An idea for creative resistance

As I was standing in the shower this morning, pondering the latest news story about the new Travel Safety Administration (TSA) search procedures, I came up with an interesting, Biblically based, idea about how one might go about resisting these new invasive search procedures.

Strip for the TSA

Follow me for a second and I’ll tell you what I mean.


The TSA has now upped the game when it comes to air travel. They are introducing new full body scanners which virtually remove all of your clothes and allow the TSA agents to see everything.  And I mean everything.  If you don’t want to submit to this scan then you can opt for the new enhanced pat down which involves, among other things, actually touching your genitals.  Here’s the catch.  Once you have gotten yourself into this situation and didn’t want to do either one, one would assume that you would be able to simply say, ‘no thanks, I’ll walk to California’ and leave the airport.  Not so fast.  It’s against federal law to leave the security screening process one you have started it, therefore if you choose to refuse both of these methods of search, you are subject to a $10,000 fine and/or a civil lawsuit   (All of this was brought to a head by the experience of John Tyner) So what that means, is that anyone who is traveling through a major city, has the chance of being stuck in a situation where you two apparent options are 1) be violated or 2) face fines and lawsuits.

Or are there really only two options?

Bible story time

One of the scriptures that popped into my head while thinking about this situation is from the Sermon on the Mount.  Specifically Matthew 5:38-42.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.[1]

In the book “Engaging the Powers” Walter Wink has an interesting interpretation of this passage in which he argues that each one of these things is actually a creative way to find a third way of creative non-violent resistance.[2] I was most drawn to his interpretation of the part about giving your cloak as well. Wink says that if someone became naked in the Biblical culture that the shame rested not on the naked person, but rather on the person who made them naked.  Therefore, if someone is suing you to take the clothes off of your back, give them all of your clothes and walk out of the courtroom naked with your head held high.  In a situation where the only two apparent options are to fight or be victimized, Jesus presents a third way that resists the abuse and places the shame back on the abuser, all while complying with the letter of the law.

So here’s my proposal.

When you find yourself in a situation of being scanned, you should voluntarily, in public,

strip down naked.

This act would not be disobeying the command of the TSA but rather it would be going the ‘second mile’, if you will.  While on one hand it is submitting to the invasiveness of the screenings it is also doing it in such a way that takes control and power back in the situation.  And I would also venture to say that if such an act were done in front of all of the other passengers waiting in line, it would expose the true invasiveness of the procedure and thus place the ultimate shame on the TSA, not on the individual.

Creative.  Non-violent.  Resisting.

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Mt 5:38-42). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2] Wink, Walter, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination. 1992 Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress. 75-84

Cross posted from The Wandering Road

Comments (15)

  1. watchman

    SCENE: American Airport Security Check

    Dad: ‘Kids, turn your heads. There is a radical Anabaptist in front of us.’

  2. TimN

    This would definitely be one way for Anabaptists to get more attention.

  3. Tim B

    Alan, you make a remarkable case using the truth of the situation and a Biblical response. I love the way you laid this out. I wish I saw more stuff said this way.

    This government has lost its mind. The gubbmints gone completely kinky. They want to see everyone, everywhere, naked. To think they will stop with airports is optomistic. These things will soon be in courthouses and government facilities everywhere. Then, just like the metal detectors, they’ll wind up in schools. Going through them will part of daily life for great portions of society. On the upside, looking a porn is sure to be a federal job, protected by unions, and with great benefits. Where do I apply?

  4. TimN

    Congrats, Alan, your idea’s already going viral.

  5. AlanS (Post author)

    Cool. We’ll see if it catches on.

    And for the record, this is just an idea so far. Actually doing it is kind of another thing altogether. I’m still not totally sure that I’d have the guts to go through with it if given the opportunity.

  6. Liz B

    I have six flights in March and April 2011. This might not be a bad idea.

  7. J Wiebe

    A new take on the Naked Anabaptist!

  8. AlanS (Post author)
  9. TimN

    Congrats, Alan, your article has only been up for 5 days and its already the most popular page on YAR for the month with over 500 page views. It’s especially popular on Facebook, with over 200 people coming in from there. Someone’s been spreading the word…

  10. Pingback: When we first visited Young Anabaptist Radicals PLUS first new poll in over a year! » Young Anabaptist Radicals

  11. Tim Baer

    @Tim N,

    This really took root with some of our evangelical friends.

  12. 1nine

    The problem the TSA has is balancing the rights of the individual with the safety of the group within a highly complicated and risky experience like air flight. Your decision (which seems to me to have been finalized fairly briefly during a shower) seems to emphasize the “young” of YAR since it does not seem to acknowledge or appreciate the complexity of a terrorist threat (whether it be large or small). I realize you may not value your life since you have committed it to Jesus Christ, but I am a father and words like “safety” “relaxation” “security” are no longer exclusively negative words (as they were during my college years) and no longer clearly conflict with how I now understand Christianity. If you don’t agree with the TSA decision, then don’t fly. Do away with one of the most complex and highly technological industries in our world.

  13. AlanS (Post author)


    Let me try and clarify a couple of things. I’ll number them simply because if I don’t I’ll forget

    1) I may not have come across this way, I am actually for safety. I do recognize the complexity of air travel, a well as the complexity of all forms of travel. It is a tremendous undertaking to pull it off and I highly respect that. I also hope that I didn’t appear flippant about the issue of safety. I wish safety for all people, especially children, yours included. But I would raise the question of safety from whom/what? I’m not just interested in the threat posed to your children by an unnamed or possible terrorist threat, but also by the threat of violation at the hands of the ones who are charged with keeping us safe. it’s a balance and there is no easy answer.

    2) One of the underlying issues in this whole problem is the question of where it ends. In my lifetime the search procedures have become increasingly invasive. What’s worse, the invasions are justified under the guise of reaction to the particular terrorist threat of the moment. There was the shoe bomber, and then we have to take off our shoes. Then there was the underwear bomber, now we’re being scanned and patted down. It doesn’t take much to see that the next logical step is to hide a bomb in body cavity. So is it then justified to do random cavity searches? How much is too much? While I’m sure you are very interested in the safety of your children, are you willing to undergo a random cavity search or allow your children to be subject to one in the name of ‘safety’? I can’t answer the question for you. I just know that different people draw the line at different places, and for many, the line has been crossed.

    3) “If you do _____ the terrorists win.” That’s a phrase that really gets thrown around waaaay to much, but I think in this case there is some truth to it. In 2004 Bin Laden said this,

    “All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al Qaeda, in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving anything of note other than some benefits for their private corporations,”

    It is a core strategy of many terrorist organizations to merely say ‘boo’ and allow the overreaction of their target do the real work of terrorizing the people. The narrative that we can be %100 secure is simply not true. Even with terrorist attacks you’re still more likely to get killed driving to the airport than flying on the plane.

    Ultimately, I don’t buy into your statement “If you don’t agree with the TSA decision, then don’t fly.” This is not a love-it-or-leave-it kind of situation. For that matter the United States is not a love-it-or-leave-it kind of country. As citizens we have a right and a responsibility to speak out when there is an injustice being perpetrated and, if we actually love it, to work at making the system better for all people. Terrorism is real and it comes in many forms. It’s is carried out by individuals and governments alike. I’m opposed to all of it.

  14. 1nine

    We are in agreement that there is no easy answer and I am glad that you also acknowledge an appreciation for safety. Under Point 2, you mention your concern of where it ends which I too share regarding this issue, as well as with many other issues. However, discussions on “where things end” quickly lead to hypotheticals and away from the hear and now. Therefore, the level of factual information available becomes crucial to the decision-making process. I agree that democracy in the U.S. is being tested because the public’s access to much of the information regarding terrorism is classified, thereby hindering the public’s ability to sufficiently make decisions on issues (as well as elections). For example, are most of the terrorist organizations saying “boo” or are there real threats (and if so, how often and to what degree?)? I never claimed my goal was for 100% security (I’m not even sure I can imagine what that would look like, but it probably would look something like Singapore). My main point is that the TSA policy is finalized based on factual information from the intelligence community which we (the public) do not have. Access to facts (and truth) is the foundation of democracy. Is the answer to let the public have access to all the facts? If so, the results have as much of a chance to leading the country further into war as they do in leading us toward a path to peace. The great myth of the Left is that democracy will automatically lead to peace. The case of Hitler and the German National Socialists suggests otherwise.

    Determining what qualifies as a human right plays a role here as well. My assumption from my first comment was that people usually don’t need to travel by air. I do not consider it a human right. I realize this view is somewhat self-centered since I do not require air travel at all in my life and I realize that many use it for important elements of their lives. To me, it is similar to those that say they NEED to eat at McDonald’s for reasons of a busy schedule.

    If your call to protest is motivated by your love of country than I do not have any further problem with your decision to protest the TSA policies. However, if your call to protest is motivated in part, or in whole, by your identification as a Anabaptist Christian then I have additional questions. Many early Anabaptists did not shy away from their faith even when it led them to martyrdom. Do you consider their experience an example of victimization? They did not have a Walter Wink to teach them how to twist words for a politically motivated movement. If Walter Wink is correct, then somebody will need to explain to me again the definition of Christian love and whether or not passive aggressive behavior coincides with it.

  15. AlanS (Post author)


    Thanks for your response. I’ve got some specific responses to your last post, specifically in regards to your interpretation of various points in history. However, I would first like to ask you a question that will shape my answer.

    Are you an Anabaptist Christian? Also, who/what are your primary theological influences? (colleges where you studied, influential television and radio preachers, authors, historians etc…)

    I feel like I need to know a bit more about where you are coming from in order for me to offer a convincing argument explaining where I’m coming from. Thanks.

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