Offered in tribute and defense of some dear sisters and brothers whose disobedience today provides one more altar call for our community.
Getting arrested for civil disobedience is not irresponsible. Nonviolent civil disobedience is one of the most responsible and virtuous paths you could walk.
The truly irresponsible choice is violence. Victory through violence decides that the weaker party once defeated will solve the problems of the conflict or bear them alone. Victory through violence only determines who gets excused from bearing the cost of the conflict and the cost of the solution. The vanquished must solve the causes of the conflict themselves without further conditions, demands, or expectations on the victors. So violence is only a means of escape from solving and facing ones problems, problems likely caused by both victor and vanquished.
Not only that, but added to the old problems the defeated must bear alone is the new problem of having been violated, humiliated, injured, and possibly oppressed. So now there are more problems to solve and greater burdens to bear, but fewer shoulders to carry the yoke since the victors have thrown off their responsibility. But then the defeated are tempted by the relief and ease of the victors to throw the whole burden back on their opponents through retribution and recrimination. The fight is still over whose responsibility the sin and cost is, and the burden continues to get heavier and heavier the more it is pushed back and forth.
Nonviolent resistance is a way of escape from this vicious cycle because it patiently bears witness to the common responsibility for our problems and confesses our common participation in both the causes and the effects of our brokenness. It does not force the other to bear the burden alone, but continually, persistently, and publicly calls all neighbors to bear the burden together. Nonviolent civil disobedience is the most responsible kind of action because it takes responsibility for brokenness, sin, and alienation at the same time that it insists that others–all others–follow that example.
Nonviolence is the most responsible path because because it refuses to add to the burden of reconciliation additional weights of new violence and retaliation. Nonviolence is the most courageous path because it faces the cost of brokenness and determines to pay it rather than to escape it and force it on someone else. Nonviolence is the most hopeful option because it believes that brokenness can be healed and the poison of sin can be drawn out, for the cost of alienation and injustice is not too high. Nonviolence cannot be pessimistic, but optimistically believes that the sickness is not unto death and the prognosis is good if the prescription is taken.
Nonviolence is resistance, though, because it resists the old war over who will be responsible. Therefore, it resists externally the claims that one side bear the whole burden, but it also resists internally the desire to be irresponsible and vindictive. But even though nonviolence disobeys the rules of engagement by taking responsibility, it is essentially cooperative because it grows out of the beautiful paradox that we each must bear our own burdens and at the same time bear one anothers burdens. We are responsible for ourselves and for each other.
Only when everyone is responsible will true community emerge as a cooperative, restorative reality. Nonviolence is the beginning of taking responsibility and therefore the beginning of community, even if paradoxically it must oppose what destroys community by being uncooperative and even disobedient in action and unashamed in speech. In nonviolence I refuse to participate in the lie that destroys community, the lie that we are only responsible for ourselves. So I begin to take responsibility for myself and for you while I patiently and persistently ask that you also take responsibility for yourself and for me.
Nonviolence is the beginning of community because it insists that though we have serious problems, it is a “we” who have them, a “we” who cause them, and a “we” who will benefit from their solution.
Nonviolence is costly responsibility and responsible suffering. I must first bear my own burden alone while I find a way to persuade you through conscience to bear it with me–freely out of love and the dictates of conscience. I must risk that you will never respond, that I will be left to bear it alone. But I have hope that you, like me, can be persuaded.
I must also bear your burden for you, the burden of your fear in the form of violence that you pour out. I must bear responsibility for your fear that the cost of justice would overwhelm you. I must prove to you that it will not. I must show you that the brokenness must be borne and can be borne. With my own body I must prove to you–even at your own hands–that suffering for what is right pays the cost of reconciliation and will bring victory. You are violent because you believe the cost of justice, of fixing our problems, will destroy you. Only by nonviolent resistance do I prove to you that the cost can be paid, that evil will not sweep over us. I bear your evil without fainting to show you that it can be done. I teach you to have courage by courageously exhausting your violence motivated by fear.
Nonviolence is the insistence that there is nothing to fear, that nothing will harm you on God’s holy mountain.
But nonviolence must be disruptive and even disobedient. It must find the wound of injustice and drain the venom of violence so that healing may come. It must show up, attend to the injustice, offer a prescription for peace, and draw out all that works against healing, even if that means drawing violence and retaliation onto itself so that it may be borne away out of the camp and cast into the wilderness. Nonviolence must be disruptive for the sake of responsible healing. It must disrupt infection, contamination, and disease. It dramatizes evil by creating the conditions in which the pathology of injustice and violence can be identified and diagnosed. Nonviolence does not provoke others to violence and injustice, but creates a controlled experiment or test of and for the community so that the present sickness will reveal itself as such.
Nonviolence thus bears the sickness of society while refusing to become infected by the disease that destroys community, which is violence in service of fearful irresponsibility.
Nonviolence is a courageous, responsible, disruptive test to confirm the diagnosis of what ails a community. Nonviolence refuses to cast out the demon by the power of Satan. Rather, it casts out demons by the finger of God, the peace of Christ. The evil must be borne out of the community and put to death. So nonviolence bears the cross of injustice, carrying it outside the city to a place of shame and violence where it absorbs everything that those who delight in evil can imagine because it knows what the violent cannot imagine: that love leads to victory and resurrection follows suffering.