In India, to cross a busy road, you need only avoid stepping out in front trucks or buses – and maybe cars. Giving way is according to size. So provided no buses or trucks are within immediate sight, it’s a matter of stepping out from the footpath, if there is one, focus attention on the other side, keep one’s nerve, and walk steadily across. The myriad of bikes, cars and three-wheelers simply move around you. It’s all about anticipation. But if you hesitate, you’re gone!
In the UK, step out on to a pedestrian crossing and all the traffic, including buses, come to a halt! I always feel quite apologetic, bringing them to a stop. But they’re the rules. And the British tradition is that if you have regulations, you need to keep them.
So it was, in 1833, that the Vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Coventry found a creative way to get across the ‘road’ of Church of England Law. Holy Trinity catered for the poorer citizens. It was, and still is, a less elaborate church compared with the Bishop’s huge Cathedral, a stone’s throw away. The Vicar wanted to invite his Scottish friend, the Bishop of Ross, Moray and Argyll to Holy Trinity Church. But at that time, Church of England Law forbade Scottish clergy from “setting foot” in its churches.
Not content with bowing to this superior injunction, the Vicar at Holy Trinity had a special chair built for the Scottish Bishop to carry him in and out of the church. The Scotsman never ‘set foot’ in the church!
The spirit of this response concurs with Jesus’ injunctions in Luke, that when faced with misplaced authoritarianism, one should neither retaliate in like manner, nor accept it passively. There is a third, creative and subversive way.
Walter Wink points out that in the culture of Jesus’ time, to “turn the other cheek” put the aggressor in an impossible situation – only the ‘unclean’ (left) hand is able to be used to hit the cheek – offering the other cheek challenges the hitter because it can’t be hit with the unclean hand; similarly to offer to give away one’s tunic in a court of law, having unjustly lost one’s cloak, would make one naked, thereby forcing the aggressor to public shame by breaking the law about creating public nakedness.
The Vicar at Holy Trinity found a creative way to subvert without culpability. Followers of Jesus today are likewise called upon to love enemies and find ways around stultifying legislation, not as passive condoners or aggressive reactors, but by using their wits.