I love history. I’ve always enjoyed learning history. One truth of history, something you’d learn in any introduction to religion class, can be boiled down as follows:
*Jesus of Nazareth died a violent death on the cross at the hands of his enemies and never led armies into battle.
*Muhammad of Mecca led armies into battle against his enemies
This is not a knock at Islam, it is an accepted truth of history. I first learned the history of Islam in an Intro to Islam class at Penn State University from a Muslim professor. As a Christian, I believe I should do unto others as I want them to do unto me (Jesus said that, Matthew 7:12), so I want to be fair to the views of others. So to be clear, I view this point as a historical fact.
Both Muhammad and Jesus, at the very least, were amazing, influential and interesting men. This point is one thing that separates them and their life experience. We might be able to compare Muhammad to a George Washington or other successful military leaders (though again, obviously he is more than just that) as he led men into battle and victory. Likewise, we might compare Jesus to a Martin Luther King or Gandhi who taught and acted nonviolence. All this leads me to muse that, ironically, some Christians do all they can to reduce this difference by arguing that Jesus actually endorsed violence.
In Crucifixion of the Warrior God, Boyd notes, and I agree:
“With Richard Hayes, I would argue that ‘nowhere does the New Testament provide any positive model of Jesus or his followers employing violence in defense of justice.’ To the contrary, ‘from Matthew to Revelation we find a consistent witness against violence and a calling to community to follow the example of Jesus in accepting suffering rather than inflicting it” (223).
Boyd is referencing Richard Hayes’ book The Moral Vision of the New Testament. What strikes me here is, if you want to attack your enemies, you have to justify this without having Jesus on your side. It does not mean you cannot justify it; it does mean you can’t appeal to Jesus’ actions. But if you are a Muslim, and if you desire to use violence, you can appeal to Muhammad. Whether Muslims are or are not justified in using violence in this or that situation is way outside my realm of expertise. I’ll leave that discussion to Muslims. Yet, it seems clear to me, that it must be very difficult for a Christian to justify using violence if we consider ourselves disciples of Jesus.
I think the point becomes even more pointed when we recognize that Christians do not just believe Jesus was a human teacher or a prophet. Christians see Jesus as God in the flesh, the second-person-of-the-trinity. God’s clearest revelation to us is Jesus. For Christians, the word of God is not a book (as it is for Muslims, back to that Intro to Islam class) but a person.
How sad that Christians have such a long history of using violence…
What if we listened to and emulated Jesus?