Ted Grimsrud—Peace Essays #D.3
[Published in the Conrad Grebel Review, 28.3 (Fall 2010), 22-38.]
“One of the most pressing questions facing the world today is, How can we oppose evil without creating new evils and being made evil ourselves?” These words opened Walter Wink’s Engaging the Powers nearly twenty years ago—and voice the concern that remains at the center of many peacemakers’ sensibilities.
Wink’s question about resisting evil without adding to the evil points in two directions at once, thereby capturing one of the central tensions we face. On the one hand, we human beings of good will, especially those of us inclined toward pacifism, assume that we do, at the heart of our lives, have a responsibility to resist evil in our world, to seek peace, to be agents of healing—that is, to enter into the brokenness of our present situation and be a force for transformation.
Yet, on the other hand, we recognize that all too often efforts to overcome evil end up exacerbating the brokenness. We recognize that resisting evil all too often leads to the use of tactics that end up adding to the evil—and transform the actors more than the evil situation.
So, how might we act responsibly while also remaining not only true to our core convictions that lead us to seek peace but also serving as agents of actual healing instead of well-meaning contributors to added brokenness?
In recent years, various strategies with potential for addressing these issues have arisen. These include efforts to add teeth to the enforcement of international law (the International Criminal Court) and the emergence of what has come to be known as the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine affirmed by the United Nations Security Council in 2006.
In this general arena of seeking to respond creatively to evil, we could also include creative thinking that has been emerging out of peace church circles related to themes such as restorative justice, “just policing,” and projects such at the 3-D Security Initiative and Mennonite Central Committee’s “Peace Theology Project.”
One way of setting up the tension seemingly inherent for peacemakers in these efforts at responding to evil is the tendency to incline either towards “responsibility” in ways that compromise our commitment to nonviolence and the inherent worth of all human beings, even wrongdoers, or towards “faithfulness” in ways that do not truly contribute to resisting wrongdoing and bringing about needed changes.
We face a basic choice. Will we understand this tension as signaling a need to choose one side of the tension over the other—either retreating into our ecclesial cocoon and accepting our “irresponsibility” or embracing the call to enter the messy world in creative ways that almost certainly will mean leaving our commitment to nonviolence behind? Or will we understand this tension as a call to devote our best energies to finding ways actually to hold together our nonviolence with creative responsibility? Continue reading