Peace and Disarmament

Back to listJun 20, 2009

Peace Activist Rev. James Lawson Speaks at SGI-USA's Culture of Peace Distinguished Speakers Series

090710wt_cultr_peace.jpg Rev. James Lawson

On June 20, 2009, peace activist Rev. James Lawson gave a speech entitled "Striving to Create the Will to Peace" as part of SGI-USA's Culture of Peace Distinguished Speakers Series at the Culture of Peace Resource Center in Santa Monica, California. His talk focused on outlining the means of refocusing America's resources toward contributing to peace, beginning with individual efforts. SGI-USA Vice General Director Ian McIlraith conferred the SGI-USA Justice Award in recognition of his "dedication to peace, justice and the happiness of humanity."

Rev. Lawson told the audience that, especially in light of a shared global history of nonstop conflict since 1945, "billions of ordinary men and women do want peace."

After refusing to be drafted during the Korean War, Rev. Lawson was imprisoned in 1951 and the following year travelled to India to study the nonviolent teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. He led Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles for 25 years before retiring in 1999 and continues to speak out, train other activists in nonviolence and support a number of causes for the sake of peace.

In 1957, Rev. Lawson met Martin Luther King Jr., who urged him to move to the South to teach nonviolence on a large scale. In the early 1960s, he helped organize students in a nonviolent direct action to end segregation at lunch counters in Nashville, Tenn. That effort became a model for further nonviolent efforts in the civil rights movement. During that time, Rev. Lawson co-authored the statement of purpose adopted by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which states in part, "Nonviolence nurtures the atmosphere in which reconciliation and justice become actual possibilities."

Dr. King, in his 1968 watershed "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech, said that Rev. Lawson is "one who has been in this struggle for many years; he's been to jail for struggling; he's been kicked out of Vanderbilt University for this struggle, but he's still going on, fighting for the rights of his people." Just before Dr. King's assassination, he called the Rev. Lawson "the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world."

In his lecture, Rev. Lawson shared that "we hold in our hands and hearts the key to making the will to peace vanquish the powers that dictate and dominate the mind and practice of our nation." In the question-and-answer session following his talk, Rev. Lawson encouraged his listeners to take action in their own spheres of activity, including, but not limited to, writing to leaders in society.

The SGI-USA Culture of Peace Distinguished Speakers Series commenced in 2007, with lecturers focusing on one or more of the eight action areas defined by the 1999 UN Declaration and Program of Action on a Culture of Peace. The series' aim is to foster a culture that rejects violence and addresses the root causes of conflict through the power of dialogue.

[Adapted from an article in the July 10, 2009 issue of the World Tribune, SGI-USA; photo courtesy of Erik Fischer]