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Center for Action and Contemplation

Nonviolence Is Power

Monday, October 24, 2022

Lifelong peace activist and priest John Dear curated the CAC’s forthcoming edition of Oneing on nonviolence, which features Dear’s interview with Methodist minister and activist James Lawson. After visiting followers of Gandhi in India to study nonviolent resistance in the 1950s, Lawson began training civil rights activists in the principles and tactics of nonviolence. His students helped desegregate lunch counters and became Freedom Riders who pushed to integrate interstate travel. In response to a question about how he defines nonviolence, Lawson offers:

It is hard to define nonviolence. I think it was Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948) who first used the term. [1] He maintained, in his book Non-violence in Peace and War, that the term is his translation of the Jainist theory of ahimsa. Gandhi translated ahimsa as “Do no harm; do no injury.” Jainism was an ancient religion of India, begun around the time of Jesus of Nazareth. That’s one definition I cling to. It allows me to live, to function, to practice.

Gandhi also stated that nonviolence is love in action, compassion and truth in action. Of course, he coined the word satyagraha [often translated as truth force or soul force] to further explain tenacity in truth, in the soul, in God, and in struggle.

So, for me, nonviolence is that quality that comes out of all the great world religions: the notion that the creative force of the universe is love, that God is love, and that love is all-encompassing. Gandhi insisted—and I think this is Gandhi’s great contribution—that the creative force of the universe is the force that we humans must learn to exercise because that force is the only force that can cause the human race to do God’s will.

And nonviolence is power. It is not, as I was taught in college in 1947, just persuasion. Persuasion is a form of power. Aristotle wrote that power is the capacity to achieve purpose. It is a God-given gift of creation to human beings. Nonviolence has its deep roots in the long journey of the human family as people operated out of love and truth despite all that was raging around them.

As Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. also said, nonviolence is the science of how we create our own life in the image of God, how we create a world that practices justice, truth, and compassion.

Gene Sharp (1928–2018) was the first scholar to pull together the science and the methodology of nonviolence. So, I have a two-fold definition. First, the religions of the world reflect on love as truth and power, as the way the human race discovers how to carry out the will of eternity. Second, we’re still learning about nonviolence as the science of bringing about personal and social change and establishing a world where all life is honored.


[1] M. K. Gandhi, Non-violence in Peace and War (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing, 1944), 131. In his 1936 meeting with Howard Thurman, Gandhi said, “‘Non-violence’ is a term I had to coin in order to bring out the root meaning of Ahimsa.”

John Dear, “Nonviolence Is Power: A Conversation with the Rev. James Lawson,” Oneing 10, no. 2, Nonviolence (Fall 2022): 24. Forthcoming at CAC Bookstore.

 Explore Further. . .

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.

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My husband and I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico in the “winter” of my life, and after many years, I still have not found a church to attend regularly. . . Without the brick and mortar, my worship has turned to the natural beauty in which I find myself. The Daily Meditations have taught me to look at my life through a new lens in which everything belongs and God is all around me. I am grateful every day that the “winter” of my life has surprised me with so much beauty. And a deeper connection with God! —Carol W.

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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.

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