Unlike most of his fellow leaders and followers, King joined the bus boycott committed to a qualified understanding of Christian nonviolence. If his interpretation of it had been rooted mainly in the New Testament, it might have looked, from the outset, more like the Gandhian nonviolence espoused by Bayard Rustin and Glenn Smiley. But King's faith-based nonviolence was anchored in the Hebrew Scriptures and had been tempered by Reinhold Niebuhr's persuasive conception of evil. The young preacher's tentative nonviolent philosophy differed from that of Gandhi and his radical pacifist disciples in that he faced sin squarely, without illusion, like the Hebrew prophets. He grasped that love could not endure without power to defeat the evil that revolts against love--and that this power of justice and righteousness required coercion as well as suasion.
In his mind King was not being inconsistent when to Rustin he defended keeping guns in his house and asserted that his concept of nonviolence might not preclude use of violence in self-defense as a last resort. The gun might be needed still as an instrument of justice, if it was the only way to keep love alive. Largely through Rustin's and Smiley's tutoring (and from others like Lillian Smith and Harris Wofford), King came to reject all use of violence, and he refashioned the love and justice dialectic, replacing armed force with "soul force." Nevertheless, throughout the bus boycott and beyond, his nonviolent philosophy changed inflection depending on his audience. To black mass meetings, for example, he kept the Old Testament stress on the ubiquity of