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One of the hallmarks of the Civil Rights Movement was non-violent resistance.  King, who had studied and learned from Ghandi believed that non-violent resistance was not only biblical, it was an effective way to create change in a society.  Many individuals come to the wrong conclusion that change can only be created by grasping power and controlling the world from the top down.  They wrongly believe that power creates change and if those who do not have power want to change their situation they must gain power in order to do so.  However, the way of Jesus is the exact opposite.  According to Jesus, change does not happen by King - Ghandigaining power and forcing others to change their behaviors but real change comes through disarming the powers by subversively creating change non-violently.  Paul says in his letters that the cross disarmed the powers of the world, and that Christians are to preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the wise and powerful, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God and the wisdom of God.  And in Ephesians Paul says that the task of the church is to show the wisdom of God to the principalities and powers, and by so doing change them.  The biggest threat the powers possess is death.  They will try to coerce individuals into following them by threatening to kill them.  Therefore, if Christians will be obedient even unto death they gain victory over the powers.  Faithful witness in obedience to God actually disarms the powers and shows them to be what they truly are, evil perversions.

A great example of this is the story of Bull Connor in Birmingham.  The height of Bull Connor’s power was the moment he turned on the fire hoses and released the dogs against the civil rights marchers.  However, it was this very act of intense power against non-violent resisters that disarmed him and showed the evil of his actions.  While he thought he was triumphing, he ultimately failed because the evil of segregation and what it caused people to do was revealed.  The non-violent resistance helped to disarm the evil powers and allowed truth and justice to be achieved.

But what exactly is non-violent resistance?  Many today do not understand what it is about.  For some reason many assume that non-violent resistance is being passive, it is sitting around and doing nothing while injustice takes place.  However, non-violent resistance is very much active resistance.  It is actively engaged in trying to create change in the world, it just chooses to create change in ways that are not violent.  The Montgomery Bus Boycott was very much active resistance.  The voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery was very much active resistance.  It was just resistance that refused to resort to evil in order to achieve its ends.  It was resistance that was determined to act in a way that witnessed to the coming Kingdom, a Kingdom in which the inhabitants will beat their swords into plowshares because there will be no more war or violence.  Non-violent resistance seeks to restore relationship instead of to destroy it.  It seeks reconciliation and it is rooted in agape love which seeks the other’s best interest.  Non-violent resistance is not about me getting my way but about everyone sharing in justice and equality.  And finally it is rooted in the knowledge that there is a God in the universe who is on the side of justice and that justice will ultimately prevail.  Humans do not have to grasp power in order to ensure justice.  God will ensure justice.  He has promised that his Kingdom will be characterized by justice, and even though it is not fully here, we live in the reality that it will be, and we live out an ethic to honor the Kingdom.

Non-violent resistance is rarely talked about in church anymore.  Too often it is no longer viewed as a viable option.  And yet in so many ways non-violent resistance witnesses to the coming Kingdom and allows us to live now in the reality that war and death will someday end.  Non-violent resistance is not naive enough to believe it will end war by itself, but it is a strong statement to the world of how life should be lived and how it ultimately will be lived in the Kingdom of God.  As Christians we must continue to think of creative ways to non-violently resist evil in the world and witness to the Kingdom of God.

Editors Note:  This is part of a series of reflections that I have had since going on a tour of civil rights sights during February of 2013.  This is partially my way of processing what I am learning and also a place to enter into dialogue about ways for us as Christians to engage the future.