Today is the anniversary of my friend David Dunn’s passing into the beyond, (1999).
And yesterday, I attended the memorial service for theologian, professor, writer, social activist, and family friend, Walter Wink. The memorial was held at the James Chapel of Union Theological Seminary, where Walter attended grad school with my dad and where Wink taught for awhile in the 1970s before moving to Auburn Seminary.
Words that stayed with me hours and hours after the services: iconoclast. creativity. non-violence. scholarship. action. impishness. curiosity. reconciliation.
I’ve read three of Walter’s books and some of his articles. He was a brilliant and unusual man, optimistic, forward-thinking, that rare combination of someone who is both a thinker/writer and a doer/person of action. I include here an excerpt of one of his articles on The Sermon on the Mount, well worth reading in its entirely for the force of his rational as well as spiritual argument, a relevant and timely reasoning for cognitive awareness and non-violent action in the lives of human beings who want to value themselves and others as human beings–not as inferiors, not as “other,” not as enemy–with dignity and compassion.
Excerpt from Wink’s Jesus’ Third Way
“Seize the moral initiative
Find a creative alternative to violence
Assert your own humanity and dignity as a person
Meet force with ridicule or humor
Break the cycle of humiliation
Refuse to submit or to accept the inferior position
Expose the injustice of the system
Take control of the power dynamic
Shame the oppressor into repentance
Stand your ground
Make the Powers make decisions for which they are not prepared
Recognize your own power
Be willing to suffer rather than retaliate
Force the oppressor to see you in a new light
Deprive the oppressor of a situation where a show of force is effective
Be willing to undergo the penalty of breaking unjust laws
Die to fear of the old order and its rules
Seek the oppressor’s transformation
Gandhi insisted that no one join him who was not willing to take up arms to fight for independence. They could not freely renounce what they had not entertained. One cannot pass directly from “Flight” to “Jesus’ Third Way.” One needs to pass through the “Fight” stage, if only to discover one’s own inner strength and capacity for violence. We need to learn to love justice and truth enough to die for them, by violence if nothing else.
Jesus, in short, abhors both passivity and violence. He articulates, out of the history of his own people’s struggles, a way by which evil can be opposed without being mirrored, the oppressor resisted without being emulated, and the enemy neutralized without being destroyed. Those who have lived by Jesus’ words–Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, César Chavez, Adolpho Pérez Esquivel–point us to a new way of confronting evil whose potential for personal and social transformation we are only beginning to grasp today. Beyond Just War and Pacifism Just war theory was founded in part on a misinterpretation of “Resist not evil” (Matt. 5:39), which Augustine regarded as an absolute command to non-resistance of evil. No Christian, he argued, can take up arms in self-defense, therefore, but must submit passively even to death. Nor can Christians defend themselves against injustice, but must willingly collaborate in their own ruin. But what, asked Augustine, if my neighbors are being thus treated? Then the love commandment requires me to take up arms if necessary to defend them.
But Jesus did not teach non-resistance. Rather, he disavowed violent resistance in favor of nonviolent resistance. Of course Christians must resist evil! No decent human being could conceivably stand by and watch innocents suffer without trying to do, or at least wishing to do, something to save them. The question is simply one of means. Likewise Christians are not forbidden by Jesus to engage in self-defense. But they are to do so nonviolently. Jesus did not teach supine passivity in the face of evil. That was precisely what he was attempting to overcome!
Pacifism, in its Christian forms, was often based on the same misinterpretation of Jesus’ teaching in Matt. 5:38-42. It too understood Jesus to be commanding non-resistance. Consequently, some pacifists refuse to engage in nonviolent direct action or civil disobedience, on the ground that such actions are coercive. Non-resistance, they believe, only licenses passive resistance. Hence the confusion between “pacifism” and “passivism” has not been completely unfounded.
Jesus’ third way is coercive, insofar as it forces oppressors to make choices they would rather not make. But it is non-lethal, the great advantage of which is that, if we have chosen a mistaken course, our opponents are still alive to benefit from our apologies. The same exegesis that undermines the Scriptural ground from traditional just war theory also erodes the foundation of non-resistant pacifism. Jesus’ teaching carries us beyond just war and pacifism, to a militant nonviolence that actualizes already in the present the ethos of God’s domination-free future.
Out of the heart of the prophetic tradition, Jesus engaged the Domination System in both its outer and spiritual manifestations. His teaching on nonviolence forms the charter for a way of being in the world that breaks the spiral of violence. Jesus here reveals a way to fight evil with all our power without being transformed into the very evil we fight. It is a way–the only way possible–of not becoming what we hate. “Do not counter evil in kind”–this insight is the distilled essence, stated with sublime simplicity, of the meaning of the cross. It is time the church stops limping between just war theory and nonresistant pacifism and follows Jesus on his nonviolent way.”
My current study of authentic ancient traditions reveals one treasure after another on a daily basis but none more so than with Christianity, in particular St. Augustine’s “work”. This excerpt from your friend’s essay is so clear regarding yet another misinterpretation; frankly, my mind reels with what might have been–silly as that is.
Thank you for introducing me to Walter Wink’s work. It is an excellent supplement to my current study.
Although this essay is quite clear, some of Walter’s work can be pretty dense.
His research is intensely scholarly…it interests me that he can explain the contextual meaning of the biblical work in terms of culture and era, syntax and translation; yet he fully believed that the “Word” is transformative and timeless. In other words, literal interpretations should be undertaken with a full understanding (such as is possible, given the distance in time) of the initial narrative and with the awareness that the “historical Jesus” used metaphors, paradoxes, & Jewish theology in complex, ie subversive, ways given the political oppression of the times and his disaffection for the pharisees and other ruling religious leaders of Judaism in those years.
I’m not a religious apologist but theology and philosophy fascinate me–the challenges and balance of faith and reason, the spiritual and the empirical. I like Wink’s work because it makes me think.
I studied St. Augustine many years ago and returned to “Confessions” again recently. That book still feels vivid to me.
[…] poetry as a young adult. I read and read, and I also wrote; joined a writing critique group when David Dunn shyly invited me to the informal weekly sessions in Brooklyn. Brooklyn was not fashionable then. I […]