February 2020 John Cowan
Since about 1970 I have seen the story of Jesus become more historically accurate as the story of a man enlightened by God to preach the possibility of living in a kingdom of love. He spoke out despite the fact that he knew that this would insure that the powers would punish him for who he was. Love has implications for Justice.
Central to Jesus message was non-violence. He stood in stark contrast to the message that there was such a thing as Redemptive Violence, violence justified by and effective in curing evil. Even his followers had difficulty accepting his message. Within a couple of centuries, they were preaching the doctrine of Redemptive Violence and endorsing its practice. E.g. Just war theory.
A stream of antidotes to this distortion of Jesus’ message began with Tolstoy and his book, The Kingdom of God is within You. Mahatma Gandhi read that book, studied it, created strategies for non-violent approaches, and used those strategies to free India. Martin Luther King read those strategies, saw what had been accomplished by Gandhi and with a tightknit band of disciplined followers used non-violent strategies for the freeing of black people from injustice. We must not forget that as a minister he was loyal to Jesus and well acquainted with his teachings.
All three actors were clear that they were not to bring suffering but love to those opposing them, to act out the truth and then take upon themselves the punishment their actions would create with the confidence that visible suffering would awaken the hearts of oppressors. Shorthand title: non-violence.
All three succeeded in their strategies. Christianity succeeded “because of the blood of martyrs.” Jesus himself as the first martyr. Gandhi and King were assassinated for their actions, a climax to decades of suffering without retaliation.
I was delighted when I first heard of Black Lives Matter. I agree totally with the cause, (in my day I was a mild activist,) and was pleased when I heard that Rashad Nelson, the head of BLM in St. Paul in conversation with one of us had recommended that we avoid a sign reading “Black Lives Matter “ and post a sign saying “We believe black lives matter.” However, we ignored his advice and posted the logo of the organization, which implies endorsement not only of its cause but also of its Redemptive Violence strategy. (If we put up a Target store logo one would suspect that we not only have goods but display and sell them in the manner a Target store would.)
Black Lives Matter does not follow the guidelines coming from Jesus, Tolstoy, Gandhi, King but believes in Redemptive Violence. They do not seek to suffer. They seek to cause suffering to others, especially the innocent, in order to force the powers to do BLM’s will. (This is the definition for “terrorism” used by the United Nations.)
No matter how comfortable even joyful I find my Quaker Life in Twin City Friends, how can I live in an organization that abandons its own peace tradition in favor of Redemptive Violence? I understand some young black people in their pain deciding that King did not bring them far enough and the process needed acceleration. Why do we with our peaceful tradition pledge allegiance to their methods? We know better.
Rashad’s sign would allow us to support the goal without endorsing the method.
Short form responses: Some ask me for more data on evil acts or intentions from Black Lives Matter. I do not think BLM evil nor do I feel a need to prove their actions evil. They do what they do and they are what they are. I have not lived in their moccasins. I do not see the world through their glasses.
I do not want a sign on my Quaker building that indicates: I have hatred for police and government generally. I feel free to stop traffic anywhere even on freeways in order to get my way. I feel free to interrupt meetings that others have called. I feel free to use rough language implying perfidy to court officials to get them to follow a course of action they think wrong. Etc.
I am not saying these actions are evil. I am not saying they are good. They may be necessary from the perspective of BLM. But I will not do them and I dislike strongly entering a building that has a sign that indicates I will approve of them and do them.
On the other hand, I am quite willing to say that black lives matter. They do.