Yesterday I wrote a Christian response to how we talk about guns and gun control. My response was the Christian tradition of non-violence. I received numerous responses from people asking great questions and raising understandable concerns. Concerns about life, concerns about nation, and concerns about how we define self-defense.
I would like to share a few responses to these concerns.
So here we Go.
Most of the anger and concern I received yesterday had to do with Patriotism. What it means to be an American and how we received the blessings that we have. In sum; America is blessed because we have defended ourselves and defended others. We fight for Liberty and Freedom all around the world and to obey a non-violent approach would be to allow evil to exist all over the world. America is a Christian nation and the world needs us and under this view you are calling our founding Father’s sinners to have achieved our freedom the way they did.
I responded to one person with this view with these words: Some times the wrong actions bring about certain blessings for us. And some times the right actions make things more difficult for us. Would things be worse for us had we lived things out this way? Maybe, probably. But I believe I’m drawn to kingdom over nation.
We easily can get caught up in the myth that American means Christian. After all, we have “One Nation Under God” in our pledge of allegiance. We have “In God We Trust” on all of our currency. “That’s what our founding father’s fought for.”
Look, I love those phrases. But they are new phrases. And when viewing our nation it frequently seems as though that is all they are, phrases. We are one of the most violent nations in the world. We have more weapons than any nation in the world. Our Pride in America, while not a bad thing, can blind us to dealing with certain issues. It’s the same blindness we can cast on the nation of Israel. “These are God’s people and they can do no wrong!” kind of attitude. When in actuality we each abuse our blessings. Our Christian phrases in pledge and on currency came about in the 1950’s as an aggressive response to Communism. Other beliefs were stirring in our predominantly Christian occupied nation and we wanted them to know who they were dealing with.
While that may be an aside, I think we should be aware of what we are defending. Is it America? Or is it Christ? America is the new Egypt, the new Rome, and though this is not something I desire, it will pass away just like they did. We just happen to be citizens of the powerful empire of our day. And yes when you have the best guns and the most bombs, it’s easy to feel safe and blessed by God. We fought our way to independence. And now we are “on top.”
There are 196 nations on this Earth. Of those nations the United States of America is about 4% of the worlds population and yet we are the worlds largest arms dealer. We supply nearly half of the nations with their weapons. $612 billion dollars a year is spent on defense more than the next ten countries combined. We spend more on defense than any nation in the history of the world. It would take 100 nuclear bombs to make the earth uninhabitable and we have over 7,000 of them. And we are the only nation to ever use one (twice).
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.-Psalm 20:7. Despite what our currency says, I hope we can see where our trust really is. Now such a criticism is not representative of every American and I understand where your anger is coming from if you are reading this and hate these words. And your immediate thought might be well if we don’t “eliminate the enemy” or “bomb the shit out of them” as one candidate has proposed how will the world be safe if we do nothing?
A choice of non-violence is not the same as doing nothing.
When we were attacked at Pearl Harbor we responded in a very strong way by causing the single most devastating isolated response in human history. We ended a war in a way, that to this day still causes people to have physical defects. Now by ending the war did we maybe spare countless lives? Maybe? That’s certainly possible. But did it end war? No. Violence just found new ways, and new people to spread about the world. Often as a direct result of how one nation dealt in ending a conflict. This is where ISIS came from.
Think about some of histories greatest movers. People who actually changed the way a nation thought. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid. Mother Teresa and her service of the poor in India. Mahatma Gandhi and the independence of India. Or most recently a young Pakistani girl named Malala who is fighting for women’s rights. Each of these heroes fought to change the world through love and justice without violence.
How does proven change occur? By eliminating the enemy? Or by showing society the error of their ways through radical civil disobedience and love?
I love what Peter Rollins said in response to this topic. He said to the “Let’s be militant” Christians, “You know what your problem is? It’s not that you’re too violent, you’re not violent enough. Your violence is like the man who beats up his wife. It’s an impotent violence. It’s a violence against flesh and blood. The violence of Christianity is a violence against principalities and powers. Look at Mother Theresa her violence, her pacifism, was violent. Why? Because it completely ruptured the caste system she was working in. The whole system of power that placed people in different castes. She came in and she looked after everybody equally and completely ruptured the system. You look at Gandhi in his pacifism he ruptured the system of colonialism. Martin Luther King in his pacifism ruptured and traumatized the system of racism. A system or an ideology is not that which you see but it is that which you see through. And each of these people were truly doing something powerful. So all of this posturing which ends up just being violent against people and violent against individuals but not challenging systems of injustice? It’s not violent enough.”
We can keep eliminating people in the world. Creating more conflict and enemies. Or we can go at the systems and seek justice for all. And yes this will create its own enemies. Malala was shot in the head. Dr. King and Gandhi were murdered. Christians were crucified and beheaded. Yet the world will be blessed by this discourse in a more eternal and sustaining way. It’s actually what sharing the gospel is about. It’s good news for the whole world not just some people. It’s a belief that what Christ has done has changed things and we don’t have to live as we used to. (That’s a quick response to “but God in the Old Testament!!!”) We are free from the slavery of violence and the pattern of this world and can seek healing and restoration to the world. The whole world. That’s the violence of the gospel.
It is important to remember our citizenship first is in the Kingdom of God. I do not live my life asking what most benefits America, but what mosts benefits the kingdom of God. And I believe that whatever benefits the Kingdom of God will in turn benefit America in a real and enduring way. Even if momentarily it feels like pain. However I also acknowledge that America, like Rome and Egypt, will pass away. The Kingdom of God is eternal and will never pass away. It is a Kingdom that “has no end.”
But the question is not just a national question it’s an individual question.
Should all Christians be martyrs?
The question for every Christian to ask, as cliche as it is, is “What would Jesus do?” Another way to phrase this question is to ask “What is the greatest form of love I can bring this situation?” Jesus actually defined what the “greatest love” act a man could do is. It’s a foreshadowing of his great loving act for all mankind. In John 15:13 we find “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Now some interpreted my previous approach as “we should all go seek out death for Jesus.” It was interpreted that I was saying to be a Christian is to die for Jesus. No. That is not the mark of a Christian. Your salvation is not found in you running around trying to die for your faith. That’s irresponsible and an insult to the abundant life Christ has offered you.
We have discussed a few ways that a Christian may be called to approach the world’s problems but what about our local problems? What about when a man enters a nightclub and begins to open fire? What then would Jesus do?
We should not “just die.” Sitting back and watching the world burn is against the ways of Christ. It’s against the truth and invitation of the gospel. We are called to be a light. We are called to love. And love does. We should try to nonviolently end the situation. The statement of the cross was Christ absorbing the death and violence of the world onto himself for our sake. Could this be what we should do in such a situation? You think “good luck with that.” And maybe your chances are not great. But yes, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
When Paul was in prison, likely about to be executed he shared those words. Some followers of his were stirring things up and he was upset about this. He knew that their action was false against his name and, by association, against the name of Jesus whom Paul represented. Here’s the text: “I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”-Philippians 1
Paul lived his life abundantly. He traveled the nations and shared the joys of his life and the truth of the gospel. He invited people into freedom and out of their sinful oppression and the violent pattern of the world. He was constantly beaten, imprisoned, and people were always trying to kill him. Because people don’t want an end to violence. Violence is the pattern of the world. Violence is the world’s answer to conflict. Just look at any politician. But it isn’t Christ’s. The purpose Paul found in life was to benefit others. That his existence was actually of benefit to other people because of the good news he was proclaiming to all. So he desired to live for the sake of others. But if he should die, it is gain because he will be with Christ. In other words Paul is at war and death is a great victory. He doesn’t just offer his life in a reckless way. He doesn’t just value and love his enemies life, but he values his own life and sees the benefit of his existence. He know’s why he lives. So he doesn’t just desire to save his enemies life but his own. However should there be no other way he’s comforted and confident that to die is gain.
I think that actually communicates in a great way what we should do in such a situation as what recently happened in Orlando. And while this is all hypothetical and interpreted, here is my view of what I believe Christ calls me to do in a threatening situation like that.
Because it may be easier to say I am willing to love my enemy enough to give my own life. But it is certainly more difficult to say I love my enemy enough to let other people die.
The appropriate action would be to try and have the man put his arms down. If the situation is they are robbing you, give them your possessions. And let them go on their way. Our treasures are not on earth.
In the Orlando example I think Jesus would actively try to help get people out of there. And I think if it came down to it he would step in front of a bullet for another. If the gunman were standing over Jesus do I think Jesus would stand up and punch him in the face to disarm him and then shoot him? No. I don’t. I think he would speak to him, if he could, and ask what brought him to such a dark place. I think he would show him love. I think he would do everything in his power to get people to safety and once that was done I think he would get himself to safety. As evident in many of the growing violent crowds of the New Testament where people tried to murder Jesus. (Like John 8) Not just sit back and do nothing and let himself die just because. Jesus knew why he was here. Being willing to give your life does not mean you do nothing. Protect others and protect yourself. Sometimes your best option is to flee. But do not flee until helping others get away from harm.
Should a Christian find themselves in such a situation where there is no non-violent way to end the situation, I believe we are called to risk our lives in such a resolve. I believe as displayed by Christ and nearly each of the apostles, in such an ultimatum we are called to give our lives for the sake of the truth of the gospel. Which involves non-violence because violence is against the Kingdom of God. It has no place in the world to come. And so like Christ on the cross, we absorb the violence and hatred of the transgressor. We let love win.
May we never find ourselves in such a situation. May we create fewer enemies by loving people well. And may we live for the glory of the Kingdom of God.
Not for the pattern of this world.