Earlier this week, several members of Congress including John Lewis recommended the Rev. James Lawson for the Congressional God Medal to honor his decades of service in teaching and practicing non-violence. Rev. Lawson is a United Methodist pastor who served as a missionary in India where he learned Gandhi’s principles of non-violence. When he returned to this country, he became the foremost teacher of non-violence in the civil rights movement beginning with students in Nashville during the lunch counter sit-ins of 1960. John Lewis and Diane Nash were among his many students who went on to touch the conscience of our nation through their non-violent witness in major civil rights campaigns including the Freedom Rides in 1961, Birmingham in 1963, Freedom Summer in 1964, and Selma in 1965. Dr. King’s own commitment to non-violence was deeply impacted by James Lawson, and it was Rev. Lawson who invited Dr. King to come to Memphis to support the sanitation workers’ strike in 1968 where Dr. King was killed on April 4. At 90 years old, James Lawson continues to teach and witness to the power of non-violence. In a recent article by the Religious New Service, he said,
“While the gun discussion may be an important discussion, it doesn’t get into the virus that needs to be attacked: the spirit of violence, the language of violence, the thinking of violence, the despising of one another,” he said. “Nonviolence is the force that can save our nation from itself.”
As we celebrate Thanksgiving this Thursday, remember to give thanks for those who helped to change our nation through non-violence even as we recommit to practicing the non-violent love of Jesus in our time.