Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Passive Resistance or Passive Acceptance?

In discussions of wrongs, pain, and anger, the phrase "turn the other cheek" and other similar soundbites are often used to advocate for a passive approach to injustice. Passive methods of dealing with injustice can be very effective, as exemplified by MLK, Jr., and Gandhi.

However, what I have also seen and heard in the church is not a passive resistance, but more of a passive acceptance.

There's a fine line, but at the same time there's a huge difference. The goal is completely different. Passive acceptance is just deciding nothing can be done about a situation and so I will do nothing and just move along with the flow. No change is intended. Many people believe this is what many Germans did in Nazi Germany.

Passive resistance, on the other hand, takes the perspective than active resistance will not get the job done as well as a passive approach, which is ironically active in its own way. Often it is motivated by an inability to take active action. However, the goal of passive resistance to create change, to make waves.

When Jesus and other biblical writers discussed passive approaches to wrongs, I don't think they were advocating passive acceptance. I think they were advocating passive resistance, often because that was the only approach was possible (and it was often the most powerful). I truly do not believe Jesus wanted us to be used and abused by others. He wasn't, although people argue that. He just wasn't necessarily actively aggressively attacking. He attacked (look at the money changes in the temple and Jesus' teaching). He was aggressive (he has a vision and he followed it with all his heart, mind, body, and soul). He just often took a more passive approach.

But not always.

Boundaries are important to our lives. As I mentioned before, Cloud and Townsend in their excellent biblically-, theologically-, and psychologically-informed book Boundaries, argue this well. Sometimes passive approaches are appropriate. Sometimes active approaches are appropriate. Jesus did both. Yet we try to simplify it a lot and make a legalistic rule about always being passive or always active. It's not as clear as that.

We need to struggle with it a bit more. Where do you struggle with boundaries and the balance of passive versus active action?

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