Monday, June 30, 2008

Turn the Other Cheek (thoughts from Walter Wink's book, Jesus and Nonviolence)

Jesus says not to resist an evil person. Walter Wink says this is often taken to mean that we should passively not resist evil, but this is simply not the case. He sites the original word used here is the word antihistemi, which in its noun form means violent rebellion, armed revolt and sharp dissention. Thus we should understand Jesus to be saying do not resist evil in kind-violence for violence.

Jesus in Matthew 5 gives three examples of how to resist nonviolently. The one I would like to point out is when somebody strikes you (5:38). The implication here is not of attack, but of a slap intending to humiliate and belittle. To strike the right cheek would imply a slap not a punch. Thus the image is one of a master slapping his slave, a husband smacking his wife, or an adult and a child – a stronger person putting a weaker person in their place (as one would only punch an equal).

Jesus tells his listeners to respond neither by cowering nor by fighting back but instead to stand up and turn your other cheek. What this does is destroys the oppressor’s ability to humiliate. Wink notes that the slap is holding up the caste system and its institutional inequality. Regardless of what happens next, the powerful person has lost his ability to dehumanize, and has been forced to view the subordinate as and equal.

We find from this example is that Jesus is teaching his people to subvert the nature power of his day. Note that it is undermining the powers that be. It is promoting the dignity of the oppressed. It is not promoting violently rebelling but it is promoting rebelling against the powers.

We should also note that Jesus is giving us an example of how to respond. It is a living and breathing solution to a problem. It should never be seen as a hard and fast rule. Wink notes that both pacifists and those who reject pacifism alike tend to read this passage as such.

Finally the point of turning the other cheek is not to take power from those in power, but to bring about equality. This is Wink’s point about Jesus’ third way. We should not think that nonviolence is the point, but it is a tool by which we bring about loving equality among men. It is this loving equality that will come when we love our enemies.


Michael Cline said...

"We should also note that Jesus is giving us an example of how to respond. It is a living and breathing solution to a problem. It should never be seen as a hard and fast rule..." This has caused me to pause and take a look at my own teachings on nonviolence. I think I'm guilty of this.

Oh how I love the fact that you have dedicate an entire blog to the practice of nonviolent subversion. The Wesleyan Church is not ready! (By the way, you know how like 7 blog options on your profile. Are you kidding me?)

Thanks for stopping by Recliner Ramblings and being such a faithful friend. Call me!

stephencady said...

I like what you're doing here and look forward to reading more.

I do wonder how he interprets the other two examples. 'Turn the cheek' has always seemed the most reasoned response to a humiliating or belittling blow to self. However, turning the other cheek does not have the same effect when I am onlooker to violence and injustice. The violence only indirectly affects me, no matter how near it is to me or how close I am to the victim. My involvement would require me to step into a relationship of which I am not naturally a member. This will require some amount of force, physical or otherwise.

When we feel all sources of force, other than physical, have been employed to end the violence or injustice, are we then required to sit beside and watch?

I imagine there is some difference between violence and force, but can they serve similar functions? I would affirm that "nonviolence is a tool by which we bring about loving equality among men," but because nonviolence in this situation is referring to reactionary violence, for the observer or the secondarily affected might nonviolence be 'turning the other cheek' away from the situation, not standing as support to the victim?

Is force ever acceptable, for example, a father punishing a child for an act perpetrated against a sibling? Or harming an individual while impairing them from inflicting harm on another person?

Or how do we distinguish between violence and force?

Feel free to substitute the correct word for 'force,' if there is one, in this area of study.

And please take me to school. I am ready to learn.

And if it would be better for me to read the book to get caught up in the discussion, just tell me which one to start with.

Peace and love,

dan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dan said...

Shhh don't tell the Wesleyan Church! I've found that I'm becoming attracted to Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. and their writings...that's what I don't think people are ready for!

and my 7 blogs...guilty i need to delete a couple huh...

dan said...


I will post on his other two responces, both deep and engaging…

Why would require force to join into a conversation? I think that the history of nonviolence is people entering into a situation where they are onlookers, saying this is unacceptable. (wikipedia-Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr.)

Let’s leave the father punishing his child until later in the conversation. That issue is dealing more with parenting, and less power. The other suggestion, harming an individual who is doing wrong, is up for grabs. Why harm this person? Is there a better way, a more creative way?

Let’s use the word Power as opposed to force.

You’ve asked a ton of tough questions that will take a while to unpack…the book this is from is Jesus and Nonviolence (a third way) by walter wink. I also recommend Nonviolence (25 lessons from the history of a dangerous idea) by a non Christian guy named Mark Kurlanski, I blogged about this on my Thoughts from the Press Box (here) Also, my summer reading plan involves working through Walter Wink’s trilogy on Powers. I am reading John Howard Yoder’s stuff, which is pretty cool. (both are leading Christian theologians dealing with nonviolence.)

I’ll get some posts on Wink’s other stuff…in the mean time wikipedia definitely has some good info on this topic. Check out Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. even a search of “nonviolence” has a decent article.

Peace to you!