Nonviolence: A Way of Confrontation

Nonviolence is not a philosophical enterprise even though it draws upon key concepts taught in philosophy. Nonviolence is not abstract even though it has roots in general principles.  Nonviolence is a way of concrete action.

Gandhi fasted nonviolence. Pete Seeger sang nonviolence. Thomas Merton wrote nonviolence. Rosa Parks sat nonviolence.  Jim Lawson taught nonviolence.  Freedom Riders traveled nonviolence.  Martin Luther King Jr. marched nonviolence.  All these confronted nonviolence in other ways as well, but these examples illustrate the concreteness of confrontation.

Nonviolence is faith in action, with each person contributing their part to the larger mission which is to overcome evil with good and establish the Beloved Community.  But it is an effort that is always resisted by the in-group whose aim is to establish, maintain, or restore their dominance. 

In the context of resistance, nonviolence declares a “No” to an in-group’s “Yes.”  And no matter what form it takes, this makes nonviolence a confrontation.  But it is a confrontation based on the conviction that nonviolent resistance is the advocacy of ultimate values and virtues that will inexorably come to pass. Nonviolence is confrontation based on a vision which we name each time we pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Martin Luther King Jr. described the nature of nonviolent resistance in these words, “The method is nonaggressive physically but strongly aggressive spiritually.”  It was an overcoming of falsehood at a level deeper than the tangible. 

John Lewis described it this way in his book, ‘Walk with the Wind’–“believers in the Beloved Community insist that it is the moral responsibility of men and women with soul force, people of goodwill, to respond and to struggle against the forces that stand between a society and the harmony it naturally seeks.” (p. 78)

Nonviolent resistance arises from the deep conviction that injustice will not have the last word, God will.  Until that time comes, the methods of nonviolence will be used to bear witness to that conviction–“that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”

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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2 Responses to Nonviolence: A Way of Confrontation

  1. Judith Stone says:

    I can’t really call it non violence, there is a hidden message in the confrontation, I am right and you are wrong or here I stand and I am standing against you. It is spiritually aggressive– , it may mean I will not use physical force, but something in the confrontation is spiritual warfare, and is about overthrow. I am willing to battle you. I just can’t use the word non violence anymore even if
    I use a Ghandian methodology. I know I am choosing to put you in a moral bind by my actions, I am saying no to your deep values and I intend to show your position and actions up as morally inferior by my action of not engaging in beating you or killing you. i think there is something angry in me and violent as i engage in confrontational action.

  2. kemono51 says:

    Thank you, Steve.

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