The following excerpt is from an interview between Paul Brandeis Raushenbush of HuffPost Religion, and Congressman John Lewis (D-GA). The occasion is the release of Rep. Lewis’ new book about his experiences in the Civil Rights movement, and what lessons those experiences might have for us today.
Non-violence as a way for transformation works by raising the tension in a society high enough to provoke the society to make adaptive change, without raising the tension so high as to paralyze people. Violent action by those seeking change becomes an excuse for those in authority to respond likewise, and the possibility for change diminishes. Attack and counter-attack become a distraction, taking away the focused attention needed to overcome problems.
One way to understand the saving power of Christ is to see the Cross as God’s great refusal to participate in cycles of vengeance. This divine grace is offered, then, to us: as saving power over death, and as the way to the reconciliation of the whole world, here and now.
I have nothing but respect for the discipline and power of those who can practice non-violence in the face of great injustice. It is hard for me to imagine the deep and active trust in God that such practice involves. The tensions and anxieties in our society are increasing. What is the creative potential of that tension? What new life might come from societal forces that are in opposition today? Tension is not necessarily bad: the Way of Jesus is not to give us certainty, but rather to give us the openness to let new ways of life emerge. Non-violence is a practice of this Way.
Paul Brandeis Raushenbush:What prompted you to release this book right now?
Rep. John Lewis: It felt like the time was right to inspire another generation of individuals to come together and help move society along. Sometimes I feel that we are losing our way as a nation and this book may be able to point people towards another way of doing things.
We have traveled this path before. In another time, a coalition of people of conscience came together and used these lessons, steps, and methods to move society to a better place. We can get there! We have to have faith, and move with deliberate speed. But with love, action and perseverance we can get there — never give up, never give in, never give out.
Across That Bridge reads like a testimony meant to help other people to remember that we can make a way.
When I was growing up my mother, father and grandparents would sing in the church about making a way when there was no way, not getting lost in a sea of despair, and to be hopeful and grounded. Those of use who came through the early days of the movement were grounded in our faith, grounded in our beliefs that somehow and someway we would have a victory, that we would overcome, that we would be able to redeem society and create what Dr. King called the beloved community.
If that was the goal, then our method must be one of love, one of peace, and that’s why I believe so deeply in the philosophy and discipline of non-violence. For me it is one of those immutable principles that you cannot deviate from.