For the church to have said that following Jesus meant nonviolence would have made the church into a counter culture. Only occasionally has it been willing to be so since the time of Jesus and his earliest followers.—Marcus Borg
From Violence to Hope
In his work on the Powers, Walter Wink claims that the primary myth of our time is the “Myth of Redemptive Violence,” which promotes the idea that order can be brought out of chaos by force and that evil can only be conquered through domination and violence. This story has been played out around the world for generations, and continues to be played out today.
Sadly, Jesus’ rejection of violence and his embrace of nonviolence, so central to his life and message, have been ignored by many who claim to be Christian. And although it was the political, military, and economic Powers, supported by the religious establishment, that put Jesus to death, much of official Christianity throughout history has supported similar institutions and systems that are based on domination and violence. Walter Wink calls this changing but similarly interlocking network of worldly Powers “the Domination System.” Others call it “Empire.”
Empires, too, function out of the “myth of redemptive violence,” under the illusion that domination and violence can bring order out of chaos and can conquer evil. Furthermore, empires seek to be ultimate and absolute, demanding people’s loyalty and service. Those who resist are seen as enemies and subversives, as Jesus was.
Both Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed to Jesus as the model for their campaigns of active nonviolent resistance. According to Ken Butigan, nonviolent resistance is “a form of embodied social change that actively and persistently challenges violent and unjust conditions, structures, or policies through non-injurious means.” He goes on to say: “Nonviolent resistance is a process for challenging violence, but even more deeply it is an embodied practice that helps to free us from our faith in violence. . . . Nonviolent resistance is a spiritual practice and a way of being at the service of conversion, the transformation of ourselves, our communities and our world.”
Our only hope as a species is for a deep transformation of worldview and values that extends to our institutions and systems—in short, a spiritual renewal that motivates people to join with others to work for peace and to seek justice for all creation. Is such change possible? No one knows, but we can choose to step out in faith. In the words of Walter Wink: “The image of God, so near to extinction under the suffocating terrors of civilization, still holds out the possibility of change. We will never build a utopia on earth—but will we take that one gigantic, necessary step out of the system of power into a system of human values? The whole creation is on tiptoe, waiting.”
Individuals can study basic principles of nonviolence, explore their own beliefs, talk with others, and commit themselves to principles that are in alignment with their conscience. Families can practice nonviolent communication and respect for all people, learn and teach conflict resolution skills, and learn to “extend their compassion to all living things.
What Faith Communities Can Do
Churches and other faith groups can offer presentations or classes on conflict resolution and nonviolence, adopt child safety policies that prevent youth/child abuse, provide sanctuary for immigrants or other victims of discrimination, open their doors to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people, host drug and alcohol recovery programs, work with prison ministries, work with others within their communities to create more just and compassionate social policies, host nonviolence trainings, support and/or participate in nonviolent direct action for social change. Inspire people by showing “A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict,” by PBS.
Nonviolent Direct Action
Nonviolent direct action is an effective and viable form of active democracy. Many may prefer to take a less confrontational role, hoping that social change will come about gradually through education, negotiation, and advocacy, but there is nothing like nonviolent direct action to boost these very necessary activities to a whole new level of effectiveness. Disciplined, creative actions of nonviolent resistance have the potential to reveal the bankruptcy of the current system that dominates the earth, to awaken conscience, kindle hope, and demonstrate freedom and creativity.
Alternatives to Violence Project USA, http://www.avpusa.org/, is an association of community and prison based groups that offer workshops in personal growth and creative conflict management. It was founded and developed from the real life experiences of prisoners and others, and builds on a spiritual base. AVP encourages every person's innate power to positively transform themselves and the world. Its mission is to empower people to lead nonviolent lives through affirmation, respect for all, community building, cooperation, and trust