A few years ago, my husband and I, passing through Memphis, stopped for two things: to eat barbecue and to visit the Lorraine Motel, the site where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed 50 years ago April 4. It was a sobering visit (except for the barbecue, which was delicious), and it was a poignant reminder of King’s leadership, sacrifice and legacy.
The approach of the anniversary of King’s 1968 assassination offers a unique opportunity for us to reflect on his dedication to social change through nonviolent action, to introduce his teaching to generations that may not be familiar with it, and to recommit ourselves to following his lead, especially in these times of increased racial tension.
Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, a town that saw intense, racially driven rioting three years ago this month, has put together an important resource to help people of faith understand and apply King’s teachings in this new era of unrest. The resource is a pastoral letter called “The Enduring Power of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Principles of Nonviolence: A Pastoral Reflection.”
Written in preparation for the anniversary, Archbishop Lori wrote that “we urgently need to retrieve, understand, embrace and put into practice his teaching and legacy. For, if in God’s grace we are to create the just, peaceful and compassionate society that Dr. King envisioned, we must undergo a lasting conversion of heart and mind and make a firm commitment to teach, learn and practice nonviolent direct action for social change.” Specifically, Archbishop Lori took a detailed look at King’s principles of nonviolence — which he called “prophetic words of hope that can light the path forward.” Quoting Pope St. John Paul II and Scripture, Archbishop Lori underscored how King’s six principles of nonviolence can “guide us to conversion.”
“They urge us to leave behind ‘business as usual’ and instead to find ways not only to come together but to stay together for the long haul, in peaceful dialogue and cooperation for the sake of each person’s dignity and for the common good,” he said. “In setting forth Dr. King’s principles of nonviolence, it is to your heart that I appeal — to your desire for justice, love and peace. And so I invite you to reflect with me on these principles and then to make them a springboard for further prayer, study, reflection and discussion in your families” and communities.
Archbishop Lori also reflected on King’s six steps for nonviolent social change, offering a perspective of faith when it comes to taking action and facilitating meaningful change.
The document is short and direct enough to digest in one sitting and to discuss in small groups, and I highly recommend doing so. Thanks to Archbishop Lori for providing a thought-provoking resource to help people of faith mark this important anniversary. To read the full document, go to: archbalt.org/kingpastoral.