Gospel nonviolence in action: Case studies from USA and India

Montgomery Bus Boycott mural. Image by Damian Entwistle, Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC

Montgomery Bus Boycott mural. Image by Damian Entwistle, Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC

What does Gospel nonviolence look like in action? The Fellowship of Reconciliation held a joint conference with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship looking at this, and included a talk from the Revd David Mumford. Over a series of 14 blogs, some short and some longer, he outlines the different themes and topics covered in his presentation. 

Individual witness to nonviolence can be a profound and inspiring example, but when other people are involved, this can make actions effective ways to change policies and structures. Consider the Montgomery bus boycott. In 1955 in Alabama, buses had segregated seating. At different times, black people had tried to sit in the seats reserved for whites, but these individual acts of defiance had not had a wider impact. But when Rosa Parks refused to give up her whites only seat, it was after long and careful planning and training. That meant that those protesting in her wake knew what to do and had planned and thought through their responses to particular situations, including violence on the part of the state authorities. The boycott lasted a year and those taking part committed themselves to nonviolence. It was a major step in the campaign for racial justice in the USA.

Halfway across the world, Gandhi and Abdul Ghaffar Khan had already shown what large scale nonviolent action could achieve in the campaign for Indian independence. The Shanti Sena, a disciplined and trained nonviolent cadre in the Gandhian tradition, continued to operate after independence and were particularly important in defusing intercommunal riots between Hindus and Muslims. In Ahmedebad in 1969, there were four months of intensive reconciling work done by the Shanti Sena between the opposing groups. Nonviolence holds out a much better chance of post conflict reconciliation. Moreover, there is a striking overlap between best practice in civil policing and the use of nonviolence in responding to situations of civil conflict.