The Way We Win Matters



I had forgotten. Again.

Recently, I watched a familiar scene play out: a vulnerable person gets pummeled by hurtful words, rejected through harmful teaching—in the name of Christ, no less—and the Jesus activist in me grew incensed, lighting up with an engulfing flame. I began to pack my arsenal and readied myself for battle, making a mental list of resources at my disposal: the letters after my name that came with my Bible and Theology degrees from prestigious institutions, connections with influential people and my developing gift of mastering words.

It was with that last weapon that I fired first. The skills I had painstakingly learned in order to create life-giving words were, instead, carefully and calculatedly sharpened into swords designed for victory. I wielded the sword of truth and strategized for the win.

It was the right thing to do. Standing up for the oppressed, siding with the marginalized, and confronting the power of authorities in the name of justice is good and prophetic and kingdom building. But I had forgotten that the way we win matters.

Sometimes, as Jesus activists preparing to fight the holy wars against injustice, we pick up the same tools as the oppressors. We are taught that the only way to make a difference is through power, influence, and domination. We believe the best way to win the argument is through our intellect—crafting the most well articulated proposition. We think the surest way to eliminate injustice is by reaching the wealthiest donors or by gaining the most impressive social media stats.

We internalize the ideology that we must grow strong in order to protect the vulnerable.

The allure of power is almost irresistible. The taste of victory is so sweet it becomes addicting. It’s too easy to forget that the activist in me follows a Jesus who died on a Roman cross.

Some people say that death temporarily defeated Jesus on that cross, and the victory came three days later. But when I ponder that gruesome death, I don’t see a loss; I see a Love that shows us how to win in a cruciform way. I see that a concern for suffering means entering into it. I am reminded that a confrontation of the powers-that-be sometimes looks like submission.

This is not to mistake Jesus for passivity. Certainly, he flipped tables and called people nasty names. (Brood of vipers!) But therein lies that fine line we walk. We refuse to stay silent on matters of life and death, but we must also refrain from engaging the systems that crush people with dominating means.

The paradox for Jesus activists is that we fight with weakness, protest with silence and win through death.

Fellow Jesus activist, Walter Wink, gives us this grand vision: “Evil can be opposed without being mirrored. Oppressors can be resisted without being emulated. Enemies can be neutralized without being destroyed.”

Resurrection people live in these thin places, squeezed into a space by two walls.

One side calls us, unrelentingly, out of apathy and stirs us into fiery action. We must oppose evil, resist oppressors, confront enemies! Silence is not an option, not when real people are dying.

On the other side is the call to remain humble, non-violent and maintain an adamant refusal to see the enemy as sub-human.

We must win, but the way we win matters.

Love and justice must prevail, but only when pursued with peace and driven with hope for the redemption of the enemy.

When the walls come closing in from both sides, the only space to stretch is upwards. The people of God thrive in thin places, looking up to see the line of sky above as the only limit to how far we can reach. Limitations do not bind us, they compel us to expand our imagination for alternative ways.

When we are determined to search for justice in the power-releasing ways of Jesus, we must think more deeply, collaborate more openly, pray more fervently and sometimes fail more often. When we resist throwing a punch, our anger channels us into constructive imagination. When we refuse to take up the weapons of violence and domination, we get to practice molding swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.

How we implement this bold vision is worked out in the thin places in which we dwell. This way of loving that looks like death on a cross is so counter-intuitive and counter-cultural that we need one another to hold up Jesus as our standard every step of the way.

The way to resurrection is through death.
The way to victory is through laying down our lives.
The way to justice is through solidarity with the suffering.

Never forget.