Jesus Christ Non-Violence - Courtesy Spiritual Core of Activism

Jesus and Evil People – Strong Resistance while being Non-Violent

Jesus and NonViolent Resistance - Walter WinkJesus did NOT tell his oppressed hearers not to resist evil. That would have been absurd. His entire ministry is utterly at odds with such a preposterous idea.
– Walter Wink

I. THE PROBLEM:

Jesus said to “turn the other cheek”:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Matthew 5:38-42

Does “turn the other cheek” mean we should be doormats? Is it ever appropriate for Christians to resist authority?

You know, “doormat” was not Jesus’ style, nor the style of his first followers.
They were compassionate,
and they were non-violent,
but they were NOT doormat quality.

II. FOUR KEY POINTS:

Turn the Other Cheek Means Resist Them, NonViolentlyI have four arguments.

1. When Jesus uttered those words his topic was the avoidance of violence (“eye for eye”); so we should expect the instruction that follows to deal with ways to avoid violence, which is a different focus than instruction about submission.

2. Jesus and his disciples did not behave in subservient or unjustly cooperative ways toward secular or religious authorities.

3. The phrase “do not resist” is a poor English choice for the Greek wording Matthew used.

4. The physical event of being struck on the right cheek presents an interesting problem.

[There’s a longer discussion of these four points in an earlier post.]

III. CONCLUSION:

SO if my take is accurate:

A. Jesus insists on integrity and justice, and the pursuit of those values often precipitates conflict with powers and customs, and often requires deliberate resistance.

B. But Jesus also insists on non-violence.

We can be non-violent and still act and speak in ways that resist and undermine falsehood and unjust power. And that, I believe, is a good part of what Jesus is after in this short teaching. Christians clearly have a role to play in exposing and resisting evil.

[This is a summary of a longer article discussing Jesus teaching about turning the other cheek.]

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Other posts on non-violence:
Algeria and India – A Comparison of Violent and Non-Violent Resistance.
MLK Jr. On Ends vs Means
Was Jesus Violent? The Temple Money-Changers Incident
Turn the Other Cheek Means ‘Resist Them Non-Violently’ (The longer version of today’s post.)

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  • After spending some time rumbling through my Greek reference material (KJV-NIV Parallel New Testament In Greek and English, Teach Yourself New Testament Greek, A New Introduction To Greek by Chase and Phillips, and a shareware program called Wordbase Greek), I’m still unclear as to exactly what the Greek word ?????????? (commonly translated “resist”) is supposed to convey. It certainly seems to be indicating “making a violent stand against” and not simply any form of resistance in general.

    Sometimes it is not only the changes in language that make it difficult to get at the clearest meaning of scripture, but also changes in the meanings of gestures and body language. Although I do not remember the exact source (most likely a sermon by Greg Boyd), I have heard it said that in its ancient context “turning the other cheek” was actually something of an insult. By turning the other cheek you are letting the aggressor know that you do not acknowledge their attack or its effect. You deny their power over you through violence.

    When we rely on violence, we are using the weapons of our enemy. When we resist with love, prayer and other nonviolent means, we are using the weapons proper to followers of Christ. This is certainly impractical by the world’s standards, but follows perfectly with the self-sacrificial lifestyle required of those who would be “imitators of God” (Eph. 5-1) NIV.

    This is certainly one of the most difficult things that is asked of us as Christians and as imperfect creatures we can succeed only insofar as we allow ourselves to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. While I believe in pacifism whenever possible, anyone attempting to harm my niece or nephew would find the limit of my ability to resist acting out with violence rather quickly. There is obviously a big difference between turning your own cheek and allowing violence to be done to others when you can prevent it (Bonhoeffer’s decision to take part a plot to assassinate Hitler which lead to his own martyrdom comes to mind). This is indeed a slippery slope.

    The best we can do when dealing with violence is to pray for God’s guidance in this as in all other areas of life while remembering not to pass judgment on others when will feel that they fail to live out Christ’s teachings as we see them. The first three centuries of Christianity and the large number of martyrs from this period stand in sharp contrast to our world where those who oppose wars are often labeled unpatriotic or worse yet unChristian. I believe it is important to look carefully at the teachings of Jesus on this matter and not to simply fall in line with those who prefer the example of Constantine. To be peacemakers we must break the cycle of violence.

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