03 February 2011

Pledge of Non-violence

With the recent celebration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States, it seems appropriate to reflect on standards of non-violence in general. Recently, Rev. Dr. J Ludemann preached a sermon in which he brought to our attention the Parish Pledge of Nonviolence which has been circulated by the Families Against Violence Advocacy Network. The pledge has seven points which are inspired by Dr. King's non-violent civil rights movement. The seven points of the pledge coincide with my understanding of how to have my faith inform my daily life. So, I want to take some time to explore each of the seven points and how they relate to living out my faith.

The first point of the pledge is “To Respect Self and Others”. The pledge clarifies this point by specifying that it means “to respect myself, to affirm others and to avoid uncaring criticism, hateful words, physical attacks and self-destructive behavior.” Working in the creche provides an opportunity to gauge how well this pledge point is being followed. Since children tend to reflect the atmosphere they are in, their behavior is a barometer for how well this portion of the pledge is being followed. When the children are surrounded by mutual respect and positive affirmations of their accomplishments, the children tend to show respect to one another more and they have a positive self-respect. On the other hand, when children are exposed to unkind criticism, hate speech, and physical violence, their behavior tends to deteriorate as they begin to mimic these actions. I can tell how well I am following this point of the non-violence pledge (and by extension acting on my faith) by how the children respond to me in the creche.

The second point of the pledge is “To Communicate Better”. The pledge specifies that this means “to share my feelings honestly, to look for safe ways to express my anger, and to work at solving problems peacefully.” Part of respect for others is being able to be open about our feelings and open to others sharing their feelings with us. We should be able to express our anger without hurting others with our words and actions. I saw a good example of the safe expression of anger during the student strike which coincided with the public servant strike when I first arrived in Durban in September. The students were gathered on the lawn in the middle of campus singing and dancing various protest songs. I had actually stumbled upon them without realizing what was happening at first. After a few songs, the group just dispersed and went their separate ways. The singing and dancing helped release their anger without causing harm to others. After seeing this, I was reminded how much music can serve in an emotionally uplifting role for me as well.

The third point of the pledge is “To Listen”. This means I am “to listen carefully to one another, especially those who disagree with me, and to consider others' feelings and needs rather than insist on having my own way.” Listening is a critical component of communication. In theory, this should be a fairly easy task too as all it requires is to use our ears and not our mouths. Yet, how many times in arguments do we find ourselves thinking of what to say next rather than actually trying to see where the other person is coming from. I readily admit that properly listening can be one of the hardest things for me to do sometimes. Yet, listening is important in order to strengthen our relationships with one another. As I improve my listening skills, my ability to follow through with the pledge is strengthen.

The fourth point of the pledge is “To Forgive”. More specifically, I am “to apologize and make amends when I have hurt another, to forgive others, and to keep from holding grudges.” Forgiveness is a gift that we should not keep to ourselves. When asked how often we should forgive others, Jesus' response implies that we should not be keeping score in that matter. If we are counting the number of times we are forgiving others, than we miss the healing aspect that forgiveness brings to those who grant it. When we forgive others, we are freeing ourselves from the cycle of hate that leads to never-ending conflict. Seventeen years ago, South Africa held its first truly free and democratic elections after years of unjust apartheid. When searching for a way forward after decades of strife, South Africa chose to route of forgiveness offered through the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The TRC offers a prime example for how we can incorporate forgiveness into our lives.

The fifth point of the pledge is “To Respect Nature”. I am “to treat the environment and all living things with respect and care.” Living in a city for the past 5 months, I have experienced first hand the impact that humans can have on the environment. With so many people living close together, the negative effects we have on the environment become amplified to a point where it becomes blatantly obvious. There is no questioning the need for respecting nature when the isolated parks and green spaces inside a city offer such a peaceful refuge. Apart from all of the scientific, moral, and theological arguments for why we should treat nature with respect, this practical application alone should be enough to encourage respect of nature.

The sixth point of the pledge is “To Recreate Nonviolently”. The pledge clarifies that this means “to promote athletic and recreational activities that encourage cooperation and to avoid social activities that make violence look exciting, funny or acceptable.” Why must everything we do have “winners” and “losers”? Sure, it is great feeling when we are a “winner”, but if there are “winners” then there typically are “losers” as well. Fear of being a “loser” sometimes creates a win-at-all-costs attitude. Such a self-centered attitude rarely encourages love, which is the base of my faith.

The final point of the pledge is “To Be Courageous”. The pledge encourages me “to challenge violence in all its forms whenever I encounter it, whether at home, at work, in the church, or in the community, and to stand with others who are treated unfairly.” This last step is the most challenging one because it forces us to step outside of ourselves. Even if we master all six of the previous points in this pledge of non-violence, our pledge serves little purpose if we keep it to ourselves. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” One basis of this assertion likely comes from Jesus' admonition that whatever we do to the “least of these” we do to Jesus. This is a way of reminding us that we are all connected as Children of God. Thus anything negative that happens to one, negatively impacts all. So if we witness violence and do not challenge it, we might as well have participated in the act itself since we are negatively impacted as a result of the violence.

Discovering this pledge of non-violence has served to bolster my attempts to live my faith out on a daily basis. I encourage everyone to read the pledge and consider signing it as I have.

*There are multiple versions of the pledge which can be found at http://www.ipj-ppj.org/Pledge%20of%20Nonviolence/Parish.htm
The quotes in this post are taken from the Parish Pledge.

*Edited 5/21/2016 to replace the link for the pledge with an active link