The Cross as…Political Jujitsu

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : January 1, 2008

…having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Colossians 2:15

In the martial art of jujitsu, attacks are not blocked nor returned. Instead, the defender uses the momentum of the attacker to create imbalance, thus causing the attacker to fall. Political jujitsu works in a similar way. Rather than responding to violent oppression with counter-violence, or defending one’s self against that violence, political jujitsu turns that violence against itself.

When the oppressed organize non-violently to take a stand against their government, the government has two options: to ignore the resistance movement or punish the resisters. Either way, the action of the oppressor can strengthen the resistance and undermine the government. The government is exposed for what it is. The wrongness of their position is made clear. They are, in a way, disarmed by their acts of violence against the innocents.

If the government ignores the non-violent resistance, they embolden the opposition. If they force them to submit through violent action, they risk fostering sympathy for the nonviolent resistance.

It has been suggested that Jesus’ call to “turn the other cheek” is an example of this. Walter Wink argues that turning the other cheek prevented the oppressor from back-handing you a second time. It forced the the attacker to strike you with a fist, the way in which equals fought. It is a way of saying to your attacker “I have dignity.” Such an act would turn violence against itself to reveal the truth of the situation.

I’m not sure I agree with this interpretation. Nevertheless, I do believe that the Cross is an act of political jujitsu. Not only is it a cosmic example of God “turning the other cheek” in the presence of his enemies (both earthly and hellish), but in the act of receiving state-sponsored violence, he revealed the fallen-ness of the state.

Jesus dwelt in the margins of the Empire. He lived under the evil systems of power and in his ministry challenged the principalities and powers (which are both human and demonic in origin). In his death, he exposed their true nature, later overcoming them in his resurrection. Taking up the Cross, we too are called to resist the Powers nonviolently…even to the point of our own deaths.

This may seem like a newfangled corruption of “traditional” Christianity. By no means. The early Christians understood that martyrdom (literally “witness”) not only demonstrates the tenacity of one’s convictions, but it also demonstrated the love of Christ and exposed the demonic nature of the state.

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2 Responses to “The Cross as…Political Jujitsu”

  1. Mike Knott on January 3rd, 2008 8:15 am

    Hhmmm. The title led me to believe this would be a piece about Mike Huckabee’s recent ad in Iowa with a faux cross displayed behind him. That’s political jujitsu.

  2. Maria Kirby on January 3rd, 2008 4:43 pm

    Any suggestions for doing political jujitsu with kids, particularly teenagers?

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