A few days ago, I watched a PBS special about the Freedom Riders. The Freedom Riders were a group of people who intentionally boarded public buses in the south to challenge segregation. They knew they were going to encounter resistance, hostility, and violence. Wanting to employ non violent passive resistance, they practiced what they would do and how they would behave before attempting to ride together as a mixed race group.
They had the law on their side. The Supreme Court had ruled against segregation in restaurants and bus terminals in 1960, but the law had never been enforced in the south. The local "law" however, was vehemently racist. In Alabama, the police commissioner allowed a mob to attack the riders and did not respond to emergency calls for 15 minutes. The riders were beaten and no arrests were made. Even local hospitals refused to treat injured riders.
One account was from a woman who was 12 years old. Her father owned a small market, and she had heard him say that the people on the bus were going to get a suprise he and his friends had planned for them. She witnessed people being beaten and the bus set on fire. White racists refused to allow the people off of the bus, while it burned and billowed smoke. Only when they believed the bus was going to explode did the racists move away and the riders came off the bus choking from the smoke. The horrified girl said she picked one victim and brought her water and comforted her and after that just continued to pick people out and give aid as she could. She said the cruelty had made such an impression upon her, that she never forgot how hateful people could be and it changed her forever.
When someone chooses to face up to evil with all the good that is in their soul, it is a powerful witness to God. It took so much courage to board those busses and take beatings without fighting back physically. Literally, the riders placed their lives on the line. When you think of the outrageous violence done upon them just for wanting to ride a bus, it is ludicrous, and on some level it is also becomes ridiculous to the people perpetrating the harm as well. When innocence stands up and says, "You can hate me, beat me, kill me but you are wrong," it is amazing what the result is. The result is conversion. This behavior converts the enemy's heart. It allows him to see the evil he is doing because when innocents offer up themselves and do not attack physically, the only evil there is being done by the enemy. It appeals to the basic good in people. Now, it is true that a hateful person may never see the light, may never be converted. But others who witness this will be converted. It might not happen immediately but when it does happen it will be permanent. No one will ever forget the student who was mowed down in Tiananmen Square in China. No one will ever forget Martin Luther King. No one will ever forget Mahatma Gandhi.
If those in the civil rights movement had taken up arms, and had shot at Ku Klux Klan members, if they had boarded the busses with hand grenades or bombs, etc., our country could have been plunged into a war such as the type that was in Northern Ireland. That was going on for hundreds of years. Violence begets violence. Peace begets peace.
There once was a priest named Philip Benizi, who lived in the 1200's. He was sent to Forli, Italy by the Pope because the town was anti Christian. St.Philip preached to the people of Forli. One young man, Peregrine Laziosi, with a group of other troublemakers, put down St. Philip, and made fun of him, heckled him. St. Philip remained calm. This angered Peregrine, and he slapped St. Philip. St. Philip, told Peregrine he forgave him and literally offered his other cheek for Peregrine to slap as well. After some reflection, Peregrine came to St. Philip and apologized. After further reflection he felt the call of God and became a priest. He attended to the sick, and as a pennance, he did not sit when he could stand. He developed a sore on his leg that got so bad that it was going to be amputated. The night before the operation, he prayed beneath a crucifix for healing, and in the morning the sore was completely gone. Now he is known as St. Peregrine and is the patron saint for those who suffer from cancer.
Following Christ's example to be a living sacrifice inspires conversions. How many people were helped, touched, healed, because St. Philip simply turned the other cheek!!!
I pray for God to show me the way to peace in my heart, in my home, in my community, in my world. I can only do it through His grace. I am not strong enough to do it on my own. However, the power of peace is God's power, working through the frailest and most unlikely of us, and it is the most powerful force on earth.