The Powers That Be by Walter Wink speaks to our day in profound ways. The broad theme of the Domination System is helpful in my reflections about issues of justice and equality in the world. One quote that really stood out to me comes from page 68:
A society with an unfair distribution of goods requires violence. Violence is the only way some are able to deprive others of what is justly theirs. Inequality between rich and poor can be maintained only by violence. Jesus rejects violence.
The results of a Domination System are manifested in many ways, including the unfair distribution of goods. The Occupy Wall Street Movement recognizes this and is invigorating the imagination of people in our country and world who understand that financial power must be distributed in a just fashion. A simple protest that began through social networking has spread into cities across America. It’s a movement of resistance to the status quo – that economics based on a “trickle down” philosophies.
The interesting connection I see here is that on the surface it would be quite easy to say that violence is not connected to our distribution of resources. The problem with such a view is that it lacks integrity. The United States is maintained through economic practices that are secured through various forms of violence. We use violence to strip nature of her beauty in order to secure the best “resources” for production, we pay the poor throughout the world wages that come close to slave labor, we reduce the lower-class of Americans to robotic repetition while refusing to pay them a wage that empowers them to rise above their current reality, and ultimately we use our military machine to perpetuate these things. And when “national security” can be used as a front, Americans are quite good at justifying violence in order to make sure that economic interests are not threatened. This truly is the Domination System of “empire.”
Yet as Christians, Jesus calls us to another way. The way of peace. The path of justice. The journey toward humanization of all people in all places. According to Matthew 5, all forms of violence to secure this Domination System are opposed to the Christian life. Wink rightly reflects on this both theologically and practically. He states: “Violence can never stop violence because its very success leads others to imitate it” (134). In other words, violence may temporarily intervene to stop some immediate threat, but that it only contributes to justifying its use by others in the future. Jesus stops the cycle by inviting the Christ follower into nonviolent resistance. A “third way” approach disarms the violator. In doing so, we also can expose the evils of the Domination System through the use of various forms of civil disobedience. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi are wonderful examples of this. Occupy Wall Street seems to have this sort of an approach as its aim as well.
In our current economic climate, it would be easy for those involved in the current protest to “project” their own images on to the “enemy” of corporations. This is true, not only in this moment in history, but in any moment. When we find ourselves in a situation where an enemy is present, creating oppression through use of Domination; the temptation always will be to project on them all forms of evil. The problem with this approach is that history shows that such means often lead to demonization, which eventually can justify various forms of militancy. Wink says that we are invited to view our enemy as a gift. His example (expounded on page 168ff) is from Matthew 7.3-5:
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
The above text reminds us that until we can see clearly by removing the log out of our own eye, a path to our full humanity, the temptation of projection will remain. We project because we are unable to see our oppressor as they truly are: flawed image bearers of God. Wink states:
How wonderfully humiliating: we not only may have a role in transforming our enemies, but our enemies can play a role in transforming us! As we become aware of our projections on our enemies, we are freed from the fear that we will overreact murderously toward them (171).
Only when we see our oppressors as gifts, as objects of love in spite of their un-love, will we be able to become the kind of just peacemakers that the way of Jesus invites us. Our task as followers of Jesus, when we understand the dynamics at work in the Domination System, is to humanize our oppressor and in turn become more fully human ourselves. “Nonviolence presents a chance for all parties to rise above their present condition and become more of what God created them to be” (172).
Whether it’s Occupy Wall Street, the Civil Rights Movement, GLBTIQ political rights, or any other justice initiative; the people of God have a gift to offer the world – the gift of the “third way” between inaction and violence. The way of Jesus exposes the dehumanizing systems of the world, while seeking to raise the humanity of all parties involved in any conflict – even one dealing with economics.
You can catch Kurt at his awesome Pangea Blog where he daily takes on issues like non-violence, theology, and being an Evangelical Reject.