Seeing Ourselves as Activists in a Whole New Way
Do you remember the story from Step 3 of a young women who dove into the river to rescue and revive a drowning boy? It was just one of the parables told to make Gandhi’s point. Let’s pick up the story where we left it.
Once upon a time…
The river provided an endless flow of victims. Before long, dozens of brave rescuers were in the water and the river bank was crowded with volunteers building fires, sharing food and blankets, reviving and restoring those who had nearly drowned.
Our Sheroe spent the next few hours rushing in and out of the water, rescuing and reviving the innocent victims. Exhausted, she finally stopped long enough to rest. While she sat shivering on the riverbank someone asked her the obvious question, “Why are so many people drowning?” Feeling rather embarrassed that she hadn’t even thought about it, our Sheroe put on her hiking boots and began her search up river. Rounding a bend, she was surprised to find a group of men and women, boys and girls throwing people into the rushing waters. It didn’t take long to discover that this strange community genuinely believed that the world would be a better place if certain of their number were drowned.
Our Sheroe tried to explain the tragic consequences of their belief. The Drowners wouldn’t listen. She reasoned. She demanded. She threatened. She begged. It seemed that nothing could convince them to stop this dangerous and deadly practice. So our Sheroe returned to the river bank, warned volunteers that they would be there “for the long haul,” and dove back into the icy waters.
Gandhi would praise the young woman for helping those who suffered. But he would also remind her (and us) that helping those who suffer is not enough. The second stage of doing justice is to help end the suffering at its source. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the young German pastor who was hanged by the Nazis for his role in the resistance, said it this way.
“…our role is NOT just to bandage the victims
pulled out from under the wheel,
but to put a spike in the wheel itself…
Dr. King warns us that we have just three ways to respond to injustice.
- We can acquiesce, hoping that one day The Drowners will realize the truth and stop the drownings.
- We can respond with violence, hating The Drowners, screaming back at them, wishing or even causing their death.
- Or we can respond with nonviolent soulforce.
If we acquiesce (sit silently by), we may lose everything. If we respond with violence, it will simply lead to more violence and never result in reconciliation. Nonviolent soulforce provides the only reasonable, effective option of response. But the rules or principles of soulforce as taught by Gandhi and King are not well known in our community.
A follower of soulforce has one basic premise.
Our adversaries are not evil or hateful or insane. They are “Victims of Untruth” as we have been.
A follower of soulforce has one task.
Bring truth to the victims of untruth.
A follower of soulforce has one method.
Show love (nonviolence) as you bringtruth to the victims of untruth.
A follower of soulforce has one secret.
Accept suffering without retaliation or complaint as you bring truth inlove to the victims of untruth.
A follower of soulforce has one goal.
Reconciliation with our adversary.
Before we can look more closely at the tactics of soulforce, we must be convinced that nonviolence is the only appropriate way to end the suffering. Gandhi would convince us to go even farther. He would say that soulforce (nonviolence) is not just a tactic that we use to end the suffering. Soulforce (nonviolence) is a way of life. He warns us that it is impossible to practice soulforce in the cause of justice if we don’t follow the standards of soulforce in our daily lives.
At the heart of Soulforce are these three primary beliefs.
THE SOULFORCE CREDO OF TRUTH, LOVE, AND REDEMPTIVE SUFFERING
I believe that my Creator calls me to seek the TRUTH, to live by the TRUTH, and to confront UNTRUTH wherever I find it.
I believe that my Creator calls me to love my enemies, to reject violence (of the fist, tongue, or heart), and to use only the methods of nonviolence in my search for TRUTH or in my confrontation with UNTRUTH.
I believe that my Creator calls me to take on myself without complaint or retaliation any suffering that might result from my confrontation with UNTRUTH and to do all in my power to help my adversary avoid all suffering, especially that suffering that may result from our confrontation.
Once again, we are faced with difficult choices.
This is not a good time for truth. We believe what we want to believe about ourselves and about our “enemies.” We like our news in “sound bites” delivered by the slick and savvy. We buy products because we recognize their logo or hum their jingle. We vote for famous politicians with name or face recognition or for rich politicians who have saturated our senses with their television and direct mail campaigns. When elected, they weigh the mail bags or count the polling numbers to decide which way they should vote on an issue. If there is a free moment, we spend it surfing the airwaves or reading detective or romance novels. Studies show that after college, most of us seldom pick up a serious book or journal. And we use the amazing Web primarily to entertain or stimulate our senses. We are a people content to live by half-truth, hyperbole, and self-deceits. One popular television series begins each adventure with “The truth is out there” but most people don’t spend much time or energy trying to find it. Soulforce claims that the search for truth is our number one goal. Jesus said, “Know the truth and it will set you free.” Gandhi titled his autobiography My Experiment with Truth.
We are a nation that values violence in a world that is armed to the teeth. Our military budget alone would feed, clothe, house, and heal the world’s suffering. Our movies, our television dramas, our easy-read thrillers feature heroic acts of violence as the most effective way to solve problems. We have more guns hidden in our homes, cars, and offices than most nations have in their armories. We train in self-defense. We buy burglary alarm systems to protect our possessions and install double or triple locks on our doors. To love our enemies, to commit ourselves to nonviolence is a stretch to say the least.
This notion of voluntary, redemptive suffering is particularly unpopular in our community because it is misunderstood. Gandhi disliked the word “pacifism” because it sounded like cowardice. Nonviolence is not cowardice or inaction. Accepting suffering without retaliation or complaint does not mean we accept the involuntary suffering that comes from discrimination and intolerance. Soulforce is a call to suffer voluntarily that involuntary suffering might end.
Involuntary suffering comes when our sexual orientation leads to the loss of employment, housing, custody, ordination, or even to the loss of our lives. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people suffer involuntarily every day. And that kind of suffering that comes out of discrimination and intolerance does not lead to liberation.
The tragic death of Matthew Shepard was involuntary and because it captured the nation’s attention, it may have helped change some minds and hearts. But our adversaries rushed to blame Matt’s “promiscuous life style” for his murder and found his death more reason to promote the “ex-gay” movement.
Our adversaries are seldom moved by our involuntary suffering. They blame our “life style” when an employer fires us or a landlord evicts us. They genuinely believe we are a threat to children, so why should they be moved when we lose custody of our own or are denied the rights to adopt or provide foster care? They are convinced that we are a threat to military morale and therefore are not moved by our demand for the right to serve our country. They believe our relationships are short-lived and promiscuous, so why should they grant us the rights and protections of marriage?
At the heart of their UNTRUTH is our adversary’s belief that we are immoral, that we are not committed to basic human values, that we are not people of faith, courage and integrity. Why should they support laws to protect us or to grant us equal rights when they believe that they have the moral authority that we lack? Is it any wonder that our one day marches don’t change their minds or that our rallies, protests, and demonstrations do not move their hearts? In fact, all too often, our mass events only enforce their fears and misunderstandings.
How do we change minds and hearts? Soulforce calls us to voluntary, redemptive suffering. Sometimes that kind of suffering is inflicted by the adversary (imprisonment, torture, death). Other times we choose to afflict voluntary suffering on ourselves (as in a fast or long march). Each of us has been deeply moved by activists who have volunteered to suffer and even die for a worthy cause.
Nelson Mandela watched his people suffer involuntarily from the cruelties of apartheid. Mandela decided that his suffering would count. He didn’t suffer apartheid in silence. He didn’t join anti-apartheid terrorist bands who tortured and maimed their enemies (black and white alike). He took a public stand against the unjust laws. He was arrested, beaten, and imprisoned. That kind of voluntary, redemptive suffering moved minds and hearts across the world. The people who saw black Africans as immoral, promiscuous, less than human, learned the TRUTH in Mandela’s acts of courage.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. watched his people suffer involuntarily from the cruelties of segregation. King refused to suffer in silence. He didn’t agree with the anti-segregation forces who called for overthrowing segregation violently. King took a public stand against the unjust laws by breaking them. When he was arrested, he paid the consequences willingly and people noticed.
When the children of Birmingham marched against segregation, the nation saw them on the evening news being beaten by police, knocked down by fire hoses, and attacked by snarling dogs. For decades they had suffered segregation involuntarily and few seemed to notice let alone to care, but when those children finally took their stand, when they volunteered to suffer for the cause, the President, the Congress and the courts finally took notice.
Instead of paying a few pennies in salt tax to the British, Gandhi walked 240 miles to the sea to make salt. Before he could lead the march to the British salt works, he was arrested and the protestors who took his place were beaten, harassed and abused with the world looking on in shock and horror. The Indians who followed Gandhi on the journey to nonviolence suffered willingly and people around the world saw their suffering and demanded that they be set free.
Gandhi reminds us that when we take a voluntary stand against injustice, we don’t know how our adversaries will react. However they respond, we take on the suffering without complaint or retaliation and our adversaries will see our courage and witness our commitment.
Will you consider signing the following Soulforce Credo? At least print it and put it in your Soulforce file for consideration at a later date.
Soulforce Step 4 (seeing ourselves as activists in a whole new way) begins when we have aligned ourselves with TRUTH, LOVE (NONVIOLENCE), and VOLUNTARY SUFFERING. Then we are ready to begin the long, difficult task of changing the minds and hearts of those who fear and misunderstand us.
Gandhi says we have just two methods for changing minds and hearts.
Second, DIRECT ACTION
Soulforce Activists work to change the mind and heart of our adversary through negotiation and direct action.
Let’s be specific. At this moment in time, the adversaries of God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children seem obsessed with their anti-homosexual campaign. Their toxic rhetoric poisons the national discourse. People believe the UNTRUTH that we are sick and sinful, a threat to the family, undermining the nation’s “values.”
In response, laws are created to deny us our rights and protections. State constitutions are amended to discriminate against us. Petitions are circulated to place anti-homosexual measures on local and statewide ballots. (And the data shows clearly that whether we win or lose these political battles, the increased rhetoric causes our sisters and brothers more personal discrimination, harassment, suffering and even death.)
Thankfully, we have local, state, and national organizations working to defeat the anti-homosexual measures and to lobby for “gay rights”. And we need to support these courageous and committed activists with our time and money. However, our activists are so busy putting out the fires lit by our adversaries that there is little time or energy left to work on stopping the arsonists.
The “arsonists” (those primary sources of the anti-homosexual rhetoric) are primarily religious leaders (Catholic and Protestant alike). Changing their minds and hearts is the number one goal of Soulforce, Inc. Gandhi and King show us the way.
The Soulforce Process
(A brief overview)
- commit and recommit ourselves to the non-violent Soul Force principles;
- research the case against our adversary carefully, in print, audio, and video;
- negotiate with our adversary first: amicably, carefully, relentlessly, if this fails,
- educate the media, our allies, and the allies of our adversary;
- recruit and train allies for direct action;
- confront our adversary with direct action only to move negotiations forward;
- negotiate a third position that will satisfy us both;
- reconcile with our adversary and help bring in “the beloved community” which is the ultimate goal of Soul Force.
Let’s look briefly at each of these primary steps in Soulforce activism.
Commit And Recommit Ourselves To The Non-Violent Soul Force Principles.
Hopefully you have already signed the Soulforce Credos. Go back. Consider them. Print them. Review them. Make them your own. Consider carefully signing the Soulforce Vows which follow. Read Gandhi and King. Read Jesus and the Jewish prophets. Nonviolence is not a tactic. It is a way of life. Jesus commanded his followers to “love your enemies.” That is nonviolence in three short words.
Research the Case Against Our Adversary Carefully in Print, Audio and Video
First, decide who is the primary source of anti-homosexual misinformation in your life? Is it a pastor or a priest, a parent or a teacher, a schoolmate or a co-worker, a televangelist or radio counselor? Select one person who is a victim of misinformation (and is using that misinformation to make other victims).
Second, begin to keep a careful record of everything that person says about homosexuality. Write it down. Record it on audio or video tape. Transcribe it. Monitor your subject carefully, consistently on at least 5-10 occasions. Collect a real archive of your subject’s anti-homosexual material.
Third, break down the misinformation you have collected into categories, for example: “Gays are sick.” “Gays are sinful.” “Gays are a threat to the military.” “The Bible condemns homosexuality and homosexuals.” “Gay teachers molest children.”
Fourth, respond to each false charge with the truth. This web page and others (see links) have already assembled the data. Find it. Print it. Educate yourself as you prepare to educate your subject.
Negotiate with your adversary first: amicably, carefully, relentlessly.
First, ask your subject for an opportunity to present your case (the subject’s UNTRUTH and your TRUTHFUL response). Call or write for an appointment. Don’t go public. You are not out to embarrass or coerce your subject. Your goal is to change your subject’s mind and heart and to be reconciled with your subject.
Second, review the Soulforce rules for Nonviolent Negotiation. I have assembled a sampling of those rules below.
Third, follow those rules carefully, always keeping in mind that your ultimate goal is reconciliation not victory.
Help cut off the suffering at its source through NEGOTIATION:
Nine Nonviolent Guidelines to help us persuade our adversary to end the words or actions that lead to suffering.
Before any negotiations begin, I will investigate my opponent’s position carefully, trying to under- stand exactly what my opponent is saying or doing and why my opponent is saying or doing it.
I will confront my opponent’s words and/or actions that lead to suffering on the basis of truth alone (without resorting to half-truth, exaggerations, unsubstantiated claims, or lies of my own.)
I will confront my opponent’s words and/or actions lovingly, without resorting to physical, spiritual, or psychological violence.
I will confront my opponent’s words/actions relentlessly, refusing to give up or to compromise my truth (or any portion of it) unless my opponent proves me wrong. In that case, I will admit my error gratefully, seek my opponent’s forgiveness, and if all is resolved, end the confrontation in peace.
Throughout our negotiations I will work to earn my opponent’s trust and friendship.
I will refuse to break off our negotiations until we have reached a third position that is acceptable to us both.
I will question the ideas that lead to suffering. I will not question the motive or the integrity of the person who holds those ideas.
If my opponent and I cannot reach an acceptable third position, I will ask my opponent to choose with me a neutral, third party, respected by us both to arbitrate our differences.
If my opponent breaks off negotiations, refuses to arbitrate, or maintains negotiations to stall or end our confrontation, I will have no other option but to take direct action against my opponent.
If the First Round of Negotiations does not change the Mind/Heart of your Adversary, begin to educate the Media, our Allies, and the Allies of our Adversary.
First, don’t rush to “go public” until you’ve exhausted all possibilities for quiet, “face-saving” negotiations with your subject.
Second, if your subject refuses to meet with you or refuses to negotiate seriously with you, then you need to begin the process of going public with your case.
Third, gather your friends and potential allies together. Make your case to them. Show them your print archives. Play samples of your subject’s anti-homosexual rhetoric that you have collected on audio or video tape. Once they have seen and heard your subject’s UNTRUTH show them the data you have collected that illustrates and supports the TRUTH.
Fourth, have a letter prepared to your subject asking to see a committee of your friends and allies. Have it signed by people willing to attend such a meeting. Send it.
Fifth, If there is still no satisfactory response from your subject, take your case to a local reporter. Often, a religion writer on your local paper is glad to be involved in “real news.” Confronting the local source of UNTRUTH with TRUTH is “real news.” Make this first round an exclusive. Let one reporter share your plan. Once that reporter has written and published the story then other media will get involved.
Sixth, if your subject is a clergy person, it is very important to ask other clergy to see and hear your case. Ask those clergy to approach the subject for you or with you. Clergy from the subject’s own denomination are particularly important. Laity from the clergy’s own congregation are also a great potential ally.
Seventh, begin to widen your network of allies. Even if those you try to involve hear your case but refuse to participate, you have succeeded. They have heard your case and in the long run will be changed by it.
Recruit and Train Allies for Direct Action.
First, before your gather your allies to plan a direct action, read the Soulforce Rules of Nonviolent Direct Action (below). Become thoroughly familiar with them. If you are this close to taking a Direct Action you need to have read the writings of Gandhi and King for yourself. Nonviolent Direct Actions are dangerous. Talk to someone in your community who has experience, who can show you the ropes. Don’t just launch a direct action without learning everything you can from those who have succeeded and those who have failed.
Second, get an experienced trainer in nonviolence to help you recruit, plan, train, and execute a Soulforce Direct Action (or take training yourself before you lead a direct action.) Read David Halberstam’s The Children or one of Taylor Branch’s books, Parting the Waters or Pillars of Fire as a part of your training. The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s can teach us so much about effective (and ineffective) direct action. Read Gandhi’s Satyagraha in South Africa and watch the Academy Award winning film, GANDHI, as a part of your training regime. Read Dr. King’s collected works in Testament of Hope or his new “autobiography” collected from his own writings. All these resources can be found on this web page under “Books and Videos.” Become an expert before you plan a direct action or recruit your friends to join with you.
Help cut off the cause of suffering at its source through direct action:
Twelve Nonviolent Guidelines for the use of direct action to get negotiations started when our adversary refuses to negotiate or when negotiations break down (Direct Actions include boycott, fast, march, strike, civil disobedience, sit-ins, etc.)
The primary goal of any direct action is reconciliation, not victory.
Any direct action must be planned and conducted to win the heart and mind of our opponent, not to terrorize, overwhelm, embarrass, shame or force our opponent into submission.
A direct action is taken when we know no other way to end the impasse and to revive the discussion that will lead us to a third position we both can accept;
Although one individual alone may enter into a direct action against an opponent’s untruth, it is always important to consider the greater good that comes by making our case clear to the public.
Sometimes just in the act of recruiting/ training allies, the opponent is moved to reconciliation.
The primary principles of ‘soul force’ (truth, love, self-suffering) must guide our relationships with our friends and allies as much as it guides our confrontation with the adversary;
Any direct action(s) we take must be as pure and as loving as the end we seek;
We refuse to participate in any direct action that involves physical violence;
We refuse to participate in any psychological or spiritual violence as well.
We will accept/absorb any suffering that results from our direct action without anger or retaliation;
We will do our best to take on ourselves any suffering that our direct action causes our opponent;
We will not fear (or seek) our own death but if death comes to us out of our quest for justice, we will accept it as a gift from God and know “that death is not the end, but the beginning of life.”
Confront our Adversary with Direct Action to Move Negotiations Forward.
As the Soulforce Rules for Direct Action make clear, be sure your Nonviolent Direct Action is planned and executed carefully to win minds and hearts not to alienate friends and adversaries alike. Nonviolent Direct Actions have one goal and one goal alone: to prove to your subject that you are serious about getting him or her to negotiate with you. Your Direct Action must show that you are loving, sincere, and determined.
For example, if your subject is a clergy person, would it help you to march on his or her church, interrupt a worship service, spill the communion wine, or shout angry charges from the pulpit? No. Of course not. You are trying to win people’s respect, not make them hate or fear you more. When a particularly anti-homosexual clergy refused to see or negotiate with one of our Soulforce volunteers, that young man created a large sign that read, “PASTOR, LET’S STOP THE HATE TOGETHER.” He stood in front of the pastor’s office four days before the pastor’s secretary invited him in. They are currently meeting on a regular basis to find a way to reconcile their differences.
Third, before you conduct a direct action, be sure to call or write your subject to let him or her know the direct action has been planned. That news alone might cause your subject to undertake serious negotiations with you. Be sure the invitation to negotiate isn’t just an excuse your subject is using to delay or destroy your direct action. And if you aren’t sure, give your subject the benefit of the doubt.
But if you are sure it’s just another stalling tactic, take your direct action.
Negotiate a Third Position that will Satisfy you Both.
Remember, it is not what you “win or lose” in the negotiations that matter. We will change the minds and hearts of our adversaries by the relationships we establish in the process of negotiations. During this process, your adversary may be sitting down with a “known” homosexual for the very first time. You are the example of our community. You are the TRUTH responding to your subject’s UNTRUTH. You are the primary case you bring. It is NOT data, facts, or information that will change your subject’s mind and heart. It is knowing you that will make the difference.
And don’t expect to make that difference immediately. It took most of us along time to understand and apply the TRUTH in our own lives. Give your adversary equal time to understand and apply the TRUTH in his or her life.
Then, follow-up. Continue to monitor your subject. If he or she continues the anti-homosexual UNTRUTH start all over again. It will be easier this time. You’ve established a relationship. Take the offending UNTRUTH and your response back to your subject and negotiate again. But if the subject makes a change, any change at all, show your appreciation.
Reconcile with our Adversary and help bring in “The Beloved Community” which is the Ultimate Goal of Soul Force.
Dr. King often explained that it was NOT his goal to “end segregation.” He could end segregation by killing the segregationist. King’s ultimate goal was “to bring in the beloved community.” Dr. King didn’t want to destroy Governor Wallace or Sheriff “Bull” Conner. He wanted, instead, to help create a world where they could live side by side in peace and harmony.
Our job is not to destroy our enemy but to make our enemy a friend.
We are working to create guidelines for various Soulforce Direct Actions. Here’s a sample. (For more help see: Sharp, Gene, The Methods of Nonviolent Action, Horizon Books, Boston, 1973) Gandhi and King on “Civil Rights Marches”*See note.
- A march has a specific, narrowly-focused, clearly-stated goal.
- A march is not an end in itself but one tactic in a total strategy to reach a specific goal.
- A march is only called for after negotiations have broken down with an adversary and then only to compel the adversary back to negotiations.
- A march is costly (in time, money, and energy) to volunteers and the organizations they represent and that cost must be honestly and openly considered before the march is called.
- A march is timed for maximum effect.
- A march must require risk, courage, and stamina for the marcher (to demonstrate the marcher’s total commitment and genuine concern).
- A march is a serious-minded attempt to persuade the adversary that the request is just. A march is not a parade, party, or celebration that may confuse the adversary or even give the adversary more reason to hate or fear the marchers.
- A marcher must be carefully trained in the goal of the march & sign a pledge to maintain standards of behavior & dress during the march that will convince the adversary that the marcher is determined & sincere.
- A march is not called to support a candidate, party, or issue which may divide the marchers, but a specific goal or purpose upon which the marchers are united.
- A march must focus the print and electronic media on the specific, clearly-stated, narrowly-focused goal before, during, and after the march to avoid any confusion as to why the march has been called.
- A march must be directed by carefully trained monitors and before the march all marchers must agree to obey those monitor’s commands.
- A march must not seek to embarrass, coerce or terrorize the adversary, but quietly, calmly, and courageously convince the adversary that the marcher’s goal is just.
- A marcher must understand the principles of nonviolence and pledge to refrain from violence of fist, tongue, or heart during the march.
- A marcher must be a person of faith.
NOTE: Gandhi, a Hindu, was not sectarian in this rule. He defined God as Truth but began each day with personal and group prayer and meditation on the holy writings of all the “great religions.” In 1939, Gandhi asked marchers to sign a pledge that he or she “must have a living faith in God.” Gandhi embraced agnostics and atheists as friends in transition who have abandoned old, inadequate gods and are people of faith on a journey back towards the Spirit of Truth.
Dr. King, a Baptist Christian preacher, marched arm-in-arm with Jews, Catholics, mainline Protestants and other people of faith, agnostics and atheists but in 1963, in Birmingham, for one example, he asked marchers to sign a pledge that they would “meditate daily on the life and teachings of Jesus.” Neither man required sectarian allegiance to any one statement of faith or religious practice, but both men stated clearly that a truly nonviolent march cannot be carried out by marchers without some faith commitment.
*Note: Gandhi and King had little time to systematize the principles of Satyagraha, or “soul force.” I have extrapolated these principles from their essays, diaries, articles about conducting effective marches, and copies of the actual pledges Gandhi and King asked their marchers to sign in South Africa, India, and in the United States. If you are interested in the original data read from The Collected Works of Gandhi (Navijivan Publishing) or King’s collected writings in Testament of Hope (Harper Collins).