In “Stride Toward Freedom” [p335] MLK notes “Nonresistance leaves you in a state of stagnant passivity and deadly complacency.” A question for those of us who use the term nonresistance might be: Is our nonresistance actually more passivity than loving the enemy? Is what I call nonresistance actually a complacent attitude?
As I have thought about the difference between King’s “nonviolence” and conservative Anabaptist “nonresistance” I think the difference is not “action” versus “passivity”. This seems well demonstrated by the stories we tell. The “action” of Dirk Willems actively rescuing his pursuer. Or the “action” of the Mennonite pastor who heard his roof being destroyed in the night by hoodlums and who welcomed the troublemakers in for a good breakfast, thereby “loving them” into appropriate behavior.
Neither is the difference a willingness or unwillingness to be involved in nonviolent civil disobedience. Anabaptists have continually shown themselves willing to “obey God rather than men”. From the subversive act of baptizing only believers in the 1500’s to a willingness to reject portions of the Pennsylvania Child Care Act in the 21st century because it is deemed to inappropriately place the State between brothers & sisters speaking truth to each other and is seen as compromising the structural integrity of an autonomous church, conservative Anabaptist’s are no stranger to “obeying God rather than men”.
The crucial difference between King’s nonviolence and conservative Anabaptist’s nonresistance seems to be who is being demanded to change. The conservative Anabaptist’s “protest for justice” includes demands only of themselves and to others only a offer and call to voluntarily join the Kingdom.
That is really crucial. King and many "social justice" religious types today have no issue with using the coercive power of Caesar to advance their agenda, an agenda which is sometimes well meaning but in my opinion usually way off the mark Biblically and economically. One can be active personally in the pursuit of justice without being unequally yoked with Caesar and unbelievers and when we try to use the coercive force of the state, it inevitably poisons and corrupts our witness.
Too often non-resistance is reduced to a leftist pacifism coupled with social justice warrior rhetoric. What is taught in the Bible is not a recycled flower child, Vietnam era pacifism but a far deeper and more comprehensive life that seeks to live peaceably with all as far as it is up to us (Romans 12:18) and to esteem others more highly than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). When we adopt the limited understanding of the world when it comes to non-violence/pacifism rather than the broad and robust Biblical surrender of non-resistance, we lose the true meaning of what Christ and the Apostles taught and demonstrated.