I made a commitment to non-violence in 2009, after surviving the coup that ousted Honduran then-president Manuel Zalaya. It wasn’t that singular event that persuaded me to commit to peace, but was rather a long series of events that culminated in a so called “moment of clarity.”
My spiritual heritage finds its roots in the undercurrent of 16th century religious reform – alternately called the “Radical Reformation,” “the Anabaptists (re-baptizers),” or the “left wing” of the Protestant Reformation. Despite some suggestions to the contrary, most scholars now agree that this movement originated in Zurich ca 1524. The hallmarks of this type of Christianity are equality among the faithful, social justice, and non-violence (there are of course other aspects of this heritage that are emphasized by others, but these are the points of emphasis in my religious history).
I grew up always having some notion that lethal violence was bad, and that it was always better for people to live than to die. But along the way I became convinced that there were certain situations where it was necessary for someone to die. Most compelling to me was the history of WWII. I was absolutely convinced that the Allies were right in opposing Hitler’s Nazism. This conviction illustrated to me that there are certain situations that demand lethal force.
Exceptions that prove or exceptions that deny?
So let me back up a little bit and explain what exactly I mean by non-violence. Non-violence to me is a pretext for dialogue: It is an orientation of discourse that seeks to answer the injustices of such evils as Nazism before they demand violent response. Non-violence to me is not a reactive measure – a passive resignation to the triumph of evil should it manifest itself in power – but is a proactive stance that seeks to identify evil before it has a chance to take root. That stance attempts to reveal and subvert evil before it demands violent response. The failure in the context of WWII was not the Allied response to Hitler’s aggression, but was instead the unwillingness to check the Nazi regime’s aggression preemptively.
Make it smaller.
Okay, so Nazi’s and the holocaust are extreme examples, and hopefully not ones we are ever going to face in real life (although don’t rule it out). What about a mugging? Or a home invasion? What then? Do we condemn our families to death by inaction when it seems unavoidable? Again, the answer is pre-emptive. What can I do to identify those potentialities and undercut them before they become reality? Can I avoid a mugging by how I dress? Can I avoid a home invasion by not flaunting my wealth or by making sure my house is secure? Perhaps not, but I can work towards reforming the social conditions that make mugging or home invasion attractive activities. I can advocate for better working conditions for others. I can commit myself to a community where my neighbors know me and know that I am looking out for their interests, and hopefully they will do the same.
Boil it down.
But ultimately, it boils down to a faith that relies on God for my protection and an understanding of the world that sees Love as the antithesis of fear and hatred. I cannot profess loving someone I kill, and therefore I cannot kill someone if I profess to love them.