Nonviolence: A Way of Love

Nonviolence stands (figuratively and literally) against the principles and tactics of in-group dominance we have just described.  But rather than being essentially a reactive response, it is a proactive response.  It is a way of love, described by Martin Luther King Jr. as receiving violence without returning it–absorbing harm without enacting it. Nonviolence is an expression of the Golden Rule.

Nonviolent resistance comes from one root: agapé.  It is an expression of the two great commandments.  Every teacher of nonviolence that I have read makes this clear.  Nonviolence is an enactment of love.

For example,  Gandhi wrote about it in his book, ‘My Experiments with Truth.’  E. Stanley Jones carried the theme forward in his book, ‘Christian Maturity,’ and Martin Luther King Jr. expounded it in his book ‘Strength to Love.’  John Lewis continues to emphasize love in his books, ‘ Walking with the Wind’ and ‘Across That Bridge.’

King and Lewis, in particular were themselves influenced by Gandhi, Jones, and by sitting under the teaching of others like Jim Lawson, Myles Horton, and Septima Clark.  For all these, nonviolent resistance was a manifestation of agapé in action.  It was a living out of the two great commandments.

With respect to the love of God, nonviolent resistance is acting on the conviction that the will of God is either diminished or blocked by the current reality.  One’s prior commitment to live out the first commandment creates the moral obligation to peacefully disobey a law viewed as an impediment.  Nonviolent resistance is the love of God above anything else–what we today call ‘an act of conscience.’

With respect to the love of others, nonviolent resistance is acting in ways that distinguish between the disobedience of a law and the degradation of people.  In fact, Gandhi would sometimes stop an otherwise successful protest when he felt the second love commandment was being violated.  It was his way of saying that two wrongs cannot make a right.

Nonviolence is only acceptable on the basis of love–one’s ultimate love of God (we cannot serve two masters) and one’s resulting love of others (because we are one human family) wherever and whenever disagreement occurs.  Of course, history makes it clear that subjugationists vigorously deny and resist the notion that nonviolent resistance is an act of love.

But that should not surprise us. For them to view it as such would mean conceding a point which would expose the absence of love in their strategies. Their only option (in order to remain in power) is to distort nonviolent resistance and declare it to be an act of disobedience.  And of course, for them, disobedience is not a sign of love.  Love for the in-group (in the context of civil disobedience) means accepting the current reality.  In the form of a cliché, it is an “America, love it or leave it” mindset.  It always carries a real or potential move toward schism.

But the reality is, nonviolence is a mark of love–a sign drawn from one’s deepest convictions and aimed toward one’s most-fervent hopes.  It is what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the strength to love”–a strength that includes keeping on loving even in the face of vigorous resistance and the infliction of great suffering.  As a way of love, nonviolence connects with and manifests the other eight words associated with the fruit of the Spirit: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

About jstevenharper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 31 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
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One Response to Nonviolence: A Way of Love

  1. Bob and Sue Brady says:

    Thank you Steve, that was very enlightening. Do you and Jeannie ever come back to FUMCO? Miss seeing you here. We love our two pastors, Pastor Joseph and Pastor Brian. I’m sure you know them. We look forward to going to church every Sunday because of them. Thanks, Bob and Sue

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