Nonviolence: A Way of Focus

We move beyond the core principle of love in nonviolence to draw the crucial distinction between nonviolent resistance and anarchy. Nonviolence and anarchy are two very different things.  Anarchy is an act which seeks the destruction of the total system, and views that as a good thing. It is not rooted in agapé (hesed, shalom) as nonviolence is.

There have been times in history when something was so pervasively evil that it had to go–root and branch.  The problem, however, has often been that the extremist nature of anarchy only ended up removing one totalitarian entity and replacing it with another one.  This is because anarchists most often only know how to reproduce their seminal values.

Conversely, nonviolence is the disobedience of a particular law, not the rejection of a complete system.  Because of love, nonviolence retains the ability to recognize the good and affirm it, while working for change in a particular area where love is absent.  Anarchy is destructive while nonviolence is discerning.  Anarchy annihilates while nonviolence amends.  The difference revolves around vision.

Nonviolence is defined and directed by two key elements of vision: the oneness of the human family, and the call to build the Beloved Community.  This vision establishes the spirit (persistent endurance) and creates the strategy (civil disobedience) to move current reality to a better place.

The oneness of the human family is a perennial value, but not one always acknowledged or practiced.  This is particularly true when power-grabbing partisanship (egoic greed) prevails over love.  Nonviolence is a time-honored means to restore love as the controlling value–a love which sees the oneness of humanity based on the imago dei.

Jean Vanier has written extensively about this in his book, ‘Becoming Human.’  He sees the disunity and conflict in humanity stemming from a soul-level loneliness (aloneness) seen in the Old Testament when Cain answered “No” to his own question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and became a wander in the land of wandering, Nod.  Whenever we refuse to see our oneness with all other human beings, we dwell in the land of Nod.

Instead of that, Vanier calls us to become human through attitudes and actions which foster belonging, inclusion, freedom, and forgiveness.  Becoming human is the radical action of building bridges, not walls–creating connections, not insulated communities.

And all this because our vision is one of Beloved Community.  Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis use this phrase often in their writings, but it is as old as ‘shalom’ in the Hebrew Scriptures and ‘the Kingdom of God’ in the Christian New Testament.  Taken together these two concepts create a vision of abundant life and generate the motivation to move all of the world toward it.

Nonviolence is one action which seeks to remove walls that divide–brick by brick–and build the Highway of Holiness where the two great commandments define the enterprise and the fruit of the Spirit displays it.

Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream!” speech was his high-water mark for the oneness of the human family in the Beloved Community.  It was a vision that connected him with nonviolence–a vision which sustained him through dark days of defeat–and a vision that reignited in him the night before he was assassinated when he exclaimed, “I have been to the mountain top.”

This is it!  The vision which nonviolence affirms and enacts–no turning back, no turning back!

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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