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King's daughter follows dad in preaching of nonviolence

Published: Saturday, Aug. 29 2015 3:42 a.m. MDT

In this Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011, file photo, people stand outside a small store in Camden, N.J. The city has among the nation's highest unemployment, school dropout and homeless rates. The latest census data finds 53.6 percent of the city's residents in poverty, the highest in the nation. In 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. declared, In this Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011, file photo, people stand outside a small store in Camden, N.J. The city has among the nation's highest unemployment, school dropout and homeless rates. The latest census data finds 53.6 percent of the city's residents in poverty, the highest in the nation. In 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. declared, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." For at least two of King's children, the future envisioned by the father has yet to arrive. Martin Luther King III says, "What my father is asking is to create the climate where every American can realize his or her dreams," he says. "Now what does that mean when you have 50 million people living in poverty?" (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.

In this Aug. 28, 1963, file photo, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, speaks to thousands during his In this Aug. 28, 1963, file photo, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, speaks to thousands during his "I Have a Dream" speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in Washington. Actor-singer Sammy Davis Jr. is at bottom right. It has been cited as one of America's essential ideals, its language suggestive of a constitutional amendment on equality: People should "not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Yet 50 years after the King's monumental statement, there is considerable disagreement over what this quote means when it comes to affirmative action and other measures aimed at helping the disadvantaged (Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press)

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."

In this Jan. 15, 2012 file photo, Martin Luther King III, center, speaks during a ceremony at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, in Washington. (Associated Press) In this Jan. 15, 2012 file photo, Martin Luther King III, center, speaks during a ceremony at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, in Washington. (Associated Press)

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."

In this Sept. 14, 1960, file photo, an unidentified black man eats at a lunch counter in Tampa, Fla. He is one of 70 who took part in breaking segregation barriers at 18 lunch counters in the city. They traveled from store to store, one or two at a time, and received service from white waitresses at counters heretofore reserved for white customers. No incidents were reported. The movement came after a secret meeting of city officials, store managers and representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. (Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press) In this Sept. 14, 1960, file photo, an unidentified black man eats at a lunch counter in Tampa, Fla. He is one of 70 who took part in breaking segregation barriers at 18 lunch counters in the city. They traveled from store to store, one or two at a time, and received service from white waitresses at counters heretofore reserved for white customers. No incidents were reported. The movement came after a secret meeting of city officials, store managers and representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. (Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press)

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.

Robbie Morganfield, pastor of St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Laurel, Md., said faith leaders should broaden their focus beyond guns and create what he calls a "partnership initiative" with other entities to improve mental health care, as well as address violence in entertainment and video games. Such issues are currently being targeted in proposals by President Barack Obama.

The King family in 1996. From left are Dexter, Yolanda, Martin Luther King Jr., Bernice, Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King III.  (Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press) The King family in 1996. From left are Dexter, Yolanda, Martin Luther King Jr., Bernice, Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King III. (Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press)

"There's definitely a need for a renewed discussion about violence in our society," said Morganfield, who is also an adjunct instructor of communications. "I just think there needs to be a multi-pronged approach to it."

He added that faith leaders should also emulate the boldness King showed during the civil rights era.

"I think on some level, that was the genius of Martin Luther King. The courage and the audacity he had to challenge people at a time when it really wasn't popular to do it, and it wasn't safe to do it."

This past summer, Martin Luther King's principles of nonviolence were once again heard when a recorded interview with him from 1960 was discovered in a Chattanooga attic.

During part of the interview, King defines nonviolence and justifies its practice.

"I would ... say that it is a method which seeks to secure a moral end through moral means," he said. "And it grows out of the whole concept of love, because if one is truly nonviolent that person has a loving spirit, he refuses to inflict injury upon the opponent because he loves the opponent."

In this Sept. 16, 1963, file photo, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gives a news conference in Birmingham, Ala. announcing he and other African American leaders have called for federal Army occupation of Birmingham in the wake of the previous day's church bombing and shootings which left six blacks dead. (Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press) In this Sept. 16, 1963, file photo, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gives a news conference in Birmingham, Ala. announcing he and other African American leaders have called for federal Army occupation of Birmingham in the wake of the previous day's church bombing and shootings which left six blacks dead. (Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press)

An excerpt of the audio released on the Internet went viral, evoking emotions from many who said they were moved by hearing King once again talk about nonviolence.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, who founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with King, said the civil rights icon's basic principles "remain just as strong today as ever."

"I can't think of anything better to try," Lowery said. "What we're doing now is not working. We've got more guns than we've ever had, and more ammunition to go with it. And yet, the situation worsens."

Others who heard the King recording were spurred to action. Magician David Copperfield purchased the recording and donated it to the National Civil Rights Museum, saying he wanted to promote King's message of nonviolence.

In this Monday, Jan. 21, 2002, file photo, a painting of the late Martin Luther King, Jr., is presented to President George W. Bush, left, by King's widow, Coretta Scott King, second left, and her children, Rev. Bernice King, second right and Martin Luther King, III, right, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House where the president signed a proclamation honoring the King holiday in Washington. Bernice King doubts her father would seek to ignore racial differences. In this Monday, Jan. 21, 2002, file photo, a painting of the late Martin Luther King, Jr., is presented to President George W. Bush, left, by King's widow, Coretta Scott King, second left, and her children, Rev. Bernice King, second right and Martin Luther King, III, right, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House where the president signed a proclamation honoring the King holiday in Washington. Bernice King doubts her father would seek to ignore racial differences. "When he talked about the beloved community, he talked about everyone bringing their gifts, their talents, their cultural experiences," she says. "We live in a society where we may have differences, of course, but we learn to celebrate these differences." (Associated Press)

After the recent shootings in Connecticut, Copperfield said King's practice should lead the debate on curtailing violence.

"If we stop focusing on who to blame, or what to blame, we can instead use that energy to teach our children that when we find a wrong to make right, we can reach the result peacefully," he said.

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