Dr. Wayne Baker is traveling and, this week, welcomes guest writer Daniel Buttry, an international peace negotiator for American Baptist Churches and the author of the new book Blessed Are the Peacemakers.
Here is Dan’s first report this week …
Last week I was at a park in downtown Birmingham, Michigan, with some friends. We paused at a large memorial stone embossed with a bronze seal of the United States. Underneath were the words “For Those Who Have Served Our Country.” The memorial was placed by the local chapter of Rotary International. We had a discussion about the words on the memorial, noting that they did not specify people in the armed forces. Rotary International has a huge commitment to peace, including its ongoing program of naming World Peace Fellows who are given several-year terms to study peace. We wondered: Was the broader phrasing of the words on this memorial in the park intentional?
Who serves our country?
Is it just the men and women in the military?
Of course, as 9/11 rolls around again, we all remember men and women who serve our nation locally—fire fighters, police officers, certified first responders.
What about someone like John Lewis?
Was there ever a soldier who served our country better or with more courage than John Lewis? I wrote a chapter on John Lewis in my book Blessed Are the Peacemakers, recently published by ReadTheSpirit Books.
Fifty years ago the Freedom Riders traveled as an integrated team on segregated interstate buses in the South. They were in violation of Southern “Jim Crow” laws that tried to separate blacks from whites. John Lewis was one of those Freedom Riders. He was already a veteran of the civil rights movement, having risen to prominence among college students for his participation and leadership in the Nashville sit-in campaign to desegregate downtown lunch counters.
In a stop along the Freedom Ride in Rock Hill, South Carolina, Lewis was the first casualty among the nonviolent activists. He was savagely beaten as he got off the bus. When violence halted the ride, Lewis called his companions from the Nashville campaign to send a fresh wave to keep the ride rolling. He left the hospital to get on the bus at another stop along the way. As the riders pulled into Montgomery, the police had given a mob of white toughs 15 minutes to have their way with the riders. John Lewis and the white activist Jim Zwerg were first off the bus, knowing what awaited them. They were savagely beaten until they were unconscious. There was no Medal of Honor for Lewis or any of the other Freedom Riders.
Lewis would be beaten unconscious yet again at the Pettis Bridge in Selma when club-wielding police charged unarmed nonviolent demonstrators. Lewis was in the front row—or as the army would call it, at the point, the most exposed position. He was marching for the right of American citizens to vote, protecting those who were denied their basic rights by other American citizens.
We often express thanks for those who protect our freedom from outside threats. What about those who have fought nonviolently for our freedom from inside threats, even threats backed up by our federal and state governments with their legal sanction?
Who should be included in the heroes who serve our country?
How should we honor such heroes?
Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.