Jesus and Nonviolence - chapter five, part one

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.

I'm going to break chapter five into three sections because there is so much to get through.  This chapter deals with specific considerations for the Christian.

Part one:

1. Love of Enemies

"Jesus' Third Way bears at its very heart the love of enemies.  This is the hardest word to utter in a context of conflict because it can be so easily misunderstood as spinelessness."

After quoting a powerful passage from Martin Luther King Jr., Wink goes on to say,

" of enemies has, for our time, become the litmus test of authentic Christian faith.   Commitment to justice, liberation, or the overthrow of oppression is not enough, for all too often the means used have brought in their wake new injustices and oppressions.  Love of enemies is the recognition that the enemy, too, is a child of God."

When we categorize people as enemies, call them names, identify them with evil, we deny that they are children of God too and "We conclude that our enemy has drifted beyond the redemptive hand of God."

"I submit that the ultimate religious question today is no longer the Reformation's "How can I find a gracious God?"  It is instead, "How can I find God in my enemy?"  What guilt was for Luther, the enemy has become for us:  the goad that can drive us to God."

Wink admits that loving people who have murdered your family or tortured you, etc. seems impossible.  But, he says, these things have always been and Jesus himself, and many others persecuted through time, have experienced the same, and it is in the midst of this impossibility that we may find ourselves in the miraculous grip of divine forgiveness.

"God's forgiving love can burst like a flare even in the night of our grief and hatred, and free us to love.  It is in just such times as these, when forgiveness seems impossible, that the power of God most mightily manifests itself."

We tend to see our enemies as unchangeable, defined by their wickedness only.  

But, "no one can show others the error that is within them, as Thomas Merton wisely remarked, unless the others are convinced that their critic first sees and loves the good that is within them."

Wink tells a civil rights story from Selma, Alabama when police and activists held a tense standoff after some black students had been beaten by police and refused medical attention.  As the crowd waited in building anger, 

"A young black minister stepped to the microphone and said, "It's time we sang a song."  He opened with the line, "Do you love Martin King?" to which those who knew the song responded, "Certainly, Lord!" "Do you love Martin King?"  "Certainly, Lord!" "Do you love Martin King?" "Certainly, certainly, certainly Lord!" Right through the chain of command of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference he went, the crowd each time echoing, warming to the song, "Certainly, certainly, certainly Lord!"  Without warning he sang out, "Do you love Jim Clark?" - the Sheriff?! "Cer...certainly, Lord" came the stunned, halting reply.  "Do you love Jim Clark?"  "Certainly, Lord" - it was stronger this time.  "Do you love Jim Clark?" Now the point had sunk in, as surely as Amos' in chapters 1 and 2: "Certainly, certainly, certainly, Lord!"

Martin Luther King "enabled his followers to see the white racist also as a victim of the Principalities and Powers..."

"change has occured...when the tide of racial fury was channeled by the willingness of a few people to absorb its impact in their own bodies and to allow it to spread no further."

Wink tells us that sometimes people say that while nonviolence is biblical, it can't be used against people who have not achieved a "minimum moral level."  In other words, it can work against the British in India perhaps, but not the brutal communists (or perhaps Wink would say today, terrorists.)

"On the contrary, [Jesus'] teaching does not presuppose a a threshold of decency, but something of God in everyone.  There is no one, and surely no entire people, in whom the image of God has been utterly extinguished.  Faith in God means believing that anyone can be transformed, regardless of the past.  To write off whole groups of people as intrinsically racist and violent is to accept the very same premise that upholds racist and oppressive regimes."

In the end, 

"love of enemies is trusting God for the miracle of divine forgiveness...Love of enemies is seeing one's oppressors through the prism of the Reign of God - not only as they now are but also as they can become:  transformed by the power of God."

2.  The Means are Commensurate with the New Order

In the world, violent struggles are "necessarily heirarchical."  And power must be kept by the same means by which it was gained.  After a revolution it is common to see executions, purges, torture and mass arrests.  But Jesus' methods are in keeping with His new order.

"...nonviolent revolution is not a program for seizing power.  It is, says Gandhi, a program for transforming relationships, ending in a peaceful transfer of power."

"Violence simply is not radical enough, since it generally changes only the rulers but not the rules.  What use is a revolution that fails to address the fundamental problem:  the existence of domination in all its forms, and the myth of redemptive violence that perpetuates it?" 

Parts two and three of chapter five coming this week.


You can find our discussion on

chapter four, here,

chapter three,

 chapter two

 and chapter one.