Words

Good words about nonviolent resistance

From Joan Chittister email series, visionviewpoint at benetvision dot org, on January 20, 2015.

How to do nonviolent resistance

Nonviolent resistance, derived from Mahatma Gandhi and modeled in this country by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s civil-rights movement of the sixties, rests on six clear concepts, none of them cowardly, insipid or weak. They are, rather, a demonstration of the kind of strength no amount of violence can extinguish.

First, nonviolent resistance is pacifism, not passivism. The difference between armed resistance and nonviolent resistance lies simply in the means by which the resistance is waged. Both types of resistance rest on the conviction that evil must be challenged, but nonviolent resistance insists that evil must not be repeated in the effort to defeat it. The strength of nonviolent resistance lies in its determination to do no harm to the other in the course of resisting harm. Gandhi wrote, “If there is blood in the streets, it must be no one’s but our own.”

Second, nonviolent resistance is committed to making friends out of enemies. The goal of nonviolent resistance is to concentrate on issues rather than on belittling, demeaning, destroying the people who hold positions different from our own. Nonviolent resistance calls us to distinguish between enmity and opposition.

Third, nonviolent resistance condemns systems, ideas or policies that oppress but never launches personal attacks against individuals who are the agents of the system itself. If we cannot assume the good will of those who oppose us we must at least not judge their motives. Ideas and systems are bigger than any single person. To attack individuals in order to curb a sinful system only plays into the hands of the system itself by failing to focus attention where attention is necessary.

Fourth, nonviolent resistance absorbs physical attack without striking back physically. Suffragettes went to jail to win the vote and never struck a blow. Women and men faced attack dogs in Selma, Alabama, to win the right to be human beings without themselves becoming barbaric in the process. It was row upon row of Indians falling to their knees under the gratuitous blows of their English masters that sent a chill up the spine of a colonial world. Nonviolent resistance unmasks the inhumanity of oppression and gives all of us another chance to repent and begin again to be thinking, feeling human beings.

Fifth, nonviolent resistance refuses to sow hate for the enemy. Hate gives foundation to hate until hate becomes a cycle that never ends. Nonviolence vows not only to end the oppression but to end the hate as well. “Love your enemy” is not poetry; it is strategy. Those we want to have love us, we will have to love first.

Sixth, nonviolent resistance is based on the faith that in the end justice will come because justice is right and God is good. Two commandments undergird nonviolence and ring in every heart: The first is “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and the second is “Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord. “I will repay.” Love is our responsibility. Justice is God’s.

Each of these principles taxes courage, demands great spirituality and promises opposition equal to the length of the struggle and the depth of the issue.

—from Heart of Flesh: a feminist spirituality for women and men, by Joan Chittister (Eerdmans), reprinted in Joan Chittister: Essential Writings, ed. Mary Lou Kownacki and Mary Hembrow Snyder (Orbis).

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