But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. Matthew 5:39
My friend Lucy Duncan, of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) recently wrote, Civility Can Be Dangerous, in the Friends Journal, August 15, 2018. She responds to a New York Times article about a talk given by Henry Cadbury (founder of AFSC), June 14, 1934.
“By hating Hitler and trying to fight back,” Cadbury said, “Jews are only increasing the severity of his policies against them.” He went on: “If Jews throughout the world try to instill into the minds of Hitler and his supporters recognition of the ideals for which the race stands, and if Jews appeal to the German sense of justice and the German national conscience, I am sure the problem will be solved more effectively and earlier than otherwise.” Cadbury added, “Boycotts are simply war without bloodshed, and war in any form is not the way to right the wrongs being inflicted on the Jewish people.”
Part of Lucy’s article says “civility is no substitute for morality. Belief in peace doesn’t mean naively expecting everyone to get along. Being quiet and polite is often all that’s needed to perpetuate white supremacy. Standing up for peace means standing on the side of the oppressed, not throwing them into the lion’s mouth in the name of civility. And interrupting racist violence takes more than civil discourse: active disruption is needed in order for racism to be revealed and dismantled. What good is ineffective pacifism? My commitment to nonviolence is about saving lives.”
I hesitate to enter this debate because I see some truth in both what Henry Cadbury and Lucy Duncan said. But this reminded me of my struggle during the time of the Vietnam War. Whether to accept conscientious objector status or choose to not cooperate with the Selective Service System at all, that is to be a draft “resister”.
At this time I was part of the Friends Volunteer Service Mission (VSM), living in a low income neighborhood in inner city Indianapolis. This VSM unit was sponsored by the Second Friends Church in the neighborhood. When I shared the letter I planned to send to my draft board, explaining why I could not cooperate with the draft, the Church’s pastor, Nick Block, asked me, “what about resist not evil?” I am very glad he asked, because that led me to think deeply, and pray about how that applied to my decision to be a draft “resister.” Following is what I then added to the letter.
Most of us agree that conscription and war are unjust-evil. The question is, how do we deal with evil? ‘Resist not evil’—a phrase widely known but little understood and less obeyed. ‘Do not set yourself against one who wrongs you’ (NEB) is a better way to put it, I think. In setting ourselves against those who harm us, we look, to some extent, for some way to hurt, or at least hinder them. We look for the worst in others and play upon their weaknesses rather than looking for the best and trying to fortify it. Our task is to overcome evil by doing good.
The time we spend ‘resisting evil’ could be better spent in trying to find out where we can do better ourselves. You do not change others by opposing them—rather, by respecting and trying to understand and learn from them, you can both benefit and move nearer the truth. A life of example—showing the possibilities and fruits of a life lived in love and concern for others, is the only way to overcome evil.
I do not want my example to be alliance with evil. Thus, I cannot serve with the Selective Service System. However, I will not set myself against it. I will break my ties with Selective Service, and concentrate on the difficult task of working for peace in whatever way I can. Jeff Kisling, Letter to my draft board, 1972
Lucy Duncan refers to Cadbury’s statement in terms of civility, naivety, passivity, and ineffective pacifism. Especially at the time of the Jewish concentration death camps, Cadbury’s statements do seem utterly inadequate. I disagree with his characterization of boycotts as “war without bloodshed.”
I was glad to be involved with Lucy’s training in bystander intervention this summer. What I took away from that is there are multiple ways to intervene and support those who are harassed and oppressed. These methods are not passive and might put you in a dangerous situation yourself. She also said not intervening will eventually lead to society as a whole being less safe. But none of those methods involved forcefully fighting against the aggressor.
As I tried to express in the letter to my draft board, I believe we should do everything we can to intervene in oppressive situations except to respond unlovingly to the oppressor.
Photos of my time with the Friends Volunteer Service Mission (VSM) in Indianapolis in the early 1970’s: