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Divergent Christian Teachings About Passive Resistance

Passive resistance is the non-violent opposition to authority, often involving a refusal to obey the law by non-violent means. As with many other complex issues, Christians have different views on passive resistance.

Teachings for Passive Resistance

Many Christians believe that violence is wrong, but recognise that sometimes injustices should be addressed. This is because of the example of Jesus and teachings in the Bible which tell believers to care for people, such as the following:

'Defend the rights of the poor and the orphans;
    be fair to the needy and the helpless.' Psalm 82:3

Christians might argue that just because they reject violence, doesn't mean that they should accept or resist evil. It is the way in which they resist evil that is the important thing. Jesus himself resisted evil throughout his life. Because of this, they choose to follow the example of Jesus by offering a non-violent response.

Whilst they believe they should defend human rights and unjust laws, these Christians also understand that it should be done in a manner that doesn't compromise their faith. Passive resistance offers the perfect way to 'fight' injustices.

The Sermon on the Mount contains key examples of Jesus's teaching about peace which lend support to passive resistance, including:

  • 'You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But now I tell you: do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too.' Matthew 5:38-39
  • 'You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your friends, hate your enemies. But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven.' Matthew 5:43-45

Also, in John 14:22-31, Jesus talks to his disciples, explaining that his death is coming, telling them that they shouldn't be afraid.

  • 'Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.' John 14:27

Jesus explains that if we understand that he is the way to God and we obey his teaching and love him, we can experience perfect peace.

Peace is a high priority for Jesus, therefore it is for Christians too. The only way to resist evil is by peaceful, non-violent means. Passive resistance is the method that has been chosen by Christians across the world when attempting to change things within society.

A prime example of non-violent passive resistance can be found in the Civil Rights Movement. Led by Martin Luther King, the movement fought to improve the lives of African Americans in segregated America during the mid 20th-century. King was a Christian who followed the teachings of Jesus in his approach to passive resistance. You can find out more about the movement's use of passive resistance here. 

Teachings Against Passive Resistance

Whilst all Christians agree that evil shouldn't be tolerated, some Christians would not agree with passive resistance. This is because of teachings in the Bible that tell them that it is important to obey the government. This includes the laws that it creates, whether they agree with them or not.

'Everyone must obey state authorities, because no authority exists without God's permission, and the existing authorities have been put there by God. Whoever opposes the existing authority opposes what God has ordered; and anyone who does so will bring judgment on himself.' Romans 13:1-2

Passive resistance often involves disobeying the law, therefore some Christians are against passive resistance. They also follow Jesus' teachings about peace, but may view passive resistance as stirring up conflict, which is not something they accept.

These Christians would agree, that it is the way in which they resist evil that is the important thing. It is not that they don't try to change things, they just choose an alternative action to passive resistance. For example, they might write to MPs about problems that they see, working to raise awareness of issues in society. Some might even get involved in local or national politics to bring about change from the inside.