No Justice, No Peace

A reflection by NEC Chairman, Bishop Dan Edwards


No Justice. No Peace.

We chant it, print it, proclaim it out of concern that our commitment to non-violence might be confused with passivity in the face of oppression. Non-violence must never be understood as complicity with evil. The great champions of non-violence – Jesus, Tolstoy, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Ruby Sales – were champions of justice.

But there are two ways to understand No Justice. No Peace. The first is as a threat. If you want peace, you better provide some justice. Otherwise there will be hell to pay. That interpretation is the opposite of non-violence. It is a vain effort to fight fire with fire, to overcome domination with domination. 

The deep and true interpretation of No Justice. No Peace rests on a fuller understanding of violence. Injustice, oppression, and discrimination are systemic, structural forms of violence. That is why Albert Einstein said, Peace is not merely the absence of war but the presence of justice, of law, of order . . . . The death penalty, solitary confinement, police brutality, caging children, deporting asylees, social determinants of health that spread disease based on race, all these are structural forms of violence. 

Non-violence is an effective strategy for confronting injustice. Historically, it has proven to be more effective than violence in creating change. In Psychology Today, Dr. Mikhail Lyubanski says, Nonviolence has been shown to be more effective than violence in overthrowing repressive regimes and in resisting foreign occupation. Perhaps more importantly, it has the potential to be fruitful over the long term.

 But it isn’t just a tactic. It is a deep strategy for deep and lasting change. It recognizes that the heart of injustice is violence; so injustice can be overcome only non-violently. Conservative and liberal Biblical scholars alike see Jesus as a voice of non-violence. Perhaps he learned it from the history of his people. Jews had suffered oppression at the hands of the Seleucid Empire, so they engaged in the Maccabean revolt and took power themselves. But the rebels, once in the driver’s seat, were corrupted by their power and oppressed their own, so that the oppressed Jews essentially invited Rome to take over. Then they were oppressed by the Romans. In Jesus’ day, the Zealots and the Sicarii wanted to replay the Maccabean revolt, but Jesus saw that was not the way. He offered the paradoxical way of love instead. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Non-violence isn’t just not doing violence. It is using the paradoxical and mysterious power of love to challenge the injustices that incarnate violence as justice is incarnation of peace. 

Love and violence both change people – the people who practice them. The way to peace and the way to justice are one way, the way of love. 

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