If nonviolence were only a matter of faith, of what we profess, then I believe many more Christians would give assent to being nonviolent; it’s the realities of life that make nonviolence untenable – What about someone harming my family? What about Hitler? What about rampant violence overpowering and destroying the innocent in the world? It might be argued that “violence can only be overcome with just violence – nonviolence is powerless to make any real changes.” Nonviolence seems like we are doing nothing in the face of the atrocities of violence in the world and are we not complicit if we do nothing?
Who said that being nonviolent is doing nothing? In fact being nonviolent in a violent world is a courageous act, revealing the presence of God’s reign in contrast to the violent non-reign of God principalities and powers in the world. It is indeed a fearful act to confront violence with more violence – no matter how just we try to make it sound to be.
I am not sure what kind of Jesus that people see when they advocate violence as a Christian response to violence – but I am sure it is not the Jesus we find in the Gospels. The questions we face today are the same ones that were raised in Jesus’ day: what about someone harming my family? What about Caesar? What about rampant violence overpowering and destroying the innocent in the world? Those issues were as real in Jesus’ day as they are in our day – however, Jesus confronted the non-reign of God with a visible manifestation of God’s presence and reign, yet without resorting to violence. Jesus’ nonviolence demonstrated the presence of God’s reign in essential ways, which makes nonviolence not merely an option for the Christian community, but something that is essential to living out the Gospel of God’s reign in the world.
Glen Stassen and Michael Westmoreland-White in defining nonviolence state that is more than the absence of violence – it is also “the presence of justice, of peaceful and perhaps covenantal community relationships and well-being” (“Defining Violence and Nonviolence,” Teaching Peace: Nonviolence and the Liberal Arts, 21). Rather, than nonviolence being the doing of nothing in the face of violence – it is the doing of justice, the bringing of peace, the restoration of humanity in relationship with God and one another in communities of love and grace; nonviolence is about the work of bringing healing and shalom into a broken world. To continue acting with violence, even in the face of overwhelming violence, is to work against the purposes of God’s reign and God’s mission of making all things whole. Nonviolence is an intentional courageous act in the face of violence to make visible a very different reality of being human and being humane in the world.
We may well say that nonviolence did not work for Jesus because it took him to his death on the cross, in fact, the violence of the powers seemed to declare that violence is more powerful than nonviolence. But the resurrection victory, which left death and violence in the grave, revealed that the power of nonviolence cannot be overcome by the powerlessness of violence (Resurrection is not a violent act) – Jesus on the cross made a spectacle of or exposed the principalities and powers with their use of violence, and made them powerless through the resurrection.
So what does that say for us who are followers of Jesus? It may say that the practice of nonviolence may lead us into situations where violence seems to have the overpowering hand. But also it may say that we who practice nonviolence in the face of violence make the way of Jesus visible in the world as no other way really can. The peaceableness of God’s reign requires more than words of peace, it requires those who bring good news, proclaiming peace by living in ways which demonstrate peace – nonviolence. When we participate in violence we do not make Jesus or the way of Jesus visible in the world, but rather we consort with the principalities and powers in their ongoing pogrom of oppression. In advocating and practicing nonviolence, we act with a different kind of power in the world, a power that cannot be controlled by evil, by violence, a power that makes visible God’s peace creating reign in the world.
In all ways violence is the easy way out, the non-thinking person’s way out of difficult situations. The way of peace and nonviolence requires creativity, requires a willingness to embrace life and the giving of all to all who are destroyed by violence. To rephrase Jesus’ words in John 10 – Violence can only steal, kill and destroy, but Jesus’ nonviolence and Jesus’ way of justice and peace is the only power in the world that creates life that is abundant.
Building always requires more creativity and ingenuity than it does to destroy. Nonviolence builds peace in the world, violence destroys peace and lives. May we as the people of God, as Jesus’ disciples engage in participating with God in creating that which is filled with the newness of peace. Shalom.