Jesus is my ideology

March 6, 2009

bible / theology

Over the last few days, there has been an interesting discussion happening at this post and some subsequent ones from Tony Jones.

It is spurred on by a man who trains youth pastors in various street fighting techniques, and apparently believes that Jesus’ direct statement to turn the other cheek is an ideology that fosters martyrs and victims. He then quotes another statement of Jesus by taking it out of its context to state that Jesus didn’t intend for his followers to live lives of nonviolence.

I have to admit that, at face value, these are significant issues if one does not really understand what active nonviolence means. The problem with that “if statement” is that most real, consistent proponents of nonviolence do a really good job of communicating about these issues, but no one wants to listen to them.

One of the examples given in the comments at Tony’s blog, for example, relates to whether or not abused people should “turn the other cheek” and continue being abused. Certainly, there are churches out there that have enabled situations like these, but in my experience these churches and people are not proponents of active nonviolence. Generally, if not always, enablers of this kind of abuse are concerned, not with peace in the lives of the people involved, but with either:

Victims often honestly believe that continuing to be abused will allow them to hold their families together, and it is thus incredibly difficult for them to believe that any kind of action on their own behalf is selfish and wrong, and they often feel that they are failing to “turn the other cheek.” This, however, has nothing to do with active nonviolence, or resistance of oppression, which is what Jesus is actually talking about.

And this is the place of the active nonviolent community. That community will always advocate and work for the oppressed, but this is entirely different than both lashing out in violence and refusing to turn its own cheek, and from enabling the oppression to continue. The community must put itself between the victim and the victimizer in love and compassion for both of them, and this is where it can practice turning the other cheek, if necessary.

Do you see the difference here? This works itself out in situations from domestic abuse, up in scale to how we can respond to war and genocide, which is another example mentioned in the comments on Tony’s posts. If communities allow oppressed people, whether they be individuals or groups, to believe that their oppression is somehow ordained or desired by God, they have failed to teach it responsibly.