Michael Hidalgo


nonvsqThere is something that terrifies and angers many Christians even more than the threat of violence … and that’s nonviolence.

After Jerry Falwell Jr. encouraged students at Liberty University to carry concealed weapons to fight against Muslims, Shane Claiborne wrote a thoughtful article advocating a nonviolent response (read that here). I posted that article over the weekend and received many angry responses from people suggesting I am to pitied for how misguided I am.

This is nothing new. Anytime I write or speak about nonviolence I am met swiftly with counterarguments by Christians who advocate violence. They claim we have a right to defend ourselves. If someone is coming after them or those they love, they will, as I am told, “take them out.”

The assumption is if we kill someone trying to kill us then it is right. The trouble with this argument, while it makes sense to many, is that it flies in the face of the historic Church – not to mention the Bible itself.

If anyone had cause to carry concealed weapons it was the First Century Church. They lived in constant danger as the Romans considered them to be seditious, because they did not give their allegiance to Caesar and the Empire. Rome terrorized Christians by arresting, imprisoning, crucifying, feeding people to wild animals, impaling and burning them to death. Many today would advocate them fighting back. Curiously enough they didn’t.

St. Justin said, “… we who were filled with war, and slaughter, and wickedness, have each throughout the earth changed our weapons of war – our swords into plowshares, and our spears into tools for tilling the soil – and we cultivate righteousness, generosity, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified.”

In the face of imminent threat they chose to abandon the very thing that could have kept them safe. And it was not because they were ignorant to the threat of violence and death. Elsewhere, St Justin said, “… in order to not lie nor deceive our examiners, we willingly die confessing Christ.” Many early Christians pursued peace at all costs and willingly gave their life for it.

This is seen in Paul’s instruction to the church in Rome to pursue peace. He wrote, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘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.” (Romans 12:17-20, ©NIV). I wonder how many people wanted to say to Paul, “Seriously? You expect us to sit back and let the Romans continue to kill us? We need to fight!”

But Paul did not instruct them to fight, he clearly advocates nonviolence – even in cases of self-defense. Many Christians today choose to ignore this passage. Interesting, isn’t it? So many Christians demand we take the words of the Bible literally and seriously until it comes to the many nonviolent teachings of the bible … then not so much. Yet, Paul was insistent; for every act of hate, evil, violence, or persecution repay it with love, kindness, peace, and good.

This mindset leaves little room for the use of weapons. And in my experience Christians in America have a difficult time making sense of this.

Perhaps it’s due to our society being so conditioned by violence that we cannot imagine another way to respond to violence other than adding to it. Revenge, self-defense and retaliation are normal for us, and, in many cases, considered necessary. It seems the narrative of an earthly, militarized empire has captured the Christian imagination in America.

And maybe there’s another reason we can’t make sense of the early Christians in Rome not fighting back. You see, they were people on the margins, and many of us are people of privilege. In other words, we are far more like the Romans citizens enjoying the benefits of an empire than the early Christians who were constantly persecuted. Like the Roman citizens, we have way too much to lose to go quietly.

Maybe that’s why nonviolence is so threatening. It asks us to be willing to give up everything – all our wealth, power, possessions and influence that lend us a sense of self-worth and security and certainty. Maybe that’s why we get so angry at the suggestion of nonviolence; we are terrified of losing what we have worked so hard to get.

Think about it, the reason we believe in self-defense is because we do not want bad things to happen to us or those we love. We even say, “we have a right to defend ourselves.” As though all we have has been earned by us and must be protected by us – how quickly we forget, it’s not earned at all, only given by a benevolent God.

So, we arm ourselves to the teeth falling for the longstanding lie told by empires for millennia that violence will somehow and in someway bring peace. The idea of laying down our life in the face of the enemy is considered naïve and stupid. We tell ourselves it’s self-defense so it’s justified, and forget Jesus did not say, ““Greater love has no man than this, than to protect his friends by killing his friend’s enemies” (John 15:13).

Perhaps it’s time for us to work together to imagine new ways in responding to violence. Before we do that, however, we ought to look at our hearts and ask where our deepest commitment and allegiance resides. And in that place, confess that we soaked ourselves in the doctrine of violence for too long. And repent – think differently – and “cultivate righteousness, generosity, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified.”

May it be so.

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