March 1, 2002

James Lawson speaks at Divinity School

James M. Lawson, former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and lifelong nonviolent activist, spoke on nonviolence and the war on terrorism at the Divinity School on Wednesday.

Lawson encouraged students to revive the anti-war movements of their parents' generation.

"Nothing matches the effort of the '50s and '60s," Lawson said. According to Lawson, Martin Luther King Jr., known for his pioneering role in the non-violent struggle for civil rights, was also opposed American involvement in Vietnam.

Lawson also defended the non-violent movement against accusations of appeasement. "Non-violence is not about acquiescence to wrong," Lawson said. "It is about engaging the wrong."

Lawson criticized Americans for seeking a violent solution to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. He noted that the United Kingdom did not bomb Ireland in retaliation for the IRA bombings in London. "Britain did not bomb BelfastÂ…or Boston, where a lot of [the IRA's] money was coming from." Lawson said. "You can bomb the world to pieces, but you cannot bomb the world into peace."

Lawson denounced the current administration for its role in shaping American policy. "Their view of life is as totalitarian as any totalitarian regime of the 20th century," Lawson said. "[They] are convinced that white male domination is a divine act."

Lawson emphasized the importance of the United Nations and the International Tribunal, which he said had been undermined by the United States. "We broke international law with the war on terror. We broke the U.N. Charter," Lawson said. "The U.N. has been stymied by the U.S."

Lawson called upon students to reject the war on terrorism and turn to religion for strength in resisting violence. "The Western ethos is addicted to violence, so the move to non-violence is really a faith posture," Dawson said. "War and violence are always sinful, tragic, and evil. We will either end war or end the human race. The choice is now between non-violence and non-existence."

Lawson also discussed the living wage movement, globalization, and the war on drugs.

Students had mixed reactions to the lecture. "He's a passionate man with the highest intentions," said Alex Gloss, a first-year who attended the lecture, "Yet, I cannot always justify in a macro-cosmic way the realities he presents."

"I had some disagreements with some of his examples; they were a little ambiguous," said Samantha Iyer, a second-year student and a member of Students for Peaceful Justice (SPJ). "Still, I think he's a powerful speaker."

Lawson's lecture was co-sponsored by Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, the Coordinating Council on Minority Issues, SPJ, the Human Rights Program, and the University of Chicago Service Center.