Interfaith Peacemaker Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

When I speak of love, I am speaking of that force which all the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life.
Martin Luther King Jr.

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By DANIEL BUTTRY

Marion S. Trikosko/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Marion S. Trikosko/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a Baptist pastor who ultimately gave up his own life to change life for all Americans. His powerful, poetic appeals called upon us all to act in new ways on our deeply held sense of justice. His impact was so profound that in the United States today there is a national holiday dedicated to the enduring energy in Dr. King’s life and message.

As a young pastor, his eloquent voice and strategic planning for the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott quickly pushed him into the top ranks of the U.S. civil rights movement. King developed a philosophy of nonviolent direct action through which oppressed people, especially blacks suffering in the 1950s under a system of legal segregation in the southern U.S., could courageously challenge the people, the attitudes and the legal structures that oppressed them. Today, his principles and the courage of those who followed his teachings is enshrined as a core chapter in what Americans teach their children.

Although celebrated now, this path was never easy for King. He was jailed along the way and eventually was assassinated at the age of 39.

At the core of King’s movement was his organization of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which helped to coordinate local struggles from Selma to Memphis as well as national campaigns for civil rights legislation in Congress. As president of the SCLC, King also appealed directly to the nation’s conscience through marches and speeches.

In his years of activism, King boldly tackled “the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism.” He became a prophet and activist whose influence was recognized in 1964 with a Nobel Peace Prize. King is the youngest person to receive this global honor. (You may want to visit the Nobel website to read and hear portions of King’s Nobel lecture from December 1964.)

King’s philosophy of nonviolence derived from Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), but it was from the Hindu activist Mahatma Gandhi that King drew the methodology for putting Jesus’ teachings into practice in the segregationist South. King’s connection with Gandhi’s life began when he first read E. Stanley Jones‘ biography, Gandhi: My Friend.

King summed it up this way: “Christ furnished the spirit and motivation, while Gandhi furnished the method.” In 1959 he traveled to India and deepened his understanding of nonviolence in dialogue with the Gandhi family and others active in the movement.

Many Jewish leaders joined in the struggle for civil rights for black citizens–and many Jewish activists were brutalized while working shoulder to shoulder with non-Jews in King’s movement. Together, these people found new ways to pray and work together for change.

King was a consistent prophetic voice against antisemitism as expressed by both segregationists and by some within his own black community. King said, “I solemnly pledge to do my utmost to uphold the fair name of the Jews–because bigotry in any form is an affront to us all.” He was an early advocate for the freedom of Jews who also were facing fierce discrimination in the Soviet Union.

In Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? King wrote, “When I speak of love, I am speaking of that force which all the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the First Epistle of Saint John: ‘Let us love one another; for love is of God, and everyone that loves is born of God, and knows God.’”

King envisioned a “beloved community” where all people were welcomed and treated with dignity. For King, religion was not a cause of division but an avenue to the deeper unity of love that should be expressed in justice for all.

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Martin Luther King, Jr. Yoichi R. Okamoto/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Martin Luther King, Jr.
Yoichi R. Okamoto/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

MEET MORE PEACEMAKERS

Daniel Buttry is the author of Blessed Are the Peacemakers, which is available on Amazon.

You can read more about the influence of the American evangelist E. Stanley Jones on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in John E. Harnish’s 2022 book, 30 Days with E. Stanley Jones.

Interfaith Peacemaker Mohandas ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi (1869-1948)

If we want to cultivate a true spirit of democracy, we cannot afford to be intolerant. Intolerance betrays want of faith in one’s cause.
Mahatma Gandhi

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By DANIEL BUTTRY

Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

There are four things that describe the success of Gandhi as a social reformer.
1: believing in his “Free India” mission
2: being faithful and sincere to his cause
3: the level of sacrifice throughout his struggle
4: endurance and perseverance

Mohandas K. Gandhi led the movement in India for independence from British colonial rule. His approach to nonviolence was called satyagraha, with literally means “truth—hold on” and has been popularized as “truth force.” He initially developed his nonviolent philosophy and practice during the twenty years he lived in South Africa. Trained as a lawyer, he led Indians in South Africa in protests against the racist policies of the white government, culminating in 1914 with some concessions, granting new rights for the Indian immigrant community.

Returning to India, Gandhi, eventually given the honorific title “Mahatma,” threw himself into the struggle against British colonialism. He organized campaigns of non-cooperation with British political and economic power, highlighted by his “Salt March” across India to the sea where he made salt in defiance of the British monopoly on this vital commodity. Eventually, through a long, complex struggle India achieved independence in 1947.

Gandhi also struggled for justice within Hindu society, especially calling for raising the status of the “untouchables.” Though he was from an upper caste, he advocated an end to the social and economic injustices in the caste system. His conviction on this matter was so intense that he launched a “fast to the death” from prison in one campaign that successfully eased a particular restriction.

The fundamental moral principle known as the golden rule, “treat others as you would be treated,” was one of Gandhi’s most substantial traits. His philosophy—all of us are brothers and sisters—earned him respect from among all the classes of his nation.

Gandhi was a devout Hindu, but he drew much of his inspiration from the teaching of Jesus and the Russian Christian pacifist Leo Tolstoy. Many Christian friends lived in his ashram and joined him in his actions. Gandhi often quoted the Christian scriptures and said to his Christian friends, “to be a good Hindu also meant that I would be a good Christian. There was no need for me to join your creed to be a believer in the beauty of the teachings of Jesus or try to follow His example.” The three books he carried with him everywhere were the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible and the Quran.

He was once asked: Are you a Hindu?

“Yes I am,” Gandhi replied. “I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, and a Jew.” Gandhi understood the importance of working with all people of different religions and cultures for the common good of the people and nation. His simple life style and love for the poor earned him great respect from among the less fortunate of his nation. His witty remarks earned him trust from the elite of his society. He was accepted by people from all walks of life.

Gandhi also bridged the two largest religious groups in India: Hindus and Muslims. He worked closely with Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a Muslim friend and nonviolent activist for independence. They each took the principles of their own faiths and applied them to the same nonviolent practices in the same struggle for freedom.

When violent riots erupted in India between Hindus and Muslims, Gandhi pleaded for peace. To underscore his message, he began long fasts directed to his own Hindu community, calling upon them to halt the violence. Following the successful end of inter-communal violence in Calcutta in response to his fast, Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 by a Hindu extremist.

Gandhi’s non-violence, non-cooperation, and peaceful resistance were the only weapons in the face of oppression and injustice. His philosophy of non-violence has influenced many non-violent movements since. Dr. Martin Luther King in the American civil rights movement established his own strategies on the basis of Gandhi’s non-violence method. Others such as the anti-apartheid activist and former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, also were inspired by Gandhi.

Gandhi wanted freedom for his nation and he got it. On June 15, 2007, it was announced that the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution declaring October 2 “The International Day of Non-violence.”

Gandhi during the Salt March, March 1930. Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Gandhi during the Salt March, March 1930. Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Meet more peacemakers

Daniel Buttry is the author of Blessed Are the Peacemakers, which is available on Amazon.

You can read much more about the life and teachings of E. Stanley Jones in John E. Harnish’s 2022 book, 30 Days with E. Stanley Jones.

Interfaith Peacemaker E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973)

Peace is a by-product of conditions out of which peace naturally comes.
—E. Stanley Jones

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Stanley Jones

Stanley Jones

By DANIEL BUTTRY

A Christian missionary evangelist as an interfaith hero?

A man who held open-air evangelistic meetings with thousands of people in a predominantly non-Christian country, called the “Billy Graham of India,” as a role model in learning from other faiths?

Yes, E. Stanley Jones is such a paradoxical hero and role model.

Eli Stanley Jones was born in Baltimore, Maryland. After finishing his college education he went to India as a missionary with the Methodist Episcopal Church. He began working among the very low castes, including those now called the Dalits. In time he drew the attention of the intelligentsia and was invited to speak to students at universities across India. He was very popular as a speaker, for he did not attack Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, or any other religion in India. Instead he sought to separate the Jesus of the gospels from enculturation in forms of Western civilization.

He said, “The way of Jesus should be—but often isn’t—the way of Christianity. Western civilization is only partly Christianized.”

Eventually, Jones met Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi—a meeting that had a profound impact on the Christian missionary. They became close friends, and Jones became close to the Nehru family and others in the movement for Indian independence.

Jones eventually wrote a biography of the Hindu Indian activist, Gandhi: Portrait of a Friend. Jones’ biography of Gandhi was the initial link between Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. King said that it was while reading Jones’ biography that he became convinced to adopt a strict non-violent method in the struggle for civil rights.

Gandhi also challenged Jones about the Western forms of Christianity and the need for greater respect of the strengths of Indian culture and character. As Jones wrestled with Gandhi’s challenge, his own missionary understanding and practice was refined. He wrote The Christ of the Indian Road, which sold over a million copies. He then founded a Christian Ashram movement, seeking to express the Christian faith through Indian cultural forms while maintaining a passionate and articulate orthodox Christian message, a process he called “indigenization.”

Jones initiated round-table conferences that brought Christians and and non-Christians together to discuss how religion can improve life. He envisioned a broader gathering, a Round-Table of nations, speaking about this dream 30 years before the founding of the United Nations. Through his interreligious dialogue and connection with leaders in the Indian independence movement, Jones helped influence the shapers of the new constitution of India to include religious freedom as a fundamental component of the nation.

Later in his ministry he traveled around the world speaking about peace and international understanding. He said, “Peace is a by-product of conditions out of which peace naturally comes. If reconciliation is God’s chief business, it is ours—between man and God, between man and himself, and between man and man.” His efforts of reconciliation in Africa, Asia and between Japan and the United States earned him a nomination for the Nobel Peace Price. In Japan he was hailed as “The Apostle of Peace.”

E. Stanley Jones was extremely vigorous physically. He kept a heavy travel and speaking schedule and also wrote 26 books. He died at the age of 88 shortly after giving another speech, this time from a wheel chair following a stroke. As a Methodist publication put it, he was a “missionary extraordinary,” but he also was willing to be challenged by those of other faiths, learn from them, and be shaped by the dialog with those who believed differently.

Meet more peacemakers

Daniel Buttry is the author of Blessed Are the Peacemakers, which is available on Amazon.

You can read more about the influence of Gandhi on the life and teachings of the American evangelist E. Stanley Jones—and then Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—in John E. Harnish’s 2022 book, 30 Days with E. Stanley Jones.

Daniel Buttry: Remembering our call in ‘Safeguarding the Stranger’

front-cover-of-safeguarding-the-stranger-by-jayme-r-reaves

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Book Review by DANIEL BUTTRY

I was raised on the heroic stories of Christians in Europe who hid Jews from the Nazis. Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, first the book and then the movie, were big hits in my circles, relating how her family hid Jews in their home until the whole Ten Boom family was sent to concentration camps. Only Corrie survived their risky acts of hospitality. But time goes by and in recent conversations with some Christian young adults I found they didn’t know who Corrie Ten Boom was.

We need to revive her story and countless other stories of people who have provided protective hospitality in times of danger (many of these stories are told in my Interfaith Heroes books).

Our news has been full of stories of Syrian refugees, immigrants from Africa braving the Mediterranean’s waters, unaccompanied children from Central America sent north to avoid conscription into gangs, and the political railing against immigrants. Do we let political figures determine the agenda, or is there a transforming ethical word that comes from the faith community?

Jayme Reaves provides such a word in her recently published Safeguarding the Stranger: An Abrahamic Theology and Ethic of Protective Hospitality (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2016). I met Jayme when I was teaching at a seminary in Croatia. She guided me around the region, showing me the devastation of Vukovar but also the efforts of healing and reconciliation. Then she moved to Northern Ireland where she worked in various reconciliation efforts. She earned her Ph.D. in Theology from Trinity College at the University of Dublin.

Jayme Reaves is what I call an academic/activist, a special breed of folks who can handle the highest intellectual pursuits but are driven to continually engage in real-world struggles and concerns. Reaves addresses this directly in her book as she writes about grounding all the discussion of hospitality in praxis. So she starts with the stories of hospitality for the at-risk “other,” specifically the French village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon protecting Jews during World War II and the Sanctuary Movement in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s when the wars in Central America sparked a movement of refugees seeking a safe haven from the violence and human rights abuses they were facing. At the end of the book Reaves returns to the practical challenges of protective hospitality, drawing upon her own direct experiences especially in Croatia and Bosnia.

Reaves surveys and interacts with the limited literature that addresses hospitality. She grapples with the issues of boundaries, hospitality as resistance, risk—both from the guest and from those seeking to harm the guest, and the “dangerous memories” that inspire and compel the risky action of protective hospitality.

The richest gift from this book for me was her deep exploration of the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. She explores their commonalities related to hospitality, but also the unique perspectives that each religion brings that can shine light on the limitations of the others and spark growth in the practice of hospitality through interfaith dialog. For example, the rootedness of hospitality in Islam in the concept of justice pushes Christians to think more deeply than just compassion to some of the structural dynamics that threaten the “other.”

Safeguarding the Stranger has grown out of her academic work, and the book reads like a thesis. That is excellent for those who want deep intellectual engagement. She has copious footnotes and bibliography materials. As she notes, there is a paucity of material related to the practice and ethics of hospitality in general let alone protective hospitality. Reaves has filled an important space in this discussion, and done it not as a mere intellectual exercise but as a profound ethical challenge at this historic moment.

However, reading her book left me hungry for more, specifically a popular version of this discussion. With refugees and immigrants filling the news as well as the shrill voices of fear and inhospitableness, we need to increase the voices of the counter-narratives and ethical challenges for hospitable responses. I look forward to Reaves’ activist side to distill another book for the average folks in churches and communities facing decisions of what to do. I hope she keeps the rich interfaith dimension of her current work as I think that is a key to finding a way to transformation in the present crises. Keep writing, Jayme, as you have so much more to share for a time like this!

Care to read more?

Visit Daniel Buttry’s author page.

Next on the Vatican’s agenda? Rethinking “Just War” …

Saint_Peter's_Square_from_the_dome_v2 (1)

VIEW FROM THE VATICAN.

HEADLINES around the world are reporting on Pope Francis’s call for Catholic leaders to rethink the way they try to explain and enforce the church’s teaching on relationships and families. This week, April 11-13, 2016, the Vatican is hosing a worldwide summit of theologians on “Just War Theory,” the church’s traditional set of rules for morally justifying conflict. The gathering is hosted by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the global Catholic peace network Pax Christi International. Reporting by the National Catholic Reporter in the U.S. characterizes this event as “phenomenally important.”

It seems that way, as well, to the editors of ReadTheSpirit magazine. We invited Daniel Buttry, a veteran peace trainer on several continents and the author of books about famous peacemakers, to write about the significance of this event.

RETHINKING
‘JUST WAR’

By DANIEL BUTTRY

Amid much ground-breaking news from Pope Francis and the Vatican last week there is another vitally important story involving Christian ethics and tradition. This week, the Vatican is hosting a conference to re-examine the Church’s teachings about war, commonly known as “just war theory.” The conference may even come out with recommendations for revising the Catholic teaching related to violence and prompt a papal encyclical to address these concerns.

I wasn’t invited to attend the conference, but I certainly will be in prayer for these discussions.

I grew up in a Protestant military family—my father was a U.S. Air Force Chaplain. While in ROTC in college I was challenged by a female student in a Bible study group about my views about war. She asked, “What did Jesus say?”

As I poured through the gospels in my dorm room I became a conscientious objector. Later I began to understood more about the injustices in the world and realized that pacifism as passivity was not helpful. Instead peacemaking needed to be a positive engagement in the struggles of the world to deal with the problems and issues of injustice at the root of conflicts. Eventually I became a full-time peacemaker, but that story is told in full in Peace Warrior: A Memoir from the Front.

For the first three centuries of Christianity the primary stance of Christians was pacifism, based on teachings of Jesus about loving one’s enemies—that those who live by the sword will die by the sword, and his example of dying on the cross out of love. As Tertullian wrote in the late Second Century, “When Christ disarmed Peter he disarmed every soldier.”

Then the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Empire, changing everything for the once marginalized and persecuted Church. Now the Church was tied to power and the greatest army in the world.

Saint_Augustine_of_Hippo

AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO

Augustine, a bishop from North Africa, developed just war theory as a way for Christians to bring an ethical reasoning to questions of war by examining issues of limiting the violence and assuring that the authority calling for violence is legitimate. Augustine’s criteria for certifying that participation in war was ethically acceptable were refined by various thinkers over the centuries, including most notably Thomas Aquinas, the 12th Century theologian whose teachings have been pillars in Catholic theology. Basically the just war theory has been usually boiled down to these criteria: Just cause, comparative justice (for what is gained or protected by the cost of the war), legitimate authority, right intention, just means, probability of success, proportionality, and last resort.

2 PROBLEMS and 1 IDEA

Two major problems and one relatively new ethical idea have spurred the call for the teaching of just war theory to be reconsidered. One problem is that with current conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction the criteria about means and proportionality have become antiquated. The staggering human suffering we’ve seen in contemporary wars, in which civilians usually account for about 90% of casualties, makes a mockery of most of the refined ethical discussions.

Furthermore, every war is justified and claimed as “just” by those who engage in it. In practice just war theory has not served to restrict warfare so much as to give shape to the self-justifications employed by political and religious leaders.

Then, toward the end of the 20th Century a number of discussions as well as the development of nonviolent movements began to coalesce into what many thinkers now call “Just Peace.”

Glen-Stassen-Baptist-theologian-of-Just-Peace-Theory

GLEN STASSEN

“Just War” focuses on the negative, letting war stand as the assumption and looking at how to legitimize the violence or minimize the damage. “Just Peace” focuses on the positive, on how peace can actually be built among the political, economic, and social realities of our world today. “Just Peace” leads us to a positive ethic, one in which both pacifists and just war theorists can find common ground as well as a substantive agenda for action.

Glen Stassen, the late Christian social ethics professor at Fuller Seminary in California, was one of the key shapers of Just Peace thinking. His book Just Peacemaking: Transforming initiatives for Justice and Peace introduced the concept. Then Stassen worked with 23 ethicists and scholars to identify 10 specific practices that are being undertaken in our world today that actually prevent, end, or limit war. He edited another book by the same lead title to examine these practices: Just Peacemaking: A New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War.

10 Practices for Just Peacemaking

Contrasted to the criteria for just war theory, these are the practices of just peacemaking:

  1. Support nonviolent direct action.
  2. Take independent initiatives to reduce threat.
  3. Use cooperative conflict resolution.
  4. Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and justice and seek repentance and forgiveness.
  5. Advance democracy, human rights, and religious liberty.
  6. Foster just and sustainable economic development.
  7. Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system.
  8. Strengthen the United Nations and international efforts for cooperation and human rights.
  9. Reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade.
  10. Encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations.

After Stassen published the first collaborative effort on Just Peacemaking, he coordinated an interfaith effort with scholars and ethicists of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths. These practices have the proven track record of actual events and projects that have made a positive impact in actual conflict situations, whereas just war theory has remained an academic idealistic exercise.

Now is a propitious time for a re-evaluation of the ethical mainstream view about war, not just within the Catholic Church but in many parts of the human community.

Albert Einstein once said, “With the splitting of the atom everything has changed except our way of thinking.” Maybe now we are seeing our ethical way of thinking catch up to our technological capacity at war-making.

Daniel L. Buttry is the Global Consultant for Peace and Justice for International Ministries of the American Baptist Churches. He is an author of 9 books including Blessed Are the Peacemakers and We Are The Socks by Read The Spirit, which includes discussion of Glen Stassen’s just peacemaking practices.

Daniel Buttry explains the story behind ‘We Are the Socks’

FIRST, you may want to check out our ReadTheSpirit Cover Story about the release of Daniel Buttry’s newest book We Are the Socks. That Cover Story includes an interview with Dan and perspectives from a couple of other global peacemakers on the importance of this book.

AND, you’ll also enjoy this 8-minute YouTube video in which Dan tells the story behind his new title: We Are the Socks. If you care to use this video in your small group—or to repost it in your website or newsletter, here’s the direct link to the YouTube page.