... Jesus teaches us ways to love our enemies without being weak and feeble, without losing our integrity or our dignity. Jesus shows us ways to resist evil without becoming evil.
Of course these strategies carry risks: we might still get thumped or sued. But they also give us dignity and transfer strength to us. They show us how we can love our enemies without either rolling over and doing nothing, or falling back on retaliatory violence. And maybe they contain the seeds by which, in our time, Christianity can be saved.
We are surrounded with reasons for hope. Again and again over recent decades and in place after place around the world, people have begun to put Jesus’ teachings into action - and to great effect.
Courageous Christian leaders in South Africa put bodies and livelihoods on the line to resist and overcome an apartheid system which many churches had supported. Others in Nigeria supported Ken Saro-Wiwa in his non-violent struggle against Shell Oil’s brutal exploitation of the natural resources of Ogoniland.
Martin Luther King once said,
'I've seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you.... But be assured that we'll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.'
Fifty years ago in the United States, leaders of the civil rights movement, inspired by their Christian faith, dared to challenge the dominant view of a segregationist God who upheld white privilege. They faced not only the opposition of white religious and political institutions, but also the misgivings of many African Americans who feared they were pushing too hard and too fast. But now virtually all Christians agree, at least in theory, that Dr King’s dream was God’s dream, and that God was imaged more truly by the marchers being beaten on the Edmund Petrus Bridge in Selma than by those swinging the clubs in the name of tradition, law and order.
In word and deed, with their words and with their feet, courageous demonstrators have literally embodied for us the way of a God who resists evil, without violence, but with imagination, and love.
- there's more to turning the other cheek than you might think. Saving Christianity: how to love your enemies without submission or retaliation, my talk today. With thanks to Walter Wink and Brian D. McLaren.