King on Violence

It doesn’t go too far to say that war and conflict have become an accepted way of conducting business in America. If violence can bring about a desirable end, that it’s always an option on the table.

But do we lose far more than we gain through violence? What are we sowing through the use of violence, be it covert or in the eyes of the world. Martin Luther King Jr. had much to say on this topic.

And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, President Johnson talks eloquently about peace. What is the problem? They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.

Martin Luther King, Jr., “A CHRISTMAS SERMON” 24 December 1967

Nearly ten years earlier he commented:

Don’t ever let anyone pull you so low as to hate them. We must use the weapon of love. We must have the compassion and understanding for those who hate us. We must realize so many people are taught to hate us that they are not totally responsible for their hate. But we stand in life at midnight; we are always on the threshold of a new dawn.”

–Martin Luther King, Jr., “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” in Strength to Love (1958)

America’s failures in Iraq are just another part of the long list of our nation’s failures to lead the world in peacefully working toward peace. If I have learned anything by reading about war, it’s the fate of all combatants to become dehumanized in the end. Peace may eventually come, but the wounds of conflict are enough to scar several generations for years to come.

I remember reading some thoughts by Ghandi on nonviolence. It was the hardest teaching to accept, but somehow I know he was right. I confess that I’m not fully convinced, not completely a pacifist, but with every mistake made in our war with Iraq, I become convinced that war should never be our strategy, never should be an option on the table.

Declaring a war on terror, against an enemy we did not and still do not understand was one of the greatest blunders in our nation’s history. Choosing the course of violence has erected a barricade that may cause problems for future generations in America and Iraq.

Of course now that we’ve made enormous errors by invading Iraq, it’s even more difficult to decide on a new course of action. I feel on one hand that we’ve done enough damage and should pull out, hoping that the removal of our troops will remove a catalyst for violence. On the other hand, it seems horribly irresponsible to pull out of the mess we made. Are we just paving the way for even more violence and civil war?

The question I keep asking is, “Can we work for peace in Iraq through the use of force?” I’m not sure. Escalating the conflict does seem counterproductive, but I also feel unable to suggest another way forward.

And as I ponder this dilemma, I think of King’s words. They haunt me. He has to be right. There has to be another way off our destructive course in Iraq. I pray that on MLK Day, we have the courage to find that new way.

One thought on “King on Violence

  1. Adam Malliet

    I believe that first and foremost our (Christendom) commitment to peace must be out of a desire to be faithful, faithful to the gospels and how Jesus mapped out how the Kingdom of God will be fully ushered in. I also believe in the pragmatic workings of non-violent living. I believe that God asks us, through the incarnation, to do what works; in light of this, commitment to non-violence is not only an outward sign of faithfulness, but also a pragmatic step towards the permanent and ongoing establishment of the Kingdom of God.

    Dr. King seemed to understand this, my prayer is that by this time next year the evangelical church in America whole heartily affirms this and influences its leaders in such a manner that will end the preemptive and perpetual violence that it carries out against its "enemies"

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