Rev. Dr. James Lawson, who MLK Jr. called “leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world,” on Satyagraha

On July 20, 2009, Rev. Dr. James Lawson and Dr. John G. Cobb Jr. participated in a panel discussion at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles entitled, “War, Violence and Religion: A Dialogue and Call to Action.”  The conversation was wide-ranging and, often, quite profound, but I was left wanting for discussion about the role of lies and deception in the historical orchestration and ongoing cultivation of wars.


At the end of the event, I was able to ask a question pertaining to this nagging concern of mine.  Both doctors, Lawson and Cobb, answered the question in support of the importance of truth in any dialogue about war and violence.  After the event was over, Reverend Lawson, who Martin Luther King Jr., on the eve of his assassination in Memphis, called “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world,” graciously granted me a rich little interview on the sidewalk outside the church.  We discussed his understanding of Gandhi’s term “Satyagraha,” how it might relate to the 9/11 truth movement and other truth-telling ventures, and the need for speaking plainly in the churches of America.


Though the conversation and Reverend Lawson’s previous answer to my question did not include the facts and historical nature of the events of 9/11/01 or the “Global War on Terror,” it appears that Reverend Lawson is an ally of the truth movement.  It just might be that the answer to September 11th, 2001 is September 11th, 1906.




Jeremy William Rothe-Kushel: Would you describe your own experience with Satyagraha, in terms of where you learned about it?


Reverend James Lawson:  Gandhi can be called the father of “non-violence,” as a science for social change that can create positive effects.  And that could well help the world to move towards justice and peace, if it wanted to.


And he is also the one who introduced- about 1909 it was- that he introduced the term “non-violence.”  So, “non-violence” is a 20th century word, though some authors are saying, you know, that much of the theory and practice of “non-violence” is to be found in the written annals of human history that go way back.


But the term nonviolence is a Gandhian intervention on describing at that time what he was trying to do in South Africa to stop the racist attacks upon the Indian community by the government.


Then after he finished that major campaign, he didn’t like to call what he was doing “non-violence,” so he had a contest in which he asked for suggestions to the Indian community in South Africa- What should we call this?


And from that, he got suggestions for the two words, which he put together to form “satyagraha;” Satya, meaning “truth, but Gandhi also made the term “God” synonymous, and “love” synonymous, and “spirit” synonymous.  He might have also gone so far as to say that “faith” is synonymous.  And then, “graha,” meaning tenacity, strength, firmness, force. So, his translation is the one that I love- “soulforce.”


JWR-K: Hmm, beautiful, “soulforce.”


RJL: “Soulforce,” “satyagraha.”


So, in India, he talked about the “Satyagrahi,” meaning the people who practiced, and then the “Satyagraha campaign,” which meant “Soulforce campaign.”


JWR-K: That is beautiful.


There is-- I have a friend in the 9/11 truth movement; he started a group called “Truthaction.” And that was his version of satyagraha. And what they do, is every 11th around the whole world, different groups of people get out there and speak to people.  And it sort of goes with what you’re talking about dogged persistence, right?




RJL: What you’re calling-- what you said tonight in your question was very important.


A lot of preaching and teaching in the United States in the Church is teaching that will not be plain, and straightforward and truthful.  Oftentimes, it is preaching that is done to hide the reality.


There is another tradition in preaching-it was a major force in Black preaching-but that is to speak plainly. And the Quakers put a great deal of emphasis on that- to spell it out like it is.


And I found as a pastor that-- I felt as a pastor that I could not speak in a fashion that would hide the truth, whether it was about the scriptures, or dogma, or about war or racism, or sexism.


So, I tend to be—I try to be a plain spoken…



JWR-K: I can tell.  And I think, you know, that people appreciate you for that.


I think about, you know, the death, the murders of people like Martin Luther King Jr. and how deceptive they were done. And how, decades after, we find out that there were all these types of hidden conspiracies and things like that.  And that part of doing justice is the idea of speaking the truth, even after the fact in many ways.



RJL: And if we cannot get a lot of the truth into the picture, we’re going to deceive ourselves again and again.  And we’re going to lose our chance to really have a creative life.



JWR-K: Thank you sir, so much. I appreciate your words. Thank you.


Video found at:



Postscript: This is the question I had asked earlier during the event to which Reverend Lawson referred.



JWR-K: My question has to do with what I see as a potentially crucial, but missing, element tonight and why it might be missing.  So, I am going to explain it and if I go too long, please stop me.  I heard a lot of talk about justice and peace, and war and injustice, but not until the just last minutes did I hear the word “true” or “truth”.  And I still haven’t heard the word “lies” tonight. 


RJL: Which word?


JWR-K: “Lies.”


RJL: Oh, lies.


Moderator: I just want to ask you to ask your question.


JWR-K: The question is, and we hear compassion, but where is the wisdom, discernment? Every war that we can point to, at least in the last hundred years, was started by some type of staged, deceptive event.


It’s the worst of all worlds. It’s not only murder, but it’s lies about murders.  I’m talking about the Gulf of Tonkin, or the Reichstag Fire or Operation Himmler in Nazi Germany.  So, the question is, does the resonance of the date “9/11” have something really important to say here: 9/11/01-the date of the false-flag operation that was blamed on Muslim people and sent, you know, people into war- a million people have died. And then the date 9/11 of 1906, which was the day that Gandhi initiated the Satyagraha movement.


So, where is the role of truth in terms of justice and peace?


{My video camera ran out of batteries just as John Cobb began his answer by saying that he is a member of the 9/11 truth movement. I have not been able to get ahold of a recording of the event to document the rest of his and Reverend Lawson’s answers.}


video found at: