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Compassion and Nonviolence Leadership for Racial Justice

Prayer for Peace - Washington, D.C. - Lincoln MemorialPrayer for Peace - Washington, D.C. - Lincoln Memorial

Justice begins with compassionate leadership. Compassion is more than our self-focused passion for what we want and need, but empathy, mercy, and respect for what others need. Compassion allows us to suffer together, and it is a fundamental keystone of a representative democracy and the concept of universal human rights. Compassion allows us to listen to one another, even when we are different, and feel the pain of another’s needs. Compassion respects diversity and differences among us, but it never loses sight of the fundamental bond that we share as fellow human beings.

This bond of our human brothers and sisters is essential in our causes for human rights, and our efforts to work for justice of every kind in our representative democracies.

Our fellow human beings don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

If we believe in compassion as an essential element in our societal cohesion, we must recognize that we cannot only have compassion for those like us or those we like. We cannot just believe that compassion is worthy for a select few, who we believe “deserve it,” while we turn our back on the rest of our brothers and sisters in humanity. We can and we must be more compassionate human beings than that.

The long, long struggle for racial justice in America has been based on the victory of compassion over hate. It is, has been, and will be the way forward for any real social progress. Compassion and Love Wins.

This is what we must remember. We must find leaders who understand this and who are willing to defend compassion with the same vigor that challenge racial injustice.

For years, I have worked to share compassion in the struggle for racial justice and human rights in America and the world. The learning that one achieves from experience versus history books is stark. In life experience, we have moments of crystal clarity in our conscience and our mind, when we experience things that we know are wrong and must be changed.

On racial justice, my first moment of crystal clarity was in July 1966 in Virginia, while walking on the sidewalk, when I came across a public sign in front of a hotel that read “White Clientele Only.” For the first few moments, I genuinely couldn’t understand it. But as I stood there in shock, I came to realize the entrenched tenacity and determination of White Supremacy to divide and destroy the moral fabric of America.

America was once like that. And worse. In the same Virginia, and in too much of America, African-Americans were once enslaved. There has been a dark history of wrong that leaders of human rights and dignity have struggled for over 150 years to make right. It will always be a legacy of disgrace to overcome and to continue to work for change.  Let us wear this national badge of shame publicly, not with pride of what was, but in determination of how far we have come, and how committed we are to a more just future.

The path to change has been a continuing victory of compassion over hate. In the United States, that unequivocal struggle for compassion has required an organized, ideologically consistent and responsible force to struggle against hate and injustice. Our history shows that these partners in compassion for racial justice have come from every group, race, nationality, background, religion, profession, and walk of life. It has and must continue to be a national struggle for racial justice.

The growing violence in America over racial justice issues brings another moment of crystal clarity to our nation, as something unshakably wrong that must change. We cannot simply ignore it, avoid it, and wish it away. The dead bodies of our fellow Americans, of every race, are there, and their blood has been in the street.  Yet we have those praising killers and calling for more violence. We have those who seek to harden lines of hatred towards other Americans. We have those in denial of justice issues. We have those who openly praise those who would terrorize, injure, and murder the public representatives of our law enforcement. Those consumed by rage and anger no longer remember, and no longer care, that these victims are their fellow Americans and fellow human beings.

America has faced similar moments before.

In August 1964, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. went to the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles after riots resulted in the death of 34 Americans and the destruction of $40 million in property damage. As Dr. King recounts, one of those supporting the riots told him “We Won!” Dr. King asked him “what do you mean, ‘we won’? Thirty-some people dead, all but two are Negroes. You’ve destroyed your own. What do you mean ‘we won’? And he said, ‘We made them pay attention to us.'”  Dr. King pointed out: “When people are voiceless, they will have temper tantrums like a little child who has not been paid attention to. And riots are massive temper tantrums from a neglected and voiceless people.”

This responsible leader of compassion did not simply ignore those who supported violent riots as a method of social change, but instead provided the leadership and guidance to promote nonviolence as a solution. As Dr. King wrote when he visited Watts, “[t]he people of Watts were hostile to nonviolence, but when we actually went to them and emphasized the dangers of hatred and violence, the same people cheered. Only minutes before the air had been thick with tension, but when they were reminded of the Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, the martyrs of the Selma campaign, they cheered the thought that white people can and do cooperate with us in our search for jobs and dignity.” [White Americans Reverend James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo were murdered by white supremacist terrorists in March 1965, while working to assist Dr. King in Alabama on the Selma march.]

America needs such leaders of compassion and nonviolence today, in our important national issues of racial justice. Every movement needs a leader. The idea of “leaderless” movements are fine for short, brief events, but every long-term committed cause requires someone who can define an agenda, identify both problems and solutions, and guide the movement to work together responsibly for social change.

I was blessed to live through the years of seeing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and then other Civil Rights leaders. I saw the level of leadership that they provided to the nation. The leadership that Dr. King provided was not just activism, but also a responsible leadership as a conscience for the nation, so that those working for Racial Justice could work together and responsibly. Such community and national commitment to nonviolent progress in racial justice has been a foundation of America’s human rights for the past 50 years.

His leadership addressed grievances and issues, but also provided an ideology of compassion and nonviolence, with an organized structure and consistent ethical commitment by his supporters.  America is a secular nation, and we achieve many areas of progress from our secular leaders, including progress in areas of morality, justice, human rights, and dignity. America’s history shows, however, that to effectively organize responsible, nonviolent demonstrations and social justice work for racial equality, we need the structure and value consistency of a faith-based organization within the leadership of such movements.

So as America continues to struggle with injustice, violence, and division, we must call upon leaders of faith-based groups in America for leadership in compassion and racial justice. We must urge faith leaders in every house of worship to share with their worshipers the message of our shared responsibility to support nonviolence and compassion for all of our fellow human beings, including those who face violence, persecution, and fear.

As Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated: “In spite of the darkness of this hour, we must not despair. We must not become bitter; nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence.” “Nonviolence is power, but it is the right and good use of power.” “Hate is just as injurious to the hater as it is to the hated.” “I cannot make myself believe that God wanted me to hate.” America needs such an organized commitment to compassion and nonviolence, as part of our racial justice campaigns.

Our responsible commitment to nonviolence is not in ignorance of injustice and violence, but rather it is because of our knowledge of the damage that injustice and violence creates. If we have the courage to promote nonviolence to challenge injustice, then we must also have the courage to challenge the violence against people of color, as well as the social violence of poverty, humiliation, despair, and attacks on human dignity and equality.

Dr. King wrote: “a mere condemnation of violence is empty without understanding the daily violence that our society inflicts upon many of its members. The violence of poverty and humiliation hurts as intensely as the violence of the club. This is a situation that calls for statesmanship and creative leadership.” Calls for nonviolence must not only be to dissuade those who praise, support, or act in riots and terrorism, but also to call for accountability and change by those with the authority and responsibility to provide governmental and political leadership.

Most of all, national campaigns for nonviolence and compassion in racial justice must be built on a structure and organization, which is committed to nonviolence and compassion as basic aspects of its mission.

We cannot expect such long-term, nationwide movements for racial justice, compassion, and nonviolence to be guided without the commitment of an existing structure founded on such principles.  We cannot be led to progress without responsible leadership that has an ideological basis in compassion and nonviolence.

While we all play a role, expecting just social media, protest activists, law enforcement, and the press to solve or even effectively address these issues is unrealistic. We must have reasonable expectations of those who seek to make changes in our society.  Expecting such small groups to become something they are not and judging them based on standards they cannot meet is counterproductive.

Over the past three years, the current Black Lives Matter leaders have provided a social media-based awareness campaign of injustices and racial justice issues, which need the attention of a structured group of compassion and nonviolence leaders.  The handful of activist leaders within the structure of that organization are dwarfed by the vast volume of the public that recognizes and is concerned about the need for social change; it is unreasonable to expect them to have the structure, organization, and ideological nonviolence leadership that a sustained racial justice movement requires.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown rightly points out “we’re asking cops to do too much in this country.”  Our police are there to enforce the law.  There are areas where they are continuing to look to make changes.  But they are not our national campaigners for social welfare justice, nor are they the enemies of our nation.  Like the rest of us, they are trying to do the best that they can, often under difficult circumstance, including regular threats to their lives.

Our press and media will cover events from the perspective and bias of individual reporters.   Such media are human rights campaigners, nor do they necessarily come from a position of balance and fairness.  They are there to provide news information which covers some segments of our community and national events.  They will move on, when the next story comes around.

Social actors in our communities will focus on what they know and understand.  We cannot expect those with a limited mission to do everything.

So it is with our faith-based organizations as well. Many of them too will also express that their primary mission is to organize worship services, to hold religious schooling, and to preach their religious views. However, in America, we must expect the most from such faith-based organization, especially when it comes to their vital leadership role in racial justice, using compassion and nonviolence. Our history has shown that such faith-based organizations and their value systems for compassion and nonviolence are essential to achieving social justice.

America today needs faith-based leaders with a commitment to nonviolence that can provide responsible leadership on work towards solving America’s problems, racial injustice, violence, and the need for shared respect for our shared law in a democracy.

America needs faith-based leaders with a commitment to nonviolence to show the courage to speak to all members of the community, and de-escalate the growing violence and hatred we see in our street. We need faith-based leaders as leaders of demonstrations that can show America and the world – we care about justice and violence issues, while not resorting to injustice and violence ourselves.

Dr. King stated “I cannot make myself believe that God wanted me to hate.” This is the type of leadership of compassion and nonviolence that we need today. If we want better tactics from those protesting injustice, then we need leaders who understand and are committed to nonviolence and compassion, not just for a single social justice campaign, but as an integral aspect of their identity and their mission.

We must call upon faith leaders to stand up and be counted in their community and nation at this hour of America’s need. It is not enough to expect activists, police, and others to provide the moral leadership of nonviolence and compassion in working for racial justice.

What type of religious values are we teaching to the faithful and our children if we stand by and watch while those without responsible guidance are being led to believe that violence is the answer?

Will our faith leaders be silent when those in their community are facing racial injustice and abuse?

Will they remain silent over too many instances of official abuse of authority and unnecessary deaths?

Will our faith leaders simply shake their head, as our police are now shot, attacked, and crippled?

Will they stay silent when extremists like the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan calls for violence and hate? Louis Farrakhan is telling our public: “there is no freedom without the shedding of blood,” “don’t let this White man tell you that violence is wrong,” and “God hates…I don’t why man thinks he is better than God.” Will our faith leaders just ignore such teachings, or will they offer a real alternative to our public?

Will our faith leaders remain silent as those without responsible guidance praise terrorists and vicious individuals as heroes and martyrs?

Defiance to injustice is not an invitation to violence and terrorism, nor can it be praise and support of criminal behavior. We cannot work to counter injustice by becoming and supporting violent criminals. We must do better. Our nation must do better. We need leaders who are unyielding in their commitment to compassion and nonviolence.

Our faith leaders must see that their organized leadership in compassion and nonviolence is necessary in America today. It is not enough to expect other groups to sort these issues out, without the responsible leadership, guidance, and commitment by faith-based organizations. If we seek to change the law or change aspects of our society, we must also be willing to respect the law and show consistent compassion for our society.

Prayer for Peace - Washington, D.C. - Lincoln Memorial

Prayer for Peace – Washington, D.C. – Lincoln Memorial

America desperately needs our faith leaders today to provide leadership in compassion and nonviolence for racial justice. America should welcome such responsible leadership from every faith.

The struggle for racial justice and peace in America is the unique responsibility of the American Christian community. Let there be no doubt to my American Christian brothers and sisters, this is first and foremost — OUR fight. The forces of racism, white supremacy, and violence have attacked our nation, and the soul of our nation since our inception. When we have sung the Battle Hymn of the Republic for our nation over the past 150 years, it is with a recognition of the unique and specific American Christian responsibility in seeking change for racial justice in America.

Over 100,000 American Christians have died for this cause. Our Christian churches were bombed by white supremacists and they murdered Christian children in houses of worship. Even as late as a year ago, we saw a wave of burning of African-American Christian churches, after the white supremacist terrorist Dylann Roof went in and murdered a Christian congregation in Charleston, South Carolina during a Bible study. The white supremacist forces of evil have even defamed the symbol of the cross in city after city across this great nation, lighting it on fire, and spreading their anti-Christian white supremacist hate. Our great Christian pastor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his life and was killed for this cause. First and foremost, American Christians – this leadership for nonviolent compassion in working for racial justice is OUR responsibility. Of course, black lives matter, just as all lives matter in this nation. But it is not enough to know what is right – we must continue to work to build an America that is just and compassionate. The American Christian community has had, and continues to have a unique and unshakable responsibility to work to right the wrongs of a legacy of injustice in America.

Do not forget – Christian pastor Dr. King was not only concerned about the lives of those touched by such racial injustice; he was also deeply concerned about their souls. As much as Dr. King was concerned about freedom for black Americans, he was just as “concerned about our moral uprightness and the health of our souls. Therefore, I must oppose any attempt to gain our freedom by the methods of malice, hate, and violence that have characterized our oppressors. Hate is just as injurious to the hater as it is to the hated. Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity.” Our faith leaders cannot protect the souls of their fellow Americans, and look the other way when there are those promoting violence and hate. If such soul salvation is not seen as the mission of some our faith leaders, then truly what do they view as their role in society? This is priority number one.

There are faith leaders, including many Christians speaking out today and involved in the struggle for racial justice. But clearly, there are not often. Furthermore, there are certainly not enough leaders to provide the responsible guidance that any activist movement needs, as a guard rail, to help us from going off the road of nonviolence and compassion, into the ditch of rage and violence. There are not enough to tell activists to put down bricks, concrete, bottles, and even guns and rifles. There are not enough to tell those who praise actions of violence and even murder that the answer must be found in nonviolence and compassion towards our fellow Americans, who are brothers and sisters in humanity, no matter how much we agree or disagree with them.  We need more faith leaders to actively stand up and lead change for racial justice, nonviolence, and compassion in America today.

Some may be fearful to take an inflexible stand on compassion and nonviolence, because they may fear of being a minority among an angry crowd. The history of Dr. King in Watts may not be much comfort, because they may say, after all he was Martin Luther King, Jr. But pastor King has told us: “Take a stand for that which is right, and the world may misunderstand you, and criticize you. But you never go alone, for somewhere I read that one with God is a majority. And God has a way of transforming a minority into a majority.”

There is a majority that believes not only in racial justice, but also in the power of compassion and nonviolence. There is a majority that believes in seeking change through our democratic processes and the law. We must not fail our nation in its hour of need to reach that majority. If you find a group that rejects the values of this majority, remember that power is within YOU as a faith-based leader to change this group. As Dr. King stated, “a genuine leader is not searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.”

We have seen such responsible leaders of compassion and nonviolence change America again and again. Our history shows that this does make a difference.

Dr. King provided a recognizable leader, as a man not only of compassion and nonviolence, but also as a man of faith, to help bridge the gap between different Americans – both black and white. Dr. King not only stood up to racial injustice, but also he stood up and challenged those who sought violence as the answer. When Dr. King led a protest march, he made it clear to those who stood with him that, no matter what, the principles of nonviolence and compassion would be defended by those who witnessed their campaign.

Dr. King stated in Alabama: “I say to you this afternoon that I would rather die on the highways of Alabama than make a butchery of my conscience. I say to you, when we march, don’t panic and remember that we must remain true to nonviolence. I’m asking everybody in the line, if you can’t be nonviolent, don’t get in here. If you can’t accept blows without retaliating, don’t get in the line. If you can accept it out of your commitment to nonviolence, you will somehow do something for this nation that may well save it. If you can accept it, you will leave those state troopers bloodied with their own barbarities. If you can accept it, you do something to transform conditions here in Alabama.”

As he led nonviolent campaigns for compassion and justice, so our leaders today can do again today. Dr. King stated:”Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge, to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.”

We have gone from Slave states to Free states.
We have gone from segregation to integration.
We have gone from widespread unjust persecution of black Americans to black Americans serving in the highest courts of our land and leading in our law enforcement.
We have gone from black Americans struggling to get the vote to serving as the president of the United States.

Most of this, I have seen in my own lifetime and with my own eyes. Can we continue to make change for racial justice? There is no doubt that America can and America will. America needs the leaders of compassion and nonviolence to guide them in the difficult days of this nation.

We must continue to choose to face the future with a courageous commitment to compassion and nonviolence, because it is the right thing to do. For the future of justice in our nation, it must also continue to be the American thing to do.  That is the nation that we have always sought to be.