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  • Zambia Peace Clubs

    The following is an example of active peace building practices in communities in Zambia. Zambia has always taken great pride in being a peaceful country, not having faced either external or civil war. In recent decades, the relative peace of Zambia has drawn thousands of refugees from many African countries. Given this relative peace, I have often been asked: “Why is there a need for peace clubs in a country like Zambia?” While to some the need for peacebuilding in a context like Zambia has not always been evident, others have recognized that the absence of war does not mean that there is no violence in the country. For example, gender-based violence in Zambia is widespread and pervasive. According to a study done by USAID in 2010, almost half (47%) of Zambian women over the age of 15 have experienced physical violence. One in five women has experienced sexual violence in her lifetime (Wyble, 2004). Gender-based violence in Zambia includes everything from spousal abuse to sexual violence to psychological abuse to child neglect and more. Recognizing that violence can take many forms, MCC chose to support the pioneering of the peace club model in three schools in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, in 2006. Through participation in peace clubs, many young people have become peacebuilders in their schools and communities. They have learned how to be critical and creative thinkers. Peace clubs operate as an extracurricular activity. Like any other school club, students are free to join the after-school peace club, with the support of a teacher, to learn about how the principles of peace can help to address the problems they see in their lives and in societies. Since the first pilot project in 2006, MCC has supported the development of the peace clubs model in a variety of ways. MCC staff assisted in drafting a peace clubs curriculum that introduces participants to different aspects of conflict analysis and resolution, examining understandings of conflict and violence, exploring gender-based violence, trauma, and the rights of persons with disabilities and charting the journey to reconciliation. The goal of peace clubs is not to teach young people the exact names of the different problem-solving techniques, or to have them able to recite the curriculum word-for-word. Instead, peace clubs are about helping a young generation develop new ways of thinking about peace, conflict and violence and equipping them with skills to peacefully address and prevent conflict in their schools, homes and communities. Through participation in peace clubs, many young people have become peacebuilders in their schools and communities. They have learned how to be critical and creative thinkers. Peace clubs have equipped them to face unexpected situations. Furthermore, peace clubs have contributed to a change in attitude and behavior on the part of parents, teachers and students, allowing them to use peaceful means to resolve conflicts. Young members of peace clubs have influenced adult community members to change their culture of violence into one of peace. Peace clubs have contributed to a reduction in corporal punishment and increased the use of non-violent disciplinary methods in schools, homes and communities. The introduction of peace clubs into Zambian prisons has proved successful, leading the Zambia Correctional Service to seek to establish a Restorative Justice and Peace Building Unit and to expand peace clubs to all 65 prisons in the country. From its humble start in three schools in Lusaka, peace clubs in Zambia have expanded to 32 Lusaka schools as well as to 12 Brethren in Christ schools in Zambia’s southern province. The idea of what a peace club can be has even expanded beyond school settings, with peace clubs established in churches, prisons and refugee camps. The introduction of peace clubs into Zambian prisons has proved successful, leading the Zambia Correctional Service to seek to establish a Restorative Justice and Peace Building Unit and expand peace clubs to all 65 prisons in the country. Meanwhile, the peace clubs model has expanded beyond Zambia. Mennonite Brethren and Brethren in Christ churches in Malawi look to introduce peace clubs in their contexts to address and prevent gender-based violence. Churches, schools and prisons in fourteen African countries have adapted the peace clubs model, while groups in Latin America and Canada also look to introduce the peace clubs model in contextually appropriate ways. Over the course of only 13 years, the peace clubs model has grown from three after-school activities to a fully developed curriculum implemented in churches, schools, prisons and refugee camps on three continents. Looking ahead, peace clubs certainly face challenges, including how to diversify funding support for long-term sustainability and how to better measure the impact of peace clubs. One can envision this model being expanded all over the world and adapted to many other contexts and refined to successfully introduce alternatives to violence for a more just and peaceful tomorrow. Originally published by Issa Ebombolo at MCC Intersections, used with permission

  • An Introduction to Christian Nonviolence

    A lot has changed in 2000 years. The earliest followers of Jesus started out with a strong emphasis on nonviolence and peacemaking for a few hundred years after the death and resurrection of Christ. However, some 1700 years later it has evolved (or devolved) to the point where some of the most ardent supporters of military power are evangelicals - those seemingly carrying the torch for Christian faith in the 21st century. Even among serious followers of Jesus, his teaching to turn the other cheek and do good to those who would harm you (Mat 5:38-48) is often anemic. When we look at the church today, when we look at all the content that saturates the internet, we tend to find very little mention of the subject. It is remarkable when you open the New Testament and begin to turn the pages, the first time you come to a command to love, it is not only to love your neighbor, but to love your enemies. Jesus’ manifesto on the kingdom of God that we call the "Sermon on the Mount" (Mat 5-7), teaches what it looks like when someone lives in this new Kingdom ... this age-to-come-breaking-in-now Kingdom. Jesus said the kingdom of God was marked by those who were willing to love, even their enemies and those that hurt them ... then he modeled it with his own life. If this teaching was only found in the Gospels that would surely be enough, but Paul echoes this message when he writes his letter to Christians in Rome as well. In the city that was the epicenter of an empire that dominated the known world — often with brutal force, he says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse ... If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:14, 20-21). There is ample evidence that for nearly the first 300 years of the Christian movement, followers of Jesus, whose numbers continued to grow, kept their focus on these ideas. In fact, it was what they were most known for by outsiders. The theme of peace and violence come up frequently in the writings of prominent leaders in the early church. By comparison, the United States is roughly 250 years old — so for 50 years longer than the United States has existed, early Christians held onto a nonviolent way of being while living in an unmistakably violent culture. They believed it was fundamental to what it meant to live in God’s kingdom. Today, it is common for many Christians to tell you that this is not a subject they have given much thought to. Often there is an implicit theology and belief system about the use of violence that has not been thoroughly examined. This is why Jesus Peace Collective exists. The Jesus Peace Collective seeks to humbly help us examine, to journey together with Jesus, following the Prince of Peace and learning to become peacemakers, "for they will be called children of God" (Mat 5:9). Jesus Peace Collective desires that disciples of Jesus look further into what he taught and how he lived on topics such as war, enemies, and violence; as well as peacemaking, love, forgiveness, and mercy. Jesus Peace Collective seeks to be a resource and community that helps disciples of Jesus in their calling to live as nonviolent agents of peacemaking in the world. Peace, in and through him.

  • Book Recommendations

    This is an ongoing list of recommended books on the topics of Christian nonviolence, nationalism, and the kingdom of God. Where to Start: Cramer, David C., Myles Werntz. A Field Guide to Christian Nonviolence: Key Thinkers, Activists, and Movements for the Gospel of Peace. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2022. Jones, Tom A. The Kingdom of God - Volume 3: Learn War No More. Illumination Publishers, 2020. Sprinkle, Preston. Nonviolence: The Revolutionary Way of Jesus. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2021. Wink, Walter. The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium. New York: Galilee, 1999. God and Government / Christian Nationalism: Atwood, James E. America and Its Guns: A Theological Exposé. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2012. Atwood, James E. Collateral Damage: Changing the Conversation About Firearms and Faith. Harrisonburg: Herald Press, 2019. Atwood, James E. Gundamentalism and Where It Is Taking America. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2017. Boyd, Gregory A. The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. Budde, Michael, L. Foolishness to Gentiles: Essays on Empire, Nationalism, and Discipleship. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2022. Burns, Michael. Escaping the Beast: Politics, Allegiance, and Kingdom. Illumination Publishers, 2020. Campbell, Constantine, R. Jesus v. Evangelicals: A Biblical Critique of a Wayward Movement. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2023. Du Mez, Kristin Kobes. Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. New York: Liveright Publishing, 2021. Hauerwas, Stanley. War and the American Difference: Theological Reflections of Violence and National Identity. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011. Hicks, John Mark (ed.). Resisting Babel: Allegiance to God and the Problem of Government. ACU Press, 2020. Hughes, Richard T. Myths America Lives By: White Supremacy and the Stories that Give us Meaning. Second Edition. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2018. Saiya, Nilay. The Global Politics of Jesus: A Christian Case for Church-State Separation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2022. Whitten, Mark Weldon. The Myth of Christian America: What Your Need to Know About the Separation of Church and State. Macon: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 1999. Yoder, John Howard. The Politics of Jesus. 2d Edition. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994. Historical Christian Nonviolence: Bainton, Roland H. Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace: A Historical Survey and Critical Re-Evaluation. Abingdon Press, 1979. Gorman, Michael J. Abortion & the Early Church: Christian, Jewish & Pagan Attitudes in the Greco-Roman World. Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998. Hornus, Jean-Michael. It Is Not Lawful for Me to Fight: Early Christian Attitudes toward War, Violence, and the State. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2009. Hurtado, Larry W. Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2016. Kalantzis, George, Caesar and the Lamb: Early Christian Attitudes on War and Military Service. Eugene; Cascade Books, 2012. Kreider, Alan, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016. Sider, Ronald J. The Early Church on Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012. ____ For an extensive bibliography on the subject, see here.

  • The Only Way to Stop a Bad Guy With a Gun, Is a Good Guy With a Gun?

    In Doug Wilson’s recent Q talk, he referenced this famed saying, and, no joke, integrated it as part of his defense. “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” I grew up hearing this phrase and it seemed simple enough for an American boy raised on a healthy dose of spaghetti westerns. Good guy with a gun meets bad guy with a gun. Good guy fires gun. Bad guy drops dead. And good guy twirls his pistol back into his holster and hits the saloon for a shot of whiskey. Unfortunately, the real world is much more complicated than Hollywood makes it out to be, even though The Good, the Bad, and the Uglyremains one of my top five favorite movies of all time. I’ve got a friend who’s a Navy SEAL sniper, and a darn good one at that. He laughs at the “good guy with gun stops bad guy with gun” myth. As a sniper, he has trained for thousands of hours to be the good guy with a really accurate gun, and even he says that high intensity situations are so incredibly unpredictable. Even with thousands of hours of training, pulling that trigger is one of the most hardest things he’s ever done. What makes us think that the average Joe with a concealed weapon permit is qualified to make these split second decisions? Shots are fired. Man with a gun. A bad guy with a gun! Or a good guy reaching for his cell phone? No! A bad guy with a gun. Or maybe another good guy with a gun. Is he shooting? Or laying down his gun? Is that a gun? How do you know? Are those kids behind him? Will you shoot them if you miss the bad guy with a gun? Are you still sure he’s the bad guy? How do you know? Shots are fired. Right behind you. Wheel around and fire back. Another bad guy. Ready to kill. Or is it an undercover cop? Shooting the bad guy. Good guy or bad guy? Two seconds to decide. Where are the kids? Bang! You shoot your gun. Two times. Bang, bang! Adrenaline kicks in. Three more times. Bang, bang, bang. People are dead. Better check to see if they’re bad guys. Where are the kids? Call me a party pooper, but I don’t trust the average American, revved up on Fox News and a vigilante spirit, to perform well in a high intensity situation that he’s not trained for. As one combat veteran said: [T]hink about 10 or 15 people, who are weekend shooters with limited tactical training, deciding to shoot it out with a criminal in a crowded office holiday party, a medical clinic or a darkened theater, while people are screaming and running, and no one knows who or how many of the people shooting are the “good guys” and how many of them are the “bad guys.” In some cases, can a “good guy” with a gun neutralize the threat and help save lives? Absolutely. But it doesn’t happen very often. It is, for the most part, a myth perpetuated by people who’ve never been shot at. “It is, for the most part, a myth perpetuated by people who’ve never been shot at,” says this trained soldier. And many combat veterans agree. The good guy with a gun mantra is largely a myth. In fact, the FBI recently released a massive study on the 160 active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013. Most of these situations ended with the shooter committing suicide. But 26 of 160 were stopped when someone in the crowd stopped the shooter. You might think this is a decent enough percentage to justify the good guy with a gun myth, but according to the study, only 5 were stopped with a guy with a gun while 21 were stopped by unarmed civilians. Good guys with no guns were four times more successful at stopping bad guys with guns. Is it possible that a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun? Sure. It’s possible. Is it possible that good guy with a gun freezes and gets himself shot, or shoots an innocent person, or mistakes a good guy with a gun for a bad guy with a gun, or is considered to be a bad guy with a gun when the cops show up and shoot him—yeah, all those things are possible too. If the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, then the only guy I want to see packing is Jesus. He’s the only good guy I trust. And he’s packing, alright. But his weapon is a cross not a gun, and he calls his followers to pick up our own. If you don’t believe me, then just ask Jordan Klepper. He makes a much more compelling case than I did (explicit language, viewer discretion advised). Originally published by Preston Sprinkle at Theology in the Raw, used with permission

  • The Message of the Cross is Foolishness to AI

    Each fall it is my great pleasure to walk through the four Gospels with anywhere from two to four sections of first semester students at Abilene Christian University in a course we call Jesus: His Life and Teachings. I find the title notable because I am convinced that the two are intertwined and must not be separated if we are truly to understand who he was and is, as well as what it means to bear his name and title, to be a Christian. I am convinced of this because I am convinced that Jesus was neither a hypocrite (a loan word from ancient Greek meaning an actor) nor a sophist (another loan word from Greek that takes its meaning from the group of ancient teachers who would sell their lessons, and thus it was said, would allow their conclusions and lessons to be unduly influenced by those willing to pay). Jesus, in contrast to both these groups, lived what he taught and taught what he lived. Two recent experiences highlight this amazing quality of Jesus, that he lived what he taught and taught what he lived. First, my undergraduates have become more and more flabbergasted that Jesus might teach that one should allow another person to harm oneself without any move towards defense and/or retaliation. They come wielding the phrase “self-defense” as both talisman and sacred doctrine. They know that not only is self-defense allowable, but it is a moral imperative! The second experience is more broadly catalogued in my recent essay, “Reading the Sermon on the Mount with ChatGPT”. ChatGPT is one of many explosive recent technologies that have much of the Western media, political, and university classes in an uproar. It is an internet chatbot that can produce intelligible responses to a vast number of conversational prompts a human user might pose to it. Naturally, I decided to talk to it about the Bible. In doing so, I became increasingly struck by its tendency to tilt toward metaphorical interpretations that would allow it to avoid making any claims that might approach being offensive. That is, until I asked it if any of Jesus’s teachings should be taken literally. It suggested that one might follow Jesus’s instruction in Matthew 5:38-39 literally. Here, the evangelist records Jesus as teaching his disciples, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye’ and ‘Tooth for tooth’. But, I say to you, do not resist the evil person, but rather if someone should strike your right cheek, turn to the that person also your other cheek.” I was fascinated. Did ChatGPT really just provide a response that would deeply offend my undergraduates? Did it’s predictive language not account for the immediate response I hear in class each fall (“But, self-defense!”)? So I pursued the conversation. It turns out, ChatGPT would somewhat quickly renounce its own suggestion of this as a potential teaching to be followed to the letter. After a bit more conversation, it would go so far as to label someone who actually embraced a life of Christian pacifism as “pollyanna-ish,” a move more recent editions of the bot would not repeat. Yet, I find both my students’ inability to imagine a world of turning an actual other cheek and this generative AI’s quick repentance from its own claim that this teaching should/could be followed to the letter, revealing of a particular temptation. This temptation is likely a preeminent human one, as the text of Matthew’s Gospel reveals (see below). Regardless of its universal application, though, I find it to be a prominent temptation for many Christians in the US. It is the temptation to excuse ourselves from the call to discipleship under Jesus’s teachings and example because what Jesus taught and how Jesus lived is somewhere between offensive and unimaginable to us. To be sure, there is a long history of wrestling with the Sermon on the Mount broadly and the teachings in Matthew 5:38-39 particularly, but this is not a history with which many Christians in the US are familiar. We simply can’t imagine Jesus asking us to allow ourselves or others to be harmed (or even worse, killed) without resistance. Yet, if we pause and consider for a moment, perhaps this line of thought is what should be unimaginable to us. After all, how could it be so far out of the realm of possibility for us to consider when we worship and proclaim Jesus as our Lord, Jesus whom we claim was not only unjustly arrested, but also beaten, tortured, and killed without resistance, all while he had the power to not only stop it, but to stop it without doing any actual violence himself (if we believe all things possible for Jesus). Consider the trajectory of the Gospel of Matthew and the idea of being Jesu’s “disciple”, one of the evangelist’s favorite terms for those of us who would later take the name “Christian”. “Disciple” is often glossed as “a student”, but in some ways the idea of “Christian” comes closer to what a disciple of Jesus, who is called Christ, actually is. The term Christian was first used as a mockery of those who proclaimed Jesus as Lord. It was meant to identify them as “little Christs” because they were so devoted to Jesus’s teachings and imitating them that others wanted to associate them fully with a man seen as shameful and weak in the face of the might of Rome, a crucified man. Jesus in Matthew does not shy away from this either, proclaiming that his disciples will be treated like him and worse (Mt 10:16-26) and calling his disciples to “take up the cross and follow him” and “lose their life for him” (Mt 10:38-39, 16:24-26). Perhaps it is odd to us to hear these texts connected to the suffering of physical violence because we have come to know them as calls to be sacrificial with our time, our money, to “deny ourselves” in terms of resisting some symptoms of comfortable middle class minor character vices, such as refusing to raise our voices in anger at someone else. And to be sure, there are passages of Scripture that invite just such an application, but these texts come on the heels of Jesus speaking plainly about real physical violence, and chapter 16 comes directly after Jesus has rebuked Peter when Peter tells him that he must certainly not suffer physically and be killed. Thus, it is much more challenging to read them as if in this Gospel they are not actually about threats to our physical well-being, for we risk making Jesus into a Sophist in his teachings, subjugating him to our whims because without our witness, our commitment, our preaching (we imagine), his legacy would not endure. So we imagine ourselves to “pay” Jesus and thus his teachings must be domesticated to what we find palatable and comfortable. Moreover, as I stated at the beginning, Jesus is not a hypocrite. One of my favorite exercises with my first-semester students is to walk through the Sermon on the Mount with them through Matthew’s narrative of Jesus’s Passion (Mt 26-28), showing them how Jesus lives up to the high bar of his teachings at every turn. For our purposes, let us consider simply the turn the other cheek teaching and the arrest in the garden (26:47-56). Judas comes and kisses Jesus on the cheek, a symbol of friendship, but here a sign for arrest and physical violence. Jesus calls him a friend in response, a turning of his other cheek to welcome another kiss, while simultaneously refusing to resist those who laid hands on him and arrested him. One of Jesus’s companions would draw a sword in attempted defense of his Lord and Rabbi, but Jesus responds thus, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (52-53) No physical violence in defense of others, no physical violence in self-defense. Simple surrender and trust in God, the one who judges justly. (By the way, let us not forget stories in Exodus, Joshua, Judges, etc. where angels to come and the amount of violence one or a small handful can visit on humanity when we hear these words of Jesus.) So, what do we do? You may be wondering whether I wrote this to draw some line in the sand: become a Christian pacifist or renounce your claim to be a Christian. But this is not my intent nor within the realm of my authority. Rather I write in hope for a renewed engagement with the life and teachings of Jesus, one where we may stop and imagine, especially when those teachings might seem most offensive or unimaginable, that Jesus might be serious, that Jesus might actually mean it, especially since, in this case, he actually did it. I hope this engagement might also excite you to explore the wealth of our 2000 years of wrestling with this and other teachings of Jesus. Let us understand positions that justify harming others in defense of self and others so that we can make decisions about what it means for each of us to follow Jesus’s teachings in conversation with our sisters and brothers who have gone before us as well as who journey with us today.

  • Do Christians Have a Responsibility to Protect?

    Michael Budde says many Christians would like a Christ who allows them to kill. A friend of Budde’s once described him as “the most Anabaptist Catholic I’ve ever met.” I would agree and as proof hand out copies of his work on American Christianity’s capture by consumer capitalism, on demystifying and resituating martyrdom within the everyday practices of the church, and on Christian identity as ecclesial solidarity. His new collection, Foolishness to Gentiles: Essays on Empire, Nationalism, and Discipleship, looks at whether American imperial decline will take American Christianity down with it; the role of the church “after development”; Dorothy Day as “the patron saint of anarchism”; and themes of violence and revenge in popular culture. I’ve been hearing one essay, “Killing with Kindness,” in my head these last few weeks as we view the destruction of Ukraine, an ancient Christian community, by a political leader who is an adherent of what is historically a branch of that same Christian community. (Our inurement to the spectacle of Christians killing Christians is a major theme in Budde’s work.) Originally published on Plough, used with permission

  • The Bible on Self-Defense: a Response to Doug Wilson

    Last Friday, pastor Doug Wilson and I gave talks on guns and violence at the Q conference in Denver. Might sound like a real shocker—two white dudes from Idaho talking about God and guns—but despite our cultural context, we arrive at different views about using violence to stop bad people from harming good people. We were both given 9 minutes to present our views, and then we participated in an 18 minute Q & A hosted by Gabe Lyons. I want to spend a few blogs interacting with Doug’s presentation, since he raised many important points that we didn’t have time to discuss. By the way, I’m well aware that Doug has been accused of saying many controversial things, but my purpose here is only to deal with the stuff we talked about at Q Denver. For this blog, I want to point out why his use of the Bible to support his view on guns is deeply flawed and in need of some serious revision. Doug argues that gun ownership is a civic virtue, and he grounds this, in part, by citing two passages in the Bible: Exodus 22:2 and Luke 22:36. There’s a chance that Exodus 22 could support his view, though it’s a rather slim chance. As for Luke 22, there’s no chance at all. Exodus 22:2 reads: If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for the homeowner. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Bad guy breaks in. Good guy fires gun. Bad guy drops dead. Good guy is deemed innocent, as he’s paraded off to heroland. Doug’s appeal to this passage seems legit, except for one thing: He forgot to mention the rest of the passage, which says: But if the sun has risen on the thief, there shall be bloodguilt for the homeowner. The thief shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft (Exod 22:3) In this case, good guy’s gun goes bang. Bad guy drops dead. And good guy is deemed guilty of bloodshed. Why? Because in this scenario, “the sun has risen on the thief.” But what in the world does that mean? In my own research on this passage, one thing is clear: the meaning of this passage is not clear. The language is terse and the sense of the key phrase “the sun has risen on the thief” is widely disputed. According to one interpretation, the “sun risen upon the thief” means the homeowner can clearly see the thief and has intentionally killed him, and this makes the “good guy” guilty. Intentional killing, yes even of a thief, is a sin. This means that the death of the thief in the previous verse, presumably when the sun has not “risen upon him,” might have been unintentional since he couldn’t clearly see the thief. (For you Hebrew geeks, notice that the verb of v. 22 “is struck” is in the hophal stem, sort of a causative passive, which could highlight the lack of intentionality.) Now, I wouldn’t take a bullet for this interpretation (see what I did there?). There are other interpretive options, some which may actually support Doug’s view. Some argue, for instance, that in the first scenario, the thief breaks in at night to harm the family, and this is why it’s fine to kill him. But the second scenario is during the day, which means he’s simply trying to take some stuff and therefore doesn’t deserve to be killed on the spot. While I’ve seen people assume this view, it seems like quite a stretch. If protecting your family is the main point of Exodus 22:2, it seems odd that the idea of “protection” or “family” is absent from the text. The author could have been much clearer if this was the main point he was trying to make. In any case, there needs to be some responsible exegetical work that goes into Exodus 22:2-3 before we lift the first half of it out of its context and force it to justify killing someone in self defense. Plus, it’s in Exodus 22, which should raise some hermeneutical questions. The chapter also says that if someone has sex with a virgin then they have to marry her and pay her dad a bride-price (22:16-17). The same chapter says that sorcerers should be killed (22:18), which isn’t that big of a deal, I guess, since the Old Testament allows for all sorts of people to be killed by law including adulterers, disobedient children, and people who break the Sabbath. The previous chapter (Exod 21, for the mathematically challenged) contains many laws about how to manage your slave. My point is, as you can probably guess: just because something is in the OT law does not mean that it directly carries over into a new covenant ethic. And unless you went to church with a lamb over your shoulder, you believe this too. There is some continuity and some discontinuity between the ethics of the Old and New covenants. The continuity of Exodus 22:2 (and 22:3!) must be argued for, not assumed. If argued for, then I need to know: if I catch a thief, do I still sell him into slavery as Exod 22:3b commands me to? Doug may have a biblical defense for using a gun to kill someone in self-defense or the defense of his family. I could probably build an argument too if you get a couple beers in me. But using Exodus 22:2 to justify this view appears to be irresponsible exegesis. The same goes for Luke 22—the whole “go buy a sword” passage, which Doug also used to justify his view. Since I’ve recently blogged about this passage, I won’t repeat my thoughts here. And as I said in our conversation at Q, there’s no credible Lukan scholar who takes Doug’s view that I’m aware of. If Doug could convince academia of his view, he just might be awarded an honorary doctorate, being such an original thesis and all. Luke 22 is an even more embarrassing proof text for Doug’s view. Doug, I actually think it would help your case to stop using these texts to support your view. It just smells like you’re reading your opinion back into Scripture and not drawing out what’s actually there. Originally published by Preston Sprinkle at Theology in the Raw, used with permission

  • Is Pacifism the Product of Naive Privilege?

    Dr. Greg Boyd responds to a question coming from an American missionary in Ukraine as the Russian invasion begins. He wonders if his pacifism was born out of a naive place of privilege where he didn't have to consider the reality of war and invasion of his home and family. Dr. Boyd responds with empathy and conviction. Originally published by Greg Boyd at ReKnew, used with permission

  • Jesus Said "Go Buy a Sword"?

    Whenever I talk about Christians and violence, guns and self-defense, it’s inevitable that Luke 22 will come up. Supposedly, this passage supports the view that Jesus wants his followers to pack some heat while they go about preaching the kingdom of God. Jerry Fallwell Jr. recently used this passage to show that Christians should arm themselves so that “we could end those Muslims before they walked in…” Better think twice before bringing your muslim friends to hear the gospel at a Liberty chapel. They may be met with the good news of Smith & Wesson before they hear about a crucified Lamb. John Piper has recently called Fallwell out for using sloppy exegesis of this passage. And Piper is right. Without further ado, here’s Jesus’s supposed command to “end those Muslims” with our guns: And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:35-38) So, Jesus tells them to go buy a sword, and lo and behold, two of them (probably Peter and Simon the Zealot) had swords already. “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” Jesus ends the discussion with a curious phrase: “It is enough.” Which raises the question: enough for what? This has always struck me as odd, since two swords for 11 disciples are not enough for self-defense, especially if they go out two by two as they did before. Plus, nowhere else does Jesus allow for violence in self-defense. Is Jesus now adding some footnotes to his Sermon on the Mount? A few years ago I remember searching 10 of the most respected commentators on Luke—many of whom definitely aren’t pacifists—to see if I was the only one who thought the “violent self-defense” view was a bit odd. I wasn’t. Of the 10, I found only 1 that took the self-defense view. And he didn’t give any scriptural support for this view. The late New Testament scholar I. Howard Marshall says that the command to buy a sword is “a call to be ready for hardship and self-sacrifice.” Darrell Bock says that the command to buy a sword symbolically “points to readiness and self-sufficiency, not revenge.” Catholic scholar Joseph Fitzmyer writes, “The introduction of the ‘sword’ signals” that “the Period of the Church will be marked with persecution,” which of course we see throughout the book of Acts. And the popular Reformed commentator, William Hendrickson, puts it bluntly: “The term sword must be interpreted figuratively.” As I searched and searched, I couldn’t find any credible, non-pacifist Bible scholar who argued that Luke 22 is talking about self-defense. (I’ve since found that Wayne Grudem also assumes the self-defense view, but again, with little to no biblical argument and he doesn’t wrestle with the other contextual features that go against this view.) So when Jesus tells them to buy a sword, he could be speaking figuratively about imminent persecution. According to this interpretation, when the disciples eagerly reveal that they already have two swords, they misunderstand Jesus’ figurative language (this wasn’t the first time). When Jesus sees that his disciples misunderstand him, he ends the dialogue with, “It is enough,” which means something like “enough of this conversation.” This interpretation makes good sense in light of the context. But there’s another interpretation that I think does slightly more justice to the passage. Notice that right after Jesus says “buy a sword,” he quotes Isaiah 53:12, which predicts that Jesus would be “numbered with the transgressors”(Luke 22:37). Then, the disciples reveal that they already have two swords, to which Jesus says “it is enough.” Now, Rome only crucified those who were a potential threat to the empire. For Jesus to be crucified, Rome would have to convict him as a potential revolutionary. And this is the point of the swords. With swords in their possession, Jesus and His disciples would be viewed as potential revolutionaries and Jesus would therefore fulfill Isaiah 53 to be numbered with other (revolutionary) transgressors. If Rome didn’t have any legal grounds to incriminate Jesus, there would have been no crucifixion. This interpretation makes good sense of the quote from Isaiah 53 and the flow of Jesus’s ethical teaching. Up until Luke 22, Jesus has prohibited his followers from using violence, even in self-defense. Is Jesus now changing his mind by telling his followers to use the sword in self-defense? It seems better to take his command to buy a sword as we have suggested: Jesus is providing Rome with evidence to put Him on the cross. So we could view Jesus’ command as a figurative expression about their coming suffering or as a way of ensuring His own crucifixion. Either way, it’s highly unlikely that Jesus encourages violent self-defense here. In fact, just a few verses later, Peter wields one of the two swords and Jesus rebukes him: “No more of this!” (22:51). Peter, along with some interpreters, misunderstood Jesus’s previous command to buy a sword. And remember: When Jesus rebuked Peter, it wasn’t just because Jesus needed to suffer and die. He followed up his rebuke with a categorical statement about swords (guns) and violence: “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt 26:52). Whatever you think about these two possible interpretations, every responsible interpreter must deal with (1) Jesus’s statement that “it is enough” and (2) how this event fulfills Isa 53:12. Interpretations that don’t deal with these aren’t responsible interpretations. Whatever Jesus meant by his command to buy a sword, it doesn’t seem that he intended it to be used for violence. Originally published by Preston Sprinkle at Theology in the Raw, used with permission

  • Who Loves Enemies?

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5:41-47) We are called to actively love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. Do these words of Jesus nullify the Law? No, because the Law never commanded Israel to hate its enemies—although it only commanded them to love their neighbors (Lev 19:18). Still, there are multiple examples of love shown to enemies in the OT. We are challenged to go far beyond the minimum standard of social / familial decency (kindness to friends and family). We are to love even our enemies! The early church held to this teaching for three centuries: Justin Martyr: “We used to hate and destroy one another. We would not live with men of a different race because of their peculiar customs. However, now, since the coming of Christ, we live intimately with them. We pray for our enemies and endeavor to persuade those who hate us unjustly to live conformably to the good teachings of Christ.We do this to the end that they may become partakers with us of the same joyful hope of a reward from God, the Ruler of all.” First Apology 14. Also: “We who formerly murdered one another now refrain from making war even upon our enemies.” ANF 1.176. Clement of Alexandria: “It is not in war, but in peace, that we are trained.” ANF 2.234. Tertullian: “We willingly yield ourselves to the sword. So what wars would we not be both fit and eager to participate in (even against unequal forces), if in our religion it were not counted better to be slain than to slay?" ANF 3.45. He adds, “The Christian does no harm even to his enemy.” ANF 3.45. Cyprian: “Wars are scattered all over the earth with the bloody horror of military camps. The whole world is wet with mutual blood. And murder—which is acknowledged to be a crime in the case of an individual—is called a virtue when it is committed wholesale. Impunity is claimed for the wicked deeds, not because they are guiltless, but because the cruelty is perpetrated on a grand scale!” ANF 5.277. Lactantius: “The Christian considers it unlawful not only to commit slaughter himself, but also to be present with those who do it.” Divine Institutes ANF 7.153. Also: “How can a man be righteous who hates, who despoils, who puts to death? Yet, those who strive to be serviceable to their country do all these things. ...When they speak of the ‘duties’ relating to warfare, their speech pertains neither to justice nor to true virtue.” ANF 7.169 Aristides: “They comfort their oppressors and make them their friends. They do good to their enemies.” ANF 10.276. Origen: “We are taught not to avenge ourselves upon our enemies. We have therefore lived by laws of a mild and wise character. Although able, we would not make war even if we had received authority to do so. Therefore, we have obtained this reward from God: that He has always fought on our behalf. On various occasions, He has restrained those who rose up against us and desired to destroy us.” Against Celsus 8. Lactantius: “Torture and godliness are widely different. It is not possible for truth to be united with violence or justice to be united with cruelty. …Religion is to be defended—not by putting to death—but by dying. It is not defended by cruelty, but by patient endurance.” Divine Institutes (ANF 7.156-157). The Didache: “If you love those who hate you, you will not have an enemy.” Didache 3 Chrysostom: “You should feel grateful to an enemy on account of his wickedness. This is so even if he is evil to you after receiving from you ten thousand kindnesses. For if he were not exceedingly evil, your reward would not be significantly increased. You may say that the reason you do not love him is because he is evil. However, that is the very reason you should love him. Take away the contestant, and you take away the opportunity for the crowns.” Homilies on Hebrews 19.5. Paul taught the same: Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. ... Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:14, 17-21). To illustrate, when the early Christian leader Polycarp was arrested, he first directed that food and drink be brought to the soldiers who were about to bring him to execution. Martyrdom of Polycarp 7:2 The observation of Ammianus Roman soldier and historian Ammianus Marcellinus (c.330-400 AD) noted that rival Christian parties exceeded wild beasts in their hostility toward one another! What changed in the 4th century? The state and the church become inseparably connected. From the disastrous 4th century till the present day In the fourth century, most of the Roman emperors professed to embrace Christianity. Nevertheless, they continued to kill their opponents (even family members) and to wage war—ignoring the teaching of Christ. At first, Christians refused to fight in their armies, as in earlier centuries, soldiers who became Christians refused to kill. However, in time the state church relaxed its teachings on nonresistance. Eventually, Augustine (354-430 AD) came up with a rationalization to defend both personal vengeance and war: It’s permissible to kill enemies as long as we still “love” them! As a result, fighting, killing and revenge became the norm in medieval “Christian” Europe. Professing Christians waged war against Muslims, pagans, and fellow “Christians.” They persecuted heretics (real or imagined), tortured people, and oppressed the weak in the name of God. Not surprisingly, Catholics and Reformers alike persecuted those genuine Christians who refused to go to war and who spoke out against torture and oppression. Some practicals: Act lovingly towards enemies, strangers, and people we do not like. Take some time to compare Paul’s teaching with Jesus’s. Invest in learning some early church history, and how the church embraced the teaching of the world regarding enemies. Refuse to take credit for behaving kindly and decently to friends and family. If you’re disturbed by any of these teachings, take time to pray. originally posted from Douglas Jacoby, used with permission.

  • Mark Twain, "The War Prayer" (ca. 1904-5)

    The American writer Mark Twain wrote the following satire in the glow of America’s imperial interventions. It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism … on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun … nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. … Sunday morning came — next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams — visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! … The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said … … Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work…. An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. … he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there waiting. … The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside — which the startled minister did — and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said: “I come from the Throne — bearing a message from Almighty God!” … “God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two — one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this — keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it. “You have heard your servant’s prayer — the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it — that part which the pastor — and also you in your hearts — fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’ … When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory–must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen! “O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen. (After a pause.) “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!” It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said. [1] The American Yawp Reader, Stanford University Press

  • Jesus – the Passive Peacemaker?

    I am news reporter and communications specialist by profession, I am not a theologian or a scholar. But when I think about the peace movement of Jesus, or Jesus’ stance on non-violence, it gives me pause and honestly takes me on an interesting journey in my mind and heart. One of Isaiah’s prophesies (Isa 9:6) that points to Jesus literally calls him the Prince of Peace, right? And in the Beatitudes, he calls peacemakers blessed, saying those are the folks who will be called children of God (Matt 5:9). Jesus declares that when we become active peacemakers, we have the same heavenly Father he does. But then I think of the times that Jesus got mad. He cursed the fig tree that was flowering but not bearing fruit. Then he gets so upset he starts flipping tables and driving folks out of the temple (Mark 11:12-15). In John’s gospel, he takes the time to braid a whip to clear out the temple. So I ask myself, is that “non-violent”? As a news reporter, if I were assigned to cover this story of Jesus at the temple, I’d say this was a “violent attack at the temple by a man who had recently unleashed his anger on a fig tree”. And if I were to speak to witnesses who saw this incident, they would likely call it violent too. But is Christian pacifism the same thing as being passive? The term pacifism today carries the meaning of “having an attitude or policy of nonresistance” (Merrier-Webster Dictionary). However, the “word ‘pacifism’ is derived from the [Latin] word ‘pacific,’ which means ‘peace making’”,[1] which is not the same thing as being passive. Being passive denotes “accepting or allowing what happens or what others do, without active response or resistance” (Oxford Dictionary). Jesus was a peacemaker, but he was certainly not passive. Jesus was active in making peace. He actively made peace between people and his heavenly Father, and taught God’s image bearers to make peace with one another. It was in fact this very thing that the religious were stunned, offended, and angered with him for as he “ate with tax collectors and sinners, in hopes of getting the sick to The Doctor” (Mrk 2:17). Jesus actively removes and resists the things that destroy that peace. Here’s another thing that I find interesting, in the first chapter of Mark’s gospel, when Jesus heals the man with leprosy, in the NIV translation, verse 41 is says, “Jesus was indignant”. Other translations say “moved with anger”, while still others translate it as “moved with compassion”, or “feeling deeply sorry”. When I’m moved to want to commit an act of violence, it’s rarely because I’m moved with compassion or feeling deeply sorry. It is not to actively make peace. When I hear that a person has done something horrible to another person or animal that can’t defend themselves, I want them “to pay”. Of course, justice is Godly, but If I’m honest, what I really want most is vengeance, not peace. Or perhaps I just get frustrated in my circumstances, such as sitting in Atlanta traffic, or feel deeply offended by some insensitive and idiotic thing someone said. When this happens, I am not usually indignant, moved with compassion, or feel deeply sorry like Jesus … I simply want retribution. So as much as I’d like to justify the use of violence to “right” a “wrong”, it’s simply not the way of Jesus, who innocently died on a cross at the hands of his enemies and entrusted himself to the only one who can truly judge justly (1 Pet 2:23). Jesus, help me follow you. 1 Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Pacifism”. First published Jul 6, 2006; substantive revision Sep 15, 2018, accessed March 25, 2023.

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