Tuesday, May 3, 2011

John Howard Yoder on the Political Strength of Renouncing Violence

"We have always been taught to understand the nature of power in society so as to expect that the way to get useful things done is to find a place at the command posts of the state. We have suggested already that the man in power is not as free or as strong as he assumes, that he is the prisoner of the friends and the promises he made in order to get into office. But an even more basic observation is that he is not at the place in society where the greatest contribution can be made. The creativity of the 'pilot project' or of the critic is more significant for a social change than is the coercive power which generalizes a new idea. Those who are at the 'top' of society are occupied largely with the routine tasks of keeping in position and keeping balance in society. The dominant group in any society is the one which provides its judges and lawyers, teachers and prelates -- their effort is largely committed to keeping things as they are. This busyness of rulers with routine gives an exceptional leverage to the creative minority, sometimes because it can up the scales between two power blocs and sometimes because it can pioneer a new idea. In every rapidly changing society a disproportionate share of leadership is carried by cultural, racial, and religious minorities.

"What is said here about the cultural strength of the numerical and social minority could just as well be said with regard to political strength. The freedom of the Christian, or of the church, from needing to invest his best effort or the effort of the Christian community, in obtaining the capacity to coerce others, and exercising and holding on to this power, is precisely the key to the creativity of the unique Christian mission in society. The rejection of violence appears to be social withdrawal if we assume that violence is the key to all that happens in society. But the logic shifts if we recognize that the number of locks that can be opened with the key of violence is very limited. The renunciation of coercive violence is the prerequisite of a genuinely social responsibility and to the exercise of those kinds of social power which are less self-defeating."

--John Howard Yoder, "Christ, the Hope of the World," in The Original Revolution: Essays on Christian Pacifism (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1971), 171-72

1 comment:

  1. I love Yoder! I recently was challenged by his book BODY POLITICS. Have you read that one? It is short and powerful.