The Original 17 Step Journey: Step 14

With the Rev. Dr. Mel White
"Soulforce Guidelines for Direct Action"

Jerry Falwell met with us on August 17, 1999, and agreed to "soften" his antigay rhetoric. He even invited 200 of us to a dinner in Lynchburg, Oct. 22-24. We don’t know what will happen that weekend in Lynchburg, but we do know that we will be guided by the Soulforce Principles for Direct Action.

The Soulforce rules for Direct Action follow.
In the meantime, remember those who dared to act on behalf of justice in ages past.

…Queen Esther
A closeted Jew, married to the most powerful man in the world, risks her marriage, her financial security, and her reputation in the court to "come out" to her husband King Ahasuerus to save her people from holocaust.

Esther’s direct action? She broke a law (civil disobedience) that was punishable by death to approach the King in his chambers without an invitation. And in breaking the law (and risking her life) she saved her people.

…Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
(In youth camp we called them "my shack, your shack and a bungalow." Ah, youth.) These three young Jews refused to worship a gold image of King Nebuchadnezzar (the King of Babylon whose armies had occupied Israel). They risked their lives in this act of civil disobedience and were thrown into a fiery furnace for their trouble.

Another young Jew, appointed by King Darius as the second most powerful person in the land, risked his position and his life by refusing to obey a law he found unjust. For his civil disobedience he ended up in the lion’s den.

Religion had become big business. Priests were profiting off the sacrifices of the poor. Instead of doing justice, religious leaders were supporting injustice. (Any of this sound familiar?) Jesus entered the Temple and drove them out. During his lifetime, he disobeyed the authorities, acted against traditions, and broke laws to bring justice to the poor and the oppressed.

Refused to pay the British salt tax, walked 245 miles to the sea, made a handful of salt from the Indian Ocean, sold it for a penny, and in this simple, elegant act of civil disobedience helped bring down the British Empire. (I wonder if he got the idea from the Boston colonists who dumped British tea into the harbor to protest another British tax.)

…Martin Luther King, Jr.
Broke the laws that kept injustice in place and by his acts of civil disobedience (and by their boycotts, marches, strikes, sit-ins, pray-ins, sing-ins, freedom rides, voter registration drives, fasts, and countless other courageous and creative direct actions) ended legal segregation in America.

For the past decade, Jerry Falwell has been a primary source of anti-homosexual misinformation. The nation has heard him demean and demonize sexual minorities through tens of millions of fund-raising letters, thousands of radio and TV broadcasts from Lynchburg and endless guest appearances on Larry King Live, Nightline, Geraldo, and other national news or interview program. We are going to Lynchburg to help Jerry understand the tragic consequences of his anti-homosexual campaign. Our actions will be guided by these Soulforce guidelines.

(From the writings, speeches, diaries, and letters of Gandhi and King.)

  1. The primary goal of any direct action is reconciliation, not victory.
  2. Any direct action must be planned and conducted to win the heart and mind of our opponent, not to terrorize, overwhelm, embarrass, shame or force him into submission.
  3. A direct action is taken when we know no other way to end the impasse and to revive the discussion that will lead us to a third position we both can accept.
  4. Although one individual alone may enter into a direct action against an opponent’s untruth, a greater good comes by making our case clear to the public.
  5. Often just in the act of recruiting/ training allies, the opponent is moved to reconciliation.
  6. The primary principles of ‘soul force’ (truth, love, voluntary redemptive suffering) must guide our relationships with our allies as it guides our confrontation with our adversary.
  7. Any direct action(s) we take must be as pure and as loving as the end we seek.
  8. We refuse to participate in any direct action that involves physical violence.
  9. We refuse to participate in any psychological or spiritual violence as well.
  10. We will accept/absorb any suffering to ourselves that results from our direct action without anger or retaliation.
  11. We will do our best to prevent any suffering to our adversary from our direct action.
  12. We will complete every direct action that we begin. And we will NOT begin a direct action that we can’t or aren’t willing to carry through to its conclusion.
  13. We will not fear (or seek) our own death but if death comes to us out of our quest for justice, we will accept it as a gift from God and know "that death is not the end, but the beginning of life." [Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s last words before being hanged by the Nazis.]

Remember, we are not going to Lynchburg to protest or demonstrate or interrupt. We are going to:

  1. Help Jerry learn the TRUTH about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people.
  2. Help change the minds and hearts of heterosexuals looking on who fear or hate us.
  3. Help change the minds and hearts of our sisters and brothers looking on who live in closets of fear, guilt, and loneliness.
  4. Help change the minds and hearts of angry sisters and brothers who are out of the closet but who have given up their own faith journeys because they associate religion with Falwell and not Gandhi, Chavez, Dorothy Day, King, Bonhoeffer, and Romero.
  5. Help capture the imaginations of the media who are tired of covering parades and rallies in Washington and who might be eager to cover a new kind of Soulforce activism at work in Lynchburg, Virginia, just a few hours drive from D.C.
  6. Help renew and restore our own souls because we’ve finally quit living for ourselves alone and heard our call to join our Creator in the struggle for justice.

For you who are really interested in historic Soulforce Direct Actions, I hope you’ll look up Gene Sharp’s three book set, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, especially Part Two: The Methods of Nonviolent (Direct) Action.* This Harvard Study gives us an amazing list of Nonviolent Direct Actions that have been used in pursuit of Soulforce through the ages. Gandhi and King are the primary sources in our century. But other fascinating examples of nonviolent resistance are included from the Russian Empire (1905), Berlin (1920), Norway (1943), Guatemala (1944), and Czechoslovakia (1968).

I hope by now that you’ve seen the Soulforce "action" videos including Gandhi, Romero, and Eyes on Prize. I suggested them because they are dramatic examples of nonviolent direct action in our century.

Because I am determined that we plan TOGETHER whatever we do in Lynchburg, I will end this file with a few questions for you to ANSWER AND DISCUSS with your Partner.

HERE IS A SMALL LIST OF DIRECT ACTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER IN CONFRONTING YOUR ADVERSARIES THROUGH SOULFORCE:* a. Formal Statements (letters, declarations of support, signed public statements, petitions, etc.)

b. Wider Communications (slogans, symbols, leaflets, pamphlets, press, radio, TV releases)

c. Advance Groups (behind the scene meetings, appointments, phone trees, letter writing)

d. Symbolic Public Acts (prayer, worship, symbols, banners, songs, chants, speeches)

e. Pressure on Individuals (vigils, fasts, phone trees, letter campaigns, networking friends)

f. Processions (marches, parades, rallies, pilgrimages, mock funerals, homage at burial sites)

g. Group Actions (sit-ins, stand-ins, pray-ins, non-violent occupations, non-violent obstructions)

h. Social Interventions (overloading facilities, guerrilla theater, stall-ins, speak-ins, filibusters)

i. Delegations (political, religious, scientific, medical authorities to present our case on our behalf)

j. Non-cooperation (boycotts, civil disobedience, arrests, refusing bail, trials, prison time)

Love to you all,

*Sharp, Gene, The Methods of Nonviolent Action (from his 3 book series, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, published by Extending Horizons Books, Porter Sargent Publishers, II Beacon St., Boston, MA 02108, 1973. [Available from Fellowship of Reconciliation Press by calling (914) 358-4601 or from]

NEXT: Step 15

Mel White and Gary Nixon, Partners in Soulforce, Inc.
P.O. Box 4467, Laguna Beach, CA. 92652.
Fax: (949) 455-0959