I was watching this show on Gene Sharp, a thinker who wrote a book called “From Dictatorship to Democracy.” The show indicated that this Sharp has written this blue print for overthrowing tyrants nonviolently. Apparently, several recent major revolutions have either read this gentleman’s works or consulted with him directly.
I guess this got me to thinking about some of the similarities we Christians have with these groups. I’m not suggesting that we ought to overthrow the government. Rather, I’m suggesting that we live in a world that is not what it should be, a world where many are enslaved and opressed, a world that we’re called to resist in favor of a whole new way of being.
Ironically, we’re actually working for a monarchy. But this won’t be an Earthly monarchy anymore than Jesus acts like on an earthly king.
I don’t have any knowledge about the spirituality of the guy behind this whole book and movement. But I do know that he’s engaged in a process that at least in broad strokes, Jesus would agree with. Ghandi himself pointed to Jesus as an examplar of what civil disobedience looks like.
So often civil disobedience just looks like a bunch of hippies annoying those in power in the hopes that they’ll just give up and go home. I love the idea that civil disobedience could be just as tactical as violent conflict. The idea that we can be loving and strategic reminds me of Jesus telling his followers to be wise and innocent at the same time.
But the thing that most strikes me about this comparison is how lacking we are when compared to some of these revolutionary groups. Occasionally we go about working for the kingdom in a way that looks like we’re aping traditional, violent conflict. Though we don’t often use our fists, the over-arching idea is “How can I hurt them the most with the least damage to myself?”
There all sorts of ways to hurt people. It’s easy to recognize some forms of violent conflict because the combatants are going at each other physically. Jesus recognized, though, that attacking the body is less vital than attacking the spirit. And I don’t think he’d approve of us attacking the spirit.
Sometimes, it’s a mighty fine line between violent and nonviolent conflict. Sometimes, it will look very similiar.
In America, we Christians often engage the culture in violent conflict. And yet it is rarely physical. At first blush, it might even appear non-violent. Recently, there was this campaign against the show, “American Muslims.” I believe that this was waged violently… and yet it was nonphysical.
I want to emphasize that I can’t say, in this, case, that I’m positive that this was violent. Because I don’t know the heart-condition of those waging it. From the outside, though, it appeared that the question was at the forefront of the combatants minds: “How can I hurt them the most while minimizing the potential for damage to myself?”
It’s not that they attacked them economically, by going after the commercial sponsors. Economics is a valid arena for both types of conflict. The things that make me suspect that this was waged violently is that there seemed no interest in creating a win-win situations, where both groups walk away from the conflict. If this had been a nonviolent conflict, the focus would not have been “These moderate Muslims don’t deserve a forum.” The focus would have been “We deserve a forum, too.” (Just for the record, I think we Christians have had plenty of forums to espouse our views for centuries. We have blown most of them.)
Furthermore, much of the criticism focused on the fact that the potrayal of the families was so moderate. And yet these are exactly the same groups that would have complained so loudly if the potrayal had been more extremist at the dangers posed by them. There is no room for the Muslims to exist in any form. The ultimate goal isn’t co-existence but destruction.
There is lots of evidence in the way that Jesus engaged the authorities at his time; he provides numerous specific examples of the idea that we ought to be in nonviolent conflict. It’s awfully hard to give equal weight and importance to those 2 words. It’s easy to be nonviolent by not being in conflict with the world. Similarly, it’s easy to find ourselves in conflict if we allow ourselves the option of violence.
In addition to the question of the condition of our hearts, the question of whether we are seeking to destroy our opponent, I think that there is another principle in operation. In my own brain, I go back to the idea that we are fighting powers and principalities that are not of this world.
All the ethical questions aside, the practice of trying to anhilate the earthly pawns of these principalities is a fool’s errand. It’s like Hercules going after that creature that kept popping up more and more heads. (What was the name of that thing?!?)
I suspect I’ve barely scratched the surface of the topic. I fear I’ve radically oversimplified some of the issues. But I think there’s lots to be explored, about the idea of how we Christians are meant to engage and combat the world. What do you think?
(Note: I meant to save this as a draft yesterday. I accidentally published it in a quite incomplete form. Sorry if you’re recieving this a second time in your email box. I think this version is a good deal better than the original rough draft from yesterday.)