Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

The Vision's Relation to Faith

BOND: The vision you have, does it grow out of your religious faith, and if it does, how as a member of Congress are you able to use that vision coming from that faith to persuade others to follow the path that you think ought to be followed?

LEWIS: Well, my vision is -- like my involvement in the movement during the '60s -- is an extension of my religious conviction, of my faith. And I don't have to go around wearing my faith on my sleeve and saying, "I'm this, I believe this and I believe that." But if you believe in the idea of a Beloved Community, of a good society, of a society at peace with itself, where there's justice and fairness, I don't have a problem in saying to those in high places and government, to my colleagues, that this is where we must go. We must end hunger. We must end poverty. We must see that all of our children get the best possible education, that everybody should have health care. It's very much in keeping with the teaching of my faith, so it's not a contradiction.

BOND: No, but I'm sure many of your colleagues would argue they are just as religious as you are, that they believe deeply as you do, yet they believe this and you believe that. How do you balance this contradiction?

LEWIS: Well, I will say to them, "If you believe that, if you're really going to be true to your faith, you've got to sit up and be prepared to vote this way." And I'll whip people from time to time and I say, "How can you believe that? How can you believe? How can you believe in capital punishment? How can you believe in putting someone to death? How can you believe in supporting and voting for another piece of legislation that calls for the death penalty? How can you do that when you say you believe in the dignity of all human beings?" And I say, "We don't have a right -- we haven't been called to sit in judgment on another human being. That should be left for the Almighty and not for us." But you -- if you believe in something, then you have to show some sign. You have to continue to preach it and be an advocate for it.

BOND: What if I say I believe in the Almighty and I believe His word, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. That says to me that if you take a life, I'm going to take yours.

LEWIS: Then I say, well, that was another period and then there was a later period when the Great Teacher said, "Love. The way is love." You have the Old Testament and you have the New Testament and in the New Testament, you talk about love. Love your enemy. It is better to love than to hate. You want to create a society of peace with itself. You don't want to kill people. You don't want to be involved in conflict, in wars. You don't want to spread more violence.

BOND: But, again, there're people who would argue and say there're times when you have to meet violence with violence. Germany attacks its neighbors, threatens to attack us, so we've got to attack them. Osama bin Laden bombs New York City and Washington. We've got to answer in kind.

LEWIS: There comes a time when we must agree not just with the teaching of the Great Teacher, call him Jesus, call him the Spirit of History, or call him what you may, but you also must agree with Gandhi that it's non-violence or non-existence. And then Martin Luther King, Jr., put it another way -- "We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will perish as fools." Some place along the way as people of faith and as elected officials or politicians, we have to have the courage to say that we're going to lay down the tools and instruments of war and violence instead of war no more. And is it possible? Is it possible? We have to raise that question. In the theological sense, in a philosophical or political sense, can humankind emerge to a level where we say, "No more violence"?