For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
-1 Cor. 1:18
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. -1 Cor. 2:2
Non-violence is not passive pacifism. It is not a silent winking at injustice. Non violence is the way of the cross.
Violence is regarded both as a problem—gun violence, bullying, terrorism, war—and a necessity. How else are we going to quash terrorism, depose dictators, police inner-cities and create the conditions necessary for peace? While pacifism was the default position of the early church, Christian’s gradually accepted military service and war. Augustine’s famously articulated what has come to be known as Just War Theory— a statement on the conditions of when war is a moral good (or at least a moral necessity). John Howard Yoder rightly questioned whether the conditions of Just War have ever been satisfied, though even within the constraints of Just War theory, the cessation of violence is the goal, and war ought to be rare.
In the gospels, and in our celebration of Lent, we are reminded that Jesus’ answer to human violence was not war and violence but a cross. He didn’t kick-ass and take names. He rode a donkey foal into Jerusalem, knowing he would die there. He gave his life to bring an end to the cycle of human violence. Following Jesus means walking with Him on Calvary road. Our Model in life and conduct chose self-sacrifice over destruction and harm.
How do you combat the evils in the world? What should be our response to terrorism? The horror of ISIS and the refugee crisis? What about North Korean nuclear armament? Or Russia’s encroachment in Crimea? Or racial violence against African students in India?
Closer to home, what about policies like stop-and-frisk, the incarceration of minorities or injustice toward immigrant communities? What about the proliferation of hate crimes against Jews and Muslims? Violence How do we respond?
The answer is the cross. It was Jesus response, and it should be ours too.
Following Jesus means that our imagination is cruciform. We are shaped by Christ’s cross as we take up our own cross and follow him (Matt 16:24). Against the violence which pervades our culture and our world, we are being shaped into God’s non-violent people.
There are practical questions about what this means, especially as we aim non-violence at large systemic and trans-national problems. But then again how was a crucifixion (a death sentence for failed revolutionaries) in a marginal province of the Roman Empire a decisive response to human sinfulness? The past century showed us several examples (Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela) of the power of non-violence to effect social change. But more than that if we participate with the Son of God in his cross, we can expect that God to continue his good work in us and our world.