Another bombing. Another mass shooting. And what do we Christians have to offer that is any different?
One of the common responses to my observation that Jesus calls us to non-violence, is the assumption that I am asking people not to defend themselves or their loved ones from attack.
Interesting isn't it, that the only two options we have the imagination for are violence or passivity?
Killer or doormat? Are those really the ONLY two options you can come up with?
People say, "Should nothing have been done to stop Hitler?" or "How can you stand by and do nothing while ISIS beheads innocent people?"
Think about it, if we remove killing our enemies as an option, are we truly only left with sitting by passively twiddling our thumbs and doing nothing? What a pathetic lack of imagination we have as human beings!
Look at how many billions of dollars are spent worldwide on military equipment and war.
Destruction that ultimately backfires in the worst way possible. For we cannot get rid of our enemies through violence — violence only multiplies our enemies.
Imagine if those billions were spent on positive actions. On creative interventions.
As Brian Zahnd says, "Jesus abhors both passivity and violence as responses to evil."
If only we poured as much effort and money and thought-power into creative non-violent responses as we do into weaponry and war, we might actually begin to see some beautiful, transformative, loving breakthroughs in this broken down violent world.
I'd love to see the New York Times bestseller list filled, not with tales of war glory, but instead with books like Walter Wink's classic Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way, a book which tells the tales of nonviolent change from South America and Europe, to India and Africa.
A few examples....
It can be hard to imagine that there are alternatives to war, when that's all you hear about. Walter Breuggeman says the role of the prophets is to awaken the imagination to the idea that a different way is possible. So, have a read, and allow this brief list of non-violent actions against injustice to awaken your imagination (source):
- American colonists mounted three major nonviolent resistance campaigns against British rule (against the Stamp Acts of 1765, the Townsend Acts of 1767, and the Coercive Acts of 1774) resulting in de facto independence for nine colonies by 1775.
- The February 1917 Russian Revolution was also predominantly nonviolent and led to the collapse of the czarist system.
- Despite severe repression, Germans resisted the French and Belgian occupation of the Ruhr, making the occupation so costly politically and economically that the French and Belgian forces finally withdrew. (1923)
- The Indian independence movement led by Gandhi is one of the best known examples of nonviolent struggle. (1920s-1947)
- Throughout World War II, there were a series of small and usually isolated groups that used nonviolent techniques against the Nazis successfully. These groups include the White Rose and the Rosenstrasse Resistance.
- During World War II, after the invasion of the Wehrmacht, the Danish government adopted a policy of official cooperation (and unofficial obstruction) which they called "negotiation under protest." Embraced by many Danes, the unofficial resistance included slow production, emphatic celebration of Danish culture and history, and bureaucratic quagmires.
- Other nonviolent actions were used to save Jews from the Holocaust in Berlin, Bulgaria, Denmark, Le Chambon, France and elsewhere.
- Two Central American dictators, Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez (El Salvador) and Jorge Ubico (Guatemala), were ousted as a result of nonviolent civilian insurrections. (1944)
- In America, using a variety of nonviolent methods, including bus boycotts, economic boycotts, massive demonstrations, marches, sit-ins, and freedom rides, the U.S. civil rights movement won passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
- The Philippines "People Power" movement brought down the oppressive Marcos dictatorship in 1986.
- The nonviolent struggles to end the Communist dictatorships in Czechoslovakia in 1989 and in East Germany, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in 1991.
- Nonviolent struggles led to the end of the Communist dictatorships in Czechoslovakia in 1989 and in East Germany, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in 1991.
- The nonviolent protests and mass resistance against the Apartheid policies in South Africa, including a massive international divestment movement, especially between 1950 and 1990, brought Apartheid down in 1990. Nelson Mandela, African National Congress leader, was elected President of South Africa in 1994 after spending 27 years in prisonfor his role.
- The nonviolent “People Power Two” campaign, ousted Filipino President Estrada in early 2001.
- The Ukranian people took back their democracy with the nonviolent Orange revolution in 2005.
So what? - violence is faster and more effective.
Like most of us, political scientist Erica Chenoweth, was taught to assume that the most effective tool for achieving political goals is violence. So, Chenoweth and her colleague Maria Stephan painstakingly collected data on the success or failure of 323 violent and nonviolent interventions since 1900. The results were fascinating.
To qualify for their study, the movement had to be a decent size - at least 1000 people involved. The action would be counted successful only if their goal had been achieved within one year of the peak of the event.
When Chenoweth and her colleagues started out, they were fairly certain that the violent political campaigns would be more likely to accomplish their goals.
But they were wrong.
The startling results are depicted in this graph.
As you can see, nonviolent campaigns had a 53% success rate (20% rate of complete failure). Things are reversed for violent campaigns, which were only successful 23% of the time, and complete failures about 60% of the time.
To read more about why the researchers found nonviolent campaigns more successful and their results longer lasting (including the fact that they are more likely to involve women and children) have a look at this write-up.
Every Christmas we celebrate the arrival of the Prince of Peace, the one we call our Lord - Jesus Christ. But sadly we fail to follow the Prince of Peace in his alternative way of nonviolence, peacemaking and enemy-love. I personally, struggle with the violence in my own heart.
But I am convinced that there is more in our toolbox than just violence or passivity, especially as followers of the creative, creator God. Jesus calls us to a strong, loving, creative, nonviolent Third Way.
As we grieve yet another bombing, yet another mass shooting, let us remember the words of Jesus:
"Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God." Mt 5:9