ABHORS DEATH!  And why does God abhor death?  Because God made His people to be in relationship with Him and with each other (Matthew 22:36-40)  Death is the ultimate relationship breaker.  It destroys the very essence for which we were created.

And to add a secular reference in this, I think Michael Jackson said it well in his song, “Heal the World”. “There are people dying. If you care enough for the living, make a better place for you and for me.”  To get rid of unnecessary death, we must first care about ALL the living people, not just the lives of the ‘good guys’.

And the last question for this blog: Specifically in war torn places of the world, moments of predatory danger, potential violence. Does protection ever trump or negate pacifism even for a moment?

We must acknowledge, that there are different types of pacifism. There is pacifism that states that under NO circumstance should anyone do any violent harm.  Others say that in extreme circumstances it’s okay.  I personally think that violence will never be the answer, and should absolutely, positively be the LAST resort.  Under no circumstances do I encourage violence to take place.  Does that mean I guarantee myself protection?  No, it doesn’t.  Does it guarantee that there is protection for others around me?  No, it doesn’t.  It’s a sacrifice, and it’s a rather scary one at that.  Why are people so angry about the potential of lifting of gun laws?  Is it not driven by fear?  This is why Martin Luther King, Jr., hit the nail on the head with the title of his book, “Strength to Love.”  The opposite of fear is not courage, the opposite of fear is love, for love drives out all fear (I John 4:18).  Therefore, when we are the most fearful, those are the moments we have the greatest opportunities to love.  And as you can see, pacifism isn’t for wimps, it’s for those who are the strongest in love!

In conclusion, you may think this doesn’t make sense, and I raise my cup to you and say you are most perfectly right! You see, pacifism is a paradox.  Pacifism is something that seems weak, but the longer we study and look at it, it’s actually quite powerful!


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