If Obama's right, MLK was wrong
A Martin Luther King, Jr. Day reflectionby Harold A. Penner
"Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem. It merely creates new and more complicated ones." So spoke Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.
Contrast that with President Barack Obama's speech last month in Oslo, where he received the Nobel Peace Prize. After citing the above excerpt from King’s acceptance speech, he paid King due respect: "As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of King's life's work," Obama said, "I am living testimony to the moral force of nonviolence. I know there is nothing weak, nothing passive, nothing naive in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King." But then Obama branded both men as ineffectual and naive. Nonviolence, he said, could "not have halted Hitlers armies" or convinced "al-Qaida's leaders to lay down their arms." He concluded: "Instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace."
Standing before the world defending America's military misadventures, dismissing nonviolence and endorsing the just-war theory as the way to peace, Obama undermined the examples of peacemakers throughout the ages. With a rhetorical sleight of hand, Obama admired and scorned them at the same time, saying in effect: here are good persons but, in our modern world, impractical people. With that, Obama undercut his own soaring campaign rhetoric espousing audacious hope.
Is Obama just another American president beating the drums of war in the name of peace? Nothing is more depressing than the Orwellian notion that the way to peace is through war. Obama's speech was a veritable call to despair. Is Obama becoming a modern-day Constantine who, in the fourth century, pulled off the unthinkable—beguiling the early Christian church into renouncing the nonviolence of Jesus? Just as Constantine banished the nonviolent Jesus, is Obama, in effect, banishing Gandhi and King?
King and Gandhi were not naive. When actually put into practice, when enough of us do the heavy lifting, nonviolence works. In fact, nonviolence may well be the only methodology that works. Look at the results of the lives and witness of King and Gandhi. Hearts and minds were changed; structures of injustice were unraveled and war was averted
Neither does war make for peace. The chief axiom of nonviolence says the very opposite. The ends lie within the means. How can the anguishes of war—destruction, displacement, terror, torture, martial law, summary executions, civilian casualties, oceans of grief—ever result in peace? The only way to peace is through peaceful and loving means.
If Obama is right, then Mahatma Gandhi and King were wrong. If Obama is right, then the nonviolent Jesus is wrong. But no, Obama's stated support of war is wrong. Jesus' followers must insist on the Way of nonviolence.We need to teach and practice love for enemies. We need to renounce the just war theory. Morally flimsy from the start, it is now absolutely inapplicable because its conditions cannot be met. The fire power of modern warfare has made the theory completely obsolete. More so, it is inadmissible because Jesus commanded otherwise.
Rather than believing the president's war rhetoric, we need to take up the work of making nonviolence more widely understood and accepted. Let's launch a systematic campaign to teach the power of creative nonviolence. It needs to be taken into our schools, our churches, our libraries, our government offices, our workplace, our media, our prisons. The world urgently needs good people to take up this ministry of teaching Gospel nonviolence.
Then we could learn how people around the world are already engaged in nonviolent movements. (For example, see Eric Stoner's daily Web page). Then the world would learn how nonviolent resistance, when put into practice, did indeed impede Nazis killing, brought down the Soviet Union and could end the United States protracted "war on terror."
King and Gandhi both walked the nonviolent path of the Gospel that bears the fruit of peace. Their words and teachings are worth following for they point us to the methodology and life of Jesus himself. Let's reject the eloquent despair offered last month by Obama and choose instead the hopeful examples of King and Gandhi.
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