In today’s meditation, Father Richard summarizes Martin Luther King Jr.’s principles of nonviolence:
- Nonviolence is a way of strength and not a way for cowards. It is not a lack of power which allows us to be nonviolent, but in fact the discovery of a different kind of power. It is a choice, not a resignation; a spirituality, not just a tactic.
- The goal of nonviolence is always winning the friendship and the understanding of the supposed opponent, not [their] humiliation or personal defeat. It must be done to eventually facilitate the process of reconciliation, and we ourselves must be willing to pay the price for that reconciliation. King based this on Jesus’ lifestyle and death and on Ephesians 2:13–22 and Romans 12:1–2.
- The opponent must be seen not so much as an evil person, but as a symbol of a much greater systemic evil—of which they also are a victim! We must aim our efforts at that greater evil, which is harming all of us, rather than at the opponent.
- There is a moral power in voluntarily suffering for others. We call it the “myth of redemptive suffering,” whereas almost all of history is based on the opposite, the “myth of redemptive violence.” The lie that almost everybody believes is that suffering can be stopped by increasing the opponent’s suffering. It works only in the short run. In the long run, that suffering is still out there and will somehow have to work its way out in the next generation or through the lives of the victims. A willingness to bear the pain has the power to transform and absorb the evil in the opponent, the nonviolent resister, and even the spectator. This is precisely what Jesus was doing on the cross. It changes all involved, and at least forces the powers that be to “show their true colors” publicly. And yes, the nonviolent resister is also changed through the action. It is called resurrection or enlightenment.
- This love ethic must be at the center of our whole life, or it cannot be effective or real in the crucial moments of conflict. We have to practice drawing our lives from this new Source, in thought, word, emotion, and deed, every day, or we will never be prepared for the major confrontations or the surprise humiliations that will come our way.
- Nonviolence relies on a kind of cosmic optimism which trusts that the universe/reality/God is finally and fully on the side of justice and truth. History does have a direction, meaning, and purpose. God is more fundamental than evil. Resurrection will have the final word, which is the very promise of the Jesus event. The eternal wind of the Spirit is with us. However, we should not be naïve; and we must understand that most people’s loyalties are with security, public image, and the comforts of the status quo.
 Martin Luther King Jr., Stride toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (New York: Harper and Row, 1958), 102–107.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Martin Luther King Jr.’s Principles of Nonviolence,” Oneing 10,no. 2, Nonviolence (Fall 2022): 48–50. Forthcoming at CAC Bookstore.
Explore Further. . .
- Read about Pax Christi’s work on identifying nonviolence as a universal, spiritual ethic.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Susan Ruggles, Rally Against Iraq War 0017 (detail), 2003, Milwaukee, photograph, Wikimedia. Susan Ruggles, Iraq War Anniversary Peace Rally (detail), 2003, Milwaukee, photograph, Wikimedia. Susan Ruggles, Rally Against Iraq War 0014 (detail), 2003, Milwaukee, photograph, Wikimedia. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.
Image inspiration: Candles are on either side of a central image, as in a sanctuary. Nonviolence is sacred.
Story from Our Community:
I have been growing in my spirituality for awhile now. I find kind words, acceptance, and love in the Daily Meditations, and as a result, I have a better understanding of the incredible potential we all have as humans. These days, I think about love and acceptance more than ever. Thank you for guiding me to walk a peace-filled life journey. —Margaret T.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.