Tag Archives: stories of nonviolence

Stories of Nonviolence: Purpose Driven Life and Crystal Meth

In 2005, Brian Nichols, a fugitive who had murdered three people while escaping from a courthouse was on the loose in the Atlanta area. You might have heard about this on the nightly news or possibly how it ended. Here’s a summary from Wikipedia:

asyley-smith-pic-largeIt was later learned that around 2:00 a.m. on March 12 Nichols approached a woman named Ashley Smith in the parking lot of the Bridgewater Apartments. He pointed a gun at her and said “If you do what I say, I won’t kill you”. He forced her inside her apartment and reportedly told her that he was a wanted man. Nichols forced her into the bathroom and tied her up with an electrical cord and duct tape. He placed a hand towel over her head while he took a shower (so that she wouldn’t have to watch him). She was sitting on a stool with the towel around her eyes when she told him about her five-year-old daughter Paige and how she was supposed to visit her that day. Thinking she may never see her daughter again, she tried to reason with him.

Smith was held hostage for several hours in her apartment, during which time Nichols requested marijuana, but Smith told him she only had “ice” (methamphetamine). In her book Unlikely Angel: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Hostage Hero, Smith revealed that she “had been struggling with a methamphetamine addiction when she was taken hostage,” and the last time she used meth “was 36 hours before Nichols held a gun to her and entered her home.” Nichols wanted her to use the drug with him, but she refused.”[13] Instead, she chose to read to him from the Bible and Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life. She tried to convince Nichols to turn himself in by sharing with him how her husband “had died in her arms four years earlier after being stabbed during a brawl.”[14] Smith also writes that she asked Nichols “if he wanted to see the danger of drugs and lifted up her tank top several inches to reveal a five-inch scar down the center of her torso — the aftermath of a car wreck caused by drug-induced psychosis. She says she let go of the steering wheel when she heard a voice saying, ‘Let go and let God.’”[14] When news of his crimes was reported on television, Nichols looked to the ceiling and asked the Lord to forgive him. Nichols said he needed to get the stolen truck away from the apartments so he told Smith to follow him in her car while he drove Agent Wilhelm’s pickup truck away from the apartment complex. She asked whether she could bring her cell phone and he said she could but she never placed a call for help. She picked him up after he dropped off the truck and drove back to her home with him, she said. Her decision had a purpose: She feared that he would kill more people if she did not do what he said. She had taken it upon herself to end the manhunt. After they returned to her apartment Smith cooked breakfast for Nichols. She began to ask him if she could leave to go see her daughter and he finally agreed. When Nichols let Smith leave her apartment that morning to visit her daughter, Smith placed a call to 9-1-1 at 9:50 a.m.

I’m not encouraging the use of Meth or the Purpose Driven Life to desuade your attackers, but it’s another example of a person reacting to a dangerous situation nonviolently.

Story of Nonviolence: Resisting the Nazis

Nazi Postcard (Front) by PUL.Nazi Germany is often mentioned when I have conversations regarding nonviolence, particularly related to it on the international level regarding war. I’m going to again quote The Powers That Be, by Walter Wink, at length. This is a great and brief summary of the nonviolent action that effectively resisted the Nazis:

The brutalities of the Nazis stand for many people as the ultimate refutation of nonviolence. Surely, they reason, only violence could have stopped Hitler. The facts indicate just the opposite. Nonviolence did work whenever it was tried against the Nazis. Bulgaria’s Orthodox Biship Kiril told Nazi authorities that if they attempted to deport Bulgarian Jews to concentration camps, he himself would lead a campaign of civil disobedience, lying down on the railroad tracks in front of the trains. Thousands of Bulgarian Jews and non-Jews resisted all collaboration with Nazi decrees. They marched in mass street demonstrations and sent a flood of letters and telegrams to authorities protesting all anti-Jewish measures. Bulgarian clergy and laity hid Jews. Christian ministers accepted large numbers of Jewish “converts”, making it clear that this was a trick to evade arrest and that they would not consider the vows binding. Ron Sider and Richard K. Talor comment, “Because of these and other nonmilitary measures, all of Bulgaria’s Jewish citizens were saved from the Nazi death camps.”

Finland saved all but six of its Jewish citizens from death camps through nonmilitary means. Of 7,000 Danish Jews, 6,500 escaped to Sweden, aided by virtually the entire population and tips from within the German occupation force itself. Almost all the rest were hidden safely for the balance of the war. Denmark’s resistance was so effective that Adolf Eichmann had to admit that the action against the Jews of Denmark had been a failure.

The Norwegian underground helped spirit 900 Jews to safety in Sweden, but another 756 were killed, all but 20 in Nazi death camps. German wives of Jews demonstrated in Berlin on behalf of their husbands in the midst of war, and secured their release for its duration. In Italy, a large percentage of Jews survived because officials and citizens sabotaged efforts to them over to the Germans.

During the Nazi occupation of Holland, a general strike by all rail workers practically paralyzed traffic from November 1944 until liberation in May 1945–this despite extreme privation to the people, who held out all winter without heat and with dwindling food supplies. Similar resistance in Norway prevented Vidkun Quisling, Hitler’s representative, from imposing a fascist “corporative state” on the country.

The tragedy is that even though nonviolence did work when used against the Nazis, it was used too seldom. The Jews themselves did not use it, but continued to rely in the main on the passive nonresistance that had carried them through so many pogroms in the past. And the churches as a whole were too docile or anti-Semitic, and too ignorant of the nonviolent message of the gospel, to act effectively to resist the Nazis. –The Powers That Be, Walter Wink, p.151-153

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Story of Nonviolence: Cantor and Klansman

Michael WeisserThis is a long excerpt from an amazing book, The Powers That Be, by Walter Wink. After coming to a belief, simply through reading Jesus’ call to “love your enemies”, that violence was not an appropriate action for Christians, a friend of mine on my dorm floor gave me this book. It was formative in helping me make further sense, not only of Jesus’ teachings, but also of the rich history of nonviolence in the Christian faith.
Toward the end of the book it includes a handful of stories, one of which I’ll include here. Enjoy.
From The Powers That Be (p. 172-175):

Identifying enemies runs the risk of freezing them in their role, and of blocking their conversion. Treating people as enemies will help create enemy like reactions in them. Too great an em­phasis on liberating the oppressed, too big a focus on success in nonviolent campaigns, too pragmatic an orientation to nonvio­lent struggle, can have the effect of dehumanizing the opponent in our minds and acts.
The command to love our enemies reminds us that our first task toward oppressors is pastoral: to help them recover their humanity. Quite possibly the struggle, and the oppression that gave it rise, have dehumanized the oppressed as well, causing them to demonize their enemies. It is not enough to become politically free; we must also become human. Nonviolence presents the chance for all parties to rise above their present con­dition and become more of what God created them to be.
Just such a story comes from Lincoln, Nebraska. On a Sun­day morning in June 1991, Cantor Michael Weisser and his wife, Julie, were unpacking boxes in their new home, when the phone rang. “You will be sorry you ever moved into 5810 Randolph St., Jew boy,” the voice said, and hung up. Two days later, the Weissers received a manila packet in the mail. “The KKK is watching you, Scum,” read the note. Inside were pictures of Adolf Hitler, caricatures of Jews with hooked noses, blacks with gorilla heads, and graphic depictions of dead blacks and Jews. “The Holohoax was nothing compared to what’s going to hap­pen to you,” read one note.
The Weissers called the police, who said it looked like the work of Larry Trapp, the state leader, or “grand dragon,” of the Ku Klux Klan. A Nazi sympathizer, he led a cadre of skinheads and klansmen responsible for terrorizing black, Asian, and Jew­ish families in Nebraska and nearby Iowa. “He’s dangerous,” the police warned. “We know he makes explosives.” Although confined to a wheelchair because of late-stage diabetes, Trapp, forty-four, was a suspect in the firebombings of several African Americans’ homes around Lincoln and was responsible for what he called “Operation Gooks,” the March 1991 burning of the Indochinese Refugee Assistance Center in Omaha. (He later ad­mitted to these crimes.) And Trapp was planning to blow up the synagogue where Weisser was the spiritual leader.
Trapp lived alone in a drab efficiency apartment. On one wall he kept a giant Nazi flag and a double-life-sized picture of Hitler. Next to these hung his white Klan robe, with its red belt and hood. He kept assault rifles, pistols, and shotguns within instant reach for the moment when his enemies might come crashing through his door to kill him. In the rear was a secret bunker he’d built for the coming “race wars.
When Trapp launched a white supremacist TV series on a local public-access cable channel—featuring men and women saluting a burning swastika and firing automatic weapons—Mi­chael Weisser was incensed. He called Trapp’s KKK hotline and left a message on the answering machine. “Larry,” he said, “do you know that the very first laws that Hitler’s Nazis passed were against people like yourself who had no legs or who had physi­cal deformities or physical handicaps? Do you realize you would have been among the first to die under Hitler? Why do you love the Nazis so much?” Then he hung up.
Weisser continued the calls to the machine. Then one day Trapp picked up. “What the f do you want?” he shouted. “I just want to talk to you,” said Weisser. “You black?” Trapp demanded. “Jewish,” Weisser replied. “Stop harassing me,” said Trapp, who demanded to know why he was calling. Weisser remembered a suggestion of his wife’s. “Well, I was thinking you might need a hand with something, and I wondered if I could help,” Weisser ventured. “I know you’re in a wheelchair and I thought maybe I could take you to the grocery store or something.”
Trapp was too stunned to speak. Then he cleared his throat. “That’s okay,” he said. “That’s nice of you, but I’ve got that covered. Thanks anyway. But don’t call this number anymore. “I’ll be in touch,” Weisser replied. During a later call, Trapp admitted that he was “rethinking a few things.” But then he went back on the radio spewing the same old hatreds. Furious, Weisser picked up the phone. “It’s clear you’re not rethinking anything at all!” After calling Trapp a “liar” and “hypocrite,” Weisser demanded an explanation.
In a surprisingly tremulous voice, Trapp said, “I’m sorry I did that. I’ve been talking like that all of my life. . . . I can’t help it. . . . I’ll apologize!” That evening the cantor led his congregation in prayers for the grand dragon.
The next evening the phone rang at the Weissers’ home. “I want to get out,” Trapp said, “but I don’t know how.” The Weissers offered to go over to Trapp’s that night to “break bread.” Trapp hesitated, then agreed, telling them he lived in apartment number three. When the Weissers entered Trapp’s apartment, he burst into tears and tugged off his two swastika rings. Soon all three were crying, then laughing, then hugging.
Trapp resigned from all his racist organizations and wrote apologies to the many people he had threatened or abused. When, a few months later, Trapp learned that he had less than a year to live, the Weissers invited him to move into their two-bedroom/three-children home. When his condition deterio­rated, Julie quit her job as a nurse to care for him, sometimes all night. Six months later he converted to Judaism; three months after that he died.23
Most people who are violent have themselves been the vic­tims of violence. It should come as no surprise, then, to learn that Larry Trapp had been brutalized by his father and was an alcoholic by the fourth grade.
Loving our enemies may seem impossible, yet it can be done. At no point is the inrush of divine grace so immediately and concretely perceptible as in those moments when we let go of our hatred and relax into God’s love. No miracle is so awe­some, so necessary, and so frequent.