The Terrorism Trilemma, Part 2: Creative Nonviolent Courage

A friend recently wrote to me with this question:

Your imagined speech by George Bush after 9/11 really helped me have clarity and begin differentiating between US Militarism and the way of Jesus. It’s embarrassing to say it took that long but with how I grew up, that’s a starting point in my evolution.
Now, when I really think about not just the attacks in Paris but the beheading in rural Tunisia, the shootings in a village in Nigeria, the seemingly interconnected mission and violence of ISIS, I’m having such a hard time expressing my beliefs as a strategy or response to this organization(s).
I’m assuming you’ve been writing and speaking about it, and I read on your blog your response to someone asking basically the same thing as me.
But do you have any revelation about actual steps or strategy of engagement? What can that wedding banquet table look like in these moments? Every Christian I know is arming themselves to exterminate this wicked movement, kill them all, unleash the wrath of God through the US Military, etc… I can’t articulate an alternative but I know there’s a brilliant one, as elegant as turn the other cheek yet practical and applicable.
Just curious, I know public policy is not your job 🙂

I certainly don’t have an easy answer on this, and certainly not a brilliant or elegant one. But as I wrote in a previous post, I do know that choosing to respond to horrific violence with denial or transmission will only intensify the cycle of violence.
So what would a third option – creative nonviolent courage – look like?
I believe it would have four initial components, all rooted in the Bible:
1. Weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15): Compassion and empathy must be our first response.
We must let our hearts be softened, not hardened, to suffering. So as we feel the pain of those in Paris, we also open our hearts to the pain of other human beings suffering from brutality and violence in Central African Republic, Burundi, Nigeria – including the people of Syria whose homeland is being destroyed by ugly regimes from Isis to Assad.
2. Do not return evil for evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:17 ff): Short term, we should look for some constructive good in which to engage … from a random act of kindness to a long-term commitment to help people in need.
And longer term, we should devise a strategy to overcome great evil with even greater good. The greatest example I know if this is the Global Marshall Plan proposed by Rabbi Michael Lerner and the Network of Spiritual Progressives. If you haven’t read it, now would be a great time. Without a plan like this, we will keep treating symptoms while worsening the disease.
3. The ear of the wise seeks wisdom (Prov. 18:15): When people claim to understand a complex situation and spout off with their opinions without listening and learning, you can guarantee that wisdom will be confidently left behind. So it’s a good time to ask questions, to learn, to do some serious research (starting with the Global Marshall Plan above) … and to seek out wise counsel from people who have a diversity of viewpoints. (Remember: hearing the same opinion from the same source ten times isn’t the same as seeking out ten diverse viewpoints from ten reputable sources.)
4. He who walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm (Prov. 13:20). Choosing whom you will hang out with – in person, on air, or online – makes all the difference in times like these. We’ve all heard of “collective intelligence.” Well, there’s also something called collective stupidity … it shows up in lynch mobs, panicked crowds, witch hunts, and feeding frenzies, and is aided and abetted by cable TV and talk radio. People become radicalized – as violent terrorists or as reactionary and even more violent anti-terrorists – by hanging around with people who normalize violence. And people become transformed toward creative nonviolent courage by associating with others who are on that path.
That’s why it is good when churches and houses of worship open their doors and wise spiritual leaders speak out in times like these. Collective stupidity (aka “foolishness” in the Bible) sings its siren song (and remember, fear raises ratings and sells more advertising) … wisdom must also call out in the streets. Coming together for prayer and contemplation becomes all the more important in times like these.
Choosing empathy rather than denial, refusing revenge and choosing to overcome evil with good, and seeking wisdom and associating with wise people of peace (James 3:17-18) rather than falling prey to collective stupidity … these, I believe, are important initial reactions to acts of terrorism. And longer term, we need our world leaders to come together in a plan of creative and nonviolent courage. May that day come soon.