A certain irony exists today. A nation racked by gun violence, insistent on the right to bear arms, determined not to support gun control, stops to honor the memory of a pacifist. A nation that spends more on warfare than on education, pauses to acknowledge the abiding legacy of a pacifist.
The gunman, who assuredly considered himself heroic, simply threw fuel on the fire of reform. That single bullet, designed to stop a Movement, gave it unprecedented power. The blood of martyrs does that. Violence has a way of back-firing.
The day before his death, Dr. King delivered a prophetic speech in which he declared he had “been to the mountaintop … seen the Promised Land … [and] I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.”
King knew the dangers and threats that he faced, though he could not have known that the next day would be his last. Many people would excuse him today if he had carried a gun. He refused to do so.
Today, we pay homage to the extraordinary influence of Dr. King upon civil rights in this country. We affirm that his actions and even his death, began to dismantle some of the shameful injustices perpetrated against black Americans generation after generation. Montgomery, Washington, D.C., and Selma will be mentioned again with respect and reverence.
Today, Dr. King’s courage will be lionized again in rallies and gatherings around the country. But few will use the “p” word; pacifism. Relatively few will connect King’s influence to his commitment to non-violent resistance. We will talk about his courage, his eloquence, and his vision. We will talk about civil rights and racial reconciliation, but less about Christian faith and certainly not pacifism. In doing so, we create a pseudo-King, a cardboard cut-out of the real man.
In a militaristic culture, it’s understandable that King is an uncomfortable character. We applaud his achievements but find ourselves flummoxed by his source of power. Perhaps we’d do well to examine the power of truly courageous pacifism, and the Pacifist who inspired Dr. King in the first place.
Plows and pruning hooks have always achieved so much more than swords and spears.