“I Grow Weary of Those Who Ask Us to Slow Down”

What follows is adapted from a 2015 Leaven for the Loaf post.  I’m tempted to say this is not a drill.  Peaceful pro-life witness is not Activism Lite, and I have an uneasy feeling that 2017 is going to underscore that with an angry red slash.

I hope I’m wrong about the angry red thing. I know I’m right about the Activism Lite part.

Recall what peaceful witness called for in 1963, in the face of angry and sometimes violent resistance that had deep political and social roots. Recall Dr. King’s words from those days: I grow weary of those who ask us to slow down.


Photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. By Nobel Foundation (http://nobelprize.org/) via Wikimedia Commons [PD-1996]
In 1963, a few months before Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, he and many other civil rights activists converged on Birmingham, Alabama to challenge racial segregation. Their campaign was marked by intensive planning and discipline, because the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was intent not only on its message but on delivering it the right way. Volunteers for the Birmingham campaign were screened and trained, as King recounted in Why We Can’t Wait. He noted, “Every volunteer was required to sign a Commitment Card.”

To what did the Birmingham activists commit?

I hereby pledge myself – my person and body – to the nonviolent movement. Therefore I will keep the following ten commandments:

  1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
  2. Remember always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliation – not victory.
  3. Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
  4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.
  5. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free.
  6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
  7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
  8. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
  9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
  10. Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain of the demonstration.

King added, “We made it clear that we would not send anyone out to demonstrate who had not convinced himself and us that he could accept and endure violence without retaliating” during the campaign. That took guts. It meant putting aside the natural right of self-defense during the demonstration, even as they faced people who had no qualms about using violence, including bombs.

I want to take the Birmingham commitment to heart.

Anyone can sign a piece of paper (or in this age, click on “I agree”) signifying a commitment. So why bother? Because nonviolence during a public demonstration isn’t something to take for granted. Public affirmation reinforces personal commitment. Public affirmation is part of accountability to the larger community. It draws a clear line between those peaceful demonstrators and any people willing to resort to violence to impede them.

I have neighbors who take umbrage at the assertion that today’s pro-life movement is part of the civil rights movement that came to flower at that March on Washington in ’63. In reply, I can only avow that life is the fundamental civil and human right. Abortion takes lives, and there are businesses that profit from it. Let peaceful public witness to that continue.

I haven’t endured the physical abuse to which the Birmingham demonstrators were subjected. Their example is awesome even today. They faced police dogs and fire hoses, and still made a commitment to nonviolent public witness and action. The best way for me to honor their memory is to emulate them, even though I’ve faced nothing worse so far than name-calling.

Recall that the nonviolent demonstrators in Birmingham were far from passive. There was urgency in their goal of justice and reconciliation. From a 1963 UPI report on the Birmingham demonstrations: “King reacted strongly, however, to a statement by Attorney General Robert Kennedy suggesting that the all-out integration drive here was ill-timed. ‘I grow weary of those who ask us to slow down,’ King told a reporter. ‘I begin to feel that the moderates in America are our worst enemy.’”

The events and words of 1963 aren’t frozen in place, devoid of application to our own times. View them not as an archaeologist views a dig, but as a traveler views a map: take this path, not that one. I could do worse than follow the people who signed those cards in Birmingham.


On MLK Day

[Excerpted from a 2013 post  .]

Man was born into barbarism when killing his fellow man was a normal condition of existence. He became endowed with a conscience. And he has now reached the day when violence toward another human being must become as abhorrent as eating another’s flesh. (Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King, Jr., p. 152)

 In my lifetime, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. have been chopped up and re-formed so many times over that I wonder if my children really know what he was talking about. Go back to the source: his own words.

What would he have said about abortion? I can do no better than speculate. When I read his words about nonviolence, though, I am confident that he would recognize the deaths of tens of millions of children as a civil rights disaster of the highest order. He wouldn’t neglect the link between poverty and abandonment by one or another parent. He would know that race and income are irrelevant to the innate dignity of a child.

I have no doubt that he and I would probably disagree on some policy prescriptions. His words, though, leave no room for condoning violence in the womb.

Affirming nonviolence, then and now

Kneeling Ministers, in Birmingham's Kelly Ingram Park, a civil rights memorial. The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
Kneeling Ministers, in Birmingham’s Kelly Ingram Park, a civil rights memorial. The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

In 1963, a few months before Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, he and many other civil rights activists converged on Birmingham, Alabama to challenge racial segregation. Their campaign was marked by intensive planning and discipline, because the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was intent not only on a message but on delivering it the right way. Volunteers for the Birmingham campaign were screened and trained, as King recounted in Why We Can’t Wait. He noted, “Every volunteer was required to sign a Commitment Card.”

To what did the Birmingham activists commit?

I hereby pledge myself – my person and body – to the nonviolent movement. Therefore I will keep the following ten commandments:

  1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
  2. Remember always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliation – not victory.
  3. Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
  4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.
  5. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free.
  6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
  7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
  8. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
  9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
  10. Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain of the demonstration

King added, “We made it clear that we would not send anyone out to demonstrate who had not convinced himself and us that he could accept and endure violence without retaliating” during the campaign. That took guts. It meant putting aside the natural right of self-defense during the demonstration, even as they faced people who had no qualms about using violence, including bombs.

True, Anyone could sign a piece of paper (or in this age, click on “I agree”). So why bother? Because, then and now, nonviolence during a public demonstration isn’t something to take for granted. Public affirmation reinforces personal commitment. Public affirmation is part of accountability to the larger community. It draws a clear line between those protesting peacefully and those willing to resort to violence to impede them.

Today, 40 Days for Life campaigns challenge abortion and affirm the right to life. The founders of 40DFL are Christian, and the program is grounded in Christian spirituality and a commitment to nonviolence. One requirement for participants is signing the 40DFL statement of peace. Without that commitment, one is not a participant, even if standing on the sidewalk outside an abortion facility during a 40 DFL campaign. Here it is.

I testify to the following:

  • I will only pursue peaceful solutions to the violence of abortion when volunteering with the 40 Days for Life campaign
  • I will show compassion and reflect Christ’s love to all abortion facility or Planned Parenthood employees, volunteers, and customers
  • I understand that acting in a violent or harmful manner immediately and completely disassociates me from the 40 Days for Life campaign
  • I am in no way associated with Planned Parenthood, its affiliates or any abortion provider

While standing in the public right-of-way in front of the abortion facility or Planned Parenthood location:

  • I will not obstruct the driveways or sidewalk while standing in the public right of way
  • I will not litter on the public right-of-way
  • I will closely attend to any children I bring to the prayer vigil
  • I will not threaten, physically contact, or verbally abuse abortion facility or Planned Parenthood employees, volunteers or customers
  • I will not damage private property
  • I will cooperate with local authorities

As I sign on once again for 40DFL – for the Statement of Peace must be reaffirmed with each new campaign – I want to take the Birmingham commitment to heart as well. There are no doubt those who will take umbrage at any suggestion that today’s pro-life movement is part of the civil rights movement that came to flower at that March on Washington in ’63. In reply, I can only avow that life is the fundamental civil and human right. Abortion takes lives, and there are businesses that profit from it. Let peaceful public witness to that continue.

I don’t pretend to have endured the physical abuse to which the Birmingham demonstrators were subjected. Their example is awesome even fifty years on. They faced police dogs and fire hoses, and still made a commitment to nonviolent public witness and action. The best way for me to honor their memory is to emulate them, even though I’ve faced nothing worse so far than name-calling.

Recall that the nonviolent demonstrators in Birmingham were far from passive. There was urgency in their goal of justice and reconciliation. From a 1963 UPI report on the Birmingham demonstrations: “King reacted strongly, however, to a statement by Attorney General Robert Kennedy suggesting that the all-out integration drive here was ill-timed. ‘I grow weary of those who ask us to slow down,’ King told a reporter. ‘I begin to feel that the moderates in America are our worst enemy.'”

The events and words of 1963 aren’t frozen in place, devoid of application to our own times. View them not as an archaeologist views a dig, but as a traveler views a map: take this path, not that one. I could do worse than follow the people who signed those cards in Birmingham.


Black History Month: Alveda King

From Alveda King’s blog at priestsforlife.org comes her reflection on being a participant in 2015’s March for Life in Washington:

Alveda King
Alveda King

…As I was sitting in front of the Supreme Court that day, my sixty-fourth birthday no less, the back and forth challenges between the pro-abortion protesters on one side and the pro-life marchers on the other side began to heat up. I began thinking of my uncle’s words, “We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or perish as fools;” and I began to pray. As I prayed, I became grieved in my heart, and seemed to be lead by the Spirit of God to walk between the two groups and then lie down in the street with a sanctity of life sign and pray.

As I walked towards the young people I watched pro-abortion protesters with their white pants splotched with red [paint] “blood” between their legs; some waving coat hangers and hurling profanity into the air, my heart ached and I felt moved to pray for them.

I also prayed for my Pro-Life brothers and sisters who rallied to answer the pro-abortion voices. I thought about God’s Love and how people, not knowing and understanding John 3:16, are perishing for lack of the knowledge of the Love of God.

Somehow, the image of Dr. Billy Graham and my Uncle MLK preaching ad praying together against racism and segregation in the nineteen fifties fits in here. I’m praying that the racist roots of Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood will be broken….

My “pray in” demonstration was unplanned; stirred by a heart of contrition and compassion. Yet, I will keep praying, whether standing, sitting, kneeling or from the ground, every year that the Lord permits me to and I will continue to pray for all humanity, not just until the day that we abolish abortion in America and around the world; but until God’s love breaks through the stony hearts and HIS glory is revealed.

Dr. King and the violence of abortion

 Man was born into barbarism when killing his fellow man was a normal condition of existence. He became endowed with a conscience. And he has now reached the day when violence toward another human being must become as abhorrent as eating another’s flesh. (Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King, Jr., p. 152)

Today, the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, we will be treated to speeches and essays galore. I dread some of them. In my lifetime, his words have been chopped up and re-formed so many times over that I wonder if my children really know what he was talking about. Go back to the source: his own words.

What would he have said about abortion? I can do no better than speculate. When I read his words about nonviolence, though, I am confident that he would recognize the deaths of tens of millions of children as a civil rights disaster of the highest order. He wouldn’t neglect the link between poverty and abandonment by one or another parent. He would know that race and income are irrelevant to the innate dignity of a child.

I have no doubt that he and I would probably disagree on some policy prescriptions. His words, though, leave no room for condoning violence in the womb.

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