Red Letter Christians hosted a live virtual training, “Spiritual Formation & Nonviolent Organizing,” with Vonnetta L. West on November 16. The forum sought to “explore nonviolence as a spiritual discipline and provide key insights on how the application of nonviolent principles both affects our daily lives and effectuates social change.”

Shane Claiborne, co-founder of Red Letter Christians, introduced the senior nonviolence trainer at the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia, against the backdrop of ongoing national and global conflict. Afterward, Claiborne shared the words of other notable peace activists, including Nelson Mandela, which set the tone for the forum.

Attendees gathered from around the country to explore nonviolence as a spiritual discipline as embodied by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His words, work and witness were woven throughout West’s presentation.

West began by sharing the personal impact of King’s words, namely the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” written on April 16, 1963. In eleventh grade, her public speaking teacher had given her a copy of the letter. West told participants that this is how she “came to nonviolence.” With the same hope, she encouraged participants to read his speeches, prayers and books.

West then offered the central belief that the work of nonviolence begins internally. During her presentation, titled “Inside-Out Nonviolence,” West defined inside-out violence as “a principled way of life and commitment to humane engagement, driven by, cultivated with and demonstrated for the purpose of inner transformation yielding outer excellence and influence on culture, inclusive of relationships, policies and systems.”

Rooted in King’s school of nonviolence, West shared stories about the civil rights movement and the force behind it. “They were working for something higher than themselves, and they had to be disciplined to get there. They had soul force,” West said. “I pray that we have soul force.” 

Present and future practitioners of nonviolence were taught the foundation and facets of nonviolence as well as the core values of inside-out violence and the necessary course of action. The internal and external outcomes were reflected in the charge that attendees strategize to “develop ways to ruin hurtful ideas instead of ruining people” as the goal of nonviolence is reconciliation.

West said that one must spiritually prepare for protest and must condition themselves to practice nonviolence. This, she argues, is a part of spiritual formation.

“I cannot drive out war with war,” West said. “Nonviolence becomes who we are, who we are everywhere.”

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