Well, this kind of wraps up our blog series on a Theology of Non-Violence. If you haven’t had the chance, go back and read the previous posts on how a position of non-violence makes the best use of Scripture, reason, and tradition. Today, I want to finish up by expressing my own personal experience in forming my beliefs about non-violence.
I didn’t always believe in non-violence. In fact, when I consider the whole scope of my life up until now, my non-violent convictions are relatively new. Like most modern, evangelical Christians I grew up believing that while violence isn’t something we should go looking for, it’s okay for us to use violence whenever the situation calls for it. Most of the lessons that I experienced in Sunday school were from the Old Testament, and (let’s face it) there are some pretty violent stories that get turned into children’s lessons – the Flood, David and Goliath, Joshua and the walls of Jericho. So, I grew to simply accept violence as a selectively used means of getting things done. After all, I reasoned, if God used violence sometimes then He must be okay with Christians using violence sometimes.
It actually wasn’t until after Bible college that I began to seriously reconsider my beliefs about the use of violence. It sort of went down like this – I was leading a small group of high school boys, and one evening for small group we watched the movie Taken. This got us talking about human trafficking and how we as Christians should respond to it. I raised the question, do you think that it was morally right for Liam Neeson’s character to go killing and torturing his way through the sex trafficking rings to save his daughter? Is that was Jesus would want us to do? Although we kind of ended the night without coming to a definitive answer, these questions stuck in my head.
About a year later, I expressed these questions to a friend of mine who suggested that I read The Myth of a Christian Nation. As I read this book (which I highly recommend), I came to realize how incredibly radical and counter-cultural Jesus’ ministry and teachings are. Unlike everything in human culture and human nature that seeks to control things or change the world through asserting “power over” people, the kingdom of God seeks instead to change the world using “power under” to serve and sacrifice for others. I began to see how antithetical violence is to the kingdom of God. Eventually, I began to wonder how I had lived as a Christian my whole life without ever realizing this. It’s like I had spent my entire life trying to watch a DVD (and trying to get others to watch it with me) without first realizing that I needed to use a DVD player. It sounds crazy, I know. But how many times have Jesus’ teachings on non-violence been preached in church without people realizing that he actually meant for us to live totally non-violent lives.
Now that I have come to realize how central non-violence is to the ministry and teachings of Jesus, I can’t help but see it every time I open the Gospels. It’s like looking at a picture of Tom Cruise. Once you notice that he has a tooth right in the center of his face, you can’t ever stop noticing it.
Anyhow, after a lot of reading and study, as well as a lot of prayer and conversation with other believers, I am now convinced of non-violence as an essential part of my Christian faith. Moreover, the more I have this sort of conversation with my fellow Christians, the more I realize how much western Christian culture has bought into Augustine’s old notion that you can love your enemies in your heart while still doing violence to their bodies. Whereas Jesus taught that the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the peacemakers, the persecuted, and the insulted are blessed (Mt 5:1-12), we in our evangelical subculture spend so much time and energy trying to avoid these things. We’ve lost the art of martyrdom. There was a time that Jesus’ followers died (and died well) for the kingdom. In fact, if you spend much time reading about the early martyrs, you come to realize that dying for your faith can be just as effective of an evangelism tool as preaching a sermon. In the early church (and some parts of the modern world) Christians considered it a joy and a privilege to die, to share in the suffering of our Lord.
My commitment to non-violence is now such that I consider it a dream to one day die for my faith. Of course, youth pastors in the United States don’t run a very high risk of being martyred. But if I could choose any form of death, martyrdom would be right at the top of my list. It wouldn’t even have to be an obvious religious-persecution sort of martyrdom. Just so long as I am following Jesus teachings and example of self-sacrificial love. So, for those of you reading this, if years from now you find a YouTube video or news report saying that I am being tortured to death, just know that I am right where I want to be.