Practical Nonviolence (Chapter 6, Wink)


Walter Wink’s “The Powers That Be” addresses the unseen forces that govern the world (that the Bible refers to as “principalities and powers”). The Bible claims that God wars against these powers on some level, both through the life of Jesus and the lives of the Spirit-filled followers that come behind. In chapter five, Wink proposes that Jesus rejected violence as his weapons of war and that his followers are compelled to do likewise. He goes on to propose that the corresponding concept of pacifism is misinformed as well (i.e. meekly “taking it”). Instead, Jesus proposed war against the “powers that be” by what one might call, “creative nonviolence” – resistance without resorting to violence.

In chapter six, Wink explains that the critics of nonviolence often claim that it doesn’t work, although he is quick to point out that violence is often ineffective. Plus, nonviolence has been very successful in many places: Gandhi and King come to mind first, though Eastern Europe in my lifetime bears witness as well. As a result, after deflecting the criticism that “it doesn’t work,” Wink focuses chapter six on “Practical Nonviolence.”

I will summarize my take on chapter six in five principles:

Wink writes, “Once the path of violence has been chosen, it cannot be easily renounced by the new regime. As John Swomley puts it, violence is not conducive to teaching the respect for persons on which democracy depends. It’s not just that those who live by the sword will die by the sword, as Matthew 26:52 has it, but that a whole lot of other people, many of them innocent of any crime, will die as well. By contrast, nonviolent revolution is not a program of seizing power. It is, says Gandhi, a program for transforming relationships, ending in a peaceful transfer of power.”

Wink writes, “In the civil disobedience practiced by King and Gandhi, those who appeal to a higher moral authority nevertheless subject themselves to the principle of civil law. No proponent of the third way would attempt to get off scot-free for breaking an unjust law, for that would encourage the chaos of lawlessness in a society already plagued by legalized injustices… Following Jesus, we, too, should refuse ever to obey an unjust law. But by undergoing the legal system’s punishment, we affirm our willingness to suffer on behalf of a higher law that we are determined to see transform the law of the land. We must be lawful in our illegality. It is only because we submit to the principle of law that we can demand that unjust laws be made just in the first place.”

Wink writes, “Jesus’ kind of nonviolence is not for the perfect, but for frightened, fed up, and even violent people who are trying to change. His is a practical, achievable nonviolence that can be taught to anyone of any age. Not just young men of war-making age, but all sectors of the population can participate, from babies to the elderly.”

Wink writes, “…if we are to make nonviolence effective, we will have to be as willing to suffer and be killed as soldiers in battle. Nonviolence is not a way of avoiding personal sacrifice. Indeed, it requires that we take that sacrifice on ourselves rather than inflicting it on others. It demands a heroism that a surprisingly large number of people are prepared to shoulder. Gandhi was adamant that nothing could be done with a coward, but that from a violent person one could make a nonviolent one… Nor should nonviolence be misconstrued as a way of avoiding conflict. The ‘peace’ that the gospel brings is never the absence of conflict, but an ineffable divine reassurance within the heart of conflict: a peace that surpasses understanding. Christians have all too often called for ‘nonviolence’ when they really meant tranquillity. In fact, nonviolence seeks out conflict, elicits conflict, even initiates conflict, in order to bring it out into the open and lance its poisonous sores… To risk confronting the Powers with such vulnerability, simultaneously affirming our own humanity and the humanity of those whom we oppose, and daring to draw the sting of evil by absorbing it in our own bodies – all this is not likely to attract the faint of heart. But I am convinced that there is a whole host of people waiting for the Christian message to challenge them to a heroism worthy of their lives. Has Jesus not provided us with that summons?”

Wink writes, “Before engaging in nonviolent action, however, there is spiritual work that needs to be done. We want to be able to oppose evil without evil making us over into its likeness… We become what we hate. ‘Whoever fights monsters,’ warned philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.’ Over and over we have failed to recognize this truth… ‘You always become the thing you fight the most,’ wrote Carl Jung, and the United States has done everything in its power to prove him right… ‘The ultimate weakness of violence,’ observed Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.’ Evil is contagious. No one grapples with it without contamination…Reality appears to be so constructed, whether physically or spiritually, that every action creates an equal and opposite reaction. Thus every attempt to fight the Domination System by dominating means is destined to result in domination. When we resist evil with evil, when we lash out at it in kind, we simply guarantee its perpetuation, as we ourselves are made over into its likeness. The way of nonviolence, the way Jesus chose, is the only way that is able to overcome evil without creating new forms of evil and making us evil in turn.”

(Next Post: “Beyond Pacifism & Just War” – Chapter 7)

7 Responses to “Practical Nonviolence (Chapter 6, Wink)”

  1. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I guess I have a few questions for anyone interested:

    #1: Do you agree that Jesus-followers are called to battle against “principalities and powers?”

    #2: If so, is there general agreement as to “whom” Jesus-followers are to be fighting against?

    #3: If so, how does Jesus instruct his followers to fight?

    No use haggling over these practicalities if there isn’t general agreement.

    I’d personally answer “yes” to #1.

    As to #2, I would agree with Wink in identifying actual spiritual forces of injustice, etc. in the world instead of relegating spiritual warfare to red suits, pitchforks, and flying ghosts.

    As to #3, I don’t see Jesus advocating physical violent revolution. I don’t see Jesus as a wilting flower (why do you need the “armor of God” to not do anything?). I can see Wink’s point in regard to Jesus and “creative nonviolence.”

    I find his principles in chapter 6 interesting, but I doubt the discussion does much good if there isn’t some sort of consensus on these questions first.

  2. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Okay, a great big airplane crashed in a field of watermelons…

    Just seeing if anyone was paying attention…

  3. Michael Lasley Says:

    I think question #2 in the comments is the big question for me. Against whom or what are we to be fighting. I love reading and talking about Ghandi and King, but their causes were huge. And it’s hard for me to understand more of the day to day type of principalities and powers that need to be fight. Any thoughts there? Maybe you’ve already addressed this in the past weeks and I’ve missed it. “Injustice” in general is something that’s a little hard for me to grasp, actually. I mean, where do you start with that.

  4. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Great question. Wink’s answer would be “The Domination System” I suppose, which isn’t much easier to grasp than injustice in general. It would, at least, identify the enemy as the forces that feed off of injustice.

    Example: If someone’s plight is needing ten bucks, give ’em ten bucks and life is good. But if someone’s plight is needing ten bucks and there are forces that thrive off of keeping this person ten bucks short, then there’s a battle brewing between the forces of the Domination System and the Kingdom of God.

    Crappy example, but it’s early. Sue me.

  5. Michael Lasley Says:

    I would agree with Wink on that, although I think that a lot of Christians would bring up the whole bootstraps thing, and helping those who help themselves or what-have-you.

    It’s paralyzing, to me — kind of like reading structuralist theory. The thing that always bugged me with reading structuralists is that the “systems of domination” seemed almost unchangable.

    I guess this is where Jesus could be really helpful to us — showing us “creative” or “practical” ways to resist or revolt. But reading you reading Wink still leaves me feeling overwhelmed. As in, I’m still not sure how to change what I do in order to resist what I see as injustices or “pricipalities and powers.”

  6. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I don’t know if the rest of the book will help. Probably not, but it might. If I told you the title of the last chapter (10), you’d probably roll your eyes. I did. But after reading it, I think it is worth discussing, too.

    I guess my take on it all is whether I buy the idea or not. If I do, then I can get practical (e.g. Sandi’s work environment; my church; whatever). I guess it’s a new set of glasses, and I want to make sure the prescription is right before I start looking too hard at anything…

  7. Michael Lasley Says:

    I look forward to rolling my eyes during chapter 10. I do like the way Wink challenges our traditional notions of resistance and revolution. It’s just a daily thing for me not to become numb or paralyzed or feeling helpless or etc.

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