by Melanie Zuercher
NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Malinda Elizabeth Berry began each of her two presentations at Bethel College on violence and nonviolence by invoking and acknowledging the first people.
Berry, a professor of theology and ethics at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Indiana, was on campus Feb. 25-26 to give this year’s Staley Lectures.
She named around a dozen American Indian groups – such as the Apache, Kiowa, Kansa, Sac and Fox, Kickapoo and Pottawatomie – who “tended the land and walked in balance on the prairies” long before the first European settlers set foot there.
Among her reasons for this particular naming was that the story of American Indians is an example of “slow violence,” a term coined and developed by environmental activist Rob Nixon.
“Most of what we’re used to seeing [in this culture] is ‘fast’ violence – it’s dramatic, it seems to come out of nowhere, it’s the stuff of blockbuster movies.
“Slow violence is neither spectacular nor instantaneous but incremental, with calamitous repercussions that are postponed for years, decades, centuries.”
Berry’s lectures looked at both violence and nonviolence in terms of “slow” and “fast.”
“As human beings, we are oriented toward violence,” she said. “[But] as Christians, our deepest longing is aligning ourselves with God’s kingdom.
“As a Christian who aligns with Anabaptism, I’m committed to reading the Christian gospel as a message of shalom and an invitation to renounce violence. For me, renouncing violence is not pacifism. Instead, it’s ‘a way of life we live by because of the sheer morality of its claims,’” the latter words borrowed from Martin Luther King Jr.
Berry’s examples of “fast nonviolence” included “instant responses,” such as writing to lawmakers , signing petitions, responding to e-mail calls to action and taking part in protests.
“Medium nonviolence” is “everyday living – the choices we make about how we walk around in the world” (e.g., reducing your carbon footprint by riding a bike or avoiding plastic where possible).
Berry’s main strategy for “slow nonviolence” comes from Nonviolent Communication’s calling circles, which bring participants together around an issue or situation to listen, reflect and connect – to “slow down and pay attention.”
“The challenge of this kind of nonviolent practice,” she said, “is it takes too much time … especially when there are so many immediate issues calling for our attention.
“The assumption is we need to act [nonviolently] at the same pace as fast violence. Rob Nixon’s gift was to show that violence is not always fast.
“I can say ‘I don’t do conflict,’ but I’m still going to find myself in conflict – or ‘I don’t do war,’ but somebody is doing war,” she continued. “The question is, how am I going to respond?
“Not with violence, but [trying] to use strategies and tactics that might bring me and my opponent to the same side. I don’t try to have power over them, I try to come into an equal power relationship with them, so we both find ourselves on the side of God’s justice.”
When a questioner wondered about “the collateral damage from fast violence while the circle is doing its slow work,” Berry responded by recalling a question that Christian Peacemaker Teams consistently asks: “What would it look like to put as much time, effort, energy and money into seeking justice and peace as we do preparing for war?”
“As long as those two are so disproportionate, we will believe in the myth of ‘redemptive’ violence,” she said.
“Maybe we have to concede it will always be that way because the world is fallen. If so, we need to have different conversations about what it means to be a peacemaker.”
For Berry, that means circles and storytelling.
“What if love wins? We have a share in God’s intention. But it’s a mystery. We don’t get to understand everything all the time.
“That’s why I want to see more intergenerational circles – [a chance to hear] the stories of faith and resistance. It could save our [peace] tradition. It could save our denomination.”
Bethel College ranks at No. 1 in College Consensus’ ranking of Kansas colleges and universities, and is the only Kansas private college listed in the Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities, the Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section and the National Liberal Arts College category of U.S. News & World Report, all for 2017-18. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.
Bethel College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation, parental or marital status, gender identity, gender expression, medical or genetic information, ethnic or national origins, citizenship status, veteran or military status or disability. E-mail questions to TitleIXCoordinator@bethelks.edu.