Saturday, December 06, 2008

Jesus and nonviolence - pt. 1

I began reading Walter Wink's good little book 'Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way.' Already it has been quite eye-opening. I think I have been guilty of believing non-violence to mean "lack of conflict"... and that is not really the way Jesus teaches us to live. As Wink says on p. 4:
Most Christians desire nonviolence, yes; but they are not talking about a non-violent struggle for justice. They mean simply the absence of conflict. They would like the system to change without having to be involved in changing it.

He really sums up the Christian life (IMHO) at the end of chapter 1:
The issue is not, "What must I do in order to secure my salvation?" but rather, "What does God require of me in response to the needs of others?" It is not, "How can I be virtuous?" But "How can I participate in the struggle of the oppressed for a more just world?" Otherwise our nonviolence is premised on self-justifying attempts to establish our own purity in the eyes of God, others, and ourselves, and that is nothing less than a satanic temptation to die with clean hands and a dirty heart.


In chapter 2 he explains how the term for "Do not resist" in Matthew 5:38-41 has been poorly translated in the King James Version of the Bible.
You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, Do not resist an evil-doer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile (Mt. 5:38-41 NRSV).

King James languaged this in such a way that there seemed to be only two ways of dealing with conflict: fight or flight; resist or resist not. But Wink says when properly translating what Jesus was saying, we have a third way. He says there are three general responses to evil: (1) passivity, (2) violent opposition, and (3) the third way of militant non-violence articulated by Jesus.

In the above text, Jesus wasn't promoting passivity - we aren't just to be doormats - but he was saying, "Don't strike back at evil (or, one who has done you evil) in kind." "Do not retaliate against violence with violence." There is another way to respond to evil actions and deeds. Jesus is proposing a response that will create a change of heart in the evil-doer. Wink gives some good examples (you should read the book to find out what they are), and gives a list of Jesus' Third Way ideas on pp.27-8:
  • Seize the moral iniative
  • Find a creative alternative to violence
  • Assert your own humanity and dignity as a person
  • Meet force with ridicule or humor
  • Break the cycle of humiliation
  • Refuse to submit or to accept the inferior position
  • Expose the injustice of the system
  • Take control of the power dynamic
  • Shame the oppressor into repentance
  • Stand your ground
  • Force the Powers to make decisions for which they are not prepared
  • Recognize your own power
  • Be willing to suffer rather than to retaliate
  • Cause the oppressor to see you in a new light
  • Deprive the oppressor of a situation where a show of force is effective
  • Be willing to undergo the penalty for breaking unjust laws
  • Die to fear of the old order and its rules
This is good stuff whether you're dealing with matters of world peace, spousal abuse, or the school bully. It's also crucial to our understanding of what it means to live in the way of Jesus. As the author quotes Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel on p. 36:
Nonviolence is not the final objective. Nonviolence is a lifestyle. The final objective is humanity. It is life.

This has covered chapters 1 & 2.


Bruce said...

Good post.

Gandhi wrote a book years ago titled "For Pacifists" where he makes the clear case for non-violent resistance as opposed to pacifism. Gandhi considered pacifists cowards.

When I try to tell people I believe in non-violent resistance they give me a "deer in the headlights" look. SO it is easier to say I am a pacifist.


Fran Leeman said...

Dan, thanks for this post... good, deep stuff. The value of non-violence for the cause of justice is so much more than the way the discussion gets framed at the popular level, where we usually just ask if violence "is okay or not". A better question for us Christians is whether it's okay or not to do nothing when faced with injustice. Then the question becomes, "What's the best way to do a good thing, to address the issues at hand?"

Patricia said...

Nice to see such a deep list of ways to respond. Coincidentally, I happened to tune into an hour of Jewish music on the local radio station today. At the end, the host talked about the Mumbai tragedy and mentioned fighting the darkness of evil with good deeds. There's a special website where you can post your good deed. I'll include the URL in case you want to investigate (I have not looked closely):

All the best.

dan h. said...

Welcome to my blog! And I know exactly what you mean about it being easier to just say we're pacifists. Thanks for sharing.

Excellent point. Thanks.

Not sure about the Jewish music ;), but thanks for the link.

Keep up the fight, folks!

J. Andrew Camp said...

I heard a sermon based on Walter Wink's book about a year ago. It's great to have a refresher.

dan h. said...

Thanks, Andrew. Hmm... maybe I ought to preach a sermon on it too. Good idea.