Guns ‘n Moses, Part 3

Guns ‘n Moses, Part 3

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate…Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive our hate; only love can do that. Martin Luther King, Jr.[1]

As Russian forces began to amass on Ukraine’s eastern border prior to the recent invasion, a friend of mine noted that we (the United States) should have started building schools and hospitals in Russia long ago. Instead, we have chosen to install arms and armed forces in Europe, all of which are aimed directly at Russia. As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the United States and other western nations adopted a strategy of keeping the peace, meaning keeping Russia within its non-European boundaries, by threat of force. Most European nations belong to NATO, which was established to assure that if Russia attempted to invade any NATO nation, a violent military response would ensue from all NATO nations, including the United States. Although Ukraine is not a NATO nation, it expressed its intent to become one. Russia’s response has been violent and destructive. While I will not defend or support Russia’s actions, I wonder if attempting to keep peace by threat of violent action was the most effective strategy toward keeping Russia out of Europe. My speculation is not driven by any knowledge of military strategy or of international diplomacy. Rather, my conjecture is motivated by Jesus’ definitive commitment to non-violence, something I believe anyone claiming to be a Christian cannot take lightly.

Having discussed power by threat of violence two weeks ago and power by surrender last week, I will now move to creating power through interdependence. In theory, power through interdependence flows from weaving oneself so intimately into the fabric of another that what is good for the one cannot be separated from what is good for the other. A good marriage establishes this sort of healthy co-dependence. In the context of my friend’s comment, what if the United States had been using its resources and expertise to help the Russian citizens improve their lives through education and health care instead of threatening their destruction? Interdependency does not gain its power by violent threats or actions. Rather, interdependency removes the desire to do violence against another because any act of violence against the interdependent other is, in essence, an act of violence against the perpetrator. Had we, along with Europe, been helping educate and heal the Russian people for generations instead of threatening them with annihilation, perhaps they would have risen up against Putin’s attempts to overtake another sovereign nation. Perhaps Putin would not have been so threatened by NATO’s nearness to his borders had NATO’s nearness been helping move his country forward instead of threatening (at least in Putin’s eyes) its existence.

In his 1957 Christmas Day sermon, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., pointed out that violence only increases hate. Even the threat of violence increases hate and fear. Certainly the Cold War that followed World War II was full of hatred and mistrust, even if there was a terse peace for a time. The falling away of many of the former Soviet Union countries occurred because the people of those countries saw a way to improve their lot in life by reaching for something better. When other countries showed their willingness to assist them in achieving something better, their loyalties quickly left their former alliances. Dr. King reminds us that “hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

The lesser-known parts of Dr. King’s sermon quoted in today’s epigraph are eerily prophetic today. “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.” While I will not absolve Putin and his supporters of responsibility for the horrors they are inflicting on the people of Ukraine, I think we in the West must examine how we may have unwittingly contributed to this “descending spiral.” In what ways may we have caused the current evil to multiply? And, of course, what can we learn to help guide our responses to potentially aggressive actors in the future? I believe those of us who claim to follow Jesus must at least consider non-violent acts of interdependency as alternatives to threats of violent action and annihilation.

[1] Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, excerpt from a sermon titled, “Loving Your Enemies,” given at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, AL, December 25, 1957.

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