“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice,” proclaimed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It may bend towards justice, but it does not bend gently. It bends behind sweat of the brow, creativity of the mind, and love from the soul of those who believe that every living soul not only desires justice and equality, but has a right to it. You see, justice is not a passive pursuit. The moral arc will not bend without encouragement.
Dr. King was a living example of the kind of person who encourages the moral arc of history to bend toward justice. He is also an example of the only effective way to bend that arc: non-violently. We cannot hope to bring about justice by unjust means. Might, physical confrontation and other forms of domination will ultimately only result in nurturing an understanding that domination is an ineffective way to resolve issues of justice – and domination is the exact opposite of justice. As King says, “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.”
King was a Christian minister and I see his bias toward the least of these, the bullied and the marginalized; his preoccupation with justice; and his insistence on non-violent ways to bringing about justice as results of his attempt to live out a life guided by the teachings of Jesus. For certain, that is not the only impetus for doing the hard work of bending the moral arc of the universe, but I believe it is the only sincere way to be a follower of the teachings of Jesus.
Author and theologian Walter Wink also understood this moral imperative for those of us struggling to devoutly follow the teachings of Jesus. He helped us to see that not only is the idea of violence being redemptive a myth (violence, as Dr. King pointed out, begets violence), but there is a better way. He called it “Jesus' Third Way,” which is also the name of a small publication he wrote in the 1980s to show Christians a way to non-violently resistance apartheid. In it Wink points out:
In 1989, there were thirteen nations that underwent nonviolent revolutions. All of them successful except one, China. That year, 1.7 billion people were engaged in national nonviolent revolutions. That is a third of humanity. If you throw in all of the other nonviolent revolutions in all the other nations in the twentieth century, you get the astonishing figure of 3.34 billion people involved in nonviolent revolutions. That is two thirds of the human race. No one can ever again say that nonviolence doesn't work. It has been working like crazy.