數個月前開始，在美國明尼蘇達州的明尼阿波利斯市（Minneapolis）和其他地方，出現大規模的暴亂。暴亂似乎主要是因群眾憤怒與挫敗感引起，而這些感受則源於人們世代以來追求種族公義卻不獲回應所致。有人認為這些行為是合理的回應，也有人譴責這些行為，認為無論情況如何，在道德上始終不能接受。有趣的是，因為今次的議題有關種族不平等，討論雙方都會引用在這方面備受肯定的權威：馬丁路德金博士（Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.）。
明尼蘇達州伯特利大學（Bethel University, Minnesota）教授撒拉謝迪（Sara Shady），曾仔細查考這次演說的內容，並提出一些重要觀察。首先，雖然馬丁路德金博士是知名的非暴力倡議者，但他的看法卻比一般所理解的更為複雜。第二，基督徒傾向將他發起的和平示威，想像得太過理想，忽略他會不時挑戰不公義的法律，藉著觸犯法例，激發暴力回應——對象通常都是他自己和他的支持者。
On violence and justice
There has been a long running debate in societies around the world which arises whenever there are issues or protests that question the way we have been living and the assumptions we have placed on our values. It is prompted again with the shooting of Jacob Blake in the US and the violent responses that followed and is as part of the ongoing political issue surrounding systemic racial injustice that have resulted from generations of failure to deal with it or even acknowledge it. It seems like the elephant in the room was not only in plain view but being well fed and watered.
In a more generalised context it has raised questions around the issue of violence in the pursuit of justice. The question is this: Can violence ever be justified as a legitimate tool in the quest for justice particularly when that quest is denied or goes unanswered. In the US the large scale rioting that first occurred in Minneapolis some months ago and in many other places seems largely to have occurred as a reaction of anger and frustration to the generations of unanswered injustice on this issue. Some have justified it as a valid response, while others condemned it as morally unacceptable whatever the circumstances. The interesting thing is that because it took place over the issue of racial inequality both sides of the debate chose to draw upon the support of a highly recognised authority on such matters, Dr Martin Luther King Jnr. himself.
Those who wanted to condemn violence and rioting during protests quoted him as saying ‘I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating’ while those on the other side who wished to justify rioting quoted him as saying ’a riot is the language of the unheard’ .
The curious thing is that both of these ‘sound bites’ were taken from the same speech made by Dr King at Stanford University in 1967. This speech has been examined in some detail by Professor Sara Shady at Bethel University in Minnesota and she makes some salient observations. Firstly that although Dr King was a well-known advocate of non-violence his views were rather more complex than many might appreciate, and secondly that Christians have tended to over-idealise his peaceful protests not appreciating that they often challenged unjust laws by breaking them so provoking a violent response - usually towards him and his supporters.
The context of Dr King’s comments was his speech ‘The other America’ in which he passionately spoke about the two vastly different Americas that existed together. side by side, disconnected, unrecognised and unreconciled. It was a speech in which he evaluated the progress of the Civil Rights Movement’s efforts to highlight the issue and press for recognition. He spoke very frankly about the struggles that lay ahead to achieve his vision of a new racially united America. He also acknowledged that violence had occurred in some areas of America which threatened to mar the success that his non-violent movement had already achieved. Nevertheless some factions were speaking positively about the effectiveness of violent protest. This is the larger context of what he said:
‘Let me say as I've always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. I'm still convinced that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and justice. I feel that violence will only create more social problems than they will solve. That in a real sense it is impracticable for the Negro to even think of mounting a violent revolution in the United States. So I will continue to condemn riots, and continue to say to my brothers and sisters that this is not the way. And continue to affirm that there is another way.
But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation's summers of riots are caused by our nation's winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again.’
It is quite clear from this context that although Dr King believed that ‘nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and justice’ he also understood that ‘certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots’. This provides a very important principle to consider which is often ignored. It is this: that when violence occurs in the context of social unrest it’s condemnation by those in authority must also be accompanied by a recognition and equal condemnation of the injustices that have caused it. Otherwise it just becomes a hollow indictment that lacks authenticity and real understanding of the issue.
This principle plays out in several ways in the context of the protests and unrest that engulfed Hong Kong last year , and which followed a similar pattern to those in Dr King’s era. Like the US Civil Right’s movement Hong Kong’s protests started off as non-violent public demonstrations at the government’s lack of response over the extradition bill. However these brought to a head the culmination of years of frustration with unsatisfactory progress towards universal suffrage under the Basic Law. This long running political issue created discontent and resentment at the lack of meaningful political representation and eventually spilled over into violent protest when the voice of the people was again ignored.
In their response to this violence the Hong Kong government consistently refused to dialogue or make concessions on the basis that the demands were made in the context of violence. In fact more than that, it openly denigrated violence on the part of the protesters not only as being illegal but also as lacking moral legitimacy. However at the same time it refused to instigate a high level independent investigation that might have revealed the issues of injustice which lay at the heart of the protests. If the government had followed Dr King’s principle and conducted such an enquiry Hong Kong might have avoided the extreme measures we find ourselves in now, and instead have achieved a de-escalation of violence, and some progress towards a workable compromise.
A second way that this principle plays out is in relation to the church in Hong Kong. Dr King’s motivation for pursuing civil rights for the black population was based on his christian beliefs. His whole campaign and use of non-violence was overtly christian such that Christians have subsequently celebrated his success and applauded his non-violent approach. However the church must also understand that it cannot use this as a justification for having stood aside from the protests on the grounds that the bible condemns violence. It must also understand that it has an equal duty to speak out strongly against the injustices that are its source. When it speaks against violence without due regard to biblical teaching on righteousness and justice it risks the charge of hypocrisy.
It should be noted also that Dr King’s view of non-violence was not a passive one. He described it as a ‘weapon’ because he used it actively in his struggle to achieve civil rights for the black community. He was fighting for justice and his ‘weapon’ of choice was non-violence and he used it very effectively to achieve his purpose.
However it was not just chosen as an effective ‘weapon’ to win a battle but it was chosen as a ‘weapon’ that would also demonstrate visually the plight of black social and political humiliation at the hands of white oppression. The stories and pictures of black protesters being beaten and thrown into jail by white policemen spoke their own truth.
But the most important feature of his ‘weapon’ was the contrast it achieved between the actions of the defenseless and peaceful protesters interacting with violent and armed policemen. It achieved both a moral advantage and a self-evident rightness for their cause. Dr King targeted laws that were enforcing discrimination and then deliberately broke them as a way of highlighting the injustice that those laws caused and which were causing his community to suffer.
Every protest movement must decide what ‘weapons’ it will use and how to use them effectively. If it chooses to use violence then it must understand that it will be met with violence and the full force of the law so that any moral advantage that it might have achieved will be lost despite the rightness of its cause. In Hong Kong this very factor played out negatively for the protest movement. Even though the rightness of the cause was still maintained by a large portion of the population this weakness allowed the government to exploit the moral and legal failure to its advantage. If the protest movement is to succeed in its bid for reform it must re-evaluate its ‘weapons’ more critically and like Dr King choose those that target more directly the injustice it wishes to redress and use them in a way that will regain large scale public support.
While opportunity to regain wider recognition at the ballot box this September has been delayed for a year, it is a much better ‘weapon’ to use since it strikes more directly at the injustice it seeks to redress which is lack of democratic representation. However if its aim is merely to cause disruption and chaos to the legislative machinery then it will loose its moral advantage and support once again. Far better to exploit its potential moral and political advantage by pressing for democratic reform using the legislative process itself and abandon its weapon of violence altogether.
Like Dr King, the church of Hong Kong must also decide what ’weapons’ to use to counter this current wave of fear and uncertainty which is unnerving the population and how to be a positive influence in the years to come. But fortunately unlike Dr King it does not have to chose between violence and justice. While the role of the institutional church may not be on the streets, or in the ballot box, or at Legco it nevertheless has a powerful ‘weapon' - its voice and its message. It has an important role to speak up for justice and truth, and to do so through a distinctively biblical lens, helping the wider public understand why God cares so much about these issues. These are powerful weapons because they directly counteract the obfuscation of truth under power and the refusal of justice for expediency. However the church does need to look afresh at Dr King’s single-minded approach to the task he had in hand and his determination to be faithful to his principles in achieving it. They were not a pre-conditional requirement of another modus operandi but the very powerful ‘weapon’ of achieving his purpose. The church must also develop a determined and focused strategy for using its ‘weapons’ effectively in supporting the people of Hong Kong in the coming years.
Because the church is serving a higher power than its political masters it has an authority that transcends human strategies; that can bring hope in times of despair, and truth in times of darkness. The question is: will the church rise to the challenge, use the ‘weapons’ God has given it and speak up for justice and truth? Only time will tell.