In a recent post I drew a connection between the prevalence of pornography and the abuse of women in sex trafficking. Near the end, certainly influenced by all the talk of the massacre at Aurora, I threw in a comment that if we can draw a connection from guns to violence why can’t we draw one from pornography to forced prostitution (another sort of violence).
Then I read this article by Shane Claiborne. I have been challenged by Claiborne’s writing in the past, as well as other Christian pacifists from John Howard Yoder to numerous other church theologians.
There is something deeply troubling about our logic of redemptive violence.
Even though western evangelical Christianity has not been known for its consistent ethic of life (as it has often been more pro-birth than pro-life, opposing abortion but not always opposing death when it comes to capital punishment, gun violence, militarism, and poverty), Christianity throughout history has had a powerful critique of violence in all its ugly forms.
One of the patriarchs, Cyprian (African Bishop in the third century), critiqued the contradictory view of death so prevalent in our culture where we call killing evil in some instances and noble in others: “Murder, considered a crime when people commit it singly, is transformed into a virtue when they do it en masse.”
Contemporary thinkers like Renee Girard contend that this challenge to violence inherent to Christ-like Christianity is, at least in part because, at the center of the Christian faith is a victim of violence—as Jesus was brutally murdered on the cross. And there is a triumph over death as rises from the dead, a final victory over violence and hatred and sin and all ugly things.
And yet, even in the face the evil that Jesus endured, he consistently challenged the myth of redemptive violence. He looked into the eyes of those killing him and called on God to forgive them. He loved his enemies and taught his disciples to do the same. He said things like, “You’ve heard it said ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’… but I want to say there is a better way,” and “You’ve heard it said, ‘love your friends and hate your enemies’… but I tell you love those who hate you … do not repay evil with evil.’” He challenged the prevailing logic of his day, and of ours. He insisted that if we “pick up the sword we will die by the sword”—and we’ve learned that lesson all too well.
I grew up being taught, over and over again, that the most important thing I could do was believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. The cross and resurrection, the key moments in Jesus’ life, were primarily things to believe. Once we had filed Jesus away, confident we had the correct theology, we could once again trust in violence to solve our problems. What if Jesus’ death is not just something to believe in but is also the primary way we ought to live?
Roger Olsen is another of my favorite theologians to read. He asks why Christians, who are so quick to speak out about abortion and other issues, rarely speak out against gun violence:
My question is whether it is time for Christians to speak out openly from pulpits and pages (of Christian publications) about our obviously increasing gun culture and culture of violence. Is this a subject for sermons? I think it is.
One need not be a pacifist to abhore violence. Perhaps some violence is necessary, but surely not the kind of random, extreme violence depicted in movies and comic books (which many young men in their twenties are still “reading”). Why do I see Christians picketing abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood sex education events but not violent movies and gun “shows?”
In my opinion, this is one of those “frog in the boiling water” kind of social situations. We have simply gotten so used to the violence depicted in movies (and sometimes also on TV) and in comic books and everywhere (almost) that we are numb to it.
Would it be appropriate for a pastor to counsel a man (or women) who shows up to the church parking lot with a bumper sticker that proclaims “God, Guns and Guts?” I think so. Would it be appropriate for a church to encourage parents to go beyond the rating system of movies and video games and comic books (do the latter even have a rating system) and actively discourage allowing boys (rarely girls) from watching, reading and playing them? I think so.
Should Christian leaders speak out against the culture of violence and death that is so overtaking our everyday lives? I think so.
Would any of this decrease the incidence of extreme violence that we have witnessed in suburban Denver and other places? I don’t know, but it would at least raise Christian voices against the culture that, in my opinion, feeds it and enables it.
The blind acceptance of violence is a tremendous blind spot in the Christian community. We are okay with violent movies, even with some drawing parallels between blood-soaked warriors in some films with Jesus, but we flip out over any sort of nudity. We worry about pornography but are fine with violent video games. I recall a professor of mine from seminary noting this is a distinctly American thing, in his native Belgium people were much more turned off by violence then by sex.
My hope is that all of us, including me, would take another look at Jesus hanging on the cross and ask what this means for how we ought to live our lives. I believe it will push us more towards becoming the peacemakers that Jesus’ blessed in his sermon on the mount.
I struggle to see how we can truly speak out for peace and be silent on the prevalence of guns and violence in our nation.
If you are interested, Scot McKnight gave a flurry of links to articles talking about gun laws:
And here’s one from Nicholas Kristof: Safe from Fire, but Not Guns.