I remember when I first read the trial of Nat Turner. It was very difficult and painful. On the one hand, I found his killing of children reprehensible. And having the benefit of two centuries of hindsight, I wished that he had found some nonviolent means of protest.
But then I realized, especially as I read the words of the white judge and lawyers, that the demand for nonviolence on the part of an oppressed and enslaved people by their oppressors and enslavers is groundless. I wish that Nat Turner had not killed so many people, including children. But I also recognize that my white ancestors waged total war on their African slaves, as my society does in a different way on their descendants.
I believe that creative nonviolence is the only way to truly transform societies and bring meaningful peace. But as a member of the dominant group, my desire for nonviolence on the part of my own society’s oppressed people is not wholly disinterested. I wish Turner had resisted nonviolently, but I am in no position to say he had any obligation to do so. When the oppressed choose nonviolence, it rises above the realm of obligation into the realm of grace. And grace is, by definition, unmerited.
Edit: I’ve just remembered that someone who overlapped a bit with me in the Ph.D. program wrote a dissertation on violence in Christian theology in reference to Nat Turner. His name is Karl Lampley. I do not know if the dissertation has been published yet.