Violence produces justice

People who turn the other cheek don’t get much respect. Oh, some admire us for our constancy. But if they really want to get something done, and done quickly, most people count on weaponry.

Before 1966, nearly all of the American civil rights movement was committed to Christian nonviolence. Then some young black leaders began calling for “black power.” They demanded to know how passive resistance could ever bring freedom to their people.

In spite of my non-resistant Anabaptist beliefs, I have to confess that they had a good point. Historically, violence has been one of the most powerful tools for spreading justice and righteousness. Don’t believe it? Read on.

  • Before 1960, African-Americans in Nashville were not served at department store lunch counters. Only after the bombing of the home of a black Republican attorney did the white mayor support the development of a plan to integrate downtown lunch counters in that city.
  • Before 1964, African-Americans were not guaranteed access to public restaurants, hotels, and theaters. Only after the murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi did the Senate overcome the opposition of Southern colleagues and passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • Before 1965, African-Americans in the Deep South were rarely allowed to vote. Only after Alabama state troopers bloodied a young black seminary student on a bridge outside Selma, fracturing his skull, did the Southern-born president of the United States announce that he would introduce what became the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  • In another famous incident, only after a Middle Eastern religious leader was tortured to death did his movement become the most widespread religion in the world. As you may know, other benefits resulted from his death as well.

Yet despite all the wonders that violence has accomplished, for some reason, I still prefer not to commit violence myself. Because I’ve noticed that, sometimes, violence accomplishes the opposite of what you intend.

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