Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Walter Wink's insights deserve our attention and responses

WHEN THE POWERS FALL. The following excerpts are from When the Powers Fall: Reconciliation in the Healing of Nations by Walter Wink (Fortress Press, 1998). These quotes/notes are from the first section of the book, which critiques power and offers the alternative Jesus expressed. Wink’s insight and proposals for reconciliation among nations has a particular ring of truth and challenge since 9/11. Wink has taken up where William Stringfellow left off in grappling with “the principalities and powers.” His trilogy--Naming the Powers, Unmasking the Powers, and Engaging the Powers--is essential reading for those who take the future of the world seriously.

JESUS VS THE DOMINATION SYSTEM. Wink points out that a world-wide system of domination is the problem, not just periodic expressions of it, like Rome in Jesus’ day. “Jesus’ message has traditionally been treated as timeless, eternal, contextless teaching proclaimed in a sociopolitical vacuum,” writes Wink. “But his teaching and deeds are directed at a specific context: the Domination System. Jesus’ message is a context-specific remedy for the evils of domination. God is not simply attempting to rescue individuals from their sufferings at the hands of an unjust system, but to transform the system so as to make and keep human life more human.”

CHANGING THE VALUES. “Jesus does not condemn ambition or aspiration; he merely changes the values to which they are attached: ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ He does not reject power, but only its use to dominate others. He does not reject greatness, but finds it in identification and solidarity with the needy at the bottom of society (Matt. 5:3-12/Luke 6:20-23). He does not renounce heroism, but expresses it by repudiating the powers of death and confronting the entrenched might of the authorities, unarmed.” Jesus’ words and deeds “repudiate the very premises on which domination is based: the right of some to lord it over others by means of power, wealth, shaming, or titles.”

ENDING ECONOMIC EXPLOITATION. “Economic inequalities are the basis of domination. Domination hierarchies, ranking, and classism are all built on power provided by accumulated wealth. Thus Jesus’ gospel is founded on economic justice. Breaking with domination means ending the economic exploitation of the many by the few. His followers were to begin living now ‘as if’ the new order had already come, seeking first God’s reign and God’s justice. It is not described as coming from on high down to earth; it rises quietly and imperceptibly out of the land. It is established, not by aristocrats and military might, but by ineluctable process of growth from below, among the common people.”

NONVIOLENT OVERTHROW OF EVIL. “An egalitarian society presupposes nonviolence, for violence is the way some are able to deprive others of what is justly theirs. Inequality can only be maintained by violence. The root of violence, moreover, is domination. Turning the other cheek to a ‘superior’ who has backhanded an ‘inferior’ is an act of defiance, not submission; stripping naked when a creditor demands one’s outer garment brings down shame on the head of the creditor causing the poor debtor’s nakedness; carrying a soldier’s pack a second mile would put him in violation of military law (Matt. 5:39-41). These acts do not at all mean acquiescing passively to evil, but are studied and deliberate ways of seizing the initiative and overthrowing evil by the force of its own momentum.”

WITHOUT BECOMING EVIL IN THE PROCESS. “The last supper and the crucifixion display Jesus’ nonviolent breaking of the spiral of violence by absorbing its momentum with his own body. What Jesus distilled from the long experience of his people in violent and nonviolent resistance was a way of opposing evil without becoming evil in the process. He advocated means consistent with the desired end: a society of justice, peace, and equality free of authoritarianism, oppression, and ranking. His method and his goal incarnated God’s domination-free order.”

GOD’S REIGN DESCRIBED. “What is God’s reign? It is the transformation of the Domination System into a nonviolent, humane, ecologically sustainable, livable environment fashioned to enable people to grow and grow well. That is a message so elementary that even a child can understand it. For children it means, among other things, no more beatings; for women, as a bare minimum, no more battering and rape; for men, as a gospel imperative, no more exploitation, violence, and war.”

DOMINATION AND THE CHURCH. “The failure of churches to continue Jesus’ struggle to overcome domination is one of the most damning apostasies in its history. With some thrilling exceptions, the churches of the world have never yet decided that domination is wrong. Even in countries where the churches have been deeply identified with revolution, there has been a tendency to focus on only one aspect of domination, such as political freedom, and to ignore economic injustices, authoritarianism, the immorality of war, domestic violence, gender inequality, hierarchicalism, patriarchy, and the physical and sexual abuse of children. We have tried to take on evil piecemeal.”

SEEING A SINGLE FRONT. “While it is true that we cannot take on everything, we have not always located our struggles within Jesus’ total project: the overcoming of the Domination System itself. Jesus’ vision of a domination-free order enables us to see every struggle against injustice, illness, and greed as part of a single front, and gives us a perspective that links us to everyone engaged in similar struggles.”

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