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The Third Way: Active Nonviolence


By Joanna Thurmann

There is violence, there is passivity, and then there is a third way; active nonviolence. Not just the philosophy and methodology of giants like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi, it is a fundamental worldview, a way of life, and a choice for each of us. Unlike passivity, it calls for courageous engagement and determined resistance to confront evil with the weapons of love and truth alone. Most importantly, it works.

This was the core message of a talk by Ken Butigan on October 13, sponsored by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. Butigan is professor of Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies at DePaul University in Chicago and director of Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service.

Despite the consistency of this message with Jesus’ life and teaching, it runs counter to human history and seventeen hundred years of church doctrine. The so-called “just war theory” sees violence as regrettable but theologically and morally justifiable under certain conditions.

Yet the triumphs of nonviolent challenge to existing structures are profound. Butigan cited the prime example of the People Power Movement of 1986, which ended the despotic regime of Ferdinand E. Marcos in the Philippines. With only 16 deaths, the peaceful upheaval achieved what most believed could only be done by a long and bloody revolution. Today’s headlines include the nonviolent protests of Native Americans against the Dakota Access Pipeline and the two-week march of thousands of Israeli and Palestinian women in the name of peace.

“This is kairos; our moment of decision,” says Butigan. But we must educate and train for active nonviolence and just peace, and put the full force of the church behind it.

Hence in April 2016, Butigan participated in a first-of-its-kind Vatican Conference. It appealed to Pope Francis to write an encyclical on the topic and to the Catholic Church to boldly recommit itself to its teaching and practice.

Butigan challenged the audience to imagine the transformation that is within our reach, and to get engaged. “Each of us has more power than we think we have – to change our lives, our nation, our world.”

That challenge was especially relevant to members of various peace and justice organizations in the audience, including Casa de Clara Catholic Worker, Pacific Life Community, and Franciscan priest Louis Vitale, another lifelong giant in the movement.

They participated, along with Butigan, in a peaceful prayer vigil in front of Mission Church the following day, calling for an end to R.O.T.C. on campus. Regrettably, the vigil ended in the arrest of one individual, Fumi Tosu, showing that there is still much work ahead, even among the faithful.

Butigan’s example of the two hands of nonviolence – one indicating noncooperation with violence and the other openness to dialogue – invite us to practice active nonviolence in all our relationships. Find out more and get involved at nonviolencejustpeace.net.