Interesting Articles

Monday, July 14, 2008

Christ Followers & Nonviolence

Christians are called to be reconcilers, but also to actively resist injustice, evil, and oppression. But how can Christians engage in this resistance while living in obedient faith to the one who commands us to love our enemies?

A provocative answer comes to us from those who were closest to Jesus—the Christians of the early Church. During the centuries of persecution, Christians were crucified, torn to pieces by dogs, set afire to illuminate Nero’s ghastly circuses. Imprisonment, torture, and execution were common measures used by the Caesars in their attempts to bring Christianity to heel.

Early Christians, therefore, had to respond to the tyranny and oppression of totalitarian rulers. As St. Cyprian said to his persecutors, "It is not lawful for us to hate, and so we please God more when we render no requital for injury...We repay your hatred with kindness."

It is often asked whether such nonviolent tactics would work against the brutal and demonic policies of one such as Adolf Hitler. Whether something "works," of course, is not the basic criterion of Christian action. A Christian’s first concern must be to be obedient to the Lord, even if this leads to suffering, death, and apparent failure. However, an assertive nonviolent stance was often effective even in the face of schemes as satanic as Hitler’s.

In Bulgaria in the early 40’s, for example, Bishop Kiril told authorities that if they attempted to deport Bulgarian Jews to concentration camps, he would lead a campaign of civil disobedience, including personally lying down on the railroad tracks in front of the deportation trains. Thousands of Jews and non-Jews resisted all collaboration with Nazi decrees. They marched in mass street demonstrations and sent floods of letters and telegrams to authorities protesting all anti-Jewish measures. These and other non-military measures saved all of Bulgaria’s Jewish citizens from Nazi death camps.

Although always a minority movement, similar nonviolent resistance to Hitler took place in many parts of Europe, with Christians often being key actors. Danes, led by their deeply Christian king, saved 93 per cent of their Jewish population in a dramatic nonviolent rescue action. Adolf Eichmann, head of the Nazi office for extermination of Jews, admitted that "the action against the Jews of Denmark has been a failure." Finland saved all but four of its Jewish citizens from the Nazi death camps. Finland’s foreign minister told Heinrich Himmler, chief of Hitler’s dreaded SS security police: "Finland is a decent nation. We would rather perish together with the Jews. We will not surrender the Jews."

During World War II forty million people died on battlefields using military weapons against Nazism. What if forty million people had been willing to give their lives in a nonviolent struggle, using the defiant but non-military methods of a Bishop Kiril? These historical examples point to a power to resist evil and oppression that does not rely on the ability to kill and injure. They suggest that it may be possible to defend cherished values in a way consistent with both the prophet’s call to justice and Christ’s call to love our enemies.

Excerpts from Richard Taylor and Ronald Sider’s article, “To Work Nonviolently to Abolish War and the Causes of War from My Heart and from the Face of the Earth” which can be found in its entirety at:

No comments: