Pastor Richard W. Sibert believes teaching nonviolence at an early age affects future behavior. After the shootings in Connecticut, the community activist had a program at his Walnut Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, where young members tolled a bell and read the name of each child killed. He said he wanted the youth to understand the pain violence can cause.
“They have to realize they just can’t strike out at people,” said Sibert, adding that parents, or guardians, need to instill the same doctrine at home. “Violence is not the way.”
Lewis Baldwin, a professor of religious studies at Vanderbilt University, said ministers also have a voice outside of the church that they don’t fully use. For example, he said religious leaders haven’t been vocal enough on the issue of gun control.
“We need to use our influence … to influence Congress,” he said. “Churches have been pretty much silent when it comes to challenging the NRA and challenging people in the halls of government to take serious stands against the easy accessibility of guns.”
Tennessee Sen. Stacey Campfield is among a number of lawmakers across the country sponsoring legislation that would allow trained teachers with handgun permits to carry weapons in school.
The Knoxville Republican said he supports the idea of nonviolence, but believes people should be able to prevent themselves from becoming victims of violence.
“If someone is trying to defend their lives or the lives of innocent people, they should have the ability to defend those lives,” Campfield said.
Robbie Morganfield, pastor of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Laurel, Md., said faith leaders should broaden their focus beyond guns and create what he calls a “partnership initiative” with other entities to improve mental health care, as well as address violence in entertainment and video games. Such issues are currently being targeted in proposals by President Barack Obama.
“There’s definitely a need for a renewed discussion about violence in our society,” said Morganfield, who is also an adjunct instructor of communications. “I just think there needs to be a multi-pronged approach to it.”
He added that faith leaders should also emulate the boldness King showed during the civil rights era.
“I think on some level, that was the genius of Martin Luther King. The courage and the audacity he had to challenge people at a time when it really wasn’t popular to do it, and it wasn’t safe to do it.”
This past summer, Martin Luther King’s principles of nonviolence were once again heard when a recorded interview with him from 1960 was discovered in a Chattanooga attic.
During part of the interview, King defines nonviolence and justifies its practice.
“I would … say that it is a method which seeks to secure a moral end through moral means,” he said. “And it grows out of the whole concept of love, because if one is truly nonviolent that person has a loving spirit, he refuses to inflict injury upon the opponent because he loves the opponent.”
An excerpt of the audio released on the Internet went viral, evoking emotions from many who said they were moved by hearing King once again talk about nonviolence.
The Rev. Joseph Lowery, who founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with King, said the civil rights icon’s basic principles “remain just as strong today as ever.”
“I can’t think of anything better to try,” Lowery said. “What we’re doing now is not working. We’ve got more guns than we’ve ever had, and more ammunition to go with it. And yet, the situation worsens.”
Others who heard the King recording were spurred to action. Magician David Copperfield purchased the recording and donated it to the National Civil Rights Museum, saying he wanted to promote King’s message of nonviolence.
After the recent shootings in Connecticut, Copperfield said King’s practice should lead the debate on curtailing violence.
“If we stop focusing on who to blame, or what to blame, we can instead use that energy to teach our children that when we find a wrong to make right, we can reach the result peacefully,” he said.
The King Center: http://www.thekingcenter.org/
National Civil Rights Museum: http://www.civilrightsmuseum.org/