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Asking the Clergy: How does your faith view nonviolent protest?

From left, Rabbi Gadi Capela of Congregation Tifereth

From left, Rabbi Gadi Capela of Congregation Tifereth Israel, the Rev. Monte Malik Chandler of Assembly of Prayer Baptist Church and Abhay Kothari of Jain Center of America, Elmhurst, Queens. Credit: Gadi Capela; Sabrina Thompson; Jain Center of America

"Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon … that cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it," the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his 1963 speech at The New School in Manhattan. This week’s religious leaders discuss how their faiths view the philosophy of nonviolence espoused by, among others, Mohandas Gandhi and King, the civil rights leader who is celebrated on Jan. 18.

The Rev. Monte Malik Chandler

Senior pastor, Assembly of Prayer Baptist Church, Roslyn Heights

MLK strenuously urged nonviolent approaches to bring about systemic change and social justice — Martin had a dream. However, this position came with a scathing critique and in some cases a hostile rebuke. We believed that history would prove Martin correct instead of casting him as a hopeful optimist.

Some progress has been forged, but you have to be willfully blind not to see the reality that innocent Black people continue to die at the hands of police officers with impunity, Black school districts are gravely underfunded, Black men and women continue to be incarcerated at alarming rates, and access to capital is terribly scarce for Black entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, the grandchildren of Jim Crow are plotting to overturn the election with Bibles and guns in hand.

If Martin were here today, I would respectfully ask: Did Christ march around the temple when he learned of the ruthless and capitalistic exploitation of the poor and disenfranchised?

Christ demonstrated, at least to me, that nonviolent protest has limitations. Christ didn't ask the money changers to leave; he drove them from the temple and turned over their tables. We need more than nonviolent protest; we need action. We need viable affirmative action plans to bring about racial justice and equity in society. Love has a plethora of languages, but somehow the efficacy of nonviolent protest has been lost in translation.

Rabbi Gadi Capela

Congregation Tifereth Israel, Greenport

"Justice, justice shall you pursue" (Deuteronomy 16:20) is a cardinal precept in Scripture, highlighting the imperative to protest any injustice or transgression. Abraham, the first Jew, protests against what he perceives as God’s injustice in wiping out Sodom, the righteous along with the wicked, and says, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" (Genesis 18:25)

The Talmud teaches us that whoever can protest to his household if they see any transgression, and does not, is accountable for the sins of his household. The Talmud passage concludes, "…if he could protest to the whole world and does not, he is accountable for the whole world. (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 54b).

While it is clear that Jewish sources support protest, it is equally clear that any civil disobedience must be nonviolent. When Moses sees one Jew striking another in Egypt, he refers to him as: "Evil one, why do you hit your fellow!" (Exodus 1:13). According to the rabbinical scholar Maimonides, whoever hits his fellow Jew commits a grave sin. (Chovel uMazik 5:1) The wisdom of our forebears encourages us to argue and debate when attempting to resolve disagreements, yet draws clear lines that we must not transgress.

Abhay Kothari of New Hyde Park

Religious coordinator, Jain Center of America, Elmhurst, Queens

Nonviolence, or ahimsa, has always been a guiding principle of Jainism. For Jains, ahimsa is the most essential duty. It is indispensable for liberation from the cycle of reincarnation, the ultimate goal of Jainism.

According to Jainism, every act by which a person directly or indirectly supports killing or injury is violence, which creates harmful karma. The aim of ahimsa is to prevent the accumulation of such karma. You should exercise your right to disagree but in a very calm manner, such as writing letters.

I am all for nonviolent protest as long as it is done in a very silent way, such as fasting, and doesn’t hurt anybody physically or mentally. We Jains must always conduct ourselves according to our religion, which sees the whole universe as a great cosmic mechanism. Humans, as part of that mechanism, must conduct ourselves in harmony and rhythm with it. Anything said or done in this world is echoed back with the same intensity. One could even say that the global ecological crisis that is threatening the entire human race is the consequence of an echoing back of our own negative thoughts, words and actions.

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