Jesus and nonviolence: a third way


Following are some excerpts from Walter Wink’s powerful work entitled Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Fortress Press, 2003). It is simply one of the most eyeopening books I have ever read. I highly recommend it to every Christian.

If we total all the nonviolent movements of the twentieth century, the figure comes to 3.4 billion people, and again, most were successful. And yet there are people who still insist that nonviolence doesn’t work! (p.2)

Many Christians desire nonviolence, yes; but they are not talking about a nonviolent struggle for justice. They mean simply the absence of conflict. They would like the system to change without having to be involved in changing it. What they mean by nonviolence is as far from Jesus’ third way as a lazy nap in the sun is from a confrontation in which protesters are being clubbed to the ground. When a church that has not lived out a costly identification with the oppressed offers to mediate between hostile parties, it merely adds to the total impression that it wants to stay above the conflict and not take sides. (p.4)

The issue is not, “What must I do in order to secure my salvation?” but rather, “What does God require of me in response to the needs of others?” (p. 6)

A proper translation of Jesus’ teaching [Matt. 5.39] would then be, “Don’t strike back at evil … in kind.” … Jesus was no less committed to opposing evil than the anti-Roman resistance fighters. The only difference was over the means to be used: how one should fight evil. (pp.11-12)

There are three general responses to evil: (1) passivity, violent opposition, and (3) the third way of militant nonviolence articulated by Jesus. (p.12)

… Jesus abhors both passivity and violence as responses to evil. (p.13)

Jesus’ third way. Seize the moral initiative. Find a creative alternative to nonviolence. Assert your own humanity and dignity as a person. Meet force with ridicule or humor. Break the cycle of humiliation. Refuse to admit or accept the inferior position. Expose the injustice of the system. Take control of the power dynamic. Shame the oppressor into repentance. Stand your ground. Force the Powers to make decisions for which they are not prepared. Recognize your own power. Be willing to suffer rather than to retaliate. Cause the oppressor to see you in a new light. Deprive the oppressor of a situation where a show of force is effective. Be willing to undergo the penalty for breaking unjust laws. Die to fear of the old order and its rules. (pp.27-28)

We need to be very clear that it is in the interest of the Powers to make people believe that nonviolence doesn’t work. (pp.53-54)

It cannot be stressed too much: love of enemies has, for our time, become the litmus test of authentic Christian faith. (pp.58-59)

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. (p.59)

… nonviolent revolution is not a program for seizing power. It is, as Gandhi says, a program for transforming relationships, ending in a peaceful transference of power. (p.71)

Jesus’ Third Way preserves respect for the law even in the act of resisting oppressive laws. (p.72)

Citing Romans 13.1-7 and its call for ‘every person [to] be subject to the governing authorities” does not imply blind obedience. Submission may lead to obedience but does not necessarily require it. (p.74)

Jesus’ Third Way requires us to root out the violence within our own souls. To resist something, we must meet it with counterforce. If we resist violence with violence, we simply mirror its evil. We become what we resist. (p.77)

Jesus’ Third Way is not a law but a gift. It establishes us in freedom, not necessity. It is something we are not required to do, but enabled to do. (pp.81-82)

Yet even if I am committed to nonviolence, I may find myself in a situation where I am not able to find a creative, third way, and must choose between the lesser of two violences, two guilts. Even then, however, it is not a question of justifying the violence. I simply must, as Bonhoeffer did, take on myself the guilt and cast myself on the mercy of God. (p.82)

Jesus’ Third Way is the way of the cross. The cross was not just Jesus’ identification with the victims of oppression; it was … also his way of dealing with those evils. It was not because he was a failed insurrectionist that Jesus died as he did, but because he preferred to suffer injustice and violence rather than be their cause. (p.97)

… Jesus’ Third Way is not an insuperable counsel to perfection attainable only by a few. It is simply the right way to live, and can be pursued by many. (p.103)

Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Fortress Press, 2003)