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The Third Way

Nonviolence

The Third Way
Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Walter Wink (1935–2012), with whom I taught at several conferences some years ago, wrote a brilliant book, Jesus and Nonviolence, on a third way between fight and flight. I can see why Jesus calls it “a narrow path,” as it’s not the ego’s default or preferred method. Read on. . . .

There are three general responses to evil: (1) passivity, (2) violent opposition, and (3) the third way of . . . nonviolence articulated by Jesus. Human evolution has conditioned us for only the first two of these responses. . . .

Jesus abhors both passivity and violence as responses to evil. His is a third alternative not even touched by these options. . . .

Jesus’ Third Way bears at its very heart the love of enemies. This is the hardest word to utter in a context of conflict because it can so easily be misunderstood as spinelessness. But it is precisely the message [Martin Luther King, Jr.] made central to his efforts in the polarized circumstances of the American South.

To our most bitter opponents we say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory. [1]

Walter Wink continues:

Love of enemies has, for our time, become the litmus test of authentic Christian faith. Commitment to justice, liberation, or the overthrow of oppression is not enough, for all too often the means used have brought in their wake new injustices and oppressions. Love of enemies is the recognition that the enemy, too, is a child of God. The enemy too believes [they are] in the right, and fears us because we represent a threat against [their] values, lifestyle, or affluence. When we demonize our enemies, calling them names and identifying them with absolute evil, we deny that they have that of God within them that makes transformation possible. Instead, we play God. We write them out of the Book of Life. We conclude that our enemy has drifted beyond the redemptive hand of God. . . .

It is our very inability to love our enemies that throws us into the arms of grace.

Or as I, Richard, like to say, it’s when we come to the end of our own resources that we must draw upon the Infinite Life and Love within us to do what we alone cannot do.

References:
[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., sermon delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama (Christmas, 1957), written in the Montgomery jail during the bus boycott. Reprinted in the A. J. Muste Essay Series, number 1 (A. J. Muste Memorial Institute, 339 Lafayette St., New York, NY 10012).

Walter Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Augsburg Fortress: 2003), 12, 13-14, 58-59, 60-61.

Image credit: The Sleeping Gypsy (detail), by Henri Rousseau, 1897, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Nonviolence is the universal ethic at the heart of creation. —Catholic Nonviolence Initiative
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