Coercion? Yes. Violence? No.

Coercion? Yes. Violence? No. July 25, 2019

Ronald Sider If Jesus is Lord distinguishes between “coercion” and “violence.” It’s a helpful distinction because, if we can agree on terms here (and it’s not an easy agreement) we can agree that violence is always wrong.

How would you distinguish “coercion” from “violence”? Where would you disagree with Sider below?

Sider’s definitions:

I use the word “coercion” to refer to the exercise of influence on others in ways that pressure them to act in certain way. Legitimate coercion is action that influences others in ways that are in keeping with Jesus’s call to love our neighbors (which, as I will argue, excludes killing them). Violence is any action against a neighbor where the intent is to harm the neighbor, including killing the neighbor.

Violence can be psychological, physical but not lethal, or lethal. Action that damages, and is intended to damage, the dignity or self-esteem of another person is violent.

The motive of the person causing harm is a crucial factor in determining whether the action that causes harm is moral coercion or immoral violence. As long as the intent is love and well-being for persons involved and the action leaves all persons free to make different, better choices in the future, the coercive action is not violent.

Coercion (whether psychological, physical, or economic) is morally appropriate as long as the intent and overall effect is the promotion of everyone’s well-being and persons are not killed. Violence (whether psychological, physical, or economic) is always wrong, because the action does not flow from love for all persons involved and the desire to promote their well-being. Killing another person always involves violence.

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