A friend in my men’s group recently sent the link to an article, The Third Way, written by the Franciscan friar Richard Rohr. This short but profound essay refers to what the late theologian Walter Wink says about how Jesus would respond when confronted by evil. He points out the human response often default to either passivity or violence. However, Christians are called to a higher ground that follows an alternative pathway that defies both ends. Rohr says this Jesus’ third way embraces the principle of “love your enemies”. This is hard for it can often be misunderstood as spinelessness, but “it is precisely the message Martin Luther King, Jr. made central to his efforts in the polarized circumstances of the American South.”
To our most bitter opponents we say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.
King’s message is profound. The love he talks about is not the warm and fuzzy feeling that we may perceive with our friends or family. It is an attitude that one insists on having while facing beaten by batons and put in prison. This kind of attitude cannot be sustained by fear or hatred. It can only be attained by great patience and the conviction to believing the vision set by God. This attitude does not set our enemies up on the other side for us to beat down. Instead, it aims at a reconciliation that both can celebrate. “One day we shall win freedom,” King says. “But not for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.” In other words, with all the endurance of attack and humiliation from his enemies, King’s ultimate goal is to liberate himself and his enemies. His end is redemption. Such is the message of the cross.
In Jesus and Nonviolence, Walter Wink says “Commitment to justice, liberation, or the overthrow of oppression is not enough, for all too often the means used have brought in their wake new injustices and oppressions.” I kept witnessing this truth as I read news of conflicts that happened in the US and abroad. While injustice and oppression might have originated from one side, a violent response will eventually convolute with injustice that one can no longer distinguish the good from the evil. Therefore, Wink’s word on the Christian faith is so haunting: Love of enemies has, for our time, become the litmus test of authentic Christian faith. Pause for a moment and let that sink within. As oppose to tradition, Wink proposes true Christianity is not identified by Orthodoxy (the confession of creeds) but by Orthopraxy (the practice of faith). The implication is not only theological but also practical. When confronting evil like racial tension in the US or suppression of freedom in Hong Kong, one’s action may contribute to either the problem or the solution. The authentic Christian faith marks the difference.