Non-Violence & Depending on Love

Date posted: Thursday 22 March 2018

Rachel Hagen contemplates non-violence at the Center for Civil & Human Rights

Over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, I went to Atlanta with a group of individuals affiliated with the Saint Paul Area Synod. We examined past racial relations in the United States, explored current racial tensions, and dreamed about how we could bear witness as Christians in our own communities. Identifying as a black woman, I came into this trip struggling with my own pessimistic attitudes about the possibility of economic and social liberation for black Americans.


I have personally struggled in the past with Dr. King’s belief in the efficacy of non-violence philosophy while striving for political freedom. Through intimate conversations and a significant amount of reflection after the trip, I am gaining a deeper appreciation for the use of nonviolence in a social movement. A quote by Mahatma Gandhi on display at the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change helped me understand the power of nonviolence in a new way: “Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being.” This reminds us that nonviolence is much more than a tactic in a movement. It is a way of being, and must be considered as such, in order to be effective. Nonviolence requires a dependence on love instead of hate.


Acts of Kindness

The synod trip to Atlanta was well over a month ago, but I am remaining cognizant of how to continue to work for social justice in my community here in Minnesota. I think we all struggled with the idea of being a witness when we return to our congregations and communities.


Dr. Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Coretta and Martin King, and current director of the King Center, spoke at the annual commemoration service we attended. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of her father, and she encouraged the audience to change their worlds by doing 50 acts of kindness each day. 50 is a lot, but it is a helpful reminder that enacting social change does not always require big actions like organizing a march or protest. It can begin at an individual level with mindful behavior of engaging in acts of kindness or service every day.


When I begin to feel pessimistic about navigating oppressive structures and institutions, I can turn to my energy toward my community and look for small ways to make a difference. I believe interpersonal conversations have tremendous power and the potential discomfort at the beginning is greatly outweighed by the results. Starting a conversation can be difficult, but it is always a great place to start.


Rachel Hagen