“Dr. King’s policy was, if you are nonviolent, if you suffer, your opponent will see your suffering and will be moved to change his heart. That’s very good. He only made one fallacious assumption. In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience. The United States has none.”
—Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael)
“The limitation of ‘speaking truth to power’ is and always was that it risks leaving us with the truth and them with the power.”
—Richard D. Wolff
Liberals don’t understand how power works. It’s why so many of them are quick to enforce respectability politics, unable to recognize their own classism and racism. It’s why they can claim, in good conscience, that anything that has the scent of “violence” is worthy of the harshest condemnation.
For liberal Christians, it’s the same thing. They don’t understand how God’s love interacts with power. They often frame power as something that can be transformed, reformed, changed from within. To them, that’s the power of the gospel. They’re detached from the violence these systems they’re attempting to “transform” are built on, as well as their own complicity to systemic violence. Their inaction in the world punctuated by reformist tactics is excused by the goal of being non-violent.
They’re deceived, believing their hands are clean.
There are others, though, who are realizing that there is no such thing as being non-violent under capitalism and are confronted by the reality that power will not convinced into yielding to the people.
Where does that leave them?
Liberation theologians, and advocates of the Catholic social teaching “preferential option for the poor,” understand that those experiencing poverty and systemic oppression are favored by God and deserve to be centered. Christians are called to manifest this favor by living in solidarity with them, joining the class struggle to abolish the gap between the poor and the ruling class.
And yet liberal Christians present us with a god whose love has been reduced to a dimensionless, vague sense of “equality.” Their dream is a world where all can be at the table. But maybe, some just can’t be at the table.
In Mary’s song (Luke 1:46-56), she reveals how God’s universal love manifests when dealing with those in power, and those deprived of freedom:
“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.”
Liberal Christians fix Christianity to be accommodating, unchallenging, and uncontroversial. They may have progressive rhetoric but avoid calling for sacrifice from those in power, or causing them discomfort in any sense. They invite rich and poor alike to their churches, but in the end most appeal to the sensibilities and consciences of the rich. The gospel of Christ, on the other hand, is determined to undo the powers of this world in order to lift up the oppressed. Though a proclamation of God’s universal love, this love is experienced differently by oppressors. It even appears to be antagonistic as it sends “the rich away empty.”
God’s love tears rulers off their thrones for the sake of lifting up the humble. It restrains those in power in order to disrupt the violence they inflict on the poor and oppressed.
As John Feeney put it in his essay “Theology of Violence,” God’s love in Christians “reconciles by taking sides.” God sides with those exploited for their labor and robbed of their dignity.
In these last days, liberal capitalists have led us to believe that they are on the side of oppressed, fighting for “equality.” As they stomp on our livelihoods, we praise them for extending justice into this world by preaching inclusion into capitalism. We need to stop letting the ruling class determine what justice and equality look like and instead discover and build power from the working class, while combating the powers-that-be until all thrones are abolished.
The Scriptures testify that it’s just about impossible for hearts fattened with power and wealth to willingly surrender these things. Instead of speaking of a future where the rich are awakened and choose to abolish private property, it is written that God’s judgment would bring misery upon the rich for hoarding wealth and failing to pay workers (James 5).
We can pray for the rich who have made us their enemies, and hope that they will be miraculously undone by the grace of God, but we must be honest about the state of their consciences and the desperate need for justice. Most will not de-throne themselves and force may be needed.
Perhaps such a notion is offensive, upsetting to those who hold a dogmatic pacifism.
In this eschatological tension – where we are not yet living in a society built on mutual aid, or in the new heavens and new earth where lion and lamb lay together, but instead are caught in empire’s web of systemic sins and oppressive powers – less than ideal actions may be needed to extinguish power. Committing acts of destruction and violence is never the hope or goal, but under capitalism, we cannot opt out of violence. There are times where God’s love calls us to betray our sense of piety in order to more fully love God and the people.
I’m moved by insurrectionists and how often and beautifully they initiate moments of revolutionary possibility. Through the propaganda of the deed, they ignite faith and stretch political imaginations. That said, militancy for the sake of militancy is but a performance. Our destructive actions must be strategic. It would be foolish to put ourselves at risk of state violence and incarceration if our message and vision won’t be effectively communicated. The Left does not have the time, energy, and resources to deal with sloppy, dangerous actions.
I have little idea how revolution will play out, or how soon, but it is clear that a radical restructuring of society is needed. It will not be accomplished through anything but insurrection, and God’s love even demands it.
I pray that the revolutionary struggle in the US will be bloodless. It’s possible. I look back to the Russian revolutionaries over a century ago that led an almost bloodless coup d’État. May it be so again, Lord. I pray for the leaders of bourgeois society to be haunted by the struggles of the working class. May their hearts be crucified and may they humbly surrender their power. May revolutionary communities and bases grow and adapt to the needs of the people, building up a popular power. May the State become irrelevant and therefore abolished.
But if things do not go this smoothly, may we be ready to do the work that is needed to love as God loves. May we have the strength, courage, and faith to tear tyrants off their thrones.