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Dr. Veena Lawson Honors Rev. James Lawson at the Conscience Plenary

Dr. Veena Lawson addressed the Conscience Plenary at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.

Good morning. The late Congressman John Lewis offered the highest praise to the Reverend James M.  Lawson when he called him the architect of the nonviolent movement of the United States of America. Reverend James Lawson was a mentor to Senator John Lewis.

I feel honored that Reverend James Lawson counts me in his circle of close friends. In a recent conversation with me, the Reverend James Lawson Jr. reflected on the focus of the 2023 Parliament, a call to conscience defending freedom and human rights. Lawson praised the Parliament for this theme, which calls on people of faith traditions and not no faith traditions to defend precious freedom and human rights. He told me that in the United States, securing freedom and basic human rights required hard work, sacrifice, and defiance from millions of Americans against racist Jim Crow laws and other xenophobic and sexist systems. He reminds people to remain alert of the insidious structures of violence and what he calls racism, sexism, militarism, and plantation capitalism. These systems hold the power to deprive fellow humans of their rights, dignity, and freedom. 

As a civil rights leader, Lawson recalls that in the late 1950s and ‘60s, he held workshops in Nashville, Tennessee, for students from colleges in the surrounding areas. He taught them strategic nonviolence to fight segregation and violence through soul force and love force. The Reverend James Lawson, born in 1928, then a young minister, mobilized college students and some church leaders to test the method of the power of love inspired by Jesus’ love and Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance movement in India.

Lawson’s strategic workshops and role-playing trained and prepared students to confront segregation through sit-ins at lunch counters and other public places in Nashville, Tennessee. Lawson’s nonviolent struggle became an exemplary model for a widespread act of resistance across the U.S. South. He told me that the nonviolent movement of America led to different kinds of liberties for people.

The success of nonviolent mobilization energized people to work on issues relating to what he called prison reform, immigration reform, environmental justice, and solving homelessness. The Reverend James Lawson’s methods and message are timely, and they serve as a call to conscience to defend human rights and freedom.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the Reverend James Lawson, I quote, “a great tactician of nonviolent action in the U.S. South.” In his sermon, Love in Action, Dr. King emphasized the power of Jesus’ love, and he also warned against the forces of injustice and discrimination when he said, “We must continue to see the cross as a magnificent symbol of love conquering hate and light overcoming darkness. But in the midst of this glowing affirmation, let us never forget that our Lord and Master was nailed to the cross because of human blindness.”

Reverend Lawson, now almost 95, is going to celebrate his birthday next month in September. He continues to teach the next generations of activists, leaders through free public workshops, counseling, and his academic classes. He also warns against human blindness that concerned Dr. King, the threat of exploitation and injustice that is rampant around us.

With his deep conviction, Lawson calls on his fellow people to use nonviolent methods strategically to confront violence and unjust economic and social structures that deprive fellow humans of their basic rights and dignity.

Reverend Lawson told me that he really wanted to be at this parliament, but because of a health issue, his doctor advised him not to travel. He is with us in his spirit and will show a short expert from his video, a 2022 video. Thank you so much.

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