God grant that we wage the struggle with dignity and discipline. May all who suffer oppression in this world reject the self-defeating method of retaliatory violence and choose the method that seeks to redeem.
Martin Luther King, Jr. From "Thou, Dear God": Prayers That Open Hearts and Spirits.
Lewis V. Baldwin is professor of religious studies at Vanderbilt University and an ordained Baptist minister. An expert on black-church traditions, he is author of The Voice of Conscience: The Church in the Mind of Martin Luther King, Jr.; There Is a Balm in Gilead: The Cultural Roots of Martin Luther King, Jr.; and Never to Leave Us Alone: The Prayer Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. He is the editor of "Thou, Dear God": Prayers That Open Hearts and Spirits, the first and only collection of prayers by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Prayer and nonviolence interacted and influenced each other in King's personal life and in the context of the movement he led. In his "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail" (1963), King spoke of "self-purification" as one of the four steps in nonviolent direct action campaigns, the others being the collection of facts to determine if injustice exists, attempts at negotiation, and direct action. Self-purification actually means the practice of the disciplines of prayer, meditation, fasting, and nonviolence. King's prayers in "Thou, Dear God" constitute a vital part of what he understood as the spiritual dimensions of nonviolence. This is most certainly important for social activists who see a connection between spirituality and their quests for social change and social transformation. Socially active individuals and communities of faith can benefit immensely from a sensitive and careful reading of the prayers in "Thou, Dear God."
Photo of Lewis V. Baldwin by Daniel Dubois.