From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Civil rights activist urges nonviolence for today's ills

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.UMC.ORG>
Date 05 Oct 1998 14:16:24

Oct. 5, 1998	Contact: Joretta Purdue*(202)546-8722*Washington

NOTE: This story may be used as a sidebar to UMNS #567. A
head-and-shoulders photograph of the Rev. Jim Lawson is available.

WASHINGTON (UMNS) - The United States is facing its "most perilous days
ever," civil rights pioneer Jim Lawson told a diverse audience Oct. 1 at
a Congressional Conversation on Race.

Society is racist and sexist, the noted advocate of nonviolence said.
"We have developed a philosophy of life that denies all human beings are
created equally."

Lawson, pastor of the Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, was
a strong advocate of nonviolence as he organized sit-ins and Freedom
Rides in the South, beginning in the mid-1950s. He worked closely with
the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Lawson's activism continues. Last spring, he participated in an act of
civil disobedience during the University of Southern California's
commencement ceremony, to advocate human values in the institution's
treatment of its employees.

His Washington audience included members of Congress, the Faith &
Politics Institute and the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.
The event was sponsored by the institute, the board and the Pew
Charitable Trusts.

Speaking on the spirit of nonviolence today, Lawson traced the
beginnings of his understanding of the concept to growing up in a
Methodist parsonage, where the Christian Gospel was seen as radical. 

Although Mahatma Gandhi codified nonviolence, the key to the concept
lies in the New Testament - in Jesus' advice to love one's enemies,
Lawson said.

Solutions to the problems of racism and sexism in America must come from
the people, Lawson said.

"You can never create a new America . . . from the top down," he

Slavery was a national, economic, political, violent institution, he
said. Racism is not a matter of personal prejudice; it "is a
counter-faith animal" with power derived from its acceptance by society.

When he faced beatings, ferocious dogs and possible death at the hands
of others during the civil rights movement, Lawson said, he relied on
the Sermon on the Mount. 

"We did not demonize our opponents," he added. According to Scripture,
the image of God is in every person, and governments are judged by their
treatment of the poor, unemployed and homeless, he said.

Lawson recalled King's statement of purpose for the movement in 1957. It
was "to redeem the soul of America, to heal and tame the soul and
character of this nation."

Social change occurred because many people changed, Lawson said. The
power of compassion caused life to take on fresh dimensions of liberty.
But more change is needed. America will not have peace or stability
until it determines that justice must be done for every person, he said.

The New Deal, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's program for economic recovery,
came about because ordinary people went on strike, Lawson said. "Work
needs to exalt human life, not demean it." He cited other examples:
women got the vote because many of them demonstrated; and progressive
legislation to benefit the poor in the 1960s came from a "coalition of
the conscience."

Activism will break forth again, Lawson predicted. He wants to see
another nonviolent revolution to address the problems of the world.

"Only people of this land can save this land from the perils we are now
experiencing," he said. He warned that the nation is tempted "more
towards its own Fourth Reich - or Third Reich - than it is tempted
toward democracy." He urged the country to take hold of its best
ideologies, drawing on the preamble to the Constitution and the Bill of

"I believe this nation can be healed."

United Methodist News Service
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