Happy Birthday, Jim Lawson! Our Great Nonviolence Teacher and Leader

“To practice nonviolence is to find a stream of life that allows you to live creatively…The only way forward is to risk our lives…The future does not belong to the military industrial complex or to Donald Trump, but to those who are persistent in wonder and in love.”

–Rev. James Lawson


The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors recently proclaimed September 22, Rev. James Lawson’s 92nd birthday, as “Rev. James M. Lawson, Jr. Day.” It was a great celebration for the wonderful leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world.” Rev. Lawson guided Dr. King and thousands of young leaders of all races and ages including me and countless others seeking racial and economic justice. He has been a peerless teacher, role model, and prophet of nonviolence in our violent nation and world. He has shared his time generously as the Children’s Defense Fund’s Senior Consultant on Nonviolent Organizing and a leader with CDF’s Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry and young organizer leadership circles. As CDF’s Director of Public Theology and Nonviolent Organizing Rev. Janet Wolf puts it, he has been “a freedom fighter for almost 70 years, a militant but nonviolent warrior whose consistent confrontation with narrow minds and stingy hearts teaches us what it means to embody God’s extravagant grace, a creative prophetic persistent and passionate nonviolent strategist who has led the way, stood in the gap, changed systems, altered power arrangements, and nurtured thousands for leadership in nonviolent direct action organizing movements for justice.” I want to be him when I grow up!

Dear Jim visited CDF’s national office shortly after the November 2018 midterm elections and told our staff: “The way through chaos, calamity, and confusion is not by adding chaos, calamity, and confusion. That multiplies what’s hurting us and undermining us. The Hebrew and Christian Bibles insist from the first chapter to the last chapter you cannot overcome evil with evil, you have to overcome evil with good. Depart from evil, do not be overcome by evil. An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind. A tooth for a tooth means that therefore soon everyone is toothless. You cannot bind up the wounds of people in our land by pouring sand into the wounds.”

Today our nation is more desperate than ever for inspiring and truthful leadership to combat Trumpian chaos and confusion, bind our wounds, heal our divisions and stop the violence that still plagues us. Jim’s words memorializing our beloved friend John Lewis, the ‘conscience of Congress,’ spoke to our perilous Trumpian times:

“We do not need bipartisan politics if we’re going to celebrate the life of John Lewis. We need the Constitution to come alive! We hold these truths to be self-evident: We need the Congress and the president to work unfalteringly on behalf of every boy and every girl, so that every baby born on these shores will have access to the tree of life. That’s the only way to honor John Robert Lewis. No other way.

“Let all of us in this service today, let all the people of the U.S.A. determine that we will not be quiet as long as any child dies in the first year of life in the United States. We will not be quiet as long as the largest poverty group in our nation are women and children. We will not be quiet as long as our nation continues to be the most violent culture in the history of humankind. We will not be quiet as long as our economy is shaped not by freedom but by plantation capitalism that continues to cause domination and control rather than access and liberty and equality for all.

“The forces of spiritual wickedness are strong in our land because of our history. We have not created them. John Lewis did not create them. We inherited them. But it’s our task to see those spiritual forces. I’ve named them racism, sexism, violence, plantation capitalism. Those poisons still dominate far too many of us, in many different ways. John’s life was a singular journey, from birth through the campaigns in the South and through Congress, to get us to see that these forces of wickedness must be resisted. Do not let our own hearts drink any of that poison. Instead, drink the truth of the life force. If we would honor and celebrate John Lewis’s life, let us then recommit our souls, our minds, our hearts, our bodies, our strength to the continuing journey to dismantle the wrong in our midst and to allow a space for the new Earth and new heaven to emerge.”

Let’s heed and follow great servant leader Jim Lawson’s vision. And let’s take his urgent words with us when we go to the polls or sit down at our kitchen tables to vote for leaders at every level who will work for all of our nation’s children and people and pursue equal justice under the law for everyone.