By Sydney Melson
The Birmingham Times
The Rev. Dr. Michael Wesley Sr., Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, Southwest Birmingham, pastor there for 35 years, urged everyone to keep Dr. Martin Luther King’s lessons of nonviolence and healing in mind “so we don’t teeter toward a pattern of violence and retaliatory behavior.”
“There are many people on both sides who want to take up arms, but that must be avoided at all costs,” he said. “I think there has to be a continued call for not just Black people but all people to stand up against the inhumane treatment of people, period. When Black people only are protesting, that’s what’s expected. But when the young, the old, politicians, athletes, musicians, people from all genres speak with one voice, then the [violence] stops. It’s a message of unity.”
Wesley said congregations with people from all backgrounds and all walks of life should speak up.
“We have to involve white pastors; they need to speak to their congregations. If the white church had spoken against [racial injustice] years ago, it would not have had a chance, but they were silent,” he said. “King’s message [of nonviolence] is a Christian view. It’s the way Jesus wants us to live.”
Wesley believes King’s message of nonviolence applies today.
“Jesus said if you live by the sword, you’ll die by the sword. If you live a violent life, you’re going to suffer,” he said. “[Jesus] tells us that if someone hits us on the left cheek, we should turn the other cheek. We should not be retaliatory. … We don’t have to like it, but we don’t have to respond with an eye for an eye. We’re living under grace, so we should respond with graciousness.”
Last week’s riot in Washington, D.C., according to Wesley, was an “affront to democracy,” and it shows a double standard that people of color are so used to seeing.
“If that had been a group of African Americans and Black Lives Matter protesters, they might still be pulling bodies out of the Capitol. The police would have turned with all vengeance on those persons, but yet they opened the gates and seemed to even be friendly with [the pro-Trump protesters],” he said.
Wesley added that the riot occurred due to a lack of solid leadership.
“That’s why we can value someone like King, … a dynamic leader who had the insight and foresight to see the potential of violent behaviors and ward those off,” he said. “He understood that if African Americans resorted to violent responses, they would be exterminated.”
Wesley said the fight against racial injustice should be done nonviolently—“The right way,” he added.
“We saw protests break into rioting and looting and other criminal activity [in 2020]. We need to avoid that because it would be a caricature expectation, and there will be some people who will exploit that. When people on the front lines are peacefully protesting for the rightfulness of the matter, that is necessary and should continue. It should be a diverse front, [though], not just a single element of society such as African Americans,” Wesley said.
Click one of the links below to read what other pastors had to say.