by Mark Sandlin
“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice,” proclaimed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It may bend towards justice, but it does not bend gently. It bends behind sweat of the brow, creativity of the mind, and love from the soul of those who believe that every living soul not only desires justice and equality, but has a right to it. You see, justice is not a passive pursuit. The moral arc will not bend without encouragement.
Dr. King was a living example of the kind of person who encourages the moral arc of history to bend toward justice. He is also an example of the only effective way to bend that arc: non-violently. We cannot hope to bring about justice by unjust means. Might, physical confrontation and other forms of domination will ultimately only result in nurturing an understanding that domination is an ineffective way to resolve issues of justice – and domination is the exact opposite of justice. As King says, “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.”
King was a Christian minister and I see his bias toward the least of these, the bullied and the marginalized; his preoccupation with justice; and his insistence on non-violent ways to bringing about justice as results of his attempt to live out a life guided by the teachings of Jesus. For certain, that is not the only impetus for doing the hard work of bending the moral arc of the universe, but I believe it is the only sincere way to be a follower of the teachings of Jesus.
Author and theologian Walter Wink also understood this moral imperative for those of us struggling to devoutly follow the teachings of Jesus. He helped us to see that not only is the idea of violence being redemptive a myth (violence, as Dr. King pointed out, begets violence), but there is a better way. He called it “Jesus' Third Way,” which is also the name of a small publication he wrote in the 1980s to show Christians a way to non-violently resistance apartheid. In it Wink points out:
In 1989, there were thirteen nations that underwent nonviolent revolutions. All of them successful except one, China. That year, 1.7 billion people were engaged in national nonviolent revolutions. That is a third of humanity. If you throw in all of the other nonviolent revolutions in all the other nations in the twentieth century, you get the astonishing figure of 3.34 billion people involved in nonviolent revolutions. That is two thirds of the human race. No one can ever again say that nonviolence doesn't work. It has been working like crazy.
A Personal Response
To The Myth of Redemptive Violence
“Violence is the ethos of our times.
It is the spirituality of the modern world.
It has been accorded the status of a religion,
demanding from its devotees an absolute obedience to death.”
- Walter Wink
Inevitably humans end up at war with each other. It seems to be entrenched in our very beings at times. Over the course of history, peace seems to be a difficult place for humanity to find. We war over land, over political differences, over ruling parties, over race, over religious beliefs and over natural resources -- just to name few.
Many early religious traditions would suggest that war and violence are inescapable, necessary and even good. They would have us believe peace, even life itself, entails traveling a path that runs through chaos and violence. It is a perspective which is still pervasive in our world. It says that it is unfortunate but true that war is sometimes needed to achieve peace. It is a myth – a myth of Redemptive Violence and it has many roots in religion.
"Nonviolence is a power which can be wielded equally by all…”
Mohandas Gandhi, Harijan, September 5, 1936
I stand over and against the myth of redemptive violence. I'm a pacifist. I'm not the lay down and be stomped on like a doormat kind of pacifist, I'm the Jesus-wanna-be kind of pacifist. The kind that looks to the lives of people like Martin Luther King and Gahndi as models for non-violent resistance. Don't try to re-categorize me either. I'm decidedly a pacifist. Shedding blood should not happen. Period. Jesus laid down his life, shedding the ultimate blood, to show us what love looked like. Showing us that love knows no bounds.
In Christianity the myth of redemptive violence hangs from a tree. It is the ultimate story of redemptive violence is it not? Through pain and blood, sacrifice and death, one man saves the world. Clearly violence is redemptive, no?
No. We miss a few things when we see it that way. It was love that hung on that tree, not violence. Jesus did not die for the sake of the War Machine, he died in resistance of the Powers That Be which are protected by the War Machine. Jesus suffered that we might not have to. Jesus suffered to show us how far love was willing to go. Jesus' sacrifice shows us that if love is large enough, no one should ever have to suffer again.
We are to live into that kind of love. We no longer need to make sacrifices of blood. It has been done for us. What that kind of love lived out looks like is seen in the life of Jesus and mirrored in the lives of King and Gandhi.
Seeing the world through the lens of non-viloent resistance, makes a day like today (Veterans Day, formerly Armistice Day) an eternal conflict for me. I grieve for the dead. Those who died in their country’s service and those who died in the crossfire, sometimes coldly refereed to collateral damage. I cry tears for their families, for their friends for their loved ones.
But every year my tears fall like so many drops into an ocean of violence that is supported by the myth that violence begets peace, that loving one thing (your country) more than you love the reflection of God carried in the 'enemy's' eyes is somehow redeeming for humanity – growing us closer not only to God, but to the peaceable kingdom which we are to be ushering in. Every year I see an inordinate number of the poor sent to the front line, while the economically powerful fight their war from war rooms and well decorated offices. Every year the tears and the blood fall into the pools of the wars that preceded them.... and nothing changes.
So there is conflict and struggle in my heart, in my soul. The War Machine co-opts a day like today, wraps it in patriotism and manages the difficult task of both relegating the dead to being secondary to it's own promotion of the myth of redemptive violence and (at the same time) suggesting that anyone who has problems with the day are dishonoring those who have served honorably.
So many drops of blood have been spilled. With each drop, I weep. With each drop, God weeps. Each drop falls into the ocean of violence that came before it.
Today, I honor those who have died because of war, but I do not honor the War Machine. I reject the myth of dominance and redemptive violence, and substitute God's reality of love, peace and grace. With each drop of the blood of Christ, humanity was given a gift. We have yet to fully embrace that gift. Until we do, love continues to hang on a tree, suffering so that we might not have to.