Every month we feature a classic PeaceSigns article from the archives. Enjoy this great piece from the January 2004 issue.
Love as a strategy of operation
by Myron S. Augsburger
How do we impact society for Christ and his kingdom? How do we help people understand a “third way” to choose and behave? How do we share and promote the rule of God now? How do we work to break the cycle of violence?
Jesus shows us, his disciples, a way of life that will counter the violence around us. His is a strategy of love. He taught us to “turn the other cheek,” to “go the second mile,” to return good for evil. This is not the way of the wimp or the weakling. This is a strategy of operation. When you turn the other cheek to someone who hits you, you are saying, “I am free. I don’t have to treat you the way you have treated me. I can act on my own principles.” This strategy gives the oppressed one a psychological advantage. The oppressor begins to wonder, “What makes this person different?”
At a chapel service at the Pentagon in 1982, I chose the Luke 6 passage on turning the other cheek. At that time, the hype was all about Russia and “balance of power.” I told the audience of military men that Jesus’ words are not only for personal conduct but are also relevant to an issue such as U.S. relations with Russia. Why not treat them on the basis of our concerns for justice rather than in the way they seemed to be treating us? The men who shook my hand at the end recognized the difference between my emphasis and theirs, adding that the message made a lot of sense in facing the problem.
Years ago, in a class at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, I remember Donovan Smucker saying, “We do society the most good by maintaining our own integrity.” I believe there is such a thing as a therapy of witness, with an approach of healing, not judgment. We as disciples identify with Jesus at the heart of our lives and call others to identify with him at the heart of theirs. This is more than a mystical piety-it is participation in eternal life as a quality of relationship.
Our witness to government does not imply that we want to be in control but that we want to see equity and justice for all peoples. We call government to live up to the highest level of its own claims. In the sixteenth-century Reformation turmoil, Menno Simons addressed officials as “servants of God” and then challenged them to live as such. This is why many of us encouraged our president to seek extended conversation with Iraq, to work with the United Nations, to find alternate means of influence for change to that of war.
Jesus lived in a world of violence, oppression and prejudice. As our redeemer and as our mentor, he modeled the ethic of love, both compassionate and confrontive. His love was not merely good feelings. It was genuine caring for others, that held them accountable to what was best for them and those to whom they related. When he cleansed the temple, Jesus was holding people accountable for the essential nature of temple worship. I also feel that kind of anger toward injustice, racial prejudice and violence that destroys another’s freedom. I pray for grace to avoid the sinfulness of expressing anger to coerce or dominate. There is a special strategy of healing and peace in the dynamics of loving conversation. After cleansing the temple, Jesus came back for conversation every day for a whole week.
Jesus teaches us that we are to love our enemies, to counter hate by love, to be realists about enmity, but meet it with costly love. This is the path of reconciliation and this reconciliation never happens at a distance. Love is not just theory-it is a lifestyle. It is only by the strategy of love put into action that others will be made aware that there is a better way to seek justice and to set things right. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We not only avoid violence of deed but violence of spirit.” There is power in love. As Paul said, love covers a multitude of sins. That is, love prevents a multitude of sins.
Myron Augsburger has been a pastor, college president, seminary professor and traveling evangelist, and is the author of more than 20 books.