11. In responding to violence in today’s society, we seek the help of religion. The spirituality of religion emphasizes values that bind together the members of a community. The experience of the divine influences their ethics and fosters a life-style that enables persons to commune with the divine and be at peace with their neighbour.
12. One could question whether violence must necessarily be understood as fundamentally perverse? Or rather, is it to be understood as a neutral or good force that can be distorted in a perverse manner? In today’s world, violence is often seen as an easy way to attain goals even though it disregards human rights, the voice of reason and values that speak of justice and peace.
13. While the First Testament is noticeably violent, the divine condemnation against injustice is powerfully brought out in the great prophetic texts. These castigate the priests, princes and false prophets for abusing their privileged position for amassing wealth, power and prestige rather than humbly and justly serving the poor of Yahweh. (Micah 3:9-12; 6:8; Amos 1:6-8) Jesus, the proclaimer of “shalom” stands in the great tradition of these prophets. (Jer 1:10) What makes violence sinful is its destructive force that opposes the creative and liberative divine purpose.
14. In the person of Jesus Christ, one can note the passage to his death as being also the road to victory, for in dying he attains eternal life. Jesus’ Incarnation means that he enters the world of violence to transform it into a world of dignity and fullness of life for all. He achieves this through deconstruction of what is ungodly and contrary to the will of God.
15. Jesus Christ encounters violence in his life by being faithful to his God-given mission. In true freedom and love, and animated by God’s Spirit, he confronts various forms of violence. Proclaiming God’s reign of love he fights evil even to the extent of becoming a victim of violence. In doing so Jesus takes upon himself violence and overcomes it by refusing to yield to its power. In this sense, Jesus practised paradoxically a ‘violence of love’. His options and actions are vindicated by God who raises him up from the dead by the power of the Spirit.
16. The ‘violence of love’ in the context of oppression takes the form of resistance, protest, satyagraha, standing for justice. It is seen as active and empathetic solidarity with those whose human dignity and personhood are violated. Jesus’ liberative engagement is not merely “suffering for others” but positively acting against oppression—he suffered as a result of his protest and not because of his passive submission. The violent death of Jesus becomes the price he pays for accepting his mission. Often, interpreting the cross as a symbol of passive submission has become instrumental in subduing the “rage of protest” with which many oppressive and violent situations can be actually overcome.
17. With his teachings and praxis and his genuine solidarity with the victims of violence, Jesus put forth his own ways of deploying force to challenge the scribal interpretation of law and bring back the temple to its pristine purity. He reversed the entire value system upheld by the legalistic elite and imperial autocracy that tyrannized ordinary people. What mattered to him was the uncompromising criterion of promotion and protection of life when it was endangered. He was not preoccupied with evolving leisurely discourses on the virtues of non-violence, or the vices of violence as the starting point of getting engaged with the life-struggles of the victims of violence. The programme of a liberative theology addressing violence would also involve a theology of resistance. It is a subversive theology, emerging from the voices and struggles of women and men who have become the victims of violence. It is founded on the conviction that it is collective resistance, not compliance, that can purge the destructive venom of violence from the lives of people.
18. In the history of the Catholic Church, one can note times during which violence obscured the saving and liberating action of God. The post-Constantine era saw the Church put on the trappings of a secular monarchy and become intolerant towards other religions within the Roman Empire. One also recalls the violence done to the Easterners by the crusade in 1204. Nor can the violence of the Inquisition be forgotten. As a sociological entity, the Church also embraced the structural violence that was endemic to the society of succeeding ages.
19. The Church did reform and the many saints and persons who denounced violence testify to the continuing action of God in the world of men and women. In 1994, Pope John Paul II wrote a letter of apology to women. In 2000, he sought forgiveness for the violence committed by the Church down the centuries particularly for abetting forms of racism and colonialism, discriminating against women, denigrating the religion of others and causing division in the Churches.
20. Opposition to violence must bring peace but peace cannot be obtained without ensuring justice. To end violence, sincere efforts are necessary to secure justice for the victims of violence. Further, a person is not a mere object; he or she is a human person of transcendence so that to be human is not a matter of merely having food and drink and shelter but the ability to freely choose and follow one’s vocation.
21. In this on-going struggle against violence we need to identify its varied forms. It is necessary to distinguish between an oppressive or repressive violence that maintains and perpetuates structures of injustice, and ‘violence’ that seeks justice. Such identification takes into consideration the asymmetry of power relations between the conflicting groups as well as the concrete socio-cultural situation of the victims of violence. Such awareness would preclude promoting a culture of injustice for the sake of being non-violent or endorsing violence in the name of promoting justice.
22. A theology of protest and resistance, truth and reconciliation—modelled upon Gandhiji’s satyagraha, animated by genuine love and empowered by God’s Spirit could become a reminder to people of their enslavement, and engage them constructively in a critical reflection of what is considered crucial and decisive to their lives.
23. A theological engagement with violence implies a re-envisioning of life as a new tapestry rewoven with strands of justice and peace in place of torture and distress. Confronting violence proactively can mean taking a political stand. In this is realized the politics of the Reign of God initiated by Jesus in the power of the Spirit blowing where it wills. (Jn 3:8).