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Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Zimbabwe - a voice for nonviolence

In June this year the Mennonite World Conference, the Reformed Ecumenical Council, and the
World Evangelical Alliance wrote to the African Union and the Southern African Development Community to express their distress over the deepening crisis in Zimbabwe. arising from their
strong ties to Zimbabwe through their member churches there. they stated that:

We further believe that, given the potential for ongoing lack of clarity and resolution following the runoff elections, for the long-term re-stabilization of Zimbabwe, it is crucial for international bodies to insist that the ruling party in Zimbabwe come to a negotiating table to map out future directions for the country. This table must also include not only leaders of the Zimbabwean opposition, but members of Zimbabwe’s military and security forces and leaders of church and civil society groups. Only with a carefully negotiated agreement can the deep divisions and distrust that has grown over the past decades begin to be healed.

We insist that the time for quiet diplomacy by friends of Mr. Mugabe to be effective is long past. Any further inaction by the African and international community will result in the continued repression of the people of Zimbabwe, and the deepening instability of the Southern African region.

Six months later there has been little response by the leaders of neighbouring countries.

As we come to celebrate Christmas this reflection from the midst of violence reminds me that the birth of Jesus took place in a time and place of oppression and violence and that the call to discipleship has little in common with the consumerism of the holiday in Australia.

Danny Ndlovu Bishop of the Brethren in Christ Church in Zimbabwe reflections on "The other cheek - The second mile" on the call to nonviolence in Zimbabwe today makes sobering Christmas reading.

You have heard that it is said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. … If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.—Matthew 5:38-41

When I read these words from the Sermon on the Mount, I wonder if what Christ says makes sense for today. Take our current situation in Zimbabwe, for example.

Our people exercised their constitutional right to vote for new leadership. They did so peacefully. But the powers that be were not happy with the outcome, and they have pursued violence against their own people. Some have been brutally assaulted, left with broken bones, scarred for life, and denied access to medical care. A few have lost their lives.

How do we as a people, as Christians, respond? Some have fled, crossing the borders to neighboring countries. Others of us have stayed. We are humiliated and our dignity has been
stolen from us. Many outside our country view us as wimps. If Zimbabweans were really suffering as they would want the world to believe, they say, the people should be out in the
streets violently demonstrating.

How then do these words of Christ speak to us in our situation? Do they have any relevance at all? I find Christ’s words incredibly empowering. In these verses, Jesus suggests that no one should be given the right to be in charge of another person’s destiny, no matter the circumstances. To do so is to allow another person to be God in someone’s life. However, by turning the other cheek, by walking the second mile, we disempower the one who tried to assume power over us.

Perpetrators of violence tend to assume the place of God in other people’s lives and judge
them harshly for non-compliance. According to Christ, we should respond to such injustice
in nonviolent ways. Responding in nonviolent ways exposes hatred and other machinations of the evil one and his agents. Only then can nonviolence triumph over violence. The call of Christ does not mean allowing other people to treat us as they please. Rather, we respond to injustice in nonviolent ways that will, we hope, bring about a positive outcome even on the part of the perpetrator. It is calling the perpetrator of injustice to think twice about the actions that person is taking. Through nonviolence, we offer the aggressor an opportunity for soul searching. It offers time for the perpetrator to listen to the heart as it cries for help!

For in reality, those who pursue violence are in need of help more than the victims of injustice. In that respect, nonviolence is a way of responding from a position of power on the part of the victim rather than that of weakness and fear. It is taking away the power of control from the perpetrator and owning it as a victim, regardless of what follows.

The Zimbabwean church—and the church around the world—has a responsibility in the harsh realities in which it finds itself to respond in ways that will honor God. The church must demonstrate what it means to be disciples of Christ through radical responses to unreasonable
demands. Christ himself set the pace and example. Up to his death, he responded to every form of injustice against him in powerful but nonviolent ways. The church must continue to give
the other cheek and to walk the second mile. This is the way to call for better and equal treatment. It is also the way of respect and dignity of humankind.

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