Evangelizing about nonviolent resistance without forgetting the cross

This is great news! Loving enemies, like Jesus commanded us to, is actually more beneficial than killing them. Such love does not have to be at the expense of protecting the innocent. The question now is if the leaders of the world will take this research seriously and spend time and money developing nonviolent defense systems rather than military ones?

Nonviolence is Much More Effective than Violence, Micah Grenholm, Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace & Justice

Having spent the last three months writing and speaking about the untapped potentials for civil resistance and nonviolent defense, I was a little surprised to find myself irritated by a blog post doing just that. A friend summarized the empirical work of Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan and argued, much like I do, that a reevaluation of the defense structure should include massive investments into civil resistance. So what bothered me? Something about the tone of his argument irked me. This blog post is me trying to figure out what was going on. I offer some critiques about how to talk about nonviolent resistance in the current context from a peace church perspective outside the direct fray of war.

Thank you Micael.
I think this is a crucial moment to evangelize about the potentials for the nonviolent strategies Anabaptists have been doing and continuing to develop (along with many, many others in conflict areas around the world, especially indigenous communities) such as civil resistance (shout out to Lisa Schirch who convened an amazing webinar on this), but also trauma healing (Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience), nonviolent accompaniment (Community Peacemaker Teams) and climate resilient development and peacebuilding (Mennonite Central Committee)
(I will post a slight critique in my next comment)

Ok, here’s my critique, which stems from reflections about my own work in trying to spread awareness about nonviolent ways to „stir up peace“ (as the amazing video series on tactics and strategies of nonviolent struggle by Mennonite Mission Network calls it) here in Germany.
We speak from and into a context with its own dynamics which shape how we are understood, even by sympathetic listeners. It may be different in Sweden or in North America, but here in Germany there are multiple problems we need to attend to in order to be understood:

  1. People know next to nothing about strategic nonviolent peacebuilding (which includes the various approaches I listed above and more) and think civil resistance means protesting meekly and asking nicely (Civility!).
    It is our responsibility to make clear that what are talking about is a form of struggle, which thinks strategically, and depends NOT ONLY on numbers, but also its abilty to escalate and innovate tactically.
  2. There are also many people calling themselves pacifists who show almost no empathy to the Ukrainian struggle for independence and call for a surrender out of their own (understandable) fear of a further military escalation and the prospect of nuclear war.
    I think it is important to make clear that we affirm the right to self defense, if not as Christians, then morally. The church has no business to tell people how to struggle, but to support the struggle for freedom and peace, and wherever possible support those who struggle nonviolently.
    The peace theology I am interested in is a liberation theology for the liberation from violence in all forms not just direct „bloody“ violence, but also structural and cultural violence.
    It also is a liberation theology in the sense that we do not need to wait for the state or most of society to agree with us, but it gives oppressed people and all who are in solidarity with them tools to act for their liberation now.
    Community Peacemaker Teams has taught me that in every struggle there are those who struggle nonviolently. This is especially true in Ukraine, a country which has had several successful nonviolent revolutions in the last decades. This is what I tried to argue in my essay on the situation.
  3. There is also the long history of Germany (and other countries) tolerating blatant human rights abuses and the dismantling of civil society in Russia and the encroaching acts of imperial aggression not only in Ukraine, but also Georgia, Bergkarabach between Armenia and Aserbadjan, not to name Syria. The main reason we tolerated these injustices was our dependence on Russian fossil fuels.
    A Christian peace stance is only plausible if it is connected to a willingness to live simply, AND a commitment to politically dismantle the fossil fuel economy. This includes working for structural changes and building broad alliances for climate justice and a rapid just transition. I know many of us here are involved in these struggles, but I’ll just mention David Lapp Jost’s great essay on what we can learn from Sweden about a low energy housing models etc.
  4. What there IS awareness of are the recent failures of nonviolent civil resistance especially in Belarus and Russia itself. We need to make sure we do not present civil resistance as a kind of magic bullet or guarantee to victory – which perversely also would blame those who dared to resist and lost for their own failure, or their not non-violent means.
    Theologically, but also strategically, I think it’s important to use arguments of effectiness ONLY to deconstruct the powerful assumption that „nonviolence is weak and violence is a necessary evil“ as you do very well in your essay.
    If we our peace conviction is founded on the assumption that „nonviolence always works better than violence“ it will fail the reality check – and fail to take the cross or the power of resurrection seriously.
    This is also a reflection on the power of sin and the way it has shaped us. Evil and sin is not just out there, but also „runs through our own hearts“ as Solzhenitsyn said. The „myth of redemptive violence“ as Walter Wink calls it is not only based on the idea that violence works, but also on a deep-seated cultural logic of retribution, which we need to work carefully in our own selves and communities to dislodge and heal.
    Violence is also in the self-interests of the powerful to stay on top. All of us who benefit from the way things are, are bound up with this.

    Therefor a believable peace witness needs to not shy away from the possibility of failure.
    For as Giles Fraser reminds us „Christianity is a religion of losers.“
    This does not preclude fighting like heaven to win.

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