Jesus and Nonviolence - chapter three


For the next six weeks,  I'm going to work through Walter Wink's book, "jesus and nonviolence: a third way."  I hope you will join me. 

We have a short chapter this week, dealing with how some apply nonviolent strategies in our modern social realms.  

To begin, Wink uses a 1971 book by Saul Alinsky ("Rules for Radicals") who wrote to organize American workers and minorities, to "juxtapose Jesus' teachings" and give us a "clearer sense of their practicality and pertinence to the struggles of our time."

[Alinsky's rule #...] 4. Make your enemies live up to their own book of rules.

5.  Ridicule is your most potent weapon.

6.  A good tactic is one that your people enjoy.

7.  A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.

The debtor in Jesus' example turned the law against his creditor by obeying it (rule 4) - and throwing in his underwear as well.  The ruthlessness of the creditor is thus used as the momentum by which to expose his rapacity (rule 5), and it is done quickly (rule 7) and in a way that could only regale the debtor's sympathizers (rule 6).  All other such creditors are now put on notice, all other debtos armed with a new sense of possibilities.


Wink tells us that Jesus did not lay out a plan for a sustained movement, but his ministry as a whole is a model of long-term social struggle.  [Note: First,  I think some of us - particularly evangelicals - might have trouble viewing Jesus' ministry in this way as we may have considered his actions only in spiritual terms.  But if we think about it for a while, I believe we can see that Jesus was actively confronting many types of social oppression as well as accomplishing His eternal work.  Second, I know many are made uncomfortable by the idea of direct social action - except, perhaps, in the realm of the pro-life movement - but I hope you will stick with us.  This is only one aspect of our discussion.]

Mark depicts Jesus movements as a blitzkreig.  "Immediately" appears eleven times in chapter one alone.  Jesus' teaching poses an immediate threat to the authorities.  The good he brings is misperceived as evil, his following is overestimated, his militancy is misread as sedition, and his proclamation of the coming Reign of God is mistaken as a manifesto for military revolution.  Disavowing violence, Jesus wades into the hostility of Jerusalem openhanded, setting simple truth against unequalled force.   Terrified by the threat of this man and his followers, the authorities resort to their ultimate deterrent, death, only to discover it impotent and themselves unmasked.  The cross, hideous and macabre, becomes the symbol of liberation. 

Wink reminds us that Jesus' teachings transcend modern social tactics.  And this is the key to nonviolence, in my opinion.

Here it is enough to remark that Jesus did not advocate nonviolence merely as a technique for outwitting the enemy, but as a just means of opposing the enemy in such a way as to hold open the possibility of the enemy's becoming just as well.  Both sides must win.  We are summoned to pray for our enemies' transformation, and to respond to ill-treatment with a love that not only is godly, but also, I am convinced, can only be found in God.

Wink adds this "rule" to Alinsky's list:

Never adopt a strategy that you would not want your opponents to use against you.  I would not object to my opponents using nonviolent direct actions against me, since such a move would require them to be committed to suffer and even die rather than resort to violence against me.  It would mean that they have to honor my humanity, believe that God can transform me, and treat me with dignity and respect. 

I almost feel that I could stop right there and be done, don't you?  This is enough to shape all our future interactions.

Jesus' teachings give power to those who have none.  They give vision to the visionless.

To people dispirited by the enormity of the injustices that crush us and the intractability of those in positions of power, Jesus' words beam hope across the centuries.  We need not be afraid.  We can reassert our human dignity.  We can lay claim to the creative possibilities that are still ours, burlesque the injustice of unfair laws, and force evil out of hiding from behind the facade of legitimacy.  

To risk confronting the Powers with such harlequinesque vulnerability, simultaneously affirming our own humanity and that of those whom we oppose, and daring to draw the sting of evil by absorbing it in our own bodies - such behavior is not likely to attract the faint of heart.  But I am convinced there is a whole host of people simply waiting for the Christian message to challenge them, for once, to a heroism worthy of their lives.



You can find our discussion on chapter two here and chapter one here.


A final note on this chapter:  I am certainly challenged by Wink's writing to reconsider what things I allow to "hide behind the facade of legitimacy."   Many evangelicals of my age thought we could join the Powers and make a difference; we dove head first into politics and tried to legislate our way to justice.  I think we've found though, that power can corrupt and we have to use greater imagination to confront wickedness in our world.  I know there are people called to all kinds of social action in all different arenas.  My own ways are quieter, behind the scenes.  While I am ready to be stretched and challenged to go further still,  I believe home-making is a radical act;  I believe local adoption is a powerful way to stand for life;  I believe we vote with our dollars.  Right from my home, I seek to resist all kinds of evil and hopefully, set a light to shine.  I know many of you do this as well and I hope we can learn to see our whole lives as an opportunity to stand for justice.