Quakers and The Lamb's War: A Hermeneutic
for Confronting Evil
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Quakers and The Lamb's War: A Hermeneutic for Confronting Evil
International Historic Peace Church Consultation
Bienenberg Theological Seminary, Switzerland, June 25-28, 2001
A Modern Hermeneutic
Walter Wink provides Christians and fellow Quakers with a modern hermeneutic for the non-violent confrontation of evil which is consistent with the early Quaker understanding of the Lamb's War. He has described what he calls Jesus' Third Way in several places including the volume Transforming Violence 15 edited for the Historic Peace Church Committee (Herr, 1998). He points out that in the oft quoted "resist not evil" (Matthew 5:39a) the word resist (antistenai) usually had a military usage in contemporary sources.16 It is not that we are not to resist evil, but that we are not to resist evil on its own terms (stand against). He takes the following hard sayings, three admonitions to "turn the other cheek," "give your cloak as well," and "go the extra mile" (Matthew 5:39b-41) and shows how these are not admonitions to passivity, but to non-violent assertiveness, asserting one's integrity and dignity when faced with a contemptuous superior power. Wink points out that it is important that Jesus specifies "If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also," as that would be a contemptuous act. It would have to be a backhanded blow to the right cheek in a culture in which one would only strike with the right hand. 17 Striking the left (other) cheek would have to be done as one would in a fight, as between equals. Turning the other (left) cheek is not an act of resistance but of the assertion of one's own worth and dignity. Wink goes on to show how giving one's cloak as well shames the one taking it and not the one left naked (again in that culture), and going the extra mile puts the (presumably) Roman solder who required the first mile (which he is permitted to require) on the defensive and in an embarrassing situation.
In the case where Jesus was struck for not showing proper deference (John 18:22-23), he did not turn the other cheek, but what he did was in the same spirit. We don't know on which cheek he was struck but that doesn't matter. He didn't respond with anger, nor did he cower. He responded reasonably as one would to an equal and to one in whom you recognize the power of reason, and showing the unreasonableness of the attack. It did not change the situation (though we don't know what effect it had on this particular guard), nor did Jesus intend for it to change the situation, as he had accepted "his cup" and knew what must happen.
Jesus confronted the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, and early Friends confronted the "priests and professors" of their day. What is the modern, or postmodern, hypocrisy we are confronting? In many cases it is men and women of faith, albeit of a very closed minded and often ethnically limited variety, who are perpetrating unspeakable evils. It may also be that of liberal humanists who separate ends from means to the point they lose sight of the end for which they profess to be working.
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