Non-Violent Resistance: Standing Fast and Going the Extra Mile

: You have knowledge that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say to you, Do not make use of force against an evil man; but to him who gives you a blow on the right side of your face let the left be turned. And if any man goes to law with you and takes away your coat, do not keep back your robe from him. And whoever makes you go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who comes with a request, and keep not your property from him who would for a time make use of it. (Matt. 5:38-42; Bible in Basic English)

I have had the privilege over the past few weeks, along with a group of others, to spend time with Dr. James Lawson, one of the great minds and heroes of the world. Recently Dr. Lawson challenged each of us to come up with a definition of Non-Violence for ourselves. He used as a text the words of Jesus found written in Matthew noted above. Here is my feeble attempt.

First of all when I look at this text I see, what seems to me, a great amount of strength is required to be non-violent. I say this because the goal of non-violence, as Dr. Lawson has explained it, is not simply the absence of violence but the transformation of the one committing the violence. The goal is a transformation in outlook, and attitude. The practitioner of non-violence must see him/herself as being the catalyst for the antagonist’s conversion. The Apostle Paul articulated it this way:

“Don’t mistreat someone who has mistreated you. But try to earn the respect of others, 18and do your best to live at peace with everyone. 19Dear friends, don’t try to get even. Let God take revenge. In the Scriptures the Lord says, ‘I am the one to take revenge and pay them back.’ The Scriptures also say, ‘If your enemies are hungry, give them something to eat. And if they are thirsty,  give them something to drink. This will be the same as piling burning coals on their heads.’ Don’t let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good.” (Rom. 12:20-21, CEV)

Having the ability to not retaliate in kind, to not try to get even, takes a great amount of strength in and of itself. It requires a degree of restraint that we do not often see or possess. What Jesus, Paul, and Dr. Lawson are talking about here is more than restraint, more than just passivism, or even pacifism. These men are challenging us to see our oppressor, that person or group that mistreats us, as needing redemption just as we do, and to see ourselves as the vehicle through which the epiphany takes place.

Non-violence has, at it’s core, a genuine concern for the well-being of all persons. It sees all people as created by God, all possessing the “imago dei“, and failing to perfectly reflect the image of God in which they are created. Non-violence stubbornly refuses to relinquish compassion, refuses to allow itself to become inhuman by acting in inhumane ways on inhumane thoughts.

This is how the practitioner of non-violence becomes the catalyst for change. When an individual or system imposes it’s will in an attempt to force you to be complicit in acts of inhumanity non-violence takes the advantage, refusing to be moved, not striking back when struck, going the extra mile, caring for the needs of it’s enemies, eventually, over time, “defeating the evil with the good”.

Make A Difference . . . . . . . . For Life ! !