Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Link copied
to clipboard
by Niyi Adeogun
MANIFESTO STATEMENT

We were created to practice nonviolence as a way of life in the world.

Violence, Nonviolence, and Antiviolence

Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith is a cofounder of Evangelicals 4 Justice and a board member of the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies. She is currently chair of the Ethnic Studies Department at UC Riverside. Her books include Conquest, Native Americans and the Christian Right, and Unreconciled

In 1989, the federal courts recognized the right of the Ojibwe in Wisconsin to spearfish in ceded territory. A number of anti-Indian hate groups soon formed such as Stop Treaty Abuse (STA) and Protect America’s Rights and Resources (PARR). When the Ojibwe spearfishers attempted to spearfish, these groups would mobilize white people to flock to the boat landings, and physically and verbally harass them. They would shoot at the Chippewa, attempt to overturn their boats, and carried signs with racial slurs, such as “Save a Fish; Spear a Pregnant Squaw.” In order to de-escalate the violence, Walt Bresette and others organized the Witness for Nonviolence program, which mobilized allies to stay at the boat landings with the Ojibwe spearfishers. These groups did not engage in acts of confrontation or violence; their mere presence in large numbers helped de-escalate the violence and create safety for the spearfishers.

During the late 1980s/early 1990s, I became involved through the Chicago chapter of Women of All Red Nations and the Indian Treaty Rights Committee. I helped organize volunteers from Chicago, trained them in nonviolent witnessing and helped with logistics in getting volunteers to Wisconsin. At the time, however, I was not convinced about nonviolence as a strategy. I was more sold on Malcolm X rather than Martin Luther King. And being at the boat landings with a bunch of white people shooting at you and hurling racial epithets at you doesn’t inspire feelings of nonviolence. It felt like we were being overly passive when we should be standing up aggressively against anti-Native violence and hatred.  

I eventually started to see that nonviolence as a strategy was not passive at all but could be very powerful. At one boat landing, the white mobs started to get very aggressive and started yelling, “Go home! Go home!” We started confronting them and yelling, “We ARE home! You go home!” Tensions started to escalate. However, one of the Native leaders reprimanded us and said, “Ignore them! We’re going to have a pow wow instead.” So the leaders brought out the drum and everyone started singing and dancing around the drum. Within 15 minutes, the white mobs got bored and left.

I eventually came to understand that the brilliance behind this program was the manner in which Bresette reconceptualized the struggle. In the beginning, it was easy to see the mobs of white sports fishers as the enemy. However, Bresette argued that Native peoples and their allies needed to look at this conflict in a broader context. It had recently become profitable for mining corporations to begin mining for natural resources in that area. However, the first attempts to begin mining were derailed by a united Indian and non-Indian opposition to the mining. The courts’ recognition of the Ojibwe’s right to hunt, fish, and gather posed an additional threat to these companies because if mining operations so degraded the environment that the Ojibwe could not hunt, fish and gather, then the Ojibwe were in a position to argue that such operations would be a violation of treaty rights. Consequently, argued Bresette, it is entirely possible that these mining companies are actually funding these hate groups. The problem is not these sports fishers, who actually have every bit as much to lose if mining companies come in and destroy their tourist economies. Rather, it is the mining companies who are probably promoting disunity in Northern Wisconsin so there will be less political opposition to their mining operations.

As a result, nonviolent witnesses were instructed to conduct themselves in such a way that would help defuse the violence, but that did not create such hostility among the sports fishers that it would become impossible to build alliances with them in the future. The people yelling at us today, we were told, could be our future allies.

As it happened, Exxon and Rio Algom began the process of opening a sulfite mine in Northern Wisconsin. The Midwest Treaty Network immediately began an educational tour that reached over 1,000 white residents in Northern Wisconsin to inform them of the importance of siding with the Ojibwe to stop Exxon. They and other organizations were so successful in mobilizing support to stop mining in Wisconsin among white people that Wisconsin’s pro-mining governor at the time, Tommy Thompson, was compelled to sign a mining moratorium in 1997. Exxon then withdrew from northern Wisconsin in 1998. Of course, racial conflict has not ended in northern Wisconsin, nor have the threats posed by mining companies. Still, this effort is a very significant success in which the alliance-building done by a relatively small number of Native rights’ groups were able to stop Exxon – a success not many groups can claim.

Violent and Nonviolent Postures

Many organizers rightfully critique nonviolence when it is used to strengthen the powerful. One example would be Peter Gelderloos’s book, How Nonviolence Protects the State. A problem with some theories of nonviolence struggle is that it tends to render invisible the violence of the current political and economic system. For instance, when people in the Movement for Black Lives protest police brutality, they are deemed “violent,” but the actions of the police that led to the protest are deemed business as usual. Furthermore, just living in the United States is an act of violence because we live in a system that was built on slavery and Indigenous genocide as well as the appropriation of resources from the Global South. In this respect, there really is no such thing as nonviolence because nobody can escape their complicity in the structures of violence that govern the world.

For this reason, organizations I have been involved in started describing themselves as “antiviolent” rather than “nonviolent,” such as Incite! Feminists of Color Against Violence. That is, we express our commitment to ending structures of violence, while remaining aware of our current complicity in structures of violence and understanding that we cannot claim clean hands.

In addition, this position does not necessarily preclude us from engaging in acts of resistance that may be deemed “violent” by others, since we are aware that there is no way to avoid acting violently in our current political and economic system. When we have a rigid divide between violence and nonviolence, we can actually increase the demonization and disposability of others. That is, there are always going to be situations in which the moral action is unclear. Is it okay to kill someone who is trying to kill you? And then what counts as “trying to kill you”? Is it okay to engage in property damage to save a life? For other reasons? When faced with moral quandaries, the general response is to say that the action I want to engage in does not count as violence. The result, however, is that the persons negatively impacted by our actions gets erased from consideration because we put our actions in the category of “nonviolent.” Instead, I have found it helpful to put all actions that negatively impact others in the category of “violence” and then understand that violence may sometimes be a necessary tragedy. That is, it becomes possible to engage in action because it might be a necessary step given the constraints in which we operate, and at the same time, we can mourn the losses that result from the action. Being able to mourn those losses enables us to always be struggling for how to create a world in which such actions would no longer feel necessary in the future.

An antiviolent posture can also help us develop a more holistic approach in terms of strategy. Instead of dividing “good” (i.e., nonviolent) strategies from “bad” (i.e., violent) strategies, we can address each strategy from the perspective of harm reduction. That is, there is no strategy that does not result in harm. Martin Luther King’s strategies were premised on the idea that he knew nonviolent resistance would provide violence from the state and expose it to the larger public. People were certainly hurt by violence from these strategies. Nonetheless, his strategies were effective in helping to end formal racial segregation despite the harm that resulted.

Thus, we can evaluate each strategy in terms of its likely effectiveness in tension with the harm that is likely to result from that strategy. And we do not ignore or absolve ourselves of the harm that does result. Such an approach enables us to see all the losses that result from a particular strategy, to mourn those losses, even as we might still need to engage that particular strategy at a moment in time.    

On the other hand, I see in some circles that strategies deemed more “violent” are often romanticized as the more revolutionary strategy. I remember some young aspiring activists talking about how they were willing to “die for the people.” I replied, “That’s great! But most organizing is actually slow and tedious, getting to know people and getting them involved. So are you willing to stuff envelopes for the people?” Sadly, they were not. Revolutionary chic often provides a distorted view of what organizing involves, and it often relies upon rendering the target of a violent action disposable. It is not a surprise that even when revolutionary movements are successful, they end up replicating the systems they were trying to end. This revolutionary chic framework also obscures the fact that many strategies deemed nonviolent can be much more effective. As historian Howard Zinn noted, revolutionary chic is often based on a few people being the true revolutionaries who need to engage in extreme actions. But if you actually do organizing work and get millions of people involved, then nonviolent strategies that might seem more passive can be very effective.

A New World Vision 

If we disrupt the divide between violent and nonviolent action, we recognize that a world without violence is not simply about ceasing to engage in certain actions, but it is a positive project about creating new systems of care and relationality such that violence would start to be unthinkable. We need new economic, political, and social systems in which all are cared for, everyone is respected, and we recognize that we are related to each other.   

One such example would be the statements issued by Indigenous peoples’ organizations at the 2008 World Social Forum. These groups contended that the goal of indigenous struggle was not simply to fight for the survival of their particular peoples, but to transform the world so that it is governed through principles of participatory democracy rather than through colonial states. Their vision of nationhood required a radical reorientation toward land. All are welcome to live on the land, they asserted, but we must all live in a different relationship to the land. We must understand ourselves as peoples who must care for the land rather than control it. Furthermore, we have to understand ourselves as constituted through radical relationality to all people and all of creation. Instead of the western framework, in which I know who I am because I am not you, we must embrace the indigenous principles, I know who I am because of you and because of my relationships with you. From this epistemology arises a different understanding of nationhood. Rather than a nation-state model in which nations make exclusive claims to land, indigenous nationhood is premised on the principle that one’s nation can only thrive when all other nations also thrive.  

Similarly, we see the same theme in which land is understood to be God’s. Some peoples may be bestowed the original instructions of how to care for the land, but they do not “own the land.” In fact, as stated in Psalms 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” We also read in Leviticus 25:23, “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.” From such a framework, we can begin to imagine new systems of the world in which we understand that we are all related. Because we are all related, we create new systems of governance that are not based on competing for land or resources which gives rise to violence, domination and control, but are based on ensuring the well-beings of all peoples and all of creation based on principles of justice, interrelatedness, respect, and mutuality.  

I suggest that we no longer equate “nonviolence” with a specific set of strategies that are ethically pure and can easily be demarcated. Instead nonviolence signifies a world we wish to bring into being through radical imagining. Until we create that world, we can adopt a position of antiviolence in which we acknowledge our complicity and try to reduce harm around the structures of violence which are unavoidably constituted through today.

In 1989, the federal courts recognized the right of the Ojibwe in Wisconsin to spearfish in ceded territory. A number of anti-Indian hate groups soon formed such as Stop Treaty Abuse (STA) and Protect America’s Rights and Resources (PARR). When the Ojibwe spearfishers attempted to spearfish, these groups would mobilize white people to flock to the boat landings, and physically and verbally harass them. They would shoot at the Chippewa, attempt to overturn their boats, and carried signs with racial slurs, such as “Save a Fish; Spear a Pregnant Squaw.” In order to de-escalate the violence, Walt Bresette and others organized the Witness for Nonviolence program, which mobilized allies to stay at the boat landings with the Ojibwe spearfishers. These groups did not engage in acts of confrontation or violence; their mere presence in large numbers helped de-escalate the violence and create safety for the spearfishers.

During the late 1980s/early 1990s, I became involved through the Chicago chapter of Women of All Red Nations and the Indian Treaty Rights Committee. I helped organize volunteers from Chicago, trained them in nonviolent witnessing and helped with logistics in getting volunteers to Wisconsin. At the time, however, I was not convinced about nonviolence as a strategy. I was more sold on Malcolm X rather than Martin Luther King. And being at the boat landings with a bunch of white people shooting at you and hurling racial epithets at you doesn’t inspire feelings of nonviolence. It felt like we were being overly passive when we should be standing up aggressively against anti-Native violence and hatred.  

I eventually started to see that nonviolence as a strategy was not passive at all but could be very powerful. At one boat landing, the white mobs started to get very aggressive and started yelling, “Go home! Go home!” We started confronting them and yelling, “We ARE home! You go home!” Tensions started to escalate. However, one of the Native leaders reprimanded us and said, “Ignore them! We’re going to have a pow wow instead.” So the leaders brought out the drum and everyone started singing and dancing around the drum. Within 15 minutes, the white mobs got bored and left.

We express our commitment to ending structures of violence, while remaining aware of our current complicity in structures of violence and understanding that we cannot claim clean hands.

I eventually came to understand that the brilliance behind this program was the manner in which Bresette reconceptualized the struggle. In the beginning, it was easy to see the mobs of white sports fishers as the enemy. However, Bresette argued that Native peoples and their allies needed to look at this conflict in a broader context. It had recently become profitable for mining corporations to begin mining for natural resources in that area. However, the first attempts to begin mining were derailed by a united Indian and non-Indian opposition to the mining. The courts’ recognition of the Ojibwe’s right to hunt, fish, and gather posed an additional threat to these companies because if mining operations so degraded the environment that the Ojibwe could not hunt, fish and gather, then the Ojibwe were in a position to argue that such operations would be a violation of treaty rights. Consequently, argued Bresette, it is entirely possible that these mining companies are actually funding these hate groups. The problem is not these sports fishers, who actually have every bit as much to lose if mining companies come in and destroy their tourist economies. Rather, it is the mining companies who are probably promoting disunity in Northern Wisconsin so there will be less political opposition to their mining operations.

As a result, nonviolent witnesses were instructed to conduct themselves in such a way that would help defuse the violence, but that did not create such hostility among the sports fishers that it would become impossible to build alliances with them in the future. The people yelling at us today, we were told, could be our future allies.

As it happened, Exxon and Rio Algom began the process of opening a sulfite mine in Northern Wisconsin. The Midwest Treaty Network immediately began an educational tour that reached over 1,000 white residents in Northern Wisconsin to inform them of the importance of siding with the Ojibwe to stop Exxon. They and other organizations were so successful in mobilizing support to stop mining in Wisconsin among white people that Wisconsin’s pro-mining governor at the time, Tommy Thompson, was compelled to sign a mining moratorium in 1997. Exxon then withdrew from northern Wisconsin in 1998. Of course, racial conflict has not ended in northern Wisconsin, nor have the threats posed by mining companies. Still, this effort is a very significant success in which the alliance-building done by a relatively small number of Native rights’ groups were able to stop Exxon – a success not many groups can claim.

Violent and Nonviolent Postures

Many organizers rightfully critique nonviolence when it is used to strengthen the powerful. One example would be Peter Gelderloos’s book, How Nonviolence Protects the State. A problem with some theories of nonviolence struggle is that it tends to render invisible the violence of the current political and economic system. For instance, when people in the Movement for Black Lives protest police brutality, they are deemed “violent,” but the actions of the police that led to the protest are deemed business as usual. Furthermore, just living in the United States is an act of violence because we live in a system that was built on slavery and Indigenous genocide as well as the appropriation of resources from the Global South. In this respect, there really is no such thing as nonviolence because nobody can escape their complicity in the structures of violence that govern the world.

For this reason, organizations I have been involved in started describing themselves as “antiviolent” rather than “nonviolent,” such as Incite! Feminists of Color Against Violence. That is, we express our commitment to ending structures of violence, while remaining aware of our current complicity in structures of violence and understanding that we cannot claim clean hands.

In addition, this position does not necessarily preclude us from engaging in acts of resistance that may be deemed “violent” by others, since we are aware that there is no way to avoid acting violently in our current political and economic system. When we have a rigid divide between violence and nonviolence, we can actually increase the demonization and disposability of others. That is, there are always going to be situations in which the moral action is unclear. Is it okay to kill someone who is trying to kill you? And then what counts as “trying to kill you”? Is it okay to engage in property damage to save a life? For other reasons? When faced with moral quandaries, the general response is to say that the action I want to engage in does not count as violence. The result, however, is that the persons negatively impacted by our actions gets erased from consideration because we put our actions in the category of “nonviolent.” Instead, I have found it helpful to put all actions that negatively impact others in the category of “violence” and then understand that violence may sometimes be a necessary tragedy. That is, it becomes possible to engage in action because it might be a necessary step given the constraints in which we operate, and at the same time, we can mourn the losses that result from the action. Being able to mourn those losses enables us to always be struggling for how to create a world in which such actions would no longer feel necessary in the future.

If we disrupt the divide between violent and nonviolent action, we recognize that a world without violence is not simply about ceasing to engage in certain actions, but it is a positive project about creating new systems of care and relationality such that violence would start to be unthinkable.

An antiviolent posture can also help us develop a more holistic approach in terms of strategy. Instead of dividing “good” (i.e., nonviolent) strategies from “bad” (i.e., violent) strategies, we can address each strategy from the perspective of harm reduction. That is, there is no strategy that does not result in harm. Martin Luther King’s strategies were premised on the idea that he knew nonviolent resistance would provide violence from the state and expose it to the larger public. People were certainly hurt by violence from these strategies. Nonetheless, his strategies were effective in helping to end formal racial segregation despite the harm that resulted.

Thus, we can evaluate each strategy in terms of its likely effectiveness in tension with the harm that is likely to result from that strategy. And we do not ignore or absolve ourselves of the harm that does result. Such an approach enables us to see all the losses that result from a particular strategy, to mourn those losses, even as we might still need to engage that particular strategy at a moment in time.    

On the other hand, I see in some circles that strategies deemed more “violent” are often romanticized as the more revolutionary strategy. I remember some young aspiring activists talking about how they were willing to “die for the people.” I replied, “That’s great! But most organizing is actually slow and tedious, getting to know people and getting them involved. So are you willing to stuff envelopes for the people?” Sadly, they were not. Revolutionary chic often provides a distorted view of what organizing involves, and it often relies upon rendering the target of a violent action disposable. It is not a surprise that even when revolutionary movements are successful, they end up replicating the systems they were trying to end. This revolutionary chic framework also obscures the fact that many strategies deemed nonviolent can be much more effective. As historian Howard Zinn noted, revolutionary chic is often based on a few people being the true revolutionaries who need to engage in extreme actions. But if you actually do organizing work and get millions of people involved, then nonviolent strategies that might seem more passive can be very effective.

A New World Vision 

If we disrupt the divide between violent and nonviolent action, we recognize that a world without violence is not simply about ceasing to engage in certain actions, but it is a positive project about creating new systems of care and relationality such that violence would start to be unthinkable. We need new economic, political, and social systems in which all are cared for, everyone is respected, and we recognize that we are related to each other.   

One such example would be the statements issued by Indigenous peoples’ organizations at the 2008 World Social Forum. These groups contended that the goal of indigenous struggle was not simply to fight for the survival of their particular peoples, but to transform the world so that it is governed through principles of participatory democracy rather than through colonial states. Their vision of nationhood required a radical reorientation toward land. All are welcome to live on the land, they asserted, but we must all live in a different relationship to the land. We must understand ourselves as peoples who must care for the land rather than control it. Furthermore, we have to understand ourselves as constituted through radical relationality to all people and all of creation. Instead of the western framework, in which I know who I am because I am not you, we must embrace the indigenous principles, I know who I am because of you and because of my relationships with you. From this epistemology arises a different understanding of nationhood. Rather than a nation-state model in which nations make exclusive claims to land, indigenous nationhood is premised on the principle that one’s nation can only thrive when all other nations also thrive.  

Nonviolence signifies a world we wish to bring into being through radical imagining.

Similarly, we see the same theme in which land is understood to be God’s. Some peoples may be bestowed the original instructions of how to care for the land, but they do not “own the land.” In fact, as stated in Psalms 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” We also read in Leviticus 25:23, “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.” From such a framework, we can begin to imagine new systems of the world in which we understand that we are all related. Because we are all related, we create new systems of governance that are not based on competing for land or resources which gives rise to violence, domination and control, but are based on ensuring the well-beings of all peoples and all of creation based on principles of justice, interrelatedness, respect, and mutuality.  

I suggest that we no longer equate “nonviolence” with a specific set of strategies that are ethically pure and can easily be demarcated. Instead nonviolence signifies a world we wish to bring into being through radical imagining. Until we create that world, we can adopt a position of antiviolence in which we acknowledge our complicity and try to reduce harm around the structures of violence which are unavoidably constituted through today.

We express our commitment to ending structures of violence, while remaining aware of our current complicity in structures of violence and understanding that we cannot claim clean hands.
If we disrupt the divide between violent and nonviolent action, we recognize that a world without violence is not simply about ceasing to engage in certain actions, but it is a positive project about creating new systems of care and relationality such that violence would start to be unthinkable.
Nonviolence signifies a world we wish to bring into being through radical imagining.
Link copied
to clipboard
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Link copied
to clipboard
by Josue Carballo-Huertas
.

Jesus Among the Insurrectionists

Michael Stalcup

Michael Stalcup is a biracial Thai American missionary living in Bangkok, Thailand. His poetry has been published in Sojourners Magazine, First Things, Faithfully Magazine, and more. He co-leads Spirit & Scribe, a workshop integrating spiritual formation and writing craft. Read more of his poetry at michaelstalcup.com

0:00
0:00

The Suffering Servant suffers still:

     Accosted by an angry mob again,

          Not in Gethsemane with clubs and swords,

          But Washington D.C. with guns and words

     On signs: His name twisted, taken in vain,

Numbered among the rebels on the Hill.


They raise a cross — that tool of hate

     Which Christ, refusing violence, once remade

          Into a sign for peace, pointing us home,

          Into a plowshare, sowing His shalom

     But here the cross recalls its primal shade,

Not far from where a noose and gallows wait.


In grief, Christ prays and urges us:

     “Forgive them, for they know not what they do!”

          “Judge them!” we protest, ready for a fight,

          But darkness must be driven out by light.

     Lord, help us love our enemies like You.

Have we not all been far more treasonous?


Come lead us, Prince of Peace, who stormed

     Golgotha’s hill, not armed with guns or swords

          But with disarming love, dismantling

          Authorities and powers, answering

     Rebellion with ransom, war with words

Of “It is finished,” death with life transformed.


Link copied
to clipboard
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Link copied
to clipboard
by Mondo Scott

GIVING UP MY RIGHT TO VIOLENCE

Diana Oestreich

Soldier turned Peacemaker, Diana heard God’s call to love her enemies in the most unlikely space: on the battlefield of the Iraq war. Diana is an activist, veteran, sexual assault nurse, and relentless practitioner of peace. Whether speaking across the country or in Iran and Iraq or at her son’s middle school in Minnesota, she empowers us to identify political or religious divides to cross our own “enemy lines” in order to wage peace. Because God’s justice and joy cannot wait. Diana is the founder of Waging Peace Project. Her book, Waging Peace: One Soldier’s Story of Putting Love First, was Amazon’s new release in war and peace. She lives on Ojibwa land on the shores of Lake Superior. Her family is woven together through adoption and a shared love of bad jokes and competitive card games.

“If you slow down or stop the convoy to avoid running over a child, you will be responsible for your fellow soldiers getting attacked. I hope you understand your duty,” the Sergeant barked. 

I’m 23 years old, in the middle of the invasion of the Iraq war. The Commander’s words from the briefing was pummeling my insides. I believed in sacrificing to serve my country, even taking a life to save a life, but this? How could I choose between the lives of my fellow soldiers and an Iraqi child? Whose life would I protect, and whose would I take? I had one night to decide because the convoy was happening in the morning. 

Back in my tent, laying on my cot, tears rolling down my face, my chest heaving under the tension, I whispered to God again, “I have to Jesus, I have to take a life to save a life.” 

Whatever he was going to ask of me, it was too late. I’d already given my allegiance to the uniform I was wearing. In that moment, a voice echoed back to me so clearly I froze, “But I love them Diana, I love them too.” 

Jesus’ words pointed to something unfamiliar: nonviolence. 

The tension melted, and it felt like I could breathe again. I knew it was the truth. Jesus commanded us to love our enemies. He took the sword out of Peter’s hand, he disrupted every act of violence and said “this is not my way”. If Jesus refused to pick up the tool of violence to make the world right again, who was I to use the tool he refused to touch?

“But I have to Jesus, I HAVE to take a life to save a life.” This is what my little country Baptist church taught me, to take a life for my country is to serve God. Wearing the uniform was a family tradition and celebrated in my church and rural community. Why was God standing in front of my service, my loyalty to my country, and my “good works”?

In church I had been taught that Saul was zealous for the traditions of his forefathers. Saul believed he was making the crooked road straight by harming and killing followers of Jesus. He was admired and celebrated by his people and his faith. Likewise, my faith celebrated the uniform, being willing to sacrifice or kill for my country. I wore the uniform like my father and grandfather before him.  

God was stepping in front of what I believed to be righteous, what my faith believed was a necessary evil, and what my country required of me. He was demanding that I love the way he loves. God was asking me to give up my right to violence, because he loved those I saw as enemies the same way he loved and tenderly cared for me and my future. 

On the battlefield of the Iraq war, Jesus asked me to lay down my weapon and to love my enemy. He was inviting me to be a citizen of the Kingdom of heaven first and a citizen of my country second. The world tells us we can’t live without using violence. Jesus interrupted violence; he refused to use it. In Matthew 5:43-45 he demands that we not only surrender our right to violence but to take up loving our enemy: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” 

We can live like Christ, but we can’t take a life for Christ because he never did. Violence is our native tongue, it’s the tool the world wields and a tradition that is passed down to us. Jesus never touched violence to mend the broken things of the world. Human history tells us we can’t live without violence, that we need it, while Jesus tells us we won’t truly live until we can give it up. 

I don’t know what it means to love my enemies, but refusing to harm them is a first step. I don't know why simple truths are so blurry or why it took a war for me to hear the God of love tell me to love instead of kill. But it did.

Laying down my weapon that night was my desert baptism. It’s where I surrendered my rights and all my other allegiances. The right to put myself first, the right to kill to protect my life, my allegiance to put my country first at all costs - all of these rights went down under the water. God asked for my everything, even the things I believed were righteous, even the things I thought were good.  

To follow Jesus I gave up all my other rights. My citizenship changed when I said yes to Jesus. I traded my American rights in order to live the way of Christ. My only debt is to love like Christ, to serve like Christ. God used the self-sacrificing love of Christ on the cross to unmake all the brokenness of the world. That’s my only tool to make the crookedness of this world straight. To give my life away because that’s how Jesus did it on the cross and healed the whole world.

Nonviolence is what transformed me. It liberated me. It also cost me dearly. The morning of the convoy, I stood trembling next to my truck. I didn’t know if a child would get pushed in front of me that day, I didn’t know if a battle buddy would be ambushed. The only thing I knew was the truth that if God loves my enemy, then I had no other choice but to love them too. I wrapped my fingers around that truth and prayed I’d have the strength to hold on to it. No child was pushed in front of my truck during the convoy. But now I was a soldier in the middle of a war told by God to love my enemy? That obedience cost me safety, security, and belonging in places I love. It still scares me knowing I’m sending my sons out into an angry and hurting world armed only with love. 

Nonviolence means my faith is no longer a weapon I use to divide “us” from “them.” Instead, it’s a blank check. It's the posture of Jesus’ self sacrificing love on the cross. Nonviolence is what I’m arming my sons with. This is the truest gift I can give them - an arrow to load in their bow and a solid bullseye to aim at. It’s a posture to live from and love from. The power to decide ahead of time how they will show up for the neighbor nobody likes and how they respond to the bully on the playground or to the violence and uncertainty this world is going to ambush them with.

Nonviolence means my children refuse to see anyone as their enemy, as disposable, or outside our jurisdiction to love. I’m not going to shield my children from the violence of this world, because I don’t want to shield them from an even bigger reality of a love that never fails. When violence is aimed at our neighbors, we stand in front of them because that's what Jesus did. When he saw the woman being stoned for adultery he interrupted the violence against her. 

Choosing nonviolence is costly, but what it gives us in return is priceless: the freedom to say yes to Christ's call to love our enemies. I was preaching at a synagogue for a Veteran’s Shabbat service recently when the Rabbi shyly approached me afterward and mentioned, “You know the call to love our enemies you mentioned? We don’t have it in Judaism, it’s only a Christian thing.” A  little embarrassed, as well as in shock, I let that sink in. Loving our enemies is what sets us apart and identifies us with Christ. 

I went to war knowing what I would die for, but now I know what I’m living for. Jesus loves our enemies. Will we follow him and choose to love them too?

“If you slow down or stop the convoy to avoid running over a child, you will be responsible for your fellow soldiers getting attacked. I hope you understand your duty,” the Sergeant barked. 

I’m 23 years old, in the middle of the invasion of the Iraq war. The Commander’s words from the briefing was pummeling my insides. I believed in sacrificing to serve my country, even taking a life to save a life, but this? How could I choose between the lives of my fellow soldiers and an Iraqi child? Whose life would I protect, and whose would I take? I had one night to decide because the convoy was happening in the morning. 

Back in my tent, laying on my cot, tears rolling down my face, my chest heaving under the tension, I whispered to God again, “I have to Jesus, I have to take a life to save a life.” 

Whatever he was going to ask of me, it was too late. I’d already given my allegiance to the uniform I was wearing. In that moment, a voice echoed back to me so clearly I froze, “But I love them Diana, I love them too.” 

Jesus’ words pointed to something unfamiliar: nonviolence. 

If Jesus refused to pick up the tool of violence to make the world right again, who was I to use the tool he refused to touch?

The tension melted, and it felt like I could breathe again. I knew it was the truth. Jesus commanded us to love our enemies. He took the sword out of Peter’s hand, he disrupted every act of violence and said “this is not my way”. If Jesus refused to pick up the tool of violence to make the world right again, who was I to use the tool he refused to touch?

“But I have to Jesus, I HAVE to take a life to save a life.” This is what my little country Baptist church taught me, to take a life for my country is to serve God. Wearing the uniform was a family tradition and celebrated in my church and rural community. Why was God standing in front of my service, my loyalty to my country, and my “good works”?

In church I had been taught that Saul was zealous for the traditions of his forefathers. Saul believed he was making the crooked road straight by harming and killing followers of Jesus. He was admired and celebrated by his people and his faith. Likewise, my faith celebrated the uniform, being willing to sacrifice or kill for my country. I wore the uniform like my father and grandfather before him.  

God was stepping in front of what I believed to be righteous, what my faith believed was a necessary evil, and what my country required of me. He was demanding that I love the way he loves. God was asking me to give up my right to violence, because he loved those I saw as enemies the same way he loved and tenderly cared for me and my future. 

On the battlefield of the Iraq war, Jesus asked me to lay down my weapon and to love my enemy. He was inviting me to be a citizen of the Kingdom of heaven first and a citizen of my country second. The world tells us we can’t live without using violence. Jesus interrupted violence; he refused to use it. In Matthew 5:43-45 he demands that we not only surrender our right to violence but to take up loving our enemy: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” 

I don’t know what it means to love my enemies, but refusing to harm them is a first step.

We can live like Christ, but we can’t take a life for Christ because he never did. Violence is our native tongue, it’s the tool the world wields and a tradition that is passed down to us. Jesus never touched violence to mend the broken things of the world. Human history tells us we can’t live without violence, that we need it, while Jesus tells us we won’t truly live until we can give it up. 

I don’t know what it means to love my enemies, but refusing to harm them is a first step. I don't know why simple truths are so blurry or why it took a war for me to hear the God of love tell me to love instead of kill. But it did.

Laying down my weapon that night was my desert baptism. It’s where I surrendered my rights and all my other allegiances. The right to put myself first, the right to kill to protect my life, my allegiance to put my country first at all costs - all of these rights went down under the water. God asked for my everything, even the things I believed were righteous, even the things I thought were good.  

To follow Jesus I gave up all my other rights. My citizenship changed when I said yes to Jesus. I traded my American rights in order to live the way of Christ. My only debt is to love like Christ, to serve like Christ. God used the self-sacrificing love of Christ on the cross to unmake all the brokenness of the world. That’s my only tool to make the crookedness of this world straight. To give my life away because that’s how Jesus did it on the cross and healed the whole world.

Nonviolence is what transformed me. It liberated me. It also cost me dearly. The morning of the convoy, I stood trembling next to my truck. I didn’t know if a child would get pushed in front of me that day, I didn’t know if a battle buddy would be ambushed. The only thing I knew was the truth that if God loves my enemy, then I had no other choice but to love them too. I wrapped my fingers around that truth and prayed I’d have the strength to hold on to it. No child was pushed in front of my truck during the convoy. But now I was a soldier in the middle of a war told by God to love my enemy? That obedience cost me safety, security, and belonging in places I love. It still scares me knowing I’m sending my sons out into an angry and hurting world armed only with love. 

Choosing nonviolence is costly, but what it gives us in return is priceless: the freedom to say yes to Christ's call to love our enemies.

Nonviolence means my faith is no longer a weapon I use to divide “us” from “them.” Instead, it’s a blank check. It's the posture of Jesus’ self sacrificing love on the cross. Nonviolence is what I’m arming my sons with. This is the truest gift I can give them - an arrow to load in their bow and a solid bullseye to aim at. It’s a posture to live from and love from. The power to decide ahead of time how they will show up for the neighbor nobody likes and how they respond to the bully on the playground or to the violence and uncertainty this world is going to ambush them with.

Nonviolence means my children refuse to see anyone as their enemy, as disposable, or outside our jurisdiction to love. I’m not going to shield my children from the violence of this world, because I don’t want to shield them from an even bigger reality of a love that never fails. When violence is aimed at our neighbors, we stand in front of them because that's what Jesus did. When he saw the woman being stoned for adultery he interrupted the violence against her. 

Choosing nonviolence is costly, but what it gives us in return is priceless: the freedom to say yes to Christ's call to love our enemies. I was preaching at a synagogue for a Veteran’s Shabbat service recently when the Rabbi shyly approached me afterward and mentioned, “You know the call to love our enemies you mentioned? We don’t have it in Judaism, it’s only a Christian thing.” A  little embarrassed, as well as in shock, I let that sink in. Loving our enemies is what sets us apart and identifies us with Christ. 

I went to war knowing what I would die for, but now I know what I’m living for. Jesus loves our enemies. Will we follow him and choose to love them too?

If Jesus refused to pick up the tool of violence to make the world right again, who was I to use the tool he refused to touch?
I don’t know what it means to love my enemies, but refusing to harm them is a first step.
Choosing nonviolence is costly, but what it gives us in return is priceless: the freedom to say yes to Christ's call to love our enemies.
Link copied
to clipboard
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Link copied
to clipboard
by Josue Carballo-Huertas

A LITURGY OF NONVIOLENCE

Cole Arthur Riley

Cole Arthur Riley is a writer and liturgist who serves as the Content and Spiritual Formation Manager for a Center for Christian Studies at Cornell University called Chesterton House. She is the creator and writer of Black Liturgies, a project seeking to integrate the truths of Black dignity, lament, justice, and liberation into written prayer. She is currently working on a book with Penguin Random House to be released in 2022.

Statement:
To be a Christian is to commit yourself to protecting the dignity of each person and piece of creation. Violence does not protect humanity, it demeans it. We will not make death from death.

Scripture:
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
Micah 4:3-4

Prayer:
God of the Garden, We thank you for being a Maker who grounds all of creation in sacred shalom. We thank you that our origin is one of harmony; each plant, star, and human woven together in cosmic dignity. As we contend with a world that has fallen out of balance — a world tormented by greed, injustice, death, and decay — would you ground us again in our holy beginnings? Make us people of deep mutuality, believing in our interconnectedness with every created thing. Remind us that even in the face of evil, our dignity is magnified as we realize the dignity of another. And as we move toward justice and liberation, may we look at tools of death with new imaginations, that we would become like You — capable of beholding the dust, and raising up beauty. 

Breath Prayer:
INHALE
We will not be held by hatred.
EXHALE
God, let us make life from death.

Link copied
to clipboard
MYTH   >