Reverend Andrew Schmdit explores the concept and contexts of non-violent resistance in this week’s column. Photo: Sergei Chuzavkov
Reverend Andrew Schmdit explores the concept and contexts of non-violent resistance in this week’s column. Photo: Sergei Chuzavkov

The heart and soul of non-violent resistance

Matthew 16:26 (NIV) - What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

I recently came across a post about non-violent resistance.

In the post the writer was making the point that non-violent resistance is never really non-violence.

Rather what happens is that the resisters, understanding that systemic change will always involve some level of violence, and the more entrenched and powerful the system the more violence will ensue.

Non-violent resistance invites the oppressor to enact violence, in such a way as that it reveals the brutality of the powerful, in the hope that bringing that brutality to the foreground will inspire the general populace to see the injustice, and demand change.

Violent resistance places the violence onto the other, non-violent resistance places the violence onto self.

This is a fascinating idea, and when I started looking into it, I came across a number of articles that support to some extent the concept, but I also came across articles talking about the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance.

The work of Erica Chenoweth indicates that non-violent resistance, assuming all other factors are consistent, can be up to 10 times more effective in instituting regime change.

Two things worry me about this.

The first is that one of the reasons non-violent resistance, such as that utilised by Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi, was so powerful is because people were galvanised by the sacrifice of those resisting injustice.

I can easily imagine a scenario in which, knowing that non-violence is more successful will invite critics to point to this fact, to undermine the sacrifice.

In the context of the BLM matters protests we can already see that violence is being instigated in some instances by counter-protesters, yet blamed on the protesters, imagine laying over the top of that a cynical rhetoric, saying that the violence is being invited to manipulate onlookers.

My second concern is that the heart of nonviolent resistance is not the likelihood of success but the ultimate commitment to the truth being revealed, even up to the willingness to be the victim of violence in order to reveal the truth.

If non-violence becomes a numbers game, then its soul has been sold, and I can't help but mourn the death of the most powerful witness to the truth.

Rev Andrew Schmidt, Good Shepherd Anglican Church



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