What Kind of Nonviolent Activist?

Howard Thurman

My match for “what kind of nonviolent activist are you?”

Across a few social media networks I began seeing people share their results from a quiz for “What kind of nonviolent activist are you?” made by Sojourners. I took it, and I’ll share my results at the end, but more important than that, I thought this was a great idea to educate people on nonviolent activism. Most people are generally familiar with Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., although usually in whitewashed forms that aren’t nearly as radical as they actually were. Beyond that, even proponents of nonviolent action like myself can’t name too many nonviolent activists. So I first just wanted to praise this quiz for that accomplishment.

Now, onto the questions:

Is violence ever permissible?

No. At least not for a Christian. Some violence I can be more sympathetic toward, specifically the oppressed feeling like they have no other choice, but I still don’t think even in those situations it is actually helpful or in line with Jesus’ life and teachings. I don’t really have any interest in debating what’s “permissible” for those who don’t hold themselves to Jesus’ teachings, but I would still say it is not helpful.

Where does violence come from?

This was one I could probably answer with “all of the above.” The options were: capitalism, the powers and principalities, patriarchy, from within all of us, or violence begets more violence. I might debate capitalism. I definitely think greed creates violence and classism creates violence, and you can debate whether capitalism is possible without those things, but I’m not sure I’d go quite as far as saying that capitalism itself creates violence. I ultimately went with “violence begets more violence” as I tend to focus a lot on how retribution logic is cyclical and usually escalating, but beneath that we could say any of the others.

What kind of violence do you most focus on ending?

Again, these are all answers I can get behind: violence against women, war, the work of nonviolence influences everything I do, including my theological understanding of God, refugees and displacement, or poverty and oppressive governments. At least the question is clear that it is where I focus, not on what forms of violence I generally want stopped.

I went with everything I do including theological understanding. I tend to start with Jesus being nonviolent and teaching nonviolence, which reveals God’s love as much more powerful than fear and hatred. That’s ultimately what nonviolence compelling to me.

What’s your go-to hashtag?

Options are #theJesusway, #smashthepatriarchy, #capitalismisawarcrime, and #loveyourenemy. While I’m guessing the only one I’ve ever actually used as a hashtag is #smashthepatriarchy, I felt like #loveyourenemy was the most central idea in the work I do, so I went with that.

What or who do you read most for inspiration for your activism?

Lots of great options here: Karl Marx, The crucifixion narrative, documents from the early church, narratives of women’s lives, the Sermon on the Mount, Teresa de Avila, or Apostle Paul and the book of Revelation. Like many Anabaptists, I see the Sermon on the Mount as the pinnacle of teaching for Christian life, although I routinely go to the other biblical options as well.

What’s the role of non-Christians in nonviolence movements?

One option here was “well, my best friends are non-Christian, so…” That simply isn’t true for me, so it was easy to eliminate that option. I’m also not entirely sure how relevant it is to the question.

I got torn then between two other options:

“Non-Christian leaders can work for peace, of course, but Christianity offers something that secular movements just don’t have.”

“We should be following the example of the greatest leaders for peace, like Gandhi, whether they’re Christian or not!”

I ultimately went with the latter as the more practical answer, but I think the former is also true. I do think there’s something unique to the Christian message of peace, having God choose to surrender all privilege to make peace with us and help us make peace with each other.

My results

Put those all together and I got Howard Thurman, nonviolence of the disinherited. I’m ashamed to admit I had no idea who that was, but fortunately Sojourners offers a little bit of a bio. From that bio:

Thurman argues that “the religion of Jesus says to the disinherited: ‘Love your enemy. Take the initiative in seeking ways by which you can have the experience of a common sharing of mutual worth and value. It may be hazardous, but you must do it.’” For Thurman, Jesus’ message of nonviolent enemy love is not only moral, but pragmatic—the most effective tool available to the oppressed for confronting and reconciling with their oppressors.

– See more at: https://sojo.net/magazine/january-2016/field-guide-christian-nonviolence#sthash.Z4OfCbLo.q8haugcw.dpuf

That sums my thought up nicely, although I typically focus on people like myself who tend to be on the oppressing side (usually unintentionally). I definitely think nonviolence is not only what Christians are called to, but also much more effective in creating real peace.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.