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  • 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

  • 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

  • What About Romans 13?

    It’s fascinating (one might say disturbing) to see how each person’s political context shapes his or her understanding of Romans 13. Christians living in North Korea or Burma tend to read Romans 13 differently than Americans do. Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, and other “Christian” dictators have celebrated the passage as their divine ticket to execute justice on whomever they deemed enemies of the state. Not more than a generation ago, Romans 13 was hailed as the charter for apartheid in South Africa. American Christian leaders did the same during the years of slavery and segregation. If the state mandates that blacks can’t drink from the same water fountain as whites, it very well has the divine right to do so, according to certain interpretations Romans 13. Most people today would see such a view of Romans 13 as going a bit too far. But only a bit. Theologian and scholar Wayne Grudem, for instance, says that the “sword in the hand of good government is God’s designated weapon to defeat evildoers” and goes on to apply this to America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The assumption, of course, is that America is good and Iraq and Afghanistan are bad. Maybe they are, but who gets to determine who is good and who is bad? Were it flipped around and Romans 13 was used to validate Afghanistan’s invasion of America as punishment for horrific drone strikes on civilians or wholesale slaughter of women and children in, for instance, southern Kandahar or Haditha, most Americans would see this as a misreading of Romans 13. But I digress. Even though Romans 13 has been taken to empower Christians to kill their enemy, or praise the government, or vindicate the just war tradition, there is nothing in this passage that commands Christians to use their guns to confront evil. Nothing. Here’s why. First, Paul’s statement reflects a widespread truth in the Old Testament about God working through secular nations to carry out His will. For instance, the Old Testament calls many political figures “God’s servant,” such as Cyrus, king of Persia (Isa. 44–45); Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (Jer. 27:6; 43:10); and the ruthlessly wicked nation of Assyria (Isa. 10:5), which God calls the “club of my wrath” and the “rod of my anger.” Please note: Cyrus and Nebuchadnezzar were pagan dictators. The phrase “God’s servant,” therefore, doesn’t refer to Rome’s sanctified service to Israel’s God, but to God’s sovereign ability to use Rome as an instrument in His hands. You can probably see where I’m going with this. Just because God uses secular—and sometimes quite evil—institutions to carry out His will does not mean that God approves of everything they do. Much of what they do—whether it be Assyria’s sadistic practice of skinning civilians alive, or Rome’s crucifixion of thousands of people in the first century—does not reflect the law of Christ. But God can still use such godlessness, because He channels evil to carry out His will. The so-called government’s “right to bear the sword” is not a moral “right” at all, any more than Assyria had the “right” to slaughter the Israelites in 722 B.C. Assyria and Rome (and America, and North Korea, etc. ) are objects under God’s sovereign control. That’s all Romans 13 says. This doesn’t mean that God approves of the evil itself. In fact, all those who are ministers of God’s wrath become the objects of God’s wrath themselves precisely because of their violence when they were the “rod” of His anger (read Isa 10 and the book of Revelation). If you want to serve as God’s agent of wrath, well, you better watch your back when God’s through with you. Second, Romans 13 says that God uses governments to punish evildoers and reward the good. But what does this mean? Does every government always justly punish evil and reward good? Yeah, right. Rome was the same government that beheaded John the Baptist, beat Paul on several occasions, and crucified an innocent Jew named Jesus. Just a few years after Paul penned Romans 13, Caesar Nero dipped Christians in tar, lit them on fire, and set them up as human illumination for his garden, all in the name of keeping peace. Romans 13 can’t be a rubber stamp on all of Rome’s attempts at punishing evil. Paul doesn’t write Rome, or America, a blank check to do whatever it wants to do in the name of justice. Paul’s statement that Rome is “God’s servant for your good” and “an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” must mean that God can and does work justice through governments but that not everything governments do can be labeled just. Romans 13 does not sanitize all governing activities. Flip through Revelation 13 and 17–18 to see that the New Testament actually condemns much of what the government does. The final point is the most significant. If you miss this point, then you won’t understand what Paul is saying to the church in Romans 13. So, third, Paul says that God executes vengeance through Rome after he prohibits Christians from doing so. Compare these two statements, which are only a few verses apart: 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.” (12:19) For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out the God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (13:4) Linguistically, there’s a contrast. An intentional one. One that is unmistakable. Yet missed by so many bible believing evangelicals. What Paul says about God’s use of the government in Romans 13:4 is stated in direct contrast to what he commands the church to do in Romans 12:19 No Christian can claim to carry out Romans 13:4. It’s not a command. It’s a statement about God’s sovereign use (not approval) of secular governments. The command given to Christians comes in Romans 12:19. Romans 13 is all about vengeance. And vengeance is God’s business, not ours. We don’t need to avenge evil, because God will. And one way that God will is through governing authorities. Moreover, the command to submit to governing authorities in Romans 13:1 is the last of Paul’s litany of commands in Romans 12:9–21. Bless those who persecute you, love your enemy, don’t avenge evil, and submit to your governing authorities. Far from allowing Christians to kill their enemies, Romans 13 underscores the church’s submissive posture in a violent world. Romans 13 cannot be responsibly interpreted to prove that Christians should use guns to kill their enemies. Quite the opposite. Originally published by Preston Sprinkle at Theology in the Raw, 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

  • 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.

  • The Killer at the Door

    I want to point out up front that the stuff Doug and I keep discussing—violence in self defense—lives at the fringes of the main topic. It’s common for people to race to the “killer at the door” scenario (and its variations) without stopping to consider the main problem of militarism in the church. My primary point, in my books and blogs and even my Q talk, is not that using violence as a last resort—a lesser of two evils—is the biggest problem in the church. It’s not. My main problem is with the underlying spirit, which believes that power and violence is the way that evil is overcome. A spirit which proclaims: Of course we should carpet bomb terrorists. Of course we should kill people on death row. Of course we should take out the bad guys with as much force as necessary. Of course Christians can kill other people if it’s in war. (American Christians, that is. Christians in other countries don’t get the same pass.) It’s not our reluctance to use violence as a lesser of two evils—which acknowledges that it’s still evil. Rather, it’s the eagerness with which we think that violence is the best way to deal with evil, which is exemplified in American Christianity’s fascination with military might. The bigger, the badder, the better. Military historian Andrew Bacevich recently said: “Were it not for the support offered by several tens of millions of evangelicals, militarism in this…country becomes inconceivable.” Some call this a problem. Others call it a virtue. The prophets called it idolatry. You want to use violence to defend your family in the rare (yet real) case that someone breaks into your home preprogrammed solely to massacre your wife and kids? Fine. Heck, in the heat of the moment, maybe I would too. But this isn’t the main problem. The problem is that our posture toward our enemies and method of dealing with evil looks no different than the world’s. How we think about taking care of the person busting down our front door is only the tip of the iceberg. In any case, let’s go ahead and dive into the well-known scenario thrown at pacifists to see if its ethic is worth its salt. My friend Nicolas Richard Arndt will stand in for our questioner who wants to show that pacifism doesn’t work in the real world. His name is really long, so we’ll just go with his initials (NRA). And I’ll go ahead and be the pacifist backed into the corner of this theoretical scenario. I used to just go along with scenario as it’s typically thrown at me: a 2 dimensional world where it’s kill or be killed, Bibles are closed, and God’s nowhere to be found. But this isn’t the real world. I don’t participate in worlds that don’t exist. So here’s how I now respond to the killer at the door scenario. NRA: Okay, so say a guy with a gun is breaking into your house trying to kill your family. What are you going to do? Me: I’ll use nonviolence to stop him. NRA. No, that won’t work. Me: Why not? NRA: Because this is the real world. Me: But nonviolence works all the time in the real world, both on an individual level and on a national level. It’s been well documented. NRA: Well, whatever. In this situation, it won’t work. Me: That’s not the real world. NRA: Okay, just say in this situation it won’t work. Me: How come I can’t play the game? NRA: What game? Me: Playing a role in constructing this scenario? How come you get to make up all the rules and possible options? Why don’t we both put our heads together to figure out a real life scenario with real life options? NRA: Um…no. Me: Why not? NRA: Just cause. Me: So I can’t pitch in some thoughts about your scenario? NRA: No. Me: Well, okay. Go head and construct your real life scenario and I’ll sit back here with my hands neatly folded. NRA: Okay, so say a guy is breaking into your house with a gun and he’s going to kill your family. Would you shoot him? Me: I don’t keep a loaded gun in the house. NRA: Okay, let’s just say you do. Me: I don’t. NRA: For this situation, let’s just say you do. For the sake of the argument. Me: What about my kids? Homes with loaded guns put kids at risk. It’s been well documented. And I love my kids and have a duty to protect them, so keeping a loaded gun puts them at greater risk. NRA: Ya, but for this scenario, they’re not at risk. Me: Okay, fine. Loaded gun. No kids at risk. Real life scenario. Go. NRA: What are you going to do? Kill the killer or let your family get shot? Me: Am I a good shot? NRA: Yes. Me: I’ll shoot the gun out of his hand. NRA: Well…okay, you’re not that good of a shot. Me: Then I might miss the killer and blow my kid’s head off. NRA: Okay, well, let’s just say that you’re not so good of a shot that you could shoot the gun out of his hand, but you are a good enough shot that you won’t miss and shoot your wife. Crickets: Chirp, chirp. Chirp, chirp. Me: This is your real life scenario? NRA: Yes. Me: Okay. Sort of a good shot but not that good of a shot. Got it. Real life scenario. So, does God exist in your scenario? NRA: Um…well…yes. God exists. Me: The God of the Bible? NRA: Uh…yes, the God of the Bible. Me: This God of the Bible who exists in your scenario, does he answer prayer? NRA: Well ya, but not in this scenario. Me: Not in this scenario? NRA: Not in this scenario. Me: Real world? NRA: Real world. Me: You’re 100% sure that prayer won’t work in this scenario? NRA: 100% Me: Have you read about Hezekiah and Sennacherib? NRA: Huh? Me: Never mind. Keep going. NRA: Okay, so are you going to kill him or let your family get killed? Me: What if I offer to give him my house, my two cars, and everything I have in savings if he would just leave. You know, lavish my enemy with love and protect my family. Who knows, maybe he’ll become the next Jean Valjean. NRA: He won’t take it. Me: He won’t take it? That’s like $300,000 dollars out the door. Who wouldn’t take that? NRA: Because he wants to kill you and your family. Me: Really? This is a human being? Like, he’d rather kill me and my family than take $300,000 dollars? I’ve never heard of such a human being. Do they really exist? NRA: In this scenario, yes. He’s set on killing you. Me: He’s, like, preprogrammed to kill. 100% dead set on killing with no way to be persuaded otherwise? NRA: Yes. Me: But in the real world, human beings are created in God’s image with breakable wills, conflicting desires, and emotions. The pre-programmed robotic human of your scenario doesn’t really exist, does he? NRA: In this case, he does. Me: Okay, so let me get this straight. A preprogrammed robotic human is breaking into my home with a gun. Any attempt to stop him without using violence is taken off the table, despite the fact that nonviolent attempts to apprehend bad people with guns does actually work in the real world. And in your “real world” scenario, I have quick access to a loaded gun in the house which happens to be no threat to my four children. I’m a pretty good shot but not that good of a shot. God exists in this scenario, but despite the fact that this God typically answers prayer, for this scenario, the heavenly phone’s off the hook. And this cyborg would rather kill me and my family rather than walk with $300,000. And this is somehow your real world? NRA: Yes, yes, that’s the scenario. What would you do? Me: I would pinch myself because I must be in a dream. Your supposed “real life” scenario is not the real world at all. It’s a world where Jesus is still in the tomb, prayer doesn’t work, a deistic god stands off in the distance, and the deception of power has clouded your Christian thinking. But my world, the real world, has a crucified Lamb, an empty tomb, and direct access to the heavenly throne which is more effective than 10 tons of C-4. I don’t live in a theoretical world; I live in a world turned upside down by a God who justifies the ungodly and calls us to love our enemies. What would I do if someone tried to harm my family? I’ll disembowel him before I slit his throat with a dull knife. But the question isn’t what would I do, but what should I do. But once we talk about shoulds instead of woulds, we now have to dust off our Bibles and put on our cruciform spectacles to see what saith our sovereign lord. Originally published by Preston Sprinkle at Theology in the Raw, used with permission

  • Ordinary Violence

    Peacemaking is a crucial part of the Christian life — but it isn’t just about war. The origin story of my pacifism will be familiar to many Americans my age. I was 23 years old on September 11, 2001. I had grown up firmly middle-class and had lived, up to that point, in relatively small, safe places in Louisiana and Arkansas. I had not imagined that violence was a part of my everyday existence until the door to my 8 a.m. seminary class opened and we were commanded to turn on the television. Suddenly the distance between my college town and the world shortened. The question of how to be a Christian peacemaker entered my world in an international frame, bundled with terms like insurgents and terrorism and with concerns about how countries and political movements related to one another. As a seminarian, the only resource I had for responding to the claim of violence was the words of Jesus ringing in my ears: “Love your enemies.” After watching the towers fall, this teaching seemed ludicrous. Those committed to Christian nonviolence have often worked within an international frame. Late 20th-century activists and theologians such as Glen Stassen and more recent Catholic movements such as Just Peace have offered answers; Christian Peacemaker Teams (now Community Peacemaker Teams) went into situations of open conflict to mediate warring parties. But by asking only what Christian peacemaking might say to international violence, I was missing something impor­tant. Violence is not a question of what happens “out there”; violence is a deeply intimate feature of all times and places. The ancient world was filled with cosmogonies in which the world is, down to its founding, an act of violence: the Babylonian god Marduk slays Tiamat and fashions the world from the goddess’s body; Odin destroys the giant Ymir and creates the oceans from the great giant’s blood. By contrast, Genesis depicts violence as not original to the world but something that emerges after sin has taken root. Yet Genesis is clear to show as well that violence is not first an international reality: it appears not as something “out there” in the disputed space between Israel and the Hittites, but within the folds of our ordinary lives. Violence appears silently as animals are lovingly raised only to be slaughtered; it appears as the culmination of a grudge between brothers, stalking through the grass until it erupts in the fields. What begins for Genesis in intimate ways will eventually become larger than individual lives: the violence of Cain becomes the legend of Lamech and the family rivalries between Israel and Edom. Focusing on the clash of international relations deceives us by presenting violence as exceptional, when scripture wants us to see it as the often invisible irritant within our everyday lives. This kind of violence, out of which international conflicts emerge, is what some writers have called “ordinary violence” or “slow violence”; it enters into our imaginations and relationships in normalized patterns, and only over time does it become something more visible and chaotic. Ordinary violence is exhibited, the Torah tells us, in the ways in which people do economic injustice—or rather, perform economic violations against one another—which then give way to murder. Ordinary violence is seen, the Proverbs tell us, when we abuse our families and strangers. And yet for much of the 20th century Christian thinkers talked about war as if it were an exceptional state of violence. It is not that people were ignorant of the ways in which domestic abuse or child labor or poverty destroyed lives; it was that violence was largely viewed as a category that occurs outside the bounds of ordered relationships, personal or international. After that early morning class in 2001, watching the towers collapse, I drove in a daze back to my rented house close to campus. It was a house where my car would be broken into more times than I could count, where my bike would be stolen, where yells and intimate violence could be heard piercing the quiet night air. Frequently, when I left my house to walk to campus, there would be someone asleep in the front yard or laid out on the walkway spanning the highway between my house and campus. I lived there not out of some deep desire to be present to poverty but because it was what I could afford. It was a place full of warm neighbors and everyday violence, the kind which prepares us over time to accept greater violence as necessary. As Reinhold Niebuhr put it, the power dynamics of international relations begin at home, learned in intimacy before they are implemented globally. But even if I were to have slept in a different house, in a different neighborhood, with a different income, I would not have escaped what Genesis’s picture of violence unpacks. The food that I ate required the death of other creatures; the electricity I consumed was funded by oil companies that contribute to the slow degradation of the earth; the clothes I wore were provided by people in faraway lands who were paid too little and subjected to degrading labor conditions. These little forms of violence, as I would learn much later from Óscar Romero, were violences that the poor suffer; they often remain invisible to those outside such spaces. The violence of the spectacle of planes crashing and buildings collapsing, of tyrants assaulting civilians, of refugees fleeing from civil war—these are all magnifications of ordinary dynamics in which the world fractures and refractures itself. Recognizing the connection between ordinary grievances and large-scale destruction can lead us to see power distortions everywhere. We might be tempted toward paralysis. There are many across the 20th century who have claimed, for example, that the teachings of Jesus on violence could not be taken seriously in a complex world of power politics. But instead of learning this lesson from the brutalities of modern war, what if a different lesson were called for: that war and ordinary life are in fact connected, and that this calls for not just our battlefields but our ordinary lives to be a constant life of repentance and repair? The way in which the possibility of peacemaking emerged into the public consciousness of many after 2001 was as an impossibility: that which must be done as an act of faith in the face of brutal facts. But if ordinary violence and its extraordinary flowering are linked, then peacemaking has a place not only within war—as medics and chaplains, as refugee coordinators and translators and treaty negotiators—but also in everyday life, as those who see the ordinary violence of poverty, domestic abuse, hunger, and racism as the precursors to something which ascends into a more complex and destructive action. The immediate work of binding up wounds, of shielding the vulnerable, and of beating swords into plowshares is always in high demand; such work, particularly in conflicts, is necessary if there is to be a world in which peace can be built. But wars do not simply erupt: they do not come ex nihilo into the world as events without causes. The ordinary violence which the world suffers from, frequently unseen or unnamed as such, is the first fruits, the building blocks, of the greater violence to come. There is a place for Christian peacemaking in international conflicts. Our faith can help us to ask and answer questions about what sanctions accomplish or how negotiators work for truces. But any vision of Christian peacemaking must turn its attention as well toward violence in the ordinary. By attending to our domestic relationships, to poverty, to the small ways in which our neighbors become our enemies, ordinary violence is met with an ordinary practice—more akin to habit than heroism. The suffering of war calls us into action. But to name war as a world apart from the ordinary will not do. Breaking this link does damage to the soldier, whose wartime life is suspended in a no-man’s-land utterly divorced from their ordinary life, and to the civilian, who is rendered unable to see the connection between the violence chosen daily and the horrors of war. It is with good reason that the extraordinary injunction of Jesus against striking an enemy and in favor of turning the other cheek is followed by a rather ordinary command: to make peace with one’s neighbor before offering a sacrifice at the altar. The two acts of reconciliation are not separated as one would separate the night from the day; they are shades of light in different dark spaces, with the actions of ordinary peacemaking preparing us for the next unspeakable violence. The practice alters our hearts and habits over time so that in the moment of decision, we are inclined toward peacemaking and not toward striking back. What good does preparation for future conflicts do us in this present moment, when Russian tanks are decimating Ukrainian civilians? Far from deferring action, this vision of the relation between the ordinary and the extraordinary gives us more tools for addressing the conflict at hand, in two important ways. First, this connection helps us to remember that how we make peace in the extraordinary will set the stage for what peace we will be able to make in ordinary times. The postbellum—how we end wars—is as important as how we fight them. The stakes are high for ending conflicts well: our present enemy is tomorrow’s neighbor. Second, this connection between ordinary and extraordinary gives us new sets of tactics to draw on for peacemaking—the diplomatic and the relational, international treaties and the shared histories and common heritages of the combatants, arms reductions and locally appropriate reparations. Understanding the connection between ordinary and extraordinary violence builds up our responses in times of war. It also calls Christians of all persuasions to a fuller accounting of our faith. For those inclined toward peacemaking as an international action, the connection is a chastening one, keeping us attuned toward the manifold ways peacemaking is an ongoing work in our daily lives. Those who have committed to peacemaking in ordinary life can continue to embrace it as a fragile and frequently broken venture, living into our commitment in times of global conflict, even when no outcome is clean. A peace which bears the name of the incarnation—reconciling both things above and things below—can attempt no less. Originally published by Myles Werntz at Christian Century, used with permission Illustration by Enrique Quintero

  • Jesus Said, “Buy a sword.” What did he mean?

    In a previous post, I challenged the common assumption that Jesus was violent when he drove out the animals and turned over tables in the Temple courts. Here I want to look at the second episode some site to suggest Jesus wasn’t totally opposed to violence. It takes place just before Jesus and his disciples leave to go pray at the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus first had his disciples recall the missionary expedition he had recently sent them on. To teach them total dependence upon God, Jesus had forbidden them to take any provisions on this journey (Luke 9:3). Jesus asks them, “When I sent you without purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything”? “Nothing,” they all responded (Luke 22:35). Then Jesus said, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I will tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment” (vs. 36–37). The disciples happen to have two swords with them, so they showed them to Jesus. “That is enough” he replied (vs. 38). Does this episode warrant the conclusion that Jesus expects his followers to engage in violence in certain circumstances? A close reading of the text reveals that it teaches nothing of the sort. First, when Peter used the sword against those who were arresting him, Jesus responded “No more of this!” and healed the man’s ear that was cut off. Jesus rebuked him and told him to put it back in at sheath where it belongs (Luke 22:47-51). When Jesus appears before Pilate he gives the fact that his followers are not fighting as proof that his kingdom “is not of this world.” In this light, it seems clear, whatever Jesus had in mind in telling his disciples to bring swords along with them, it wasn’t for them to ever use them. What other reason might Jesus have had for making his disciples bring swords? The answer is provided by Jesus himself as explains that it was to fulfill the prophecy, “He was numbered with the transgressors” (Is 53:12). To fulfill prophecy as well as to further force the hand of the authorities, if necessary, Jesus and his band of disciples had to appear to be criminals. More specifically, they had to appear like a typical band of sword wielding zealots, thus justifying the arrest and eventual execution of their leader. This explains why Jesus says, “It is enough,” when the disciples produce only two swords. If Jesus expected his disciples to actually engage in sword fighting, two swords would obviously be completely inadequate. But for the mere purpose of appearing to be a band of lawbreaking zealots, two swords would suffice. In light of this, it seems to me that justifying the use of violence by citing this passage is as unwarranted as citing the temple cleansing passage to this effect. Originally published by Greg Boyd at ReKnew, used with permission

  • Was Jesus Violent in the Temple?

    We need to realize that the temple system of selling sacrificial animals to worshipers had become extremely corrupted in Jesus’ day. Among other abuses, priests were ripping people off by telling them the animal they bought to sacrifice didn’t meet their purity standards. People were thus forced to purchase a “temple certified” animal. The priests would then confiscate the allegedly substandard animal, only to turn around and sell it to the next worshiper who was told the animal they had bought was substandard. It was a money-making scam. The Gospels tell us that Jesus was so enraged by this corruption that he made a whip, turned over tables, and drove animals and people out of the temple. God’s house was to be a house of prayer, he declared, not a den of thieves (Mark 11:17). On the precedent of this allegedly violent behavior, some have justified the use of violence “for righteous purposes” today. I think this conclusion is completely unwarranted for three reasons. First, we need to understand that Jesus wasn’t throwing an uncontrolled tantrum. Most scholars agree that this was a calculated prophetic, symbolic act on Jesus’ part. Based on Old Testament prophecy as well as the widespread knowledge of the corrupt priestly system, most Jews of Jesus’ day believed the coming Messiah was going to restore the temple and make it God’s house once again. By cleansing the temple, therefore, Jesus was demonstrating that he was the Messiah. He was also symbolically revealing Yahweh’s displeasure with the religious establishment of his day and symbolically acting out Yahweh’s reclaiming of his house. It seems the masses understood the symbolism of Jesus’ actions. While his behavior enraged the religious leaders, the people responded by flocking to him (Mark 11:18). Second, and closely related to this, most scholars agree that Jesus engaged in this aggressive behavior to force the hand of religious and political authorities against him. After all, he had come to Jerusalem with the expressed intention of being executed. Up to this point the Jewish authorities were concerned about Jesus, but they refrain from acting on their concern because of Jesus’ popularity with the crowds. By exposing their corruption, Jesus was now explicitly threatening their authority. And this forced them to start plotting his arrest and execution. So, we again see that Jesus’ temple cleansing wasn’t a spontaneous outburst of anger. It was a premeditated, strategic act. Third, and most importantly, while Jesus’ behavior was certainly aggressive, there’s no indication whatsoever that it involved violence. True, Jesus turned tables over. But this was to put an immediate stop to the corrupt commerce that was taking place as well as perhaps to free the caged animals. There’s no mention of any person or animal getting hurt in the process. And yes, Jesus made a whip. But there’s no mention of him using it to strike any animal, let alone human. Cracking a loud whip has always been the most effective means of controlling the movement of large groups of animals. Jesus wanted to create a stampede of animals out of the temple, and there’s no reason to conclude he used the whip for any other purpose than this. When we read this passage in context, we can see that, while Jesus was aggressive when he drove out the animals, we cannot use this passage as justification for violence. Originally published by Greg Boyd at ReKnew, used with permission

  • Nonviolence: More Powerful Than Violence

    As mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been combing through some recent books on violence and nonviolence. One of the most fascinating ones I’ve read on the topic is Ron Sider’s Nonviolent Action: What Christian Ethics Demands but Most Christians Have Never Really Tried (Baker, 2015). Good. Night. This book is good! If you love history, if like reading about revolutions, if you love Jesus and beauty and courage and want to see how faith applies to the real world, then you’ll love this book. But if you want to believe what you’ve always believed, and if you’ve always believed that violence is the only way to defeat the really bad guys in the world, and if you think that nonviolence is just for for cowards, liberals, pot-smoking hippies, and people who couldn’t win a fight anyway, then you probably won’t like this book. “Don’t confuse me with the facts,” you’ll say. “Just let me keep watching my old WWII documentaries.” Ron Sider is a top-notch scholar with a prophetic megaphone. He shook the evangelical world back in the 70’s with his ground-breaking book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, and this book is very similar. Those of us who advocate for nonviolence often face our cynical critics who roll their eyes and pat us on the head. “There, there. That pacifism stuff is a cute idea. But in the real world, there are really bad people who want to do really mean things to nice people. When it comes to really bad people, nonviolence doesn’t work.” You can believe this if you want. You can believe that violence is the only way to defeat really bad forms of evil (how’s that been going, by the way?), and you can also believe that 2 + 2 = 5. But in the real world, nonviolence is actually just as effective as violence in taking care of the really bad guys. Actually, I’m wrong. It’s not just as effective. It’s more effective. Like two-times more effective. According to the most thorough study on 325 violent and nonviolent insurrections against ferocious dictators armed to the teeth, “nonviolent resistance campaigns were nearly twice as likely to achieve full or partial success as their violent counterparts” (Sider, p. 159). Unfortunately, the American narrative is so bent toward violence that we have no category for this. Saying that nonviolent campaigns have been more successful is like saying 2 + 2 = orange. It doesn’t compute. It doesn’t make any sense. I tell people this and they just stare at me like I’m speaking Japanese. But it does work. According to actual history (and not just Marine advertisements and Fox News), nonviolent campaigns contain power. Real power. Moral power. Political and economic power. And Sider has done a fantastic job documenting such movements. He begins by looking at successful nonviolent revolts among the Jews in the first century (toward Pontius Pilate and Gaius Caligula) and then spends a good deal of time talking about several ironically successful nonviolent revolts in the 20th and 21st centuries: Gandhi’s Salt Campaign (pp. 19-25), MLK’s civil rights movement (pp. 27-45), nonviolent campaigns against the U.S.-backed atrocities in Nicaragua in the mid-1980’s, which Sider witnessed first-hand, the Revolution of the Candles in East Germany (1989), Liberia’s female-led liberation movement in the early 2000’s, nonviolent campaigns during the Arab Spring of 2011, and many others. The historical and ethical point is clear: nonviolence works. It’s a powerful force. We don’t need to return evil for evil. God has provided us with a better way. A more effective way. A more Christian way. Sider is not alone. There are several books and documentaries that talk about the power of nonviolence. Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall’s A Force More Powerful, Mark Kurlansky’s Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea, and Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephen’s, Why Civil Disobedience Works, which surveyed the 325 violent and nonviolent insurrections mentioned above. As these books have shown, Gandhi was right: “Non-violence is the summit of bravery” (Sider, 17). Nonviolence has proven time and time again to be an effective means of confronting evil. But Christians shouldn’t embrace it because it’s the most effective means of confronting evil, but the most faithful means of following Jesus. As MLK used to say, nonviolence is not just politically expedient but morally compelling. We serve a slaughtered Lamb who defeated evil by absorbing violence and rose to tell the tale. Jesus didn’t turn the world upside down by endorsing an American ethic of power, but by introducing the world to a countercultural ethic of enemy love. They have conquered him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, because they loved not their lives even unto death” (Rev 12:11). Originally published by Preston Sprinkle at Theology in the Raw, used with permission

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