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Center for Action and Contemplation

Learning Nonviolence

Monday, September 16, 2019


Learning Nonviolence
Monday, September 16, 2019

This week I’ll share a couple reflections from Ken Butigan and John Dear, two leaders of Campaign Nonviolence, a grassroots movement organized by Pace e Bene. Nonviolent actions are taking place all over the United States and world this week! [1] In the face of gun violence, racism, climate change, poverty, and other injustices, courageous people are turning toward peaceful solutions. Ken Butigan recalls the beginnings of his education in nonviolence at the University of San Diego:

I learned that Jesus was a maker of peace, an agent of restorative justice, and a proponent of what we might call “responsibility to protect nonviolently,” as in the case of the woman accused of adultery who was about to be executed when Jesus intervened, neither with justified violence or hand-wringing passivity, but instead, at great risk to himself, with a creative and thought-provoking nonviolent action that saved the woman’s life and saved the men from carrying the burden and terror of the guilt of homicide [John 8:3-11]. . . .

In his time of foreign occupation and oppression, Jesus proclaimed a new, nonviolent order rooted in the unconditional love of God. . . . I [heard], as if for the first time, Jesus’ command for us to love our enemies [Matthew 5:44] and for us to offer no violent resistance to one who does evil [Matthew 5:39], and I was forced to reflect deeply on the actions Jesus took to dramatize this call, including urging [his disciple Peter] to put down his sword as the soldiers were arresting him in the garden of Gethsemane [Matthew 26:52]. . . .

Jesus is the revelation and embodiment of our Nonviolent God, whose sun shines on the good and the evil alike [Matthew 5:45]. I would come to learn therefore that nonviolence was ontological, at the heart of God, the God who created the universe and said that it was good [Genesis 1]. . . . Nonviolence is not ineffective, passive, weak, utopian, naïve, unpatriotic, marginal, simplistic, or impractical, but it recognizes evil in the world and responds to it with good.

I would come to learn that that nonviolence is actively confronting violence without violence; creatively engaging conflict; and nurturing just, peaceful, and sustainable alternatives. . . .

In the 1980s, that included taking nonviolent action to build people-power to support an end to the arms race between the US and the Soviet Union, including public support for arms control agreements and a global Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. In the 1980s and 1990s, that meant building people-power to resist and end US policies stoking war in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Later in the 1990s, that meant being part of a local campaign to build people-power to end policies attacking and harassing homeless people. And in the 21st century, that has included building movements using nonviolent action to urge a comprehensive just peace in Iraq and end the official policy of torture.

Considering Butigan’s reflection, consider these questions: What does love in action look like for you? How are you following Jesus as a peace-maker? May nonviolence begin in our hearts and flow through our whole beings.

[1] Learn more about Campaign Nonviolence at

Ken Butigan, “Personal Narrative: The Journey to Nonviolence,” presented at the University of San Diego (October 7, 2017).

Image credit: The Peacemaker (detail), Ernest L. Blumenschein, 1913, courtesy of the Anschutz Collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. —Matthew 5:9
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