The Original 17 Step Journey: Step 15

With the Rev. Dr. Mel White
"Take The Soulforce Vows…"

A Quote from Jerry Falwell’s National Liberty Journal, April 1999
"If this country officially embraces same sex marriage, the future of our country is doomed. No civilization has officially embraced homosexuality, or same sex marriage, without self destructing. Granting a marriage license to those of the same sex is the country’s stamp of approval on an aberrant, perverted, and broken sexual lifestyle. The future of our children is at stake."

A Quote from Pat Robertson on his 700 Club, April 1999
After a statement by the courageous Rev. Gregory Dell affirming same-sex marriage Pat Robertson says (laughing) "Why don’t they do services and ceremonies for rapists and child molesters and everything, you know."

A Letter Announcing Gary Bauer’s candidacy for President, April 1999
"It is important to mobilize a vast army of 15,000,000 pro-family voters to…strengthen the traditional marriage-based family…which is under tremendous assault by the organized Gay Rights Lobby…"

Fund-raising letter from Concerned Women for America, April 1999
(Directed by Beverly LaHaye, this is the largest woman’s organization in America ) "Our CWA Covenant…to prevent the brainwashing of children through pro-homosexual propaganda in the classroom…to resist every effort to legalize same-sex marriage and to force acceptance of homosexuality…"

Fund-raising letter from Alliance Defense Fund, April 1999
(Dobson, Kennedy, Wildmon, Bright and other fundamentalist giants are uniting their resources to create a massive army of lawyers and legal aides) "…to defend the traditional values, religious freedom, and the sanctity of life against attacks by homosexual activists…working to obtain custody of children and the legal right to ‘marry.’"

Fund-raising letter from Jerry Falwell, April 1999
"Homosexuals have set out on a course to destroy the meaning of family in America. Their goal is to re-write the definition of what we hold sacred and dear to include same-sex debauchery."


Is this endless avalanche of toxic rhetoric dangerous or not? Should we allow it to continue without any kind of protest or confrontation? Should we limit our actions to the Congress and the Courts or should we also take our TRUTH to the primary sources of this tragic flood of misinformation?

By now, my bias is clear. I say it’s time to take Direct Action to confront the Untruth with Truth. And Jerry Falwell is as good a place to start as any.

So, what can we do to take our cause "to the streets" powerfully, effectively, nonviolently?

We don’t have "white’s only" drinking fountains, public restrooms, bus terminals and department store food counters to integrate. We don’t have laws we can break or taboos we can ignore. (Try breaking an anti-sodomy law effectively or an anti-same-gender-marriage law or an anti-gay-adoption law or…)

We suffer great injustice,
but the injustice we suffer is far more subtle in its oppression.

Try getting a license to teach in some places… try adopting or even retaining custody of your own child… try renting an apartment with your lover… try filing a joint tax return…try buying a home with your partner…try getting a marriage license…try getting ordained…try running for public office…try serving your country in the military…try putting a rainbow sticker on your car or truck in rural areas (and some cities) across the nation without getting your windshield smashed (or worse).

So, how do we take our stand against the injustice? How do we demonstrate the moral authority of our cause? What kind of Soulforce Direct Action(s) can we take that have the potential to change the minds and hearts of this nation?

Please read Parting the Waters, by Taylor Branch or The Children by David Halberstam or Walking with the Wind by John Lewis Please watch the PBS series Eyes on the Prize. The history of the Civil Rights Movement in America teaches us at least one unforgettable lesson.

Presidents Kennedy and Johnson didn’t have the courage to introduce Civil Rights legislation until they saw people suffer and die.

The Congress didn’t have the courage to pass Civil Rights legislation until their constituents saw people suffer and die.

The people of this nation didn’t have the courage to support Civil Rights legislation until they saw people suffer and die.

I’m convinced that we will not win this struggle for justice until we, too, are willing to suffer and even to die.

I don’t seek suffering for myself. That would be pathological. I seek justice. But the more I read of Gandhi and King (of Bonhoeffer, Romero, and Chavez, of the church women and priests slaughtered in El Salvador, of the Jewish prophets and Jesus) the more I am convinced that being willing to suffer and even to die for justice is a Soulforce requisite.

Gandhi said, "Take one step towards your adversary and the rest of your steps will follow." In my heart, I am convinced ("obsessed"?) with the idea that taking a stand against the UNTRUTH of Jerry and the others will be that first step. How Jerry and the others respond will determine the steps that follow.

I’m hoping that TOGETHER we will discover what the first step should be. In File #16 (our next and last file) I will present the list of your ideas. Please, if you want to be on that list, send your ideas for a powerful Direct Action today!

When Bearing Witness and I took our stand in Virginia Beach against the rhetoric of Pat Robertson we had no idea where it would lead. The next thing we knew, I was in jail and the Bearing Witness volunteers were telling their TRUTH to the nation through candlelight vigils, daily Reconciliation protests in front of Pat’s CBN headquarters, interviews with the media and a hundred other little surprises. Pat seemed unmoved by it all. But hearts and minds were changed and we received 15,000 letters to prove it.


This is the next to last Step on our Journey into Soulforce. Whether or not you are joining us in taking Truth to Lynchburg, I hope you will join me in a commitment to nonviolence. Today’s assignment is simple. Using the sample Soulforce Vows below, would you create your own "Vows" and post them on your mirror and in your hearts forever? Whatever we do, we cannot do it without first pledging ourselves to nonviolence.

I first learned about taking vows of nonviolence from my friend, John Dear, a Jesuit priest, a peace activist, and the Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. In the Introduction to his first book, Disarming the Heart, (1) John tells this story from his own journey into soulforce.

"On a hot summer day, August 17, 1984, three friends and I climbed a hill in rural Pennsylvania, sat down in a shady place in the middle of four giant pine trees, offered prayers to the God of nonviolence, then each professed a solemn vow of nonviolence. We had prepared for this profession for nearly two years. We were excited as we began our celebration with songs to the God of peace…"

You can find the Vow to Nonviolence that John wrote for Pax Christi USA in his powerful little book, Disarming the Heart. John Dear has proven his commitment to nonviolence as he and his community including Daniel and Philip Berrigan worked with the poor and homeless, marched and protested against violence and injustice, and prayed and fasted for peace.

Often, John and his colleagues risked arrest, imprisonment, suffering and even death. His book, Peace Behind Bars: A Peacemaking Priest’s Journal from Jail (2) is the deeply moving account of John’s eight months in county jails in North Carolina.

Why Take A Vow?
As we all know from our own life experience, there is a rather large difference between a CREDO ("…any belief or opinion") and a VOW ("…a solemn promise, pledge, or personal commitment…"). A credo is something we believe. A vow is our sacred promise to act.

Gandhi and King helped people to believe in nonviolence but when it came time to act, knowing that a volunteer believed something was not enough. Both men asked marchers to sign a vow to act upon their beliefs during every soul force direct action. Here are actual vows signed by volunteers who marched with Gandhi in 1939 and with Dr. King in 1963.

Vows Taken by Marchers with Gandhi, 1939 (3)

  1. He must have a living faith in God.
  2. He must believe in truth and nonviolence as his creed and, therefore, have faith in the inherent goodness of human nature which he expects to evoke by his truth and love expressed through his suffering.
  3. He must be leading a chaste life and be ready and willing for the sake of his cause to give up life and possessions.
  4. He must carry out with a willing heart all the rules of discipline as may be laid down from time to time.
  5. He should carry out the jail rules unless they are especially devised to hurt his self-respect.

Vows Taken by Marchers with Dr. King, 1963 (4)

  1. Meditate daily on the life and teachings of Jesus.
  2. Remember that the nonviolent movement seeks justice and reconciliation – not victory.
  3. Walk and talk in the manner of love; for God is love.
  4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men and women might be free.
  5. Sacrifice personal wishes that all might be free.
  6. Observe with friend & foes the ordinary rules of courtesy.
  7. Perform regular service for others and for the world.
  8. Refrain from violence of fist, tongue, and heart.
  9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
  10. Follow the directions of the Movement leaders and of the captains on demonstrations.

At the heart of a soul force vow to nonviolence are five basic promises found below. Could you make these promises to your Creator and to yourself? Study them with friends and family. Rewrite them in your words. Design your own Soulforce Vow of Nonviolence, one that reflects your own faith traditions. Then gather friends together to make your vows in front of a fireplace, on a mountain top, or in a service in your synagogue, church, or temple.


Vow to Truth

I promise to seek the truth, to live by the truth, and to confront untruth wherever I find it.

Vow to Love

I promise to reject violence (of the fist, tongue, or heart) and to use only the methods of nonviolence in my search for truth or in my confrontation with untruth.

Vow to voluntary redemptive suffering

I promise to take on myself without complaint any suffering that might result from my confrontation with untruth and to do all in my power to help my adversary avoid all suffering, especially that suffering that may result from our confrontation.

Vow to control passions

I promise to control my appetite for food, sex, intoxicants, entertainment, position, power that my best self might be free to join with my Creator in doing justice (making things fair for all).

Vow to limit possessions

I promise to limit my possessions to those things I really need to survive and to see myself as a trustee over all my other possessions, using them exclusively to help make things fair for those who suffer.

LAST WORDS (ya, right)
Write your own Soulforce Vows
Share them with your Journey Partner.
Sign and post them (in your heart).
Write your letter to Jerry. Send me a copy.
Send me your suggestions for a Soulforce Direct Action
to help change Jerry’s mind and heart.

In File #16 I’ll summarize those ideas and then we can decide TOGETHER where we go from here.
Much love to you all and peace…

(1) Dear, John, Disarming the Heart, Herald Press, Scottdale, Pa. 15683, 1993 (Available from Fellowship of Reconciliation, Nyack, New York).
(2) Dear, John, Peace Behind Bars, Sheed & War, Kansas City, MO, 1995 (Available from FOR, Nyack, NY.)
(3) Dhawan, Gopinath, The Political Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, Navajivan, 1957, pp 182-183.
(4) Young, Andrew, An Easy Burden, Harper Collins, 1997, p. 238.

NEXT: Step 16

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

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