Gandhi, Cowards and “turning the other cheek”

The power of resisting evil …non violently. That’s what we were talking about in Matthew 5:38-43 yesterday. We looked at the “turn the other cheek” passage exploring what those words may have meant to Jesus audience. I proposed Jesus’ statements were designed to resist the power of humanity’s evil in bold, creative, non violent strategies. 

One of the things I couldn’t deal with yesterday is the role that a sort of “holy anger” can or should play in creative resistance. Gandhi was quick to say that he couldn’t train a coward to respond non- violently. He could train a fight to resist, but he couldn’t work with a coward. Cowards just didn’t care enough to win. So when the dogs were unleashed, or the British troops opened fire, cowards would just run. But people with a heart for seeing the injustice fall would stand their ground. 

To resist evil you first have to care about evil not winning. This is what stops a lot of us it seems to me. We don’t have a dog in this race. The injustices done to undocumented workers isn’t affecting me with my US birth certificate. The shaming of single moms doesn’t pause my dinner preparations. And I have to force myself to consider the challenges of being Palestinian right now. 

You get the picture. I’m (generally speaking) not upset about as many things as I suspect Jesus is upset about. And therein lies the problem. 

“The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference.” Elie Wiesel said. It rings true even in its overuse. It seems more important than ever that one of our first daily prayers is simply to care about the things God cares about. Nothing too flashy there. Just an earthly agreement with heaven. Perhaps what Jesus meant behind the “on earth as it is in heaven” refrain in the Lord’s prayer. 

A good resource to get you thinking about this further is Walter Wink’s masterful “Naming the Powers” series. Three volumes. All written about 30 years ago. All amazing. Still. 



2 thoughts on “Gandhi, Cowards and “turning the other cheek”

  1. As someone who has moved away from LSC and misses it’s rich intellectual exploration of religious/spiritual teachings, I have discovered and reflected on many things. Although where you live physically changes dramatically Jesus’ unconditional love for each of us does not change.

    We think of courage in the face of “do or die” situations: war vs. non-violence. Yet, every day we rub the sleep out of our eyes and face making dozens of decisions with the best information we have at that time. I suggest every time we poor humans make any decision it is a supreme act of individual courage and we must celebrate those decisions.

    Here in the northeast, most buldings have stone foundations. There are houses built during the war of 1812 and the civil war. The church we have attended was begun in 1792. Imagine the decisions people were making in those days as they faced war and survival. Yet, God was always present, soothing, comforting and nourishing people trying to just make it through the day.

    My personal foundation is not made of stone, but it is my deep faith that keeps me going. It shores me up when I am in despair and afraid. I see God smiling when I get it right, and Jesus is by backseat driver always whispering “you are not alone.”

  2. I only read Engaging the Powers, but it was great-recommended to me by Jerry Stromberg. Favorite quote: “Violence is so successful as a myth precisely because it does not seem to be mythic in the least. Though most Christians will if questioned claim that they support the use of violence in certain cases on the basis of just war thinking, they do nothing of the sort. Just war theory is a very rigorous and complex ethical discipline that includes principles like: just cause, formal declaration, means must be proportional to the ends. In addition, prisoners must be treated humanely and noncombatants must be given immunity.” When alternatives to war are debated, one side gets a force of 2 million trained personnel and a budget of $300 billion; the other side gets nothing.
    And I love the Gandhi quote, Although an advocate for non violent resistance, he preferred violent resistance to no resistance. He famously said, “There are many things i would die for, nothing i would kill for.”

    What is overwhelming for me is: what do I do with all the things that upset me. Denial is how we get through the day. How do we go out to dinner, if we REALLY grasp the idea that 40,000 children are dying of starvation every day? It is important to care, to be upset, yet we also have to function.

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