In his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” King was contrasting “unarmed truth” with military violence. But I wish to apply it to speech.
Scripture calls us to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). I believe this means speaking the truth not only with loving intent, but also in loving, kind, and gentle ways. There is a current trend to speak the truth in harsh, even mocking ways. It is truth armed with verbal violence. For me, “unarmed truth” includes speaking the truth in nonviolent ways.
Whether it is because of my cultural upbringing or my experiences, I prefer gentler, kinder approaches, if possible, to bring change. I always feel that harsh words or tactics, even when in the service of good, not only can fail to bring the desired change but also cause further division. It is always easier to persuade friends than enemies. People tend to remember how you made them feel more than what you actually said. Therefore, even if what I say is correct, if I speak the truth harshly people are more likely to remember the hurt they felt than the truth of my position, and they’ll be more likely to reject my position than embrace it.
There is a current trend to call people out when they do wrong. Though groups of all political and cultural stripes do this, I’ll use anti-racist activism as an example. Some people these days are too quick to label someone a racist for certain public words, opinions, or actions without knowing the person. But what if we sought first to gently educate that person instead of condemning them? Unless their further actions prove ill intent, what if we gave them the benefit of the doubt rather than assuming the worst?
This is not about what some will call privileging the “oppressor” over the “victim.” This is about the fruit of the Spirit, which include gentleness. This is about Christian behavior.
This does not mean passivity or submissive compliance to injustice or evil. King advocated and practiced nonviolent resistance in pursuit of racial justice. “Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral,” King said. “... Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love” (“The Quest for Peace and Justice,” Nobel Lecture, 1964).
I believe Christians should seek nonviolent ways, including nonviolent words, in pursuit of not only racial justice but also other causes.
It is true that Micah 6:8 calls us to “act justly” (or, in some translations, to “do justice”). But in the same breath it also calls us to “love mercy.” The Hebrew word translated as “mercy” is hesed. It has a wide range of meanings, including mercy, love, kindness, and even compassion. The King James Version of the Bible is fond of using “lovingkindness” for hesed.
God tells us to love mercy while acting justly. These are not two separate, exclusive items. Even as we fight for justice, we need to hold on to kindness and compassion. Unarmed truth and unconditional love, as King put it, belong together.
About the Author
Shiao Chong is editor-in-chief of The Banner. He attends Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Toronto, Ont.
Shiao Chong es el redactor jefe de The Banner. El asiste a Iglesia Comunidad Cristiana Reformada en Toronto, Ont.
시아오 총은 더 배너 (The Banner)의 편집장이다. 온타리오 주 토론토의 펠로우쉽 CRC에 출석한다.