By all accounts, the Rev. James Lawson has exceeded legendary status in the annals of U.S. history. Renowned for his teachings on nonviolent action, the pastor emeritus of Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles was the master strategist behind some of the memorable marches defining the country’s Civil Rights Movement.
Lawson worked closely with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and trained many of the future leaders of the movement including John Lewis, Diane Nash, Marion Barry and James Bevel. In addition, his students participated in the Freedom Rides, the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade, the 1966 Chicago Open Housing Movement and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement.
Celebrating his 90th birthday on Sept. 22, Lawson shows no signs of straying from his life mission of training people about nonviolent civil resistance. In fact, Lawson spent half of the day moderating a “special teach-in” discussing the topic: “What kind of people should we be in these violent, chaotic times and how do we work to effect nonviolent campaigns in the 21st century and move toward equality, liberty and justice for all in the U.S.A.?”
In addition to Lawson, the panelists included Maria Elena Durazo, international vice president of Unite Here; Dr. Veena Howard, Gandhi scholar and associate professor at CSU – Fresno; the Rev. Phil Lawson, a nonviolence movement builder; Kayla Parker, junior director of Amnesty International – L.A.; and the Rev. Mel White, author and founder of “Soulforce,” which works to end oppression of LGBTQI people through nonviolence.
Throughout the lively discussion, attended by more than 125 people, Lawson reflected on his personal experience with nonviolent campaigns along with encouraging the audience to persist in conducting nonviolence action.
“One of the powers of nonviolence,” insisted Lawson, “is the ability to challenge ancient philosophies. In scripture, it says we have to challenge people with good, with hope, and determination.”
Responding to the Sentinel’s question as to why, even in the ninth decade of his life, he remains staunchly committed to nonviolent action, Lawson answered, “The reason is, first of all, in this nation that calls itself a Christian nation, often times, the religion of Jesus was not about violence and war.
“It’s not about racism, it’s not about sexism, and it’s not about people beating up on people for whatever reason or whatever they are or whoever they are. Moses and Jesus both insisted that you must treat the alien like you yourself want to be treated.
“The second thing is that violence has its limits. The violence of lynching did not stop me or my people in the 20th century from pushing to eradicate it and the violence of police into the 21st century will not stop us. So, non-violence is the remedy for the violence. It’s the antidote.
“Unless Western civilization can end its preoccupation of using science and technology for the destruction of people – whether it’s pollution of the crops or the use of nuclear weapons or polluting the air with carbons – unless Western civilization ends its reliance on developing life that destroys life, Western civilization will turn this planet into an ice planet with no life on it.
“That’s the reality and many scientists and people of the 20th century have said this, including myself, Martin King, Gandhi, and Albert Einstein.”
“So part of my own quest for nonviolent action and struggle is to say the survival of the human family is dependent upon us moving away from hatred and fear of life to loving life and loving one another and creating a better society. And the United States must lead the way!”
The Nonviolence Workshop with Rev. James Lawson is held every fourth Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., at Holman United Methodist Church, 3320 W. Adams Blvd., in Los Angeles. For information, call (323) 703-5868.