Jesus was non-violent. So was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And so was Mahatma Gandhi. But some people tend to misrepresent what it means to be “peaceful” when fighting for a cause. And sometimes those who claim to be followers of Jesus are leading that charge. Let me expound.
When unjust oppression exists, there are basically two camps to fight it. One is physical violence – which is to grab a weapon and impose your ideas on others until there is no one left to argue with. That usually doesn’t end well. As one wise person said, an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. Violence is not the answer because it requires a person to surrender their own dignity and sacredness in the process. Now, there may be gray areas in self-defense, but we should not get lost in the corner cases here. In Matthew 5 Jesus said: “You have heard people say, Love your neighbors and hate your enemies. But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you.”
But that certainly does not mean to be passive and allow the world to oppress and bully the vulnerable while we sit in a corner and pray. The other side of the coin to physical violence is much more effective for social causes, and that is non-violent persistence. “Non violent persistence” is a term I came up with as a way to persist in our own dignity. For example, when Rosa Parks sat on that bus, she persisted in seeing her own value and dignity. It wasn’t an act of violence or imposition, but rather a means of claiming her own sacred dignity.
If we really don’t want physical violence, we have to allow for these other outlets and push to make them efficacious. We can’t simply have a movement that ceases to get noticed, or nothing will change. Yes, Jesus, MLK, and Gandhi were non-violent, but they weren’t “peaceful” in the sense that they were afraid to hurt anyone’s feelings along their path of claiming their own value. Jesus was repeatedly dealing with questioning from the Pharisees of his day, and he was eventually executed for it. MLK was arrested dozens of times, and eventually assassinated. Gandhi was imprisoned and also assassinated. These horrible endings didn’t occur because these social leaders were sitting at home behind their keyboards hoping not to offend or inconvenience anyone. These guys were passionate and they were living for the better lives of themselves and oppressed in their society.
So when we see heated situations occurring during the plea for justice, as followers of the teachings of Jesus let us not attempt to quell the discomfort of the situations by appealing to a bland sense of peace. Jesus and other great non-violent leaders may not have resorted to physical violence, but they were full of zest and self-worth enough to get killed for it. Let us not forget that passion and commitment when standing up for justice. As Maya Angelou once said “Nothing will work unless we do.” Let our lights shine bright!
Check out the 9 Guidelines of Jesism