I’ve been reading a lot about American civil rights movements and its leaders and the South Africa Apartheid. I’m reading this after having read enough of the nonviolence theologians and practitioners of Christianity. So I am always trying to reconcile these two extremes.
On the one hand, we have a faith of peace and forgiveness and shalom. You can make a pretty good case that the Christian path is of complete and intentional nonviolence. No matter what the situation, the Christian is never violent. They don’t support war, they don’t defend themselves violently and they learn to resist evil through nonviolent methods in order to stop the cycle of violence.
In the same breath, Christianity is a faith that stands on the side of the oppressed and seeks justice for them. It seeks to work alongside of God in making all things new, resisting death-dealing practices and pointing to the Kingdom of God wherever it goes. So I asked this question a little ways back, that maybe violence is necessary?
I just finished Malcolm X’s autobiography and what was glaring throughout his story was his constant accusation to the white Christian that Christianity was a religion that maintained the status quo in keeping the violent system of racism in play. Much of this was attributed to the stigma that “violence” had and how the media portrayed “violent people.” So white Christians (and eventually black Christians) would cry out that things would get better and that everyone needed to be patient and especially be nonviolent. Meanwhile, black people were still getting murdered and discarded and treated as second class citizens. Christianity, in its effort to be morally righteous chose nonviolence as a way to do nothing.
I don’t think we necessarily need to look though at Christianity as a faith that is nonviolent. What if we looked at it as flipping the violence and where it’s directed. This is in fact what Jesus did on the cross. Our central story is an awfully violent murder of our saviour. Christians don’t shy away from violence – they simply have it redirected.
Violence in most cases is from the top down. Powerful being violent towards the powerless. God being violent towards man. Parents being violent towards kids. Employers being violent to employees. But in Christianity, you have the powerless being violent to the powerful. Sinners being violent to God. And God accepts it. The reversal is something that most Christians would never proclaim because as soon as you hold to the faith – you are welcoming the violence on yourself.
In the case of Malcolm X, his frustration is that some would cry that nonviolence was the only way meanwhile the very system that allows them to have the privilege to even say that is built on perpetual violence. However, if the powerful welcome the uprising and the violence of the powerless – well then you have a story, and its the same story that we profess our faith in.
Next time you feel the urge to tell someone to be nonviolent, ask yourself which direction the violence is heading. Israel bombing Palestine. USA torturing suspected spies. Sarnians and First Nations. Struggling Mothers and social assistance. Maybe, if the violence is coming from the bottom and heading upwards it is the kind of violence that the Christian faith makes sense of.