Nonviolence: A Response #2

Not every act of differentiation is violent.  Some things are the expression of a legitimate need to arrange life together in a community.  Covenants, Constitutions, and contracts are illustrations of this.

But differentiation becomes dominance/subjugation when a particular group seeks to exercise power over another group and uses harm to do it.  The types of harm have varied over the course of history and according to the kinds of control the in-group wanted to establish, maintain, or restore.

Major types of harm can be identified: ideological (philosophical, theological), economic (deprivation), political (legislation), psychological (shaming), physical (abuse), etc.–usually it is a combination of actions that the in-group uses to exercise power and justify itself.  The exploration of these dynamics require the independent study of each.  But they are powerful instruments in the hands of in-groups.

But what we want to see now is how the in-group uses the aforementioned dynamics.  We get an answer from the civil rights era. The in-group establishes deformative premises: a superior/inferior categorization of the human family, a higher estimation of human potential than is real or possible, an either/or thinking that will not deal with the varying complexities of life, a belief that compromise is bad, a rejection of new information which could reframe the issue, an ostracizing of any in the in-group who entertain new ideas, and the advocacy of solutions which keep the in-group in charge.  [See Note #1 below]

Over the course of time deformative practices like these have been studied under the topic of Manifest Destiny, particularly in American history, where the God-given right and mandate to control others was added to the picture and advanced in both theory and practice–almost always using morality-based language (good, right, correct, true, orthodox) to further justify the discrimination and domination.  [See Note #2 below]

These means for doing harm and their deformative premises create a social/ecclesial climate which enables the in-group to order itself and to operate.  Within this organization, some key elements are used.  We will turn to them next week.

[Note #1–these premises are gleaned from David J. Garrow’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, ‘Bearing the Cross’]

[Note #2–David & Jeanne Heidler, ‘ Manifest Destiny’]

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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