I’ve had plenty of debates on the topic of Christians and the use of violence.
The argument is always pretty much the same: “What if the only way to stop someone from hurting a loved one is to use violence?”
My answer is always pretty much the same: “Well, if I break down and use violence it doesn’t make it right, nor does it change anything about Jesus’ command to love our enemies.”
You see, I believe that nonviolent resistance and self-sacrificial love for enemies is central to the teachings of Jesus.
Not peripheral. Not incidental.
Yet, I appreciate the challenges and debates from those who disagree, and I hope they keep coming. I learn best when I am confronted with the idea that I could be wrong. If I see that I am wrong, I can change. If not, I’ll at least gain a deeper understanding of why I believe what I believe. Simply by virtue of disagreeing with me—as long as it’s civil—you help me grow.
That said, I hope you will consider how I might help you as well.
Another response that I hear in almost every conversation on nonviolence is: “Well, of course I hope that we can solve problems without the use of violence. That would be ideal. But, it isn’t always possible.”
If you are serious about your desire to find resolution without the use of violence, it would be beneficial for you to familiarize yourself with how to do so. Right?
Indeed, I know some Christians who are committed to this philosophy. They believe that extreme circumstances justify the taking of life; yet, they proactively search for ways to make peace rather than kill. I truly respect them. However, many others are not so forgiving.
Again, I welcome a healthy debate. But, if your default reaction to a call for peace is to prove your “right” to kill someone, I can’t help but question your desire for peaceful, loving resolution with your enemy.
A sure sign of cognitive dissonance is to claim a desire for reconciliation without violence, and then chastise the testimonies of your brothers and sisters who protest war and advocate the way of nonviolence.
Now, I realize that I probably won’t change anyone’s mind by sharing quotes, stories, and arguments for nonviolent resistance (though, I’d be all too happy if I do).
Nevertheless, perhaps by doing so I can help you find the way of peace that you claim to desire. Perhaps you can hold me accountable to do the same, for I am under no illusion that I am holier than another due to my convictions. Convictions do not make us holy; obedience does (1 Peter 1:13-25). Neither am I under any illusion that I can live in obedience, peaceably loving my enemies, without the support of my Christian family—even those of you who are not committed to the same ideals as I am.
Stanley Hauerwas put it this way,
“I declare that I’m committed to Christian nonviolence because I have no faith in my ability to live it on my own. But, by creating expectations in you about how someone should so live that has declared themselves [committed to nonviolence], I have some hope that you will keep me faithful to what I know is true.
Now, I take that to be the character of the Christian life. Namely, that what we are called to do is to be a people that love one another—to enact Matthew 18, because Matthew 18 is the exemplification of a commitment to what feels like a very coercive interaction as a way to avoid the violence that is in our souls.” (Taken from Hauerwas’ lecture at the 2013 Wheaton Theology Conference)
Even in our disagreement on the rightness or wrongness of retributive violence, I think we can agree that love is the default response of a true Christ-follower. So, before attempting to justify violence, perhaps we can work together to avoid it.
For more on peacemaking, check out these resources:
Pacifist Fight Club
You’re Not a Pacifist Are You? by Brian Zahnd
Quotes on peace from the early church by Keith Giles
The Early Church and Military Service by Scot McKnight
Nonviolence 101 – series from Kurt Willems
Nonviolence and the Church – series from Missio Alliance
Peace be with you.