Introductory Note:

Many people were never able to understand the methods of non-violent direct action of King and the movement that grew up around him. And they did not understand it because they simply were unable to grasp the simple fact that “this is a spiritual movement.” Oh, they could understand non-violent direct action as a political tactic, and when it succeeded in its objectives they were all for it. But when it did not accomplish those objectives … well, that was a different matter.

Now, King did believe that violence was “impractical” and that non-violent direct action was the best way to achieve their objectives. But he believed more than this. He also believed that violence was “immoral.” And because violence was immoral he could not resort to it even when nonviolent direct action failed to accomplish his objectives. Where, I ask you, did he get this idea? He got it straight from the Sermon on the Mount, for, as he said, “this is a spiritual movement.”

What King understood (and what we are still trying to understand) is that someone, somewhere has to break the vicious cycle of violence in order to, as he put it, “cut off the chain of hate and evil.” This vicious cycle has a name—the lex talionis, the law of retaliation. Negatively put it says, “You gore my ox, I gore your ox.” Positively put it says, “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back.” And the lex talionis is written across the face of humanity. But King saw that Jesus broke this vicious cycle of retaliation when He brought us the law of love. This is why King could see that violence was immoral.

And what does this say to us today: about war, about abortion, about the death penalty, about the arms race, about poverty, about euthanasia? Can we in all these areas maintain a spirit of peace, reconciliation, and respect in protecting the unprotected? Certainly not by ourselves. It would have to be a work of God; it would have to be a spiritual movement.

Richard J. Foster
Renovaré Founder

Excerpt from Spiritual Classics

On Love and Non-Violence

This is a spir­i­tu­al move­ment, and we intend to keep these things in the fore­front. We know that vio­lence will defeat our pur­pose. We know that in our strug­gle in Amer­i­ca and in our spe­cif­ic strug­gle here in Mont­gomery, vio­lence will not only be imprac­ti­cal but immoral. We are out­num­bered; we do not have access to the instru­ments of vio­lence. Even more than that, not only is vio­lence imprac­ti­cal, but it is immoral; for it is my firm con­vic­tion that to seek to retal­i­ate with vio­lence does noth­ing but inten­si­fy the exis­tence of evil and hate in the universe.

Along the way of life, some­one must have sense enough and moral­i­ty enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil. The great­est way to do that is through love. I believe firm­ly that love is a trans­form­ing pow­er that can lift a whole com­mu­ni­ty to new hori­zons of fair play, good will and justice.

Love is Our Instrument 

Love is our great­est instru­ment and our great weapon, and that alone. On Jan­u­ary 30 my home was bombed (1956). My wife and baby were there; I was attend­ing a meet­ing. I first heard of the bomb­ing at the meet­ing, when some­one came to me and men­tioned it, and I tried to accept it in a very calm man­ner. I first inquired about my wife and daugh­ter; then after I found out that they were all right, I stopped in the midst of the meet­ing and spoke to the group, and urged them not to be pan­icky and not to do any­thing about it because that was not the way.

I imme­di­ate­ly came home and, on enter­ing the front of the house, I noticed there were some five hun­dred to a thou­sand per­sons. I came in the house and looked it over and went back to see my wife and to see if the baby was all right, but as I stood in the back of the house, hun­dreds and hun­dreds of peo­ple were still gath­er­ing, and I saw there that vio­lence was a possibility.

It was at that time that I went to the porch and tried to say to the peo­ple that we could not allow our­selves to be pan­icky. We could not allow our­selves to retal­i­ate with any type of vio­lence, but that we were still to con­front the prob­lem with love.

One state­ment that I made — and I believe it very firm­ly — was: He who lives by the sword will per­ish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). I urged peo­ple to con­tin­ue to man­i­fest love, and to con­tin­ue to car­ry on the strug­gle with the same dig­ni­ty and with the same dis­ci­pline that we had start­ed out with. I think at that time the peo­ple did decide to go home, things did get qui­et, and it end­ed up with a great deal of calm­ness and a great deal of dis­ci­pline, which I think our com­mu­ni­ty should be proud of and which I was very proud to see because our peo­ple were deter­mined not to retal­i­ate with violence.

Hold to Non-Violence 

Some twen­ty-six of the min­is­ters and almost one hun­dred of the cit­i­zens of the city were indict­ed in this boy­cott (of the Mont­gomery busses). But we real­ized in the begin­ning that we would con­front expe­ri­ences that made for great sac­ri­fices, expe­ri­ences that are not alto­geth­er pleas­ant. We decid­ed among our­selves that we would stand up to the fin­ish, and that is what we are deter­mined to do. In the midst of the indict­ments, we still hold to this non­vi­o­lent atti­tude, and this pri­ma­cy of love. 

Even though con­vict­ed, we will not retal­i­ate with hate, but will stand with love in our hearts, and stand resist­ing injus­tice, with the same deter­mi­na­tion with which we start­ed out. We need a great deal of encour­age­ment in this move­ment. Of course one thing that we are depend­ing on, from not only oth­er com­mu­ni­ties but from our own com­mu­ni­ty, is prayer. We ask peo­ple every­where to pray that God will guide us, pray that jus­tice will be done and that right­eous­ness will stand. And I think through these prayers we will be strength­ened; it will make us feel the uni­ty of the nation and the pres­ence of Almighty God. For as we said all along, this is a spir­i­tu­al move­ment.

Excerpts tak­en from Spir­i­tu­al Clas­sics: Select­ed Read­ings on the Twelve Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines (Richard Fos­ter and Emi­lie Grif­fin, Edi­tors. Harper­collins, 2000.) and are used with permission.

Pho­to­graph of Dr. Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. being arrest­ed in Mont­gomery, Alaba­ma, for loi­ter­ing” in 1958. In the pub­lic domain.

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📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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