Last week, we looked at the Jains and the role of nonviolence in religion. Whenever possible I try to connect the blog piece with something to which people are paying attention: a religious festival, a civic observance or UN international day of some particular observance. In searching for a theme this week, a colleague noted that 16 November was the International Day of Tolerance, which was initiated by UNESCO in 1995.
People who are engaged in dialogue — ecumenical, interreligious, social — tend to have a rather low opinion of tolerance. Mere tolerance seems to be setting the bar pretty low. Tolerance is more an act of self-control than of reaching out to the other. Respect, understanding, cooperation — Pope Francis’ “fraternity” (inclusively understood) — are goals which we recognize go well beyond “mere tolerance.” I decided that tolerance was too weak a topic, an observance of the obvious, for this week’s blog reflection.
In going through different news reports, I discovered the Associated Press published a report with the headline “FBI report shows U.S. hate crimes reached the highest level since 2008.” While I still think that tolerance is setting the bar rather low, it seems we are having less and less success even achieving that rather modest goal.
Last week, in dealing with nonviolence, we dealt with a spiritual attitude, albeit one with tremendous practical consequence. We noted how especially in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke), Jesus preaches non-violence. One of the problems with nonviolence is that it can become passivity when faced with evil and conflict. In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenges his followers “I say to you, offer no resistance to the wicked…” (Matt 5:39; and similarly, Luke 6:27 ff.) In the letter to the Romans, Paul commands his readers: “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone…. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (12:17, 21).
However, the nonviolence called for by Jesus in the Synoptics is not passivity. Although Jesus preaches nonviolence in the Sermon on the Mount, it not the nonviolent who are listed in the Beatitudes. It is the peacemakers (Matt 5:9) — that is, those who pursue peace. Reconciliation, both the cause and effect of peace, is something Christians are challenged actively to pursue — to quite literally “go the extra mile” (Matt 5:41).
When faced with the data reporting 7,314 hate crimes and 51 hate crime murders in the U.S. in 2019, the response is, of course, shock. Although perhaps not as dramatically as in the U.S., hate crimes are increasing in very many places around the world. The shock, however, should give way to outrage and resolve. As Christians, we are called to be proactive agents for peace and reconciliation. In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul writes: “…God gave us the ministry of reconciliation. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself…entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18-19).
Such reconciliation goes far beyond “mere tolerance.”
The International Day of Tolerance in 2020 is far more a call to repentance and action than an observance of any great success. The preaching of Jesus, the call of Christianity as well as other religions and the fraternity that Pope Francis calls for are simply and totally incompatible with hate crimes, to say nothing of hate murders! Nonviolence is not weak or passive. It is strong and proactive. Faced with a rather miserable “report card” for last year, Christians and peoples of all faiths and goodwill must recommit to an active role for peacemaking in our world, starting with our local communities.
Although the primary work of CNEWA is to reduce suffering and to address the needs of those who suffer, we recognize that hatred and violence are together the greatest cause of suffering on our planet.
All that we do is in response to the Gospel challenge to be the nonviolent, active peacemaking followers of Jesus.