A Letter To My Non-“Nonviolence” Friends

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I’ve had plenty of debates on the topic of Christians and the use of violence.

The argument is always pretty much the same: “What if the only way to stop someone from hurting a loved one is to use violence?”

My answer is always pretty much the same: “Well, if I break down and use violence it doesn’t make it right, nor does it change anything about Jesus’ command to love our enemies.”

You see, I believe that nonviolent resistance and self-sacrificial love for enemies is central to the teachings of Jesus.

Not peripheral. Not incidental.

Central.

Yet, I appreciate the challenges and debates from those who disagree, and I hope they keep coming. I learn best when I am confronted with the idea that I could be wrong. If I see that I am wrong, I can change. If not, I’ll at least gain a deeper understanding of why I believe what I believe. Simply by virtue of disagreeing with me—as long as it’s civil—you help me grow.

That said, I hope you will consider how I might help you as well.

Another response that I hear in almost every conversation on nonviolence is: “Well, of course I hope that we can solve problems without the use of violence. That would be ideal. But, it isn’t always possible.”

Fair enough.

If you are serious about your desire to find resolution without the use of violence, it would be beneficial for you to familiarize yourself with how to do so. Right?

Indeed, I know some Christians who are committed to this philosophy. They believe that extreme circumstances justify the taking of life; yet, they proactively search for ways to make peace rather than kill. I truly respect them. However, many others are not so forgiving.

Again, I welcome a healthy debate. But, if your default reaction to a call for peace is to prove your “right” to kill someone, I can’t help but question your desire for peaceful, loving resolution with your enemy.

A sure sign of cognitive dissonance is to claim a desire for reconciliation without violence, and then chastise the testimonies of your brothers and sisters who protest war and advocate the way of nonviolence.

Now, I realize that I probably won’t change anyone’s mind by sharing quotes, stories, and arguments for nonviolent resistance (though, I’d be all too happy if I do).

Nevertheless, perhaps by doing so I can help you find the way of peace that you claim to desire. Perhaps you can hold me accountable to do the same, for I am under no illusion that I am holier than another due to my convictions. Convictions do not make us holy; obedience does (1 Peter 1:13-25). Neither am I under any illusion that I can live in obedience, peaceably loving my enemies, without the support of my Christian family—even those of you who are not committed to the same ideals as I am.

Stanley Hauerwas put it this way,

“I declare that I’m committed to Christian nonviolence because I have no faith in my ability to live it on my own. But, by creating expectations in you about how someone should so live that has declared themselves [committed to nonviolence], I have some hope that you will keep me faithful to what I know is true.

Now, I take that to be the character of the Christian life. Namely, that what we are called to do is to be a people that love one another—to enact Matthew 18, because Matthew 18 is the exemplification of a commitment to what feels like a very coercive interaction as a way to avoid the violence that is in our souls.” (Taken from Hauerwas’ lecture at the 2013 Wheaton Theology Conference)

Even in our disagreement on the rightness or wrongness of retributive violence, I think we can agree that love is the default response of a true Christ-follower. So, before attempting to justify violence, perhaps we can work together to avoid it.

For more on peacemaking, check out these resources:

Blogs:
Pacifist Fight Club
You’re Not a Pacifist Are You? by Brian Zahnd
Quotes on peace from the early church by Keith Giles
The Early Church and Military Service by Scot McKnight
Nonviolence 101 – series from Kurt Willems
Nonviolence and the Church – series from Missio Alliance

Books:
Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence by Preston Sprinkle
The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder

Sermons:
Peace by Greg Boyd
Anabaptism 101 week 5: The Politics of Jesus by David D. Flowers
See also these two short sermon clips from Bruxy Cavey here and here

Peace be with you.

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7 responses to “A Letter To My Non-“Nonviolence” Friends

  1. Pingback: The Death Penalty: Killing the Work of Christ (A Response to Al Mohler) | Tylor Standley·

  2. Yes, the “What if…” question is the universal default mode for non-pacifist Christians. I think yours is the best response. Mine has always been “how many of you have had your family attacked by the homicidal axe murderer?” And, “how many Christians do you know who have marched off to real wars?” Which is the topic that merits more of our time and attention?
    I am always drawn back to C.S. Lewis’ answer to the “what if…” questions in The Silver Chair: The heroic characters, two children and a Marsh-wiggle,are very fallible creatures. They have already “muffed” the previous signs, and, now, they stand before a very dangerous
    situation. The question which they raise—a very pragmatic
    question—is, will “everything come right” if they obey?…

    “‘I don’t know about that,’ said Puddleglum. ‘You see,
    Aslan didn’t tell Pole what would happen. He only told her
    what to do.’” 36 –Love, Prayer, and Forgiveness

    Another resource, not widely known; quotes from an evangelical hero of the faith, Charles Spurgeon: http://spurgeonwarquotes.wordpress.com/

    • Interesting that you should mention Lewis. It has been many years since I read Mere Christianity, but I do recall that he made a case for a christian’s participation in war. I think he made a distinction between one’s response to a personal attack versus that of a government and, consequently, one’s responsibility in that regard.

  3. Roger Olson recently blogged on the “Machine gun preacher.” You might want to add that to the list above.

    As for me, like the story Corrie Ten Boom told of her father giving her the the train ticket at the right time, I have trust in Jesus to guide me in the moment. I am not going to box Him in as to the range of options He might lead me into at any given point.

      • I suppose hidden within my post is a “yes/maybe.” I would never know for sure, but in that moment I might. I liked what Desmond Tutu said in regard to Bonhoefer’s decision to join the effort to kill Hitler, “we know by the skin of our teeth.”

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