by Dr. Jonathan Sparks-Franklin, Director of Third Way Peace Fellowship and UKirk
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. ~ Matthew 5:38-41
From the sermon delivered at the Presbytery of Cincinnati’s August Gathering to introduce the theological concept and context behind the Presbytery’s New Worshiping Community in Northside, the Third Way Peace Fellowship – continued…
So why would we pick this concept, this emphasis on active peacemaking, as the defining principle to build our entire community around?
Well, the first reason is theological. To put it simply, we at Third Way believe that this, the establishment of God’s nonviolent kin-dom of peace and justice here on earth, is the essence of the gospel. We believe that Jesus is the full and final revelation of God, that the Sermon on the Mount is the clearest exposition of this revelation, and that this sermon, this radical manifesto on Christian discipleship, is best read as a practical field guide on how to transform the world through nonviolent spirituality and practice.
Do not resist violently. Turn the other cheek. Love your enemies. Forgive others. Blessed are the peacemakers. Inspired by the great saints of Christian nonviolence, by Tolstoy, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and Martin Luther King Jr., it is an uncompromising commitment to the Sermon on the Mount, to the nonviolent way of the cross, that grounds our Christian identity and practice at Third Way Peace Fellowship.
But this is not the only reason we chose to build our community around nonviolent peacemaking. No. If the first and primary reason is theological, then the second is strategic and contextual. As a New Worshiping Community, especially one in a socially and politically progressive neighborhood like Northside, one of our primary goals is to connect with secular and nonreligious people, with those who would probably never step foot in a traditional church. And if there is one thing I have learned about this community, it is that they, diverse as they may be, are absolutely desperate for real and substantial material change. Poverty. Inequality. White Supremacy. Imperialism. Cisheteropatriatchy. Ecological collapse. Like the dispossessed of Jesus’ time, people today are confronted with an unspeakably violent and unjust world and are filled with what I would call a righteous and religious passion to resist and change it, to build a more cooperative and equal society where all can flourish. Like us Jesus people, they too are hungry for peace. They too are hungry for justice.
So our philosophy at Third Way is simple: We connect with our neighbors over this common commitment to peace, we create a safe community for activists, change-makers, and organizers, and use this community and our shared peacemaking work together as a platform to introduce others to the nonviolent way of Jesus. This could be done through partnerships with local organizations or it could be done through our own grassroots peacemaking projects that we develop in response to our own community listening.
Our current focus, for example, is in on mutual aid food justice work. We offer a hospitality house, what we call the Open Door, that provides a community sourced vegan food pantry and hot meal. We also just launched the neighborhood’s first public free fridge, what we call the Open Fridge, that provides those in need with 24/7 access to ready-to-eat food provided by the neighborhood. And in the Fall we will be launching monthly peace potlucks, a slam poetry event called stop the violence, and a variety of workshops on nonviolent direction action.
But the key here, what makes Third Way unique, is that we, as a New Worshiping Community, not only engage in this community peacemaking work, but also provide a variety of innovative opportunities to engage with the spiritual and theological side of it. As followers of Jesus, we know that this work is sacred, that the divine is found in the struggle for nonviolent liberation, and we invite our neighbors to find the living God in it with us. Indeed, we know that there can be no true social or material transformation without a prior spiritual transformation and that the spiritual path of Jesus is the only path to true peace, the only hope for our broken world.
So we invite our friends, neighbors, and fellow peacemakers to explore and experience the Third Way of Jesus. We invite them to explore what it means to engage in a cruciform struggle for justice, one that has traded hatred for love, despair for hope, revenge for forgiveness, and violence for nonviolence. Inspired by the Base Ecclesial Communities of South American Liberation Theology, what we call Third Way Base Community meets once a week to discuss the social problems facing our community and how we can address them from an explicitly biblical and Christ-like perspective. Indeed, we gather to not only study the social gospel and its relevance to our immediate context, but to practice and experience it spiritually through justice oriented liturgy and spiritual exercises.
And I am happy to report that we are having incredible success. It’s working. Our peacemaking projects are taking off. The neighborhood loves our work and is actively involved. We are serving and feeding so many people. And these people, many of them secular, non-religious, or spiritual seekers, are joining our community. In fact, they are not only joining, but they are asking questions about, and taking an active interest in, questions of faith and Jesus.
“I swore I would never step foot in a church or religious space again, but here I am. I can’t stop coming and I don’t know why. This is my home. These are my people.”
“I don’t know what it is, but I am starting to feel that something, something bigger than myself, is going on this peacemaking work we are doing and calling me to it.”
“This radical and nonviolent Jesus is so fascinating. I have never about this type of Christianity. I feel like it could really change the world. Can you tell me more?”
I hear these types of things all the time.
Friends, the Kingdom of God is growing in Northside. We are truly witnessing the development of a Beloved Community, and I mean that in a very specific sense, as Dr. King and his idea of the beloved community truly is our model. For if there was ever anyone who understood that active nonviolence is at the heart of the gospel, that the nonviolent way of Jesus is the only way to redeem and transform the world, it was Dr. King. The Beloved Community, as he put it, is the aftermath of nonviolence. We only get there, the only way we arrive at a nonviolent world, a world free of what he called the triple evils of poverty, racism, and militarism, is through a nonviolent faith, in a nonviolent God, manifested in nonviolent action. The world is desperate for the third way of Jesus. May we and our communities show them this way.