Q & R: Christ in a Violent World – Brad Jersak
At CWR/PTM, we’ve received some excellent feedback re: our response to violence. We really do appreciate this kind of input and our readers’ thoughtful questions, especially as we see our readers as partners in our ministry and its mission.
The following are some direct responses to the concerns from one of our readers, as well as a formal response.
The reader (in bold) began:
The issue of CWRm left me with some negative feelings about our response with violence based on Jesus’ teaching, and your claim that Christendom is on the violent, wrong, side of the Cross.
Not very surprising, especially since it’s very difficult for believers to come to a consensus about violence and our response to it. This is especially true because when we ask, “what shall we do,” we are already dealing with the problem of “who is WE?” Is WE the UN, NATO, the US and its political allies?
Or is we the Church (which church? the universal body of Christ? a particular denomination? or individual believers?). And if Christendom itself were a unified voice, how shall we relate to our politicians and their foreign policies? As chaplains affirming whatever the state decides? Or as a prophet challenging the powers that be? A corporate conscience with niggling questions? Or the voice of God (presuming a lot here)?
You can see how agreement on this is extremely tough to find. What is the way forward?
I agree that Christians should always seek non-violent solutions …
Indeed, Christ commands it … and Paul clarifies: “Our weapons are not of this world,” “Our enemy is not flesh and blood,” and “Overcome evil with good.” Here, Paul is speaking to believers across regions, rather than to political powers … so then it’s a question of our first allegiance among competing claims: the call of the Prince of Peace vs. the agendas of the state.
But it’s not so simple as we live with a foot in each kingdom. To the degree that we are also citizens of our nations (and our authors come from quite a few nations on at least three continents), we do participate in the world and it’s problems.
I like your first instinct: Christians should always seek non-violent solutions. I think we underestimate the importance of that word ‘seek.’ Seeking is not just proposing ideas with no teeth, no action, no resources, etc. What if we were also to give just 1/100th of our defence budget and 1/100th of our armed forces towards peace-building? Then perhaps the Jesus Way would not seem so idealistic and ‘dangerously naive,’ as a Christian critics put it!
Peace-building efforts have often been dismissed as simply turning away from problems. In fact, there are many powerful, creative and effective approaches that are proven to work, but grossly underfunded and undermanned. This leads me to a second very strong agreement that I think we would all have with you:
… but I do not agree that they should walk away from situations that are proven to harm those that are defenseless.
Amen! Walking away is not the Jesus Way. Jesus did not simply walk away from our violent world, but he did renounce the sword of violence as a solution to violence. And he called his his disciples to follow his path of enemy-love and nonviolent resistance.
The question then becomes, what is the role of the state and what is the role of the church in helping the defenseless?
Certainly we don’t imagine that the church should have it’s own standing army! But many individuals in the church see the horrors of our world, see a need for forceful solutions, and thus feel called to take up ‘the weapons of this world,’ to serve a ‘kingdom of this world.’
We would not condemn those who do. In fact, the Lord has seen fit to include among my best friends highly ranked military, probably so that I would not dismiss and dehumanize them. I feel called to ‘support our troops’ … but how I do so is specific:
What the soldiers on the ground (who’ve served many tours in active conflict) have taught me is that ‘supporting our troops’ is not simply cheering on the military agendas of the politicians, but actually listening to the soldiers. Talking to these guys has been a real eye-opener … they tell me that they NEED Christian laypeople at home giving voice to their concerns about what is going on overseas.
As a Christian, one Lt. Col. has affirmed to me the message of the non-violent Jesus Way, even while refusing to run away from the problems as he sees them. This leads to an important third agreement with you!
If force is determined to be necessary to overcome a bad situation, then I feel Christians have an obligation to take action.
Here are the questions my soldier friends raise:
1. If force is determined, who determines this? Politicians? (which ones?) Their advisors and generals? The soldiers on the ground? The church?
Surely not the church! But sadly, the church has often aligned with whatever their partisan commitment happens to be, regardless of what Christ has said.
2. If force is determined, what type, where and by who? Must all force be violent? E.g. propaganda that shifts opinion, negotiations that pressure, and embargoes that isolate sometimes work …
But more importantly, do we actually believe the Scriptures that claim prayer and love and even martyrdom are more powerful forces, or were Jesus and Paul mistaken?
And what if the violent force we default to actually massively increases casualties and escalates danger and harm to the very civilians we claim to be protecting? While this should be an obvious consideration, we have to ask what the fruit of our pursuit of justice through violent means has been. James says that peacemakers must sow peace to reap justice.
The alternatives have failed on such a massive scale that of all people, followers of the Jesus Way should be pointing this out (as we’ve tried to do).
Your articles in the CWR magazine would suggest that Christ would have our country, our military, and ourselves turn our backs on those who suffer from all sorts of crimes against humanity, when diplomacy is not effective.
Here is where we would might disagree, but hopefully this will encourage you: we would certainly NOT want to suggest that our nations (plural), our militaries (plural) or ourselvess turn our backs on those suffering crimes against humanity.
Rather, we BEGIN by asking how our disobedience to the Jesus Way may have actually caused and escalated such suffering — how it has contributed to the kind of resentment and desperation that enables wicked men to recruit the masses into terrorist movements.
We would categorically condemn ALL acts of terrorism. And we would also condemn all forms of torture, whether as retaliation to terrorism or a way to prevent it (and no, it doesn’t).
And yet how is it that white Evangelical Christians are the ONLY subculture in America that polls over 50% (as high as 60% if you restrict polls to males) in favor of torture? Why would they be the group MOST likely to justify it? That fact gives me cause to pause …
How did the predominant Christian
movement in the land
come to sound
so different from the voice of Christ. How can this be?
That same ethos led Nazi troops to head into battle with “God With Us!” on their buckles. The relative silence of much of the church then continues to echo today.
I do not believe Christ intended that we let others suffer at the hands of those who do them harm if we can prevent it.
The bible tells us that Christ, himself, took violent action at times when he thought it justified.
I’m not sure what you’re referring to here. If the ‘violent action’ you’re referring to is defined as ‘doing harm,’ rather than merely ‘intervention,’ then no, Jesus never used violence.
Some might employ the temple incident as evidence, but in fact, when Jesus fashioned a whip (only in the Gospel of John), the text is very clear: Jesus only used it to drive out the animals (with no indication that he harmed them), and not at all on the people (with whom he then entered a debate).
So these are some of my own thoughts with regard to your specific concerns, but speaking for the CWRm as a whole, here is what I wrote for the magazine (not all of it addresses your questions):
Our first allegiance is to the kingdom of God and the Jesus Way, not to any nation or any party. The Jesus Way revealed in Scripture is overt: Jesus is the Prince of Peace who calls us to be blessed peacemakers–those who follow Him by loving God, caring for our neighbors, welcoming the strangers, and also loving, blessing and praying for our enemies. He has explicitly called his followers to renounce vengeance and be agents of reconciliation … in this present evil and violent age. These are the politics of Jesus, not of either the Republican or Democratic parties.We affirm love of one’s nation. We believer real love does not simply rail against the nation, nor does it sugarcoats its sins. It takes responsibility by addressing, challenging and praying for the sins of its leaders and their decisions, especially when they are corrupt and have deceived the nation into wandering from God.The biblical prophets demonstrated their love of Israel by addressing the sins of the nation, but more than simply laying a guilt trip, they identified with those sins and repented on their behalf.CWR/PTM is saying: “Follow Jesus, and beware of the rhetoric of any religious-political alliance, Christian or Muslim, Republican or Democrat, that promotes that from which Christ has set us free.
I hope these thoughts will both settle and unsettle us both in the coming days. But again, please know that we take readers’ input seriously. We truly appreciate partnering with readers as we continue to work out the Jesus Way together.
God’s richest blessings!