Choosing Compassion, an MLK Jr. Themed Sermon

Thought for Contemplation:

“Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence, but also internal violence of spirit.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sermon Title: “Choosing Compassion” 

by Rev. “Twinkle” Marie Porter-Manning   

to be delivered January 2021

Unless otherwise noted, quotes are from MLK’s Six Principles and Six Steps of Nonviolence (King Institute Online) .

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr Day this sermon presents themes of nonviolence and compassion.

Rev. King was a man of eloquent words, 

esteemable actions, and immutable faith. 

He was a visionary, yes, 

yet still in many ways a man of his time. 

His words, while prophetic, 

reflected his place in that time, 

and, pointedly, the personification of his faith. 

The content and constructs 

  • some of which – can be jarring –

when not diluted or altered 

to more palatable tones and textures 

to soften the patriarchy, and religiosity, 

contained therein.

Something I am hesitant to do 

when quoting someone else’s words

both for implications of appropriation, 

as well as elements of disrespect 

and erasure of source.

Yet I feel it vitally important 

to momentarily call attention to 

Rev. King the person

juxtaposed MLK Jr. 

the iconic figure, 

as there is a lesson within the lesson 

of how to approach nonviolence. 

And how to choose compassion.

If scrutinized too closely, 

the immense value of Rev. King’s teachings, 

and his place in history, 

could well be discarded 

in circles uncomfortable with the language of the day, 

or distracted by the roots 

and potential flaws 

from which he drew his belief systems, 

and the seeming contradictions 

between his claimed convictions.  

Yet in the spirit of transparency and acceptance, 

it is ideal, and even a good spiritual practice, 

to acknowledge the source’s background, 

Rev. King’s background, 

to qualify one’s triggers, 

as there are apt to be some. 

In doing so, 

in creating an opening for 

a laudable and legendary source 

to have elements about his person,

 and his personality, 

that may not align with our own belief structures 

to be made known, 

while still lovingly allowing room 

for us to embrace his thoughts and his teachings

may well open our hearts and minds 

to the thoughts and beliefs of others 

for which whom we may not otherwise 

align on all levels with. 

This is an act of compassion, 

and it is the foundation of nonviolence.

Nonviolence, in social and political terms, 

as in nonviolent resistance 

and nonviolent civil disobedience

is the use of peaceful means, 

not force, 

to bring about desired change. 

Nonviolence as a way of life 

carries the use of peaceable means 

into all aspects of our experiences 

and communications. 

Many have come to identify this 

as a compassionate lifestyle. 

One that seeks to reach a fuller, 

deeper understanding of others, 

and of ourselves. 

Nonviolence – what Rev. King is widely know for promoting.

Make no mistake, 

while known for his justice work 

and social activism, 

Rev. King was first and foremost 

a devout Christian minister 

who espoused the belief that 

it was not works, but faith, 

that led to salvation. 

His faith was in the God of the Christian Bible. 

The salvation he sought 

was that which was to be granted 

by God and through God’s son Jesus Christ

by grace, 

for the sins of mankind. 

He was a Bible preacher 

and at one time a gun owner. 

Even after he himself 

gave up his own guns:

He had armed guards (as weapons, if you will) 

Rev. King believed humans were born in sin. 

And lived lives of sin. 

He believed in Christ’s humanity 

  • and in his divinity. 

And he fully believed 

that these beliefs 

were not in paradox to each other. 

He believed we were made in God’s image.

He believed in one true God.

Indeed, he believed in God’s sovereignty.

Yet perhaps most notably, 

and what appears to have been 

the cornerstone of his teachings, 

and where many of us align with Rev. King, 

is that he believed in God’s love. 

That God’s love 

was the most important aspect of God. 

And that this quality,

this Love, 

was the one we were meant to emulate in God’s image.

Rev. King said, 

“God is first and foremost 

an all loving Father, 

and any theology which fails to recognize this, 

in an attempt to maintain the sovereignty of God, 

is betraying everything 

that is best in the Christian tradition.”

Many who honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day 

for the spirit of his messages 

of unity 

and peace 

and nonviolence, 

do not align with the undertones of its origin. 

Many do not hold the same beliefs in God 

or in salvation, 

in sin 

or even in divinity, 

that Rev. King cherished. 

Many may even wonder how 

a man of intelligence, 

a man with such indisputable reasoning skills 

could place any faith beyond this human existence 

  • so foreign are such concepts to many. 

Yet, credence is given to his writings 

and orations. 

Because in-spite of the differences in beliefs, 

common ground can be found 

when we listen for it. 

And, when we are open to it.

Would that we exercise 

this kind of listening 

and acceptance 

to all of those we disagree with in tender things 

that are dear to our hearts. 

Would that we demonstrate curiosity 

and a desire 

to understand each other 

more broadly and more intimately, 

than to cast judgements dismissively, 

which only ever lead to disharmony.

Our Thought for Contemplation today 

are the words of Rev. King:

“Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence, 

but also internal violence of spirit.”

These internal violences of spirit 

begin with small seeds planted 

and carried in our hearts and minds. 

Seeds of opinions, 

of thoughts, 

and of beliefs. 

And of judgements. 

About the world, 

and about people in the world.

In his 1960 keynote address in Atlanta, GA entitled The Philosophy of Nonviolence, Rev. King stated that, 

First and foremost in the philosophy of non-violence 

is the affirmation that 

means must be as pure as the end.” 

Means must be as pure as the end.

In the language of his faith, he noted that, non-violence seeks to achieve moral ends through moral means.” 

He went on to say, 

“A second basic fact in this philosophy 

is the consistent refusal to inflict injury upon another.”

That is to say, 

if we are participants 

in any system or movement 

that proclaims that 

the end justifies the means, 

we are not engaged in nonviolence. 

For the end and the means must be interchangeable, 

not separate from, 

rather united with. 

In nonviolence, 

there is no justification for violent means 

  • for violent preparations, resources and actions.

At the core of nonviolence 

is the tenant to achieve peaceful ends 

through peaceful means.

Here, this refusal to inflict injury upon another

is where our Thought for Contemplation comes in 

as Rev. King spoke of 

both external and internal aspects. 

In large and small, seen and unseen, 

aspects of our lives.

Externally, he said, 

“This means that you don’t use aggressive 

or retaliatory violence.” 

And the internal he said is,

The way you talk.” 

Think and Feel. 

Be it to or about someone, 

in person, 


or in a written communication. 

Rev. King says, “The highest expression of non-injury is love.”

He points out the necessity of distinctions, 

again in the language of his faith

“The non-violent resister separates 

the evil from the evildoer.”

and he says the nonviolent person, 

“seeks to eliminate antagonisms 

rather than antagonists.”

To eliminate antagonisms without harming the antagonists.


The destructive forces waging war against our happiness, 

against equality and freedom.


The systems and structures we seek to transform.

The antagonists.

Distinct from Antagonisms.

The antagonists are the people who believe differently than we do.

The people we disagree with.

Sometimes fundamentally, frustratingly and infuriatingly so. 


they are people, nonetheless.

And people we are called to love.


the highest form of nonviolence.

Rev. King implores us that, 

“There must be no dual code of ethics 

for individual and group conduct.”

We cannot hold “them”: 

the antagonists

the people we disagree with, 

even the people we disagree with 

who themselves

are behaving in not-so-nonviolent ways 

(verbally, physically, energetically violent ways), 

we cannot hold “them” 

to one set of standards, 

while holding the people 

we agree with 

to another.

If we are choosing to be 

from a place of nonviolence, 

we cannot condemn the actions 

of those whose philosophies 

and truths we disagree with 

while at the same time 

seek to excuse the actions 

of those whose philosophies 

and truths we agree with.

There is no justification of violence in nonviolence.

The path of peace is the way of peace.

And the way of peace is that of compassion.

Compassion towards those 

we agree with, 

and also to those we disagree with. 

As Rev King says, 

Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people.” 

“Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.” 

“Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.”

But what if the situation is critical? What if lives and livelihoods are at stake? 

Rev. King had a response to that too. 

He said, “Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation.” 

“The ultimate measure of a man 

is not where he stands in moments 

of convenience and comfort, 

but where he stands at times of 

challenge and controversy.” (Strength to Love, 1963.) 

A Man Is What He Proves To be in A Crisis.” (Sermon Ideas, 1950-1954)

So many times people justify 

acts of violence as somehow 

right or righteous. 

Especially given particularly dire 

or oppressive circumstances. 

When coming from a place of fear 

we can fall prey 

to considering the ends justifying the means. 

This is not to minimize 

real experiences of sorrow, grief, 

and feelings of desperation 

when we hit rock bottom, 

or when we see our greatest fear approaching. 

And, it is not to discount 

the desire to adamantly 

seek to protect those who are experiencing injustices.

Out of vexation and anger 

we can easily default to 

violent thoughts, words and deeds 

that unfortunately, 

for many, 

have become all too normalized.

Violence begets violence.

Violent means never reach Peaceable ends.

They are simply not aligned.

Whether your finger is on the nuclear button 

in the President’s satchel, 

or you are about to press the send button 

on a snarky Facebook post, 

internal violence cultivated

and expressed externally, 

yields more violence.

How can we equip ourselves 

to more readily choose nonviolence?

To choose compassion?

We can cultivate such practices 

from the inside out (and outside in).

First by setting a course for nonviolence.

Instilling in our hearts and minds 

that we want to be 

a peaceable person, 

a Peaceable People.

Gathering into our storehouses 

affirmations in the ways 

that most resonate with us 

– poems, prayers, mottos, credos. 

A mantra affirming:

I am a person of peace.

I will be peace.

I will choose compassion.

All ways and Always.

I will choose compassion.

And we do so 


by what we expose ourselves to. 

The places we source our information 

for ourselves 

and about other people. 

The groups we choose to be part of 

…in-person and online… 

Groups that focus on uplifting 

and beautiful things, 

on what we envision for the world, 

peace and unity.

Rev. King’s vision of 

how to achieve peace

was as simple 

and as complicated 

as this, 

he said: 

“If we are to have peace on earth, 

our loyalties must become 

ecumenical rather than sectional. 

Our loyalties must transcend 

our race, 

our tribe, 

our class, 

and our nation; and this means 

we must develop a world perspective.” (Christmas sermon, Atlanta, Georgia, 1967).


his language was that of a Christian pastor. 


Representing a number of Christian Churches. 

Reconciling formerly divided congregations 

together in unity. 

While that specificity 

may not be embraced by everyone 

outside of Christianity, the sentiment of it can. 

Reconciling divisions.

Transcending our loyalties. 

Beyond race and tribe and class 

and more.

And doing so in ways 

that align with 

that which we’ve declared we want to create. 

And in ways that 

do not impose dual codes of ethics 

or perpetuate unhealthy power dynamics. 

In ways that do not segregate 

or make anyone “separate from.”

Rather than segregating each other 

off to myriad intersections, 

let us gather each other together in love, 

and with compassion. 

And for the highest good of all.

Rev. King offered 6 steps of nonviolence. 

The first three most of us 

have become incredibly skilled at:

Gather Information

Educate Others

Remain Committed

Yes, I can confidently say 

we’ve invested abundant time 

in these first three steps.

Yet the next 2 steps of nonviolence 

can fall by the wayside, and quickly, 

if we have not sured up 

our conviction 

to be a People of Peace. 

The steps are:

Peacefully Negotiate


Take Action Peacefully

These are congruent with each other. 

Reliant upon each other. 

To be applied in grace 

and not with an expiration on them. 

None of the steps of nonviolence 

have an “until” or “unless” after them.

And the final step – the goal of nonviolence – is to:


Too often it does not even make it onto the list. 


is that the goal of peace 

is not meant to be 

with a view of win/lose 

but, rather, 

Universal reconciliation. 

Many are so focused 

on their antagonists being wrong

they forget that they are people. 

People we want to live in peace with. 

A peace we wish 

to achieve 

with nonviolence. 


Why nonviolence?

In the infallible words 

of the fallible Rev. King, 

“We must come to see 

that the end we seek 

is a society at peace with itself, 

a society that can live with its conscience.”(Montgomery, Alabama, March 25, 1965.)

“The purpose of nonviolence 

is the creation of the Beloved Community.”

Fine words. 

Beautiful vision.

If we act with nonviolence, 

if we Choose Compassion, 

our means 

are in alignment 

with our ends. 

And then, 

then peace can truly exist.

– –

Pastoral Benediction:

I invite, request 

and beseech you 

to Choose Compassion.

Actively seek

and strive for peace.

Even amid feelings 

of heavy emotions. 

Rather than react impulsively 

and destructively, 

may you choose 

to be 




Be gentle with yourself.

Be gentle with each other.

Be gentle with your neighbors, 

especially if you disagree with them.

May your actions and words 

demonstrate and promote peace.

Gift each other with peaceableness, 

with compassion, 

and with love.

Be Peace.

Be Compassion.

Be Love.

May it be so. Amen.

Suggested reading to accompany this sermon: Judy Chicago’s Merger Poem