Balancing Acts – Choosing Sides

tom b

by Tom Beutel

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:21 (NIV)

In a day of instant news – on television or on the internet – we are aware of problems throughout the world as never before. Natural disasters, economic hardship, outbreaks of disease and, of course, war and other violent conflicts dominate the headlines, news feeds and social media. And, rightly, many engage in peacemaking activities to bring healing and justice in these situations by volunteering, giving donations, or advocating for needed change.

In these situations, peacemakers focus on non-violent means of restoring well-being and reconciliation. While peace is certainly more than rejecting violence, non-violence is a key element of peacemaking. Violence, whether physical or emotional, is antithetical to peace. Peacemakers believe that peace is not and cannot be accomplished by using violence. And, for Christians, the Bible bears this out.

In Romans 12: 19-21, for example, Paul writes,

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is        mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Peacemakers engage in all sorts of peacemaking including vigils at prisons, petitioning government officials on unjust policies, advocating for the rights marginalized or oppressed people, engaging in fair trade programs, even standing between the oppressor and the oppressed as is done by Christian Peacemaker teams. (https://www.cpt.org/ )

Of course, there are many more ways in which peacemakers seek to make peace throughout the world, in the local neighborhood, and at home. A situation that is crying out for true peacemaking is that which was highlighted by the events in Charlottesville, Va two weeks ago. Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) rightly has included a statement on its website condemning white supremacy ideology and tactics. It is certainly appropriate to reject “white supremacy and its violence in all forms—including white racism, white silence, white fragility and white privilege.” (https://mcc.org/stories/statement-white-supremacy-racism )

But, as peacemakers “called to follow the example of Jesus,” (MCC) we need to be careful not to inadvertently embrace a new form of oppression as we seek to eliminate a current one. We must not choose sides.  According to the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, Article 22:

Led by the Spirit, and beginning in the church, we witness to all people that violence is not the    will of God. We witness against all forms of violence. (bold added)

http://mennoniteusa.org/confession-of-faith/peace-justice-and-nonresistance/

All people in this case includes those that protested violently against the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, including those associated with Antifa, a radical left, anti-facist group. Little has been said or written about this side of the events in Charlottesville. As a matter of fact, President Trump was one of the few to highlight that “the counter-protesters demonstrating against white nationalism were also to blame for the violence at race-fueled riots in Charlottesville, Virginia.” (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/trump-defends-all-sides-comment-n793001 )

As people of peace and followers of Jesus we need to call out all who employ violence. Antifa groups typically use violence and intimidation, the very tactics that they ostensibly abhor in the white nationalist groups and did so in Charlottesville. On at least three other occasions this year protesters linked to antifa groups used violence against those who they deemed to be fascist or white nationalists. (the inauguration, Berkeley, Middlebury, Vt. (See https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/the-rise-of-the-violent-left/534192/ )

Their faces hidden behind black bandannas and hoodies, about 100 anarchists and antifa—“anti-fascist” — members barreled into a protest Sunday afternoon in Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park…Shortly after, violence began to flare. A pepper-spray-wielding Trump supporter was smacked to the ground with homemade shields. Another was attacked by five black-clad antifa members, each windmilling kicks and punches into a man desperately trying to protect himself.

(https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/08/28/black-clad-antifa-attack-right-wing-demonstrators-in-berkeley/ )

Don’t get me wrong. I am not sympathizing with the views of the so-called white nationalists. Neither do I sympathize with the “radical left” many of whom advocate anarchy. But, in any case, as Christians and as peacemakers we should oppose the use of violence on either “side.”

Beyond this specific issue, it is time to stop choosing sides. The evangelical church typically sides with conservatives, while peacemakers probably tend to identify with liberals/progressives. If we must choose sides, let’s choose God’s side. Let’s strive to “overcome evil with good.”

Editor’s Note: Tom Beutel, a regular contributor to PeaceSigns, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Balancing Acts is a monthly feature of PeaceSigns.

 

 

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