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Gospel non-violence

How do we Christians live the Gospel command “to turn the other cheek” in the context of a violent world?

During the last election campaign, many were saying, we need to forgive the family of [former President Ferdinand Marcos Sr.] because that is what we Christians are supposed to do – to forgive.

Even [former President Rodrigo] Duterte who commanded the killing of thousands of drug addicts and human rights workers has to be forgiven.

He was merely doing it for the sake of the country’s future, Senator Bato justifies it this way in front of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

But if you are one of the victims or any Christian for that matter, how can you be faithful to a life of Gospel non-violence without condoning these injustices?

There are many ways the Christian tradition has dealt with this difficult issue of violence in the world.

First, the Christian pacifist movement denounces any form of violence whatsoever in whatever context. For them, even military service can never be a moral option.

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Second, there are well-meaning and devout Christians who think that a revolutionary option is necessary in situations of long-standing oppression.

The encyclical Populorum Progressio refuses to condemn revolutionary violence from the outset, even if it also says in the end, that it can “engender new injustices, introduce new iniquities and bring new disasters”.

The exceptions it contemplates are situations of “manifest, long-standing tyranny” that harm the basic rights of people and the common good (PP 31).

However, Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti fully clearly opted for nonviolence beyond the first and second positions mentioned above.

“Every act of violence committed against a human being is a wound; every violent death diminishes us as people. Violence leads to more violence. … We must break this cycle which seems inescapable” (FT 227).

Pope Francis’ framework for “just peace” actually points to a third position: the Christian way of “active non-violence”.

This option is not simply pacifist like the first. The journey of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, theologian-victim of the holocaust, tells us of the complexity of “sequila Christi” (following Christ) — from being a pacifist to helping plot Hitler’s assassination, to kneeling before his execution at the gallows.

In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis has a good way of understanding this complex relationship between conflict, loving one’s neighbor, and resisting evil.

Pope Francis writes: “We are called to love everyone, without exception; at the same time, loving an oppressor does not mean allowing him to keep oppressing us, or letting him think that what he does is acceptable. On the contrary, true love for an oppressor means seeking ways to make him cease his oppression; it means stripping him of a power that he does not know how to use, and that diminishes his own humanity and that of others. Forgiveness does not entail allowing oppressors to keep trampling on their own dignity and that of others, or letting criminals continue their wrongdoing… If a criminal has harmed me or a loved one, no one can forbid me from demanding justice and ensuring that this person – or anyone else – will not harm me, or others, again. This is entirely just; forgiveness does not forbid it but actually demands it.” (FT 241)

My own experience with the victims of extrajudicial killings in the last six years – those who really suffer firsthand the brutal violence of Duterte’s tyrannical regime – attests to this complex paradox.

In their moments of desperation and pain, they wanted the perpetrators to die like the way they commanded their sons or husbands to be killed.

Vengeance is in fact deep in the hearts of those affected. I can still remember an orphan whom I asked what he wanted to be when he grew up.

He answered: “I want to become a policeman so that I can revenge for the death of my father.”

This deep-seated pain and anger challenge our presupposed ideals of forgiveness, peace, and non-violence.

Without acknowledging this complex and difficult feeling, we will fall into the danger of what Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace”, “grace without price, grace without cost… preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance… communion without confession, absolution without personal confession… grace without discipleship, grace without the cross.”

The culprits of violence should say “I am sorry” and own up to their responsibility. Then, healing can start.

However, when these bouts of anger pass, the victims move forward with their lives — loving their children, providing food on their tables, making friends with other victims including their neighbors who ostracized them before, or just surviving day after day.

In my experience among victims, violent revenge is not the first option. Violence is not an option for the poor because, with it, they have everything to lose.

Listening to them, they continually long for justice and retribution. But they can also wait for God to implement his justice on the earth.

In many of the wakes that I attended, I notice one or several “chicks” on top of the victim’s coffin all throughout the period of the wake before the funeral (and in the Philippines, this can take weeks).

The chick is a symbol of their prayer to God to grant them justice. Only then, they believe, shall the dead achieve “eternal peace”.

And in the most violent of circumstances from where I come from, to practice Gospel non-violence means to merely keep on living resiliently in the midst of so much dying.

“Gusto nila kaming patayin. Hindi! Hindi kami mamatay.” (They want to kill us. No, we will live.”), says Remy, an 85-year-old woman, whose son was killed by policemen in Payatas and had to take care of his seven children.

Yet, ironically, these prophetic lives, these non-violent resilient “doves”, pose a threat to the powerful “wolves” by their mere survival and existence.

Could this be the reason why this administration employs all the arsenals at its disposal to prevent the ICC from coming to the country?

Jesus once rebuked the Pharisees: “I tell you, if these [victims] were silent, the stones would shout out.” (Luke 19: 40).

Father Daniel Franklin Pilario, C.M., is a theologian, professor, and pastor of an urban poor community on the outskirts of the Philippine capital. He is also Vincentian Chair for Social Justice at St. John’s University in New York. The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of LiCAS News or its publishers.

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