Learning from Gandhi and Martin Luther King in Response to Kony 2012

Sometimes I keep them close by so I feel less alone in my journey. This is a follow-up post to my previous thoughts on Kony 2012

It took me a really long time to read through Martin Luther King's autobiography. I think, all told, it took me two and a half years from start to finish.

The benefit is that I took the long journey of his life into myself, really contemplated and absorbed it, allowing myself the privilege of learning under him as a master teacher of sorts.

I had a similar experience when reading Gandhi's autobiography. I think it took me about two years to finish his 500-page tome. The effect was a sense of real companionship, of getting to know this strong and honorable man by walking slowly alongside him, observing his choices and his leadership and deeply listening to his philosophy and how he made decisions.

Three things always stand out to me about these two great men and the work of their lives. And over the last few days, as I've continued to educate myself and contemplate the events of the Kony 2012 effort, I'm noticing that these three elements can be instructive to us in developing our perspective on the issue the Kony 2012 effort represents and its proposed resolution.

1. The work of both men grew out of their experience and context. 

Pretty early in my nonviolence journey, I heard a story about Mother Teresa. It was shared in the context of how often people sought her permission to come care for the poor in Calcutta alongside her. While she was glad to receive visitors and often told them to "come and see," she also often told them, "There are Calcuttas everywhere." The implication I took from that story was to ask myself and God in prayer, "Where is my Calcutta?"

I think about this regarding Gandhi and MLK, too. They were so clearly called to the contexts they served. They knew the people they served and were, in fact, one of them. They had personal knowledge of the plights they served and sought to change. They were fully immersed in and lived among the struggle.

I think resolution to the violence perpetuated by the Lord's Resistance Army is going to need similar leadership -- that it is going to need to come from those just as closely acquainted with it and living among it.

This, in fact, seems to be one of the great messages those living in Uganda, the Congo, Sudan, and the CAR keep sending in response to the Kony 2012 video -- and have, in fact, been sending for quite some time. See, as one example, this 6-minute video by Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire recorded in response to the Kony 2012 video.

While it may surprise Americans to hear it, the people of Africa -- in whatever country or context where suffering may exist or emerge among them -- do not want to be rescued as though they have not the strength to help themselves. The care, compassion, and solidarity of the wider world is valuable to them, yes. But they are not helpless people. They are strong. Vibrant. Creative. Resourceful. And they want to be part of their own solution.

Furthermore, they are the ones who best know the situation and its history and its people. They know what solutions will work or not work in response to their struggles. And their personal knowledge of their own context is perhaps their greatest strength.

All this to say that while I am still so glad the wider world has been educated about the existence of Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army, I'm not so sure that agitating the international community and policymakers to do something to make it stop is the real solution this situation requires. We ought, instead, to be students of those affected by the violence -- those who know the situation and its dynamics better than any of us and who can teach us what solutions they believe their situation requires.

2. The efforts of Gandhi and MLK were coordinated and strategic.

When I read Martin Luther King's autobiography, I was struck over and over again by how organized and carefully planned the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement really were. They had to be.

For instance, when the bus boycott in Montgomery began -- which was the first initiative led by MLK in the Civil Rights Movement -- they started with 150 volunteers who donated their cars to the effort. Within a few days, the volunteer drivers had swelled to 300 and the group had distributed leaflets to the community that listed 48 dispatch and 42 pickup stations.

That's pretty impressive and massive coordination in just a few days. Even the white community was impressed by it, Dr. King tells us in his autobiography.

But the oppositional response of the white community to the bus boycott necessitated further strategy and coordinated response on the part of the Negro community. When reading this section of MLK's autobiography, I noted no less than 10 oppositional efforts the white community undertook to derail the boycott:

  • Opposition #1: Use laws against them.
  • Opposition #2: Negotiate an unsuitable compromise.
  • Opposition #3: Divide the black community against itself.
  • Opposition #4: Spread lies.
  • Opposition #5: Institute a "get tough" policy.
  • Opposition #6: Make threats.
  • Opposition #7: Resort to violence.
  • Opposition #8: Initiate mass arrests.
  • Opposition #9: Refuse car insurance.
  • Opposition #10: Take legal action.
  • Opposition #11: Send in the Ku Klux Klan.

And with each oppositional effort, a savvy and thoughtful response was required and offered in return by the Negro community. Indeed, the full length of MLK's life and work reflects such coordination and strategy every step of the way. And in learning about Gandhi's work, we see the same careful planning and execution applied to the particulars of his own time and place.

I believe dismantling the Lord's Resistance Army will take more than finding, capturing, and bringing to justice Joseph Kony, which is the solution offered by the Kony 2012 video. As I read over and over on blogs by people long acquainted with the situation in the last few days, the issue is greater than just one man. It requires us to consider questions like, "How has a small but vicious group been allowed to thrive for over 25 years?"

In other words, there are bigger issues at play here than the efforts of one single man leading a brutal war -- issues like governance in the countries affected by the violence, for one -- and smart and careful planning and strategy needs to be applied to the larger issues that get at the root of things here.

Again, as happy as I am that the video has raised awareness in the wider world about this issue, I have come to believe the solution it offers is just altogether too simplistic.

3. Both men were convinced of the efficacy of nonviolent resolution. 

Of all the insights I've gained in the last few days as I've read and continued to learn about the history and scope of the issue presented by the Kony 2012 campaign, I am most thankful for the perspective that "brought me back to myself," so to speak.

My nonviolence journey began with a single question: Is it really true that the only truly transformative force in the world to overcome violence is love?

It was a question I asked with no little amount of dubiousness. Though I had observed the transformative power of love in my own life experience, I didn't see how this could possibly translate on a broader social scale. But the possibility of it gripped me, and that's why I eventually began my long journey into the study and practice of nonviolence.

Throughout this journey, I've continued to learn that the great nonviolent leaders of history insist on the premise that love is the only way to disrupt, uproot, and transform violence. It sows something new, rather than repeating a cycle with switched-up players as victims and perpetrators.

I have this article by Mark Kersten to thank for bringing me back to the perspective that peaceful solutions are the ones that I support. But beyond just "bringing me back to myself," Mark's article helped me view the particular conflict raised by the Kony 2012 campaign in a different light.

Invisible Children, the creators of the Kony 2012 video, uphold a military solution to the conflict. They want the US to maintain its existing 100 troops on the ground to provide tactical support and to help the Ugandan army capture Joseph Kony so that he can be brought to trial at the International Criminal Court. As much as this effort is devoted to capturing, rather than killing, Joseph Kony in order to bring him to justice, the reality is that this is a military solution. It involves armies, and gunfire and loss of life will be involved in the process.

Invisible Children proposes this is the only feasible solution since peace talks have failed in the past.

But Mark Kersten says this:

There is much to be learned from the previous talks between the Government of Uganda and the LRA in Juba, from 2006-08. . . . In taking the lessons of past experience , energy can be harnessed to get back to the negotiating table.

I love that Mark asks us not to be so quick to discount the possibility of renewed peace talks. And I've decided that, by virtue of the nonviolent path that I have committed to walk, peace talks must be the solution I support in this situation as well.

Lastly, I'll share that in the process of learning more about the proposed peace talks solution, I have been wholeheartedly heartened by the discovery of a woman living today who has been an integral actor in previous peace talks with Joseph Kony and the LRA. Her name is Betty Bigombe, and you can read about her selfless, savvy, and incredibly brave work here, here, and here. She helps demonstrate to me what nonviolent peacemaking really looks like and has become one of my new modern-day heroes.

UPDATED TO ADD: This morning I found this article by Anywar Ricky Richard, a former child soldier in the LRA who now rehabilitates orphans in Uganda affected by the war. It is a beautiful and honest article that also speaks to how Ugandans would like to see this issue resolved and the value of resuming peace talks toward that end. I also forgot to mention in the original post that Betty Bigombe, one of the key actors in previous peace talks with Joseph Kony and the LRA, is a native Ugandan.

He Suffered Violence . . . for Us

On a Dark Friday

Image by Sister72

Last year on Good Friday, I sat in the back of my church and watched seven candles on the platform stage go out, one by one, as the last seven words Jesus spoke before his death were read from the Scriptures. When the last words were spoken and the last candle extinguished, the sanctuary went completely dark. Several hundred quiet souls sat together in the dark for several long moments in time.



Today as I write this post, I'm trying to get back inside the powerful and profound realization I had in that moment. It was the realization that Jesus sustained violence . . . for us.

This was not a new truth for me to hold. I grew up in the church and have participated in my fair share of Good Friday services, some of which depicted the reality of Christ's last hours in gruesome detail. But this reality struck me in a new way last year, perhaps because I was deep in the woods of this nonviolence journey and could see with fresh eyes that Jesus embodied on that original Good Friday all that I've come to believe is contained in the nonviolent ethic:

  • Love is stronger than evil.
  • Nonviolence is more transformative than violence.
  • Nonviolence is rooted in the conviction of truth.
  • Nonviolence is postured in love.

Early in my nonviolence journey, I began to read the autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. What stood out to me in the early section of that book was Dr. King's own process of coming to embrace the nonviolent way of life. He studied various philosophers -- Marx, Nietzche, and Reinhold Niebuhr among them -- and eventually landed upon Gandhi's nonviolent resistance as that which has the power to "lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale" (p. 24).

I was particularly struck by Dr. King's response to Niebuhr, who had been a staunch proponent of pacifism for many years but eventually rejected it. Regarding Niebuhr's rejection, King said:

Many of his statements revealed that he interpreted pacifism as a sort of passive nonresistance to evil expressing naive trust in the power of love. But this was a serious distortion. My study of Gandhi convinced me that true pacifism is not nonresistance to evil, but nonviolent resistance to evil. Between the two posiions, there is a world of difference. Gandhi resisted evil with as much vigor and power as the violent resister, but he resisted with love instead of hate. True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power, as Niebuhr contends. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love.

-- The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr, p. 26

I remember watching the Ben Kingsley film on Gandhi's life several months later and seeing this demonstrated so clearly in the famous salt march. Along with several hundred of his followers, Gandhi marched 240 miles to the sea coast over the course of 26 days in protest of a salt tax. When the marchers arrived at their destination, they faced aggressors who beat and killed many of them, and yet still the marchers stood in conviction for what they believed to be right and true, and they refused to fight back.

This was nonviolent resistance: a firm stand for truth and justice coupled with an unwillingness to raise one's own hand against another out of love for the dignity and humanity of the one standing against you.

In Jesus, on Good Friday last year, I saw this exemplified in even greater measure. On that day, as I listened to those seven passages of Scripture being read aloud and as I watched those candles, one by one, go out, my mind filled in the details of the story.

In my mind, I watched the Jesus I have come to know and love get arrested. I watched him stand before the chief priest and all the elders and scribes and Pharisees and become the object of their scorn. I watched those religious leaders stir up the crowd against him in derision -- the same crowd who had saluted him with palm branches just days before and who had thrown their cloaks on the ground for him when he entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, many of whom had likely followed him around for years, always showing up where he did because they wanted more of his teaching and more of his healing. I watched those same people seek his crucifixion.

I watched him stand before Pontius Pilate in the court the next day and say nothing to defend himself. I watched him being given over to the death sentence and watched the Roman soldiers beat him with their clubs and their cat of nine tail switches. I watched them laugh at the torture they inflicted on him and watched them rip the robe off his back, raw pieces of his flesh tearing off with it because of how badly he had been beaten.

I watched him stumble down the dusty road  to Golgotha with a heavy wooden cross laid upon his shoulders, splinters gouging into those gaping wounds. I watched the crown of thorns they twisted into his head pierce his temple and his forehead and watched blood run in streams down his face and into his eyes and mouth.

I watched the soldiers pound three heavy, rusty nails into his hands and feet. I can't even imagine the pain of that part, but yes, sharp, thick nails tore through his skin, tendons, and bones so mightily that they were able to hold the weight of his body against that cross when it was raised high up to the sky.

I watched it happen in my mind as I listened to those Scriptures and watched those candles go out on the stage in front of me that day, and as the last candle went out and we sat in the darkness and silence of that room, tears streamed down my face at the realization:

He suffered violence . . . for us. This was his nonviolence act.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus was not afraid to speak words of truth because he believed they contained real life. This speaking of truth is what eventually led to his arrest and crucifixion, as it leads to death for so many who speak truth in places where truth is not wanted.

He was willing to speak the truth, but he was not willing to save his own life to defend it. Instead, he operated with the knowledge that new life would come from his death -- that love would indeed be more powerful than evil.

In the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday, we see this principle born out in the most powerful way it has ever been demonstrated. Life really did conquer death. Love really did overcome evil. Everything contained in the nonviolent ethic is played out in its most literal form in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

For that reason, Jesus Christ stands as the foremost example to me of the embodiment of this way of life and its actual transformative power. It is my sincere hope and prayer that he will teach me to be worthy of this reality he exampled through his life for me to follow.

At the Root of Nonviolence Is Hope

Hi there, friends. So, I've been hemming and hawing about posting something here that's been on my mind the last few days.

In some ways, as you'll soon see, this is the most obvious place to talk about it.

But in other ways, it presses one very hot button.

Sheesh, does it!


This means it could spark some lively discussion among our JTN tribe, which I would gladly welcome and expect you would too.

Especially because I think we all value what we can learn from each other's perspectives and have learned to uphold a gracious dialogue here.

But it also could invite some search-engine traffic from those who are less -- or in no way -- given to the path of nonviolence we trod.


So, let's be honest.

In a space exploring a subject like ours, we're bound to witness a level of engagement like that eventually.

It just hasn't happened yet.

And I wonder if we're ready for it now.

More to the point, I wonder if I'm ready for it now.

This is when walking the nonviolent path out loud begins to feel altogether daunting.


But there are very real questions about this journey that need to be raised if we're to stay intellectually honest with ourselves as we walk it.

And I, for one, want to explore those questions out loud with pilgrims like you.

That's one of the main reasons I created this space to begin with.

And really, what's to be gained by avoiding the real and hard questions when they come up?

I don't want to limit my journey to the antiseptic roadways.

Do you?


With that said, then, let's give it a try, shall we?

And if the conversation takes an ugly turn because of uncharitable visitors, I'll try to determine -- perhaps with your help -- the best way to handle it.

Sound good?




I'd like us to try our hand at a discussion of capital punishment.


Perhaps you heard about the man who was executed in Utah on Friday.

His name was Ronnie Lee Gardner, and he was sentenced to the death penalty in 1985.

At the time, he was allowed to choose the manner in which he would die.

He chose death by firing squad.


It's a grotesque story, and I'll let Google fill you in on the details if it interests you to seek them out.

But it was this detail of the firing squad that made my breath catch in my throat.

(Well, that and learning that the Utah governor tweeted about the event as it happened. That is utterly strange and hard for me to understand.)


But as for the firing squad, I tried to imagine the men who were given those triggers to pull.

I learned later that they were all volunteers.

Really, that just made it more difficult for me to fathom their experience.

I also learned that one of their rifles carried a blank.

This prevented each of them from knowing for sure if their shot carried one of the fatal woundings.


I couldn't help but wonder, as I considered those men:

  • What was it like for them to turn a rifle on a man sitting in a chair before them, totally defenseless?
  • What was it like for them to pull their triggers and watch him die?

Truthfully, I just couldn't stomach those images.

Maybe you can't either.

And I knew in that singular moment of revulsion:

I just can't get behind capital punishment.


Am I naive to feel this way?

Not to get on board with "an eye for an eye"?

Not to say, "He deserves that kind of death because he forced death on another"?


I'm sure that's what some would say of me.

That I'm naive.

Or that I care nothing for the victims and what they suffered if I hold this view.

(Although on that point, nothing could be further from the truth.)


I guess it surprised me to notice how far I truly am from espousing capital punishment.

And this is what I've realized is the reason why:

At the root of nonviolence is hope.

Hopes carries with it the possibility of change.

Of an honest reckoning inside someone's soul.

Of conversion of heart and spirit.

Hope carries with it the possibility of repentance.


But capital punishment carries none of those things.

It carries only a relinquishment of hope.

It roots itself in the idea that someone is finished.

That change is not possible for them.

Or that change -- if it is possible -- is undeserved.

In short, it's about totally giving up hope on someone's life -- so much that we'd choose to end it.


Do we want to be people who believe those things -- about anybody?

I don't.


But I'm curious to know what you think about this.

Do you have any opinions about capital punishment?

Would you be willing to share them with us?