This week marked the 50th anniversary of the Children’s Crusade against racial segregation.  The march through downtown Birmingham was led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and ended with Eugene “Bull” Connor unleashing fire hoses and police dogs on the demonstrators.  More than 2,500 youth were arrested, but public outcry helped spur the passage of the Civil Rights Act a year later.

In our current age of deep division and polarization, marked by what many have called “the end of civility,” it’s important to remember that day in Birmingham fifty years ago—to acknowledge the bigotry and violence of our past as a nation, and to be reminded once again of how lasting, substantive change ultimately dawns in our society.

The Civil Rights Movement grounded itself in the principles of non-violence, and it held to the notion that our words can be as violent and destructive as our actions.  Dr. King’s “Six Principles of Nonviolence” are as relevant today as they were 50 years ago:

  1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people
  2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding
  3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people
  4. Nonviolence holds that suffering for a cause can educate and transform
  5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate
  6. Nonviolence holds that the universe is on the side of justice and that right will eventually prevail

If you were to live out these principles in your daily encounters with people—especially those with whom you disagree, or even your adversaries—would it change how you act when you are with them, or how you speak to them, or how you speak about them?

In a passage from John’s Gospel Jesus offers a final prayer for his disciples before he leaves them.  “May they be one,” he prays to God, “as you and I are one…and may the love with which you have loved me be in them, and I in them…”  (17:23-26).

Jesus believed that only by that unity with each other, rooted in the radical love of God, would the world come to believe the Gospel.  In other words, our unity is our witness.  Such unity doesn’t mean that we must or will agree on every issue, or any issue at all.  It simply means that beyond the issue is a real person whom God loves, and for whom Christ died.