I’m enjoying thinking about non-violence and radical submission.
Following Jesus’ example on non-violence and foot-washing, the principle of radical submission became embedded in Christian ethics.
Slaves were told to be excellent slaves, even if they served less-than-excellent masters. Enemies were to be fed and watered. Women, newly freed from oppression by the gospel, were told to fit voluntarily within the old patriarchal structures. They undermined it totally, throwing men completely off balance, by being unusually sweet and nice. Rulers were smilingly obeyed. Taxes were stumped up. Early on in the piece, a Roman governor (from memory, the younger Pliny) complained that the Christians treated the pagan dead with more kindness than the pagan living were managing to do.
When you treat an oppressor thoughtfully, charitably, kindly and well, you weaponize shame. ‘I’m giving you a chance to disgrace yourself,’ we say. ‘Don’t miss the opportunity.’
And even if that particular enemy is immunized against shame, his mother won’t be, his children won’t be, his support network won’t be. The more he shames himself by being cruel and sneaky to the kind, the more his authority shrivels away.
This has such powerful resonances for today. Hong Kong residents gather in their tens of thousands singing Christian worship songs (for example). This is much harder for the authorities to deal with than (for example) violent lawlessness. They have a playbook for violent lawlessness. They are rather less certain how to crack down on a church picnic.
It’s easy to say
Of course this is easy to say. Much, much harder to live out. Look at Zimbabwe, looted and ransacked by its leaders, peacefully opposed, but generations of suffering has not yet brought the needed change.
Look at the rise of autocracy and populism around the world. Yet, still, we have to insist that peacemaking and radical submission and love are the marker posts on the true path to transformation.
A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.
11 But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy peace and prosperity. Psalm 37:10-11