The Anabaptist vision of Jesus: following the ways of non-violence.

As followers of Jesus and bearers of the message of the kingdom of God, peacekeeping and non-violence should permeate our Christian faith in dealing with war, conflict and violence. It should both challenge and lead us to live out this unavoidable non-violent message demonstrated by Jesus. Often, when I try to follow Christ in the context of South Africa, I am surprised by the reaction of the church in dealing with conflict, war and violence. The kind of thinking and praxis demonstrated by churches sometimes makes one wonder whether we are hearing and following the same Jesus – it seems as though the church’s story sometimes contradicts Jesus’ nonviolent message. It seems like the church has also embraced the approach of violent retaliation when dealing with conflict and war.

In South Africa during the apartheid era, some of the main liberation movements started to rethink (if not reject) the idea of passive resistance and considered a different trajectory of thinking, namely violent intervention. The result of this kind of thinking gave birth to military wings such as Poqo within the PAC and uMkhontho we Sizwe within the ANC.

The struggle for liberation took a different shape and therefore intensified and infused violence into various South African communities. This kind of praxis has since been engraved in the minds and hearts of many South Africans. It is no wonder then that even today we continue to see violent protests as oppose to peaceful ones. The more I think about violence, whether political, religious and/or ethnic conflicts, different scenarios in various countries come to mind. I realise that this is not only a South African problem, but a global pandemic.

Contrary to the popular stance on violence, Jesus demonstrates to us a completely different view toward conflict and oppressive political systems. His reaction is a non-violent way of life even amidst violence.

When pondering further the confrontation that took place in the garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22 & John 18), one can see the influence of societal violence that has shaped Peter’s thinking to react with violence, saying: “Lord should we strike with our swords (in the 21st Century we would say gun)? It does not end there; in fact Peter pulls out his sword to strike. We can see how even the disciples are prone to use and respond with violence. Here we realise that both Judas and Peter’s political background has been influenced by Zealot ideology, an ideology that sought to use violence in response to oppression and power. I cannot help but to think that both Judas and Peter anticipated a revolution, a kind of revolution that requires violence (some sort of a coup d'état). Jesus however reacts differently – he embraces the enemy and heals his injured ear.

Not all Christian practices, however, have ignored the message of peace and nonviolence. The Anabaptist tradition redeems and cultivates our Christian faith not to assimilate to violent frameworks in dealing with war and conflict. My first interaction and engagement with Anabaptists was in reading John Howard Yoder during my undergraduate theological studies. Yoder’s theology helped shape my journey towards a meaningful understanding of peace, social justice and reconciliation. This understanding helped me to engage effectively with challenges facing South Africa. The Anabaptist tradition of non-violence both attracted and captured my interest toward an authentic Christian “radical” thinking as to how I perceive the world in relation to conflict and violence. I suppose Stuart Murray would categorize me as an hyphenated Anabaptist – it would therefore mean I am a “Vineyard–Anabaptist”.

Martin Luther King Jr. was right when he said; “Through violence you can murder a liar (or so-called dictators) but you cannot establish truth”. Our quest to establish justice through violence does not guarantee truth, peace, justice and nonviolent outcomes.

Perhaps for too long the church has been shouting for violent freedom fighters where nonviolent thinking disappeared in our theological discourse and in our praxis. One thing about violence is that it dehumanises the other and reduces her/him to being sub-human. Jesus however, restores and brings meaning to humanity (Jn.10:10ff). Stuart Murray leaves us to contemplate this provoking question: “What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war” (2010:25)?