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Reform Magazine | December 1, 2023

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A good question: Can non-violence stand in the face of Putin?

A good question: Can non-violence stand in the face of Putin?

One question, four answers

Melanie Smith
‘The Prince of Peace has the victory’

In the book of Micah, we are invited into a world where people have no fear, and weapons are surplus to requirement. In the kin-dom of God, violence has no place. In realpolitik, we are invited into a world where the solution to violence is more violence. In the ‘real’ world, principalities and powers dictate the terms. Yet, the kingdom of God is both now and not yet; we inhabit both worlds.

Jesus put his very life on the line to resist violence – drawing a physical line in the sand as the accusers attempted to hurl stones at a woman, and above all when he accepted his place in line to be taken to the cross.

Among hundreds of others, I have stood on a line that attempts to disrupt the arms fair which takes place in London every two years. This year, the Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition featured ‘over 2,800 defence and security suppliers – including major prime manufacturers plus more than 230 new exhibitors’. Representatives from human rights abusing regimes watched demonstrations of ‘precise’ and ‘efficient’ weapons. I believe that protesting the Arms Fair embodies the Jesus model of non-violent resistance…

Melanie Smith is a URC minister teaching in Pacific Theological College, Fiji


David Knowles
‘Non-violent resistance only emboldens those that do not care’

If the Ukrainian state had practiced non-violent resistance to the full-scale invasion by Russia in February 2022 the following things would have happened.

If he had not already fled, President Volodymyr Zelensky, along with many of his senior aides and allies, would have been killed by a death squad specifically instructed to destroy the upper echelons of Ukrainian politics.

Ukrainian intellectuals, artists, writers, philosophers, architects, playwrights, musicians, and anyone else that would have threatened the new regime would also have been murdered, tortured and ‘disappeared’.

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians from all walks of life would have been deported and, as they gazed out of the truck windows at their homeland in the rearview mirror, they would have seen the apparatus of the state they belonged to being quickly dismantled and reduced to ash….

David Knowles is a journalist at The Telegraph. He has reported from Ukraine, presents the Ukraine: The latest podcast, and has been sanctioned by Russia


Oliver Robertson
‘Pacifism is rarely passive’

Since our foundation in the 17th century, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) corporately have been against war. The guidance in our Advices and Queries tells us: ‘We are called to live “in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars”. Do you faithfully maintain our testimony that war and the preparation for war are inconsistent with the spirit of Christ? Search out whatever in your own way of life may contain the seeds of war. Stand firm in our testimony, even when others commit or prepare to commit acts of violence, yet always remember that they too are children of God.’

Within that single paragraph, we have a vision of the world that we want to see, a warning that our choices and possessions may drive future conflicts (think about the scramble of European countries and companies to relieve themselves of Russian money, oil and gas at the Ukraine war’s start) and a recognition of the sacredness of all human lives…

Oliver Robertson is Head of Witness and Worship at Quakers in Britain


Martin Henninger
‘Politics has to deal with the real world’

Following the catastrophe of the Second World War, I grew up with the saying, ‘Frieden schaffen ohne Waffen.’ (‘Make peace without weapons.’) That this is the right way to a lasting peace seemed to be confirmed by the peaceful revolution of the German Democratic Republic when, in 1989, prayers and candles brought down the Berlin Wall and a communist dictatorship. The hope was that after four decades of cold war this would be the beginning of a new world order based on understanding and cooperation instead of weapons. Consequently, Germany reduced its army by more than half. In this, it was felt among German church folk, we would be on the way to following Jesus’ teaching more closely. With hindsight this may have been an illusion even then because in a worldwide perspective wars continued. Particularly after Putin’s invasion of the Crimea we should have been more alert than we were. So when Putin started war on Ukraine it came as a very bad surprise. Had our hopes and our policies over the past three decades been an error? Is Jesus’ preaching not fit for today’s world?..

Martin Henninger is a retired pastor of the German Lutheran Church. He also served in the United Reformed Church


This article was published in the October 2023 edition of Reform

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