Mel Evans, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — While the nation struggles to agree on how to curb gun violence, followers of a man gunned down nearly 45 years ago think his wisdom offers an answer.
The words of Martin Luther King Jr. and the role he set for churches in leading a nonviolent response to civil injustice are as applicable today as they were in the 1960s, say his younger daughter and other followers.
Bernice King, chief executive of the King Center in Atlanta, recalls a sobering statement from her father: "The choice is no longer between violence and nonviolence, but nonviolence and nonexistence."
King's lessons take on new urgency after one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history, when a gunman opened fire at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., last month, killing 20 children and 6 adults.
Some faith leaders and others say the Newtown shooting and others justify re-examining the principles King used decades ago to bring about social justice and seeing how they could curtail pervasive violence today.
As a Baptist minister, King derived many of his principles from Jesus Christ, particularly from his Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus discussed embodying peace.
Bernice King, who is also a minister, said clergy and faith leaders may not realize it, but they have a role in curbing violence from the pulpit.
"I think churches are very critical to this," King said. "I think we need to do a better job of developing people in the body of Christ to become instruments of peace."
She said the King Center is developing a curriculum that incorporates the principles of King for teaching to students from kindergarten through 12th grade. It also plans to make a curriculum for college students.
One principle taught by King is that to attack someone, or injure someone, amounts to self-injury.
"We have to change people's mindset ... their way of knowing how to address conflict and anger and things of that nature," Bernice King said. "We can't just confine it to gun control."
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.
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