Jesus and Nonviolent Confrontations of Oppressors

Walter WinkA friend of mine loaned me a book recently, Jesus and Nonviolence: A third way by Walter Wink. Wink’s belief is that Jesus advocated standing up for oneself against oppression, but not in traditionally powerful ways: rather in dignified loving ways. Jesus gave three examples of nonviolent confrontations of oppressors:

1. “If someone gives you a backhand slap on the left cheek, turn to him the right cheek also, [so they can slap that one, too].” Wink says that this is not a rigid rule, but a principle of creatively confronting one’s oppressor(s) in love, nonviolence and dignity.

solidarityWink contrasts violent overthrows of evil governments with peaceful overthrows and follows up years later, showing how the peaceful overthrows of governments resulted in relatively peaceful democracies, whereas violent overthrows resulted in repressive regimes (the Russian and Chinese revolutions are the biggest examples of violent overthrows, but he also mentions the peaceful overthrow of the Ferdinand Marcos regime in the Philippines, and the Solidarity Movement in Poland that resulted in the unraveling of Soviet control of the eastern bloc nations). Wink also notes that in power based governments there is a large group of bureaucrats who want to maintain the status quo, who are not believers in the system, but just want to get what they can out of it, resulting in corruption and general malaise. Wink states that in 1989-90 fourteen nations underwent nonviolent revolution, all of them successful, except China, and all of them nonviolent except Romania, involving 1.7 billion people. Gene Sharp lists 198 nonviolent actions that have changed history. (Wink, 2003, p. 2)

Recently I called the police department in my town to give them some anonymous information about a hit-and-run accident. Unfortunately I did not reckon for the fact that, as a police department, they give the orders, they don’t take them, and taking anonymous information was not on their agenda. My friend told me they filter out anyone interested in building a positive rapport with the public before they can enter police training academy. My friend applied, and was rebuked for bringing a notepad: “Put that away. You won’t be needing that.” He didn’t make it into the police academy. He now has a master’s degree in counseling. People who rely on power politics have no interest in building trust with unpowerful people.

Wink gives the example of Saskatchewan nurses upset at doctors haranguing them, until they decided to give a signal over the intercom and any available nurses would surround the doctor and hold hands until he stopped verbally abusing them. When the doctor tried to escape they just kept holding their hands. He had to stand there until he stopped his behavior. The haranguing stopped completely. No violence. No power plays. Just a dignified confrontation.

Occupy Wall Street tried nonviolent resistance a few years ago, and some would say they were not very successful: the same Wall Street companies do almost the same things, except that the mortgage loan practices are more conservative to avoid another recession. But the same people run the SEC and the Fed as before. Almost all of the bigwigs were bailed out of the recession. Almost nobody was fined or jailed for selling what they knew was junk. Nothing has changed. Except that one could see that the Occupy Wall Street protesters were deeply feared by Wall Street, seen by brutal roundups and violent reactions from the police toward the protesters. Why would they react so strongly toward people that were just a bunch of hippies camping out in parks? Yes, they were irritating: one couldn’t sit in the park because it was full of messy tents, but violent roundups? tear gas? Occupy Wall Street PepperSprayOutrage295showed that Wall Street is vulnerable, not to losing money, but to losing face. And that is what Jesus advocated: turn the other cheek also. It confronts the abuser in a dignified fashion: I’m not afraid of your abuse, are you afraid of me accepting your abuse?

2. “If a Roman soldier commands you to carry his 70 lb. pack one mile, carry it two miles.” Can you imagine the soldier demanding his pack back after a mile, and the Jewish man saying, “No, no, let me carry it one more mile.” Solider: “No, put the pack down.” “No, no, I’ll carry it.” “Stop!” Suddenly, after a life time of humiliation from Roman soldiers, the Jewish man has seized the initiative; he has the upper hand now.

selma voting

Freedom day: October, 1963, lining up to register to vote in Selma, Alabama.

selma arrest water

SNCC Field Secretaries Avery Williams and Chico Neblett arrested for trying to bring water to voter applicants waiting for hours in line at the courthouse.

Wink states that nonviolence as advocated by Jesus is motivated by love: not passive compliance with all the unjust rules of an oppressor, but a creative nonviolent loving confrontation of the oppressor. When Martin Luther King was organizing a march, word came to the crowd that was organizing that black people lined up to register to vote on the city hall steps in Selma, Alabama, had been surrounded by horse riding police led by Sheriff Jim Clark, ordered to disperse, but prevented from dispersing, and then beaten with whips. Many in the crowd wanted to retaliate with violence, but a song leader stood up and started a call and response song they were familiar with: “Do you love Jesus?” “Yes, we love Jesus.” “Do you love Martin King?” “Certainly, Lord.” After leading the song and naming the leaders of the movement, the song leader sang out: “Do you love Sheriff Jim Clark?” There was a shocked hesitation, then, “Certainly, Lord.” They laughed and sang it out. Unless we love our oppressors, we cannot confront them in dignity and nonviolence the way Jesus commanded. The protesters hearts were free, the oppressors hearts were embittered and weighed down.

3. Wink translates Jesus saying as: “If a debt collector demands your cloak-blanket, give him your underwear also, and walk away naked.” Wink sees Jesus as a humorist. But this was taken literally in Johannesburg (where I spent half of my childhood). The white government wanted to move the residents of Sophiatown, a black shanty town, to Soweto, a high crime district, and they couldn’t seem to get people to move, so they sent in young white soldiers to bulldoze the shanty town in the middle of the morning when most of the people were away at work. The few women at home in their tin shacks were given five minutes to collect their things. The women rushed out, lined up in front of the bulldozers, and not knowing what else to do, stripped to the waist, standing naked breasted in a line in front of their homes. The women’s shameful nakedness became a dignified nonviolent confrontation of their oppressors: “Here we are, with no weapons and no power, here to defend our homes that we live in.”

Today on the news I listened to the story of a nurse who empowered women in a Muslim country to stand up to their husbands who were beating them. She called the Imam (priest) who told her that it was the wife’s fault; so she asked if the Imam would meet her and the wife at the husbands’ house so he could talk to her. He agreed. She brought a newspaper reporter. The Imam would rebuke the husband in front of the newspaper reporter, because he didn’t want to look bad, the nurse praised the wisdom of the Imam and everyone went home happy. She did this repeatedly, a loving nonviolent confrontation of an oppressor.

As I read Walter Wink’s book, I am deeply sad when I realize that the fundamentalist southern American sect named after Christ, that I was raised in, had very little to do with the Christ of the Sermon on the Mount. I am upset that I was fooled into thinking we had the truth, when the truth is so much greater than the navel-gazing, gnat straining that we were taught. I feel a sense of urgency, a need to act on behalf of the oppressed in obedience to Jesus.


About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
This entry was posted in civil rights, military, Nonviolence, politics, Psychology, Women's roles. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Jesus and Nonviolent Confrontations of Oppressors

  1. Pingback: Jesus and Nonviolent Confrontations of Oppressors | Ex Church of Christ

  2. garycummings says:

    Mark, excellent article. One thing that shines through the fog of violence is that pacifism is not passive. True Christian non-violence confront the oppressor with truth and non-violent resistance. This has been my life. One thing , a very big thing, which led me out of the COC, was when I became a conscientious objector and volunteered for IAO Alternative Service. I was persecuted by the Churches of Christ, Abilene Christian College and my wife (then, not now), who had been raised in the Churches of Christ, NI. I had been a convert to the COC in 1965, and I bought their claim to be the True Church. In 1968, I was a committed Christian Pacifist. I should have left then, but I did not. I thought I could help change the COC back to the Gospel of Peace. I had read Alexander Campbell’s ADRESS ON WAR, and agreed with that, as well as Tolbert Fanning works against war. He really impressed me a lot. Then later, after the persecution and my leaving the COC, I restudied Restoration History and found out the truth about the COC, it was a cult which broke off from the Disciples of Christ in 1889 under the leadership of Daniel Sommer. Later David Lipscomb joined him and swapped his principled pacifism for being against instrumental music and missionary societies. After WW1, the US COC began accommodating to the American culture oof violence., and by WW2, most of the pacifists had been run out of the Churches of Christ by the preacher-editor-bishop Foy E. Wallace Jr. AT the end of WW2, he was joined by George Benson of Harding College, who made a series of films on the godliness of America and Capitalism, The millions he made from this each year, bailed out his failing college. Ultimately he taught that the communists were not human beings, therefore it was okay to kill them. Then comes Gary Cummings, a convert in 1965, who believed the COC was the True Church. Then 3 years later , he learned of the apostasy towards violence in the COC. He tried to change it and failed. It cost him everything….I would do it all again.

    • BH says:

      But…but…. but…. the evil Soviet Commie constitution actually qouted directly from the Bible!. It’s true look it up!

      • garycummings says:

        Communism was a Christian heresy, so they quoted the Bible. Socialism is humane, where Communism is not. Free market socialism, like modern Europe, is okay but the monopoly vulture capitalism of America is not.

  3. SteveA says:

    I wish more people knew your stories, Mark and Gary. I graduated Harding in 1972 and by the end of that my faith in the CofC as the true church had left me. I had hoped for change in the CofC. It has finally come in the last decade and a half. But not in all the ways I’d hoped. At least most now accept that there are Christians in other churches. But they have bought into the neo-evangelical culture. They were giddy with joy at the beginning of that mismanaged adventure that began in 2003. Had no problems with torture. But when the next administration wants more of our citizens to have better health care then they perceive the sky is falling on them and we’ll all be doomed. Citizenship for hard working and ambitious young people who grew up here? Oh how awful and it is grounds for impeachment. They refuse to accept the hard facts before them about our origins and about climate change.

    • garycummings says:

      Yep some of the old COC’s (about 20%) have turned into Progressive COC’s and there are many blogs for them. They bought the neo-evangelical (AKA Right Wing religion) easily, as the COC was already a right wing anti-black and anti-communist and pro-war church. Now when the moron called W.Bush was in office, these neo-evangelical churches flourished. Then along came the “Black President” who wanted to change everything. Having healthcare for all became “a war on religion”, having employers pay for women’s health issues was “a war on religion”, making sure 501c3 applicants were not just right wing fronts became “a war on religion”. Being “Black while President” became “a war on religion”. Wanting a plan for immigrants (yes, illegal) would dilute the pure white race and diminish the white vote. The neo-evangelcal/COC do not want to lose white priviege. The main reason the right wing churches want President Obama to fail is that they want it known to the world that the first US black president failed, and that only white MEN are worthy of such office. Please read the book CHRISTIAN NATION: a Novel by Frederic Rich. This shows where right wing religion in this country will take us if they get power. Ted Poe, whom I went to ACC with and graduated with in 1969 in a US Congressman and he is part of the whacko right wing church. Check out my ex church of christ FB page. We have 75 members there now.

  4. garycummings says:

    Back to the book from Wink. About the women who went naked for a sign. Well, religious nakedness has been around a long time. David danced naked (wearing only an ephod breast plate) when the ark entered Jerusalem. His wife berated him for that, but apparently God did not.
    Isaiah spent a few years naked as a sign of God’s judgement to Israel, Jesus defeated death naked, left his grave clothes folded and was resurrected naked. The early church, for the first 300 years used naked baptism of people who converted from the Kingdom of Satan and Rome to the Kingdom of Jesus. It was a non-violent way to reject the old life and enter into the new life of following Jesus. Through Christian history there have been times when nudity was used as a protest against the Beast church. Quakers were apt to do this in the first 50 years of their existence. Their nakedness before the apostate church of the world was meant to show the spiritual nakedness of those who oppose God and His way. The Adamites were an old Anabaptist group, who used religious nudity as a sign as well. During the Vietnam War some people went naked while marching against the war. I am not saying this is the norm, but what if abnormal times demand a plain sign that the world as it is and the church as it is are inhumane and deadly wrong?

  5. BH says:

    How in the world do they reconcile competition and run your neighbor out of business with the rule in the Bible to carry each others burdens and help one another?

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