What if Someone Tried to Kill Your Family?

Here is our final guest-blog of the “Jesus & Non-violence” series.  I’ll be following up with some concluding remarks in a few days.

Dr. Gregory Boyd

Dr. Gregory Boyd

I’m grateful for Dr. Gregory Boyd allowing me to post this excellent article on a topic that is often brought up in this discussion.  It relates to the worst-case scenario that few in our country face, but that of course we must answer, as many of our brothers and sisters face it on a daily basis.

“What happens if someone breaks into your house and tries to kill your family?  Would you protect them by any means necessary, even if it meant killing the intruder?”

Worst-case scenario, to be sure.  Not a question any of us hopes to have to answer in a way other than theoretical.  And though I’m not sure any of us knows how we would truly act in such a stressful and difficult circumstance, Dr. Boyd gives us glimpse into how we might uphold Jesus’ Kingdom value of “non-violence” even in a Kobayashi Maru.

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The New Testament commands us never to “repay evil with evil” but instead to “overcome evil with good” (Rom.12:17; cf. I Thess 5:15; I Pet 3:9).

Jesus said, “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also”(Mt 5:39).

He also said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Lk 6:27-28).

loveyourenemy-1The teaching seems pretty straightforward, yet this very straightforwardness presents us with a dilemma.

On the one hand, we who confess Jesus as Lord don’t want to say that Jesus and other New Testament authors are simply off their rockers in telling us not to resist evildoers, to repay evil with good, to love our enemies and to do pray for and bless people who mistreat us. If our confession of faith means anything, we have to take this teaching very seriously.

On the other hand, we have to frankly admit that it’s very hard to take this teaching seriously when it comes to extreme situations like having to protect ourselves and our family from an intruder. Not only would most of us resist an evildoer in this situation, killing him if necessary, but most of us would see it as immoral if we didn’t use violence to resist such an evildoer. How can refusing to protect your family by any means be considered moral? Isn’t it more loving, and thus more ethical, to protect your family at all costs?

How do we resolve this dilemma? It helps somewhat to remember that the word Jesus uses for “resist” (antistenai) doesn’t imply passively allowing something to take place. It rather connotes resisting a forceful action with a similar forceful action. Jesus is thus forbidding responding to violent action with similar violent action. He’s teaching us not to take on the violence of the one who is acting violently toward us. He’s teaching us to respond to evil in a way that is consistent with loving them. But he’s not by any means saying do nothing.

Still, the teaching is problematic, for most of us would instinctively use, and feel justified using, violence to protect our family from an intruder if necessary.

taken_galleryposterThe most common way people resolve this dilemma is by convincing ourselves that the “enemies” Jesus was referring to are not our enemies – e.g. people who attack our family (or our nation, or our standard of living, etc…. ). Jesus must have been referring to “other kinds” of enemies, less serious enemies, or something of the sort. We tell ourselves that when violence is justified – as in “just war” ethics – Jesus’ teachings do not apply. This approach allows us to feel justified, if not positively “Christian,” killing intruders and bombing people who threaten our nation — so long as we are nice to our occasionally grumpy neighbors. Unfortunately, this common-sensical interpretation makes complete nonsense of Jesus’ teaching.

The whole point of Jesus’ teaching is to tell disciples that their attitude toward “enemies” should be radically different from others. “If you do good to those who do good to you,” Jesus added, “what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (Lk 6:32). Everybody instinctively hates those who hate them and believes they are justified killing people who might kill them or their loved ones. In contrast to this, Jesus is saying: “Be radically different.”

This is why Jesus (and Paul) didn’t qualify the “enemies” or “evildoers” he taught us to love and not violently oppose. Jesus didn’t say, “Love your enemies until they threaten you; until it seems justified to resort to violence; or until it seems impractical to do so.” Enemies are enemies precisely because they threaten us on some level, and it always feels justified and practically expedient to resist them, if not harm them if necessary. Jesus simply said, “love your enemies” and “don’t resist evildoers” – and note, some of the people he was speaking to would before long confront “enemies” who would feed them and their families to lions for amusement.

The teaching could not be more radical and as kingdom people we have to take it seriously. At the same time, what do we do with the fact that most of us know we would not take it seriously, let alone obey it, in extreme situations like our family coming under attack?

"The Politics of Jesus"  by John Yoder

"The Politics of Jesus" by John Yoder

As with all of Jesus’ teachings, it’s important to place this teaching in the broader context of Jesus’ kingdom ministry. Jesus’ teachings aren’t a set of pacifistic laws people are to merely obey, however unnatural and immoral they seem. Rather, his teachings are descriptions of what life in the domain in which God is king looks like and prescriptions for how we are to cultivate this alternative form of living. In other words, Jesus isn’t saying: “As much as you want to resist an evildoer and kill your enemy, and as unnatural and immoral as it seems, act loving toward him.” He’s rather saying: “Cultivate the kind of life where loving your enemy becomes natural for you.” He’s not merely saying, “Act different from others”; he’s saying, “Be different from others.” This is simply what it means to cultivate a life that looks like Jesus, dying on a cross for the people who crucified him.

How does this insight help address our dilemma? A person who lived with the “normal” tit-for-tat kingdom-of-the-world mindset would instinctively resort to violence to protect himself and his family. Loving his attacker and doing good to him would be the farthest thing from his mind. As with the Jerusalem that Jesus wept over, the “things that make for peace” would be “hidden from [his] “eyes.” (Lk 19:41-42). Indeed, from this kingdom-of-the-world perspective, Jesus’ teaching seems positively absurd.

But how might a person who cultivated a non-violent, kingdom-of-God mindset and lifestyle on a daily basis respond differently to an attacker? How might a person who consistently lived in Christ-like love (Eph 5:1-2) operate in this situation?

For one thing, such a person would have cultivated the kind of character and wisdom that wouldn’t automatically default to self-protective violence. Because he would genuinely love his enemy, he would have the desire to look for, and the wisdom to see, any non-violent alternative to stopping his family’s attacker if one was available. He would want to do “good” to his attacker. This wouldn’t be a matter of him trying to obey an irrational rule that said, “look for an alternative in extreme situations.” In extreme situations, no one is thinking about obeying rules! Rather, it would be in the Christ-like nature of this person to see non-violent alternatives if they were present. This person’s moment-by-moment discipleship in love would have given him a Christ-like wisdom that a person whose mind was conformed to the pattern of the tit-for-tat world would not have (Rom. 12:2). Perhaps he’d see that pleading with, startling, or distracting the attacker would be enough to save himself and his family. Perhaps he’d discern a way to allow his family to escape harm by placing himself in harm’s way.

themythofachristiannationNot only this, but this person’s day-by-day surrender to God would have cultivated a sensitivity to God’s Spirit that would enable him to discern God’s leading in the moment, something the “normal” kingdom-of-the-world person would be oblivious to. This Christ-like person might be divinely led to say something or do something that would disarm the attacker emotionally, spiritually, or even physically.

For example, I heard of a case in which a godly woman was about to be sexually assaulted. Just as she was being pinned to the ground with a knife to her throat, she out of nowhere said to her attacker, “Your mother forgives you.” She had no conscious idea where the statement came from. What she didn’t know was that her attacker’s violent aggression toward women was rooted in a heinous thing he had done as a teenager to his now deceased mother. The statement shocked the man and quickly reduced him to a sobbing little boy.

The woman seized the opportunity to make an escape and call the police who quickly apprehended the man in the park where the attack took place. He was still there, sobbing. The man later credited the woman’s inspired statement with being instrumental in his eventual decision to turn his life over to Christ. The point is that, in any given situation, God may see possibilities for non-violent solutions we cannot see and a person who has learned to “live by the Spirit” is open to being led by God in these directions (Gal. 5:16, 18).

Not only this, but a person who has cultivated a kingdom-of-God outlook on life would have developed the capacity to assess this situation from an eternal perspective. Having made Jesus her example on a moment-by-moment basis, she would know — not just as a “rule,” but as a heart felt reality — the truth that living in love is more important than life itself. Her values would not be exhaustively defined by temporal expediency. Moreover, she would have cultivated a trust in God that would free her from defining “winning” and “losing” in terms of temporal outcomes. She would have confidence in the resurrection. As such, she would be free from the “preserve my interests at all costs” mindset of the world.

love-your-enemiesOf course, it’s possible that, despite a person’s loving wisdom and openness to God, a man whose family was attacked might see no way to save himself and his family except to harm the attacker, or even to take his life. What would such a person do in this case? I think it is clear from Jesus’ teachings, life and especially his death that Jesus would choose non-violence. So, it seems to me that a person who was totally conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, who had thoroughly cultivated a kingdom mind and heart, would do the same.

At the same time, I have to frankly confess that I’m not sure this is what I’d do in this situation. Indeed, I have to honestly admit that, like most people, I don’t yet quite see how it would be moral to do what I believe Jesus would do. Yet, I have to assume that my disagreement with Jesus is due to my not having sufficiently cultivated a kingdom heart and mind. If I felt I had to harm or take the life of another to prevent what clearly seemed to be a greater evil, I could not feel righteous or even justified about it. Like Bonhoeffer who, despite his pacifism, plotted to assassinate Hitler, I could only plead for God’s mercy.

What we must never do, however, is acquiesce to our present, non-kingdom, spiritual condition by rationalizing away Jesus’ clear kingdom prescriptions. We must rather strive every moment of our life to cultivate the kind of mind and heart that increasingly sees the rightness and beauty of Jesus’ teachings and thus that would naturally respond to an extreme, threatening situation in a loving, non-violent manner.

Further Reading

Boyd, G. The Myth of a Christian Nation (Zondervan, 2007)

Brimlow, R. What About Hitler? (Brazos, 2006)

Yoder, J. What Would You Do? (Herald, rev. ed. 1992).

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My Church and Non-Violence

What does my specific church history teach about non-violence?

As we pick up our discussion on “Jesus & Non-violence” again today I am going to say very little and allow several historical voices to share their understanding of obedience to Christ and renunciation of violence.

A little background will be helpful.

I belong to an independent and non-denominational Christian church.  I wrote about the roots and history of this movement in my last post (Restoring the Conversation).

And I have spent the last few weeks researching the position my church has historically taken on violence and war.  In this research, I discovered that nearly all of the founding visionaries of this movement were well known pacifists.

These leaders include Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, Benjamin Franklin, J.W. McGarvey, Moses E. Lard, Robert Milligan, Tolbert Fanning, David Lipscomb and many, many others.

Apparently, the apple does not fall far from the tree!

By far the two most notable people in this list are Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone.  Campbell specifically has an amazing essay on the issue titled, “An Address on War.”  I wish I could print the entire thing here.   I may work on getting it online at some point.   But, lets just take a quick look at the statements of these two influential men, without whom my church would not exist today.

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Alexander Campbell

Alexander Campbell

“But as respects the works peculiar to a soldier, or the prosecution of a political war, they (have) no commandment.  On the contrary, they were to live peaceably with all men to the full extent of their power.  Their sovereign Lord, the King of nations, is called ‘The PRINCE OF PEACE.’  How, then, could a Christian soldier, whose ‘shield’ was faith, whose ‘helmet’ the hope of salvation, whose ‘breastplate’ was righteousness, whose ‘girdle’ was truth, whose ‘feet were shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace’ and whose ‘sword’ was that fabricated by the Holy Spirit, even ‘the Word of God.’  I say, how could such a one enlist to fight in the battle of a Cesar, a Hannibal, a Tamerlane, a Napoleaon, or even a Victoria?-!”

— Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 374)

“Two swords for twelve Apostles?  Truly they are dull scholars who thence infer he meant that they should literally buy two swords to fight with!”
— Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 375)

“Decidedly, then, the spirit of Christianity is essentially pacific.”
— Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 375)

“That the genius and spirit of Christianity, as well as the letter of it, are admitted, on all hands, to be decidedly ‘peace on earth and good will among men,’ needs no proof to any one that has ever read the volume that contains it.”
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 375)

tfanning

Tolbert Fanning

“Need we any other proof that a Christian people can, in no way whatever, countenance a war as a proper means of redressing wrongs, of deciding justice, or of settling controversies among nations?”
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 377)

“The precepts of Christianity positively inhibit war—by showing that ‘wars and fighting come from men’s lusts and evil passions’, and by commanding Christians to follow ‘peace on earth and good will among men.’”
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 383)

“We must create a public opinion on this subject.  We should inspire a pacific spirit, and show off on all proper occasions the chief objections to war.
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 385)

“In the language of the eloquent Grimke, we must show that ‘the great objection to war is not so much the number of lives and the amount of property it destroys, as its moral influence on nations and individuals.  It creates and perpetuates national jealousy, fear, hatred, and envy.  It arrogates to itself the prerogative of the Creator alone, to involve the innocent multitude in the punishment of the guilty few.  It corrupts the moral taste, and hardens the heart; cherishes and strengthens the base and violent passions, destroys the distinguishing features of Christian charity, its universality and its love of enemies’; turns into mockery and contempt the best virtue of Christians—humility;  weakens the sense of moral obligation;  banishes the spirit of improvement, usefulness, and benevolence, and inculcates the horrible maxim that murder and robbery are matters of state expediency.’”
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 385)

“The spirit of war is always a rebellious spirit.”
–Alexander Campbell (“The Spirit of War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1861.  Pg. 338)

“The Christian is not permitted to redress his wrongs by taking vengeance upon the wrong-doer.  He is to commit his cause to Him who judges righteously, to whom vengeance belongs.”
–Alexander Campbell (“The Spirit of War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1861.  Pg. 338)

“Now we trust that no Christian man who fears God and desires to be loyal to Messiah, the Prince of Peace, shall be found in the ranks of so unholy a warfare.”
–Alexander Campbell (“The Spirit of War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1861.  Pg. 339)

David Lipscomb

David Lipscomb

“I freely expressed my views of war and other aberrations from the Christian religion.”
–Alexander Campbell (“War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1846.  Pg. 638)

“But so long as any man admits the dying testimony of Jesus Christ to be true, he must, I contend, give up his ‘Christian wars’ ‘Christian armies,’  ‘Christian navies,’ ‘Christian victories,’ and military glory.
–Alexander Campbell (“War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1846.  Pg. 640)

(speaking of Jesus’ claim that His kingdom is not of this world) “The conclusion of these words is inevitable.  My kingdom being not of this world, my servants cannot fight for me, not even in a defensive war.”
–Alexander Campbell (“War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1846.  Pg. 640)

“If, then, the Messiah would not, in defense of his own life, have his servants to take the sword, for whose life ought it to be unsheathed?!”
–Alexander Campbell (“War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1846.  Pg. 641)

“Indeed, the spirit of war and the spirit of Christ are as antipodal as light and darkness, as good and evil.”
— Alexander Campbell (“War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1846.  Pg. 641)

“Christianity, (is) essentially pacific, conciliatory, and forgiving.  The Saviour of the world is the Prince of Peace, and all his true subjects are sons of peace and advocates of glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, and good will amongst men.”
–Alexander Campbell (“War and Christianity Antipodal.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1850.  Pg. 524)

Barton W. Stone

Barton W. Stone

“His laws are pacific, he is the Prince of Peace—his subjects are the children of peace.  Nothing appears so repugnant to the kingdom of heaven as war…”
–Barton W. Stone  (“Christians Holding Offices.”   The Christian Messenger, 1842.  Pg. 205)

(speaking of Christians and war), “If these things be true, the Christian world is truly in an awful state of apostacy!  It is surely high time to think seriously and reform.”
–Barton W. Stone  (“Christians Holding Offices.”   The Christian Messenger, 1842.  Pg. 205)

“The Gospel aims a death blow at the very root and principle of war”
— Barton W. Stone  (The Christian Messenger, July 1835)

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Wow, quite a body of work from just TWO of the leaders of this movement.  Much more could be quoted from David Lipscomb (a Christian anarchist) and Tolbert Fanning alone.  For purposes of space, however, I thought that these two provided an adequate representation of the many others.

Maybe most interesting are Alexander Campbell’s words at the end of his “Address on War.”  Not only does he lay out a great case for pacifism, he ends by pleading for all of us to promote the cause of the non-violent kingdom of God whenever possible…

“I must confess that I both wonder at myself and am ashamed to think that I have not spoken out my views, nor ever before written an essay  on this subject . . . I am sorry to think, very sorry indeed, to be only of the opinion, that probably even this much published by me some three years, or even two years ago, might have saved some lives that have been thrown away in the desert—some hot-brained youths.

“We must create a public opinion on this subject.  We should inspire a pacific spirit, and show off on all proper occasions the chief objections to war.
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 385)

I presume Campbell would be pleased with this topic for our conversation.

Okay, next post we will have a guest blogger!  Very exciting!

Keep thinking and growing!

God’s Character in Reverse

Welcome.  We are in a little discussion series on whether or not Christians should be involved in violence for any reason.  I’m assuming that most Christians believe that unprovoked violence is wrong, so we will be spending most our time thinking about national violence (military), self-defensive violence (fighting or killing only when your own life is in jeopardy), and protective violence (done to protect another person).

It is a discussion that, apparently, is controversial for many people, especially Christians.

pacifism1Which, I admit, is kind of strange to me.  I obviously expect that many Christians are pro-national violence (at least as it relates to their own country), however it somewhat surprises me that these people are so vehemently opposed to the suggestion that Christ calls us to a life of non-violence.  I understand the general disagreement.  But, were I just to read the Gospels (the story of Jesus), I would assume the controversial issue would be that any Christian might actually think that violence of any kind was okay.

All that to say, from everything we know about Jesus, it seems weird to me that the non-violent position is in the minority, at least in Western Christianity.  But, I suppose that is why we are having this discussion in the first place.  And as Memorial Day approaches, it is a good time for us to think through these issues more fully.

Now there are many Scriptures that are debated and scrutinized in this dialogue, and we will be looking at these texts over the next several days.  Many of these surround God’s involvement in the nation of Israel’s military violence in the Old Testament.   Also, there are many philosophical challenges to Jesus’ way of non-violence that are often mentioned and we will deal with those as well.

However, I’d like to have us start by laying a foundation for all of this discussion somewhere else, before we dig into the rest of the arguments.  So, put aside all of this anxiously awaited fodder and lets begin somewhere more broadly.

In this post, then, I’d like us to look at where we gather our primary pictures and assumptions of God’s character.  In other words, what is our main source for knowing what God is actually like?

Youth pastors, preachers, and well-meaning leaders have told me since I was very little that I get to know who God is best through the Bible.  And while I have found this to be quite true, I have also found that it was not quite specific enough.  Through the Bible, God gives his very specific direction on how to know who He is and what He is like.

Let’s take a look at this direction:

reading-bible-blueIn Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form”  (Colossians 2:9-10)

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  (John 14:9)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (Colossians 1:15)

“No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only (Jesus), who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. (John 1:18)

In other words, God says, “you want to know who I am and what I am like?  Okay, here I am.  I am exactly like this.  Like Jesus.”   He even goes so far as to say that Jesus has made God known, as if until Jesus we didn’t fully know who God was.  Apparently, as good as the stories in the Old Testament are, they didn’t reveal God adequately.

Only the Incarnate Son is an appropriate full-picture of God.

The writer of Hebrews (whoever she was) put it most directly like this:

1In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.  (Hebrews 1:1-3)

Did you catch that?  (I hope so; I underlined it and made it bold).  Jesus is the EXACT REPRESENTATION of God’s being.  Nothing defines God like Jesus.  He is not an approximate picture of God, or just one side or facet of God.  He is not the non-violent side of an otherwise “just war” God.  He is the EXACT REPRESENTATION.

hagia_sophia_vestibule_christ_mosaicNow, because Jesus is the fullest picture of God, when it comes to the Bible, I am compelled to read everything through the eyes of Jesus.   As this applies to our discussion at hand, it means that I must fit any violent stories of the Old Testament (which are problematic) into what I know of Jesus as revealed in the New Testament, not the other way around.

For instance, many people read stories in the Old Testament and glean what they perceive are “attributes” or “characteristics” of God from these stories and then apply them to their picture of Jesus.   In this case, since God involves himself in the violent battles of the Israelites, then we assume that this “necessary violence” is something Jesus would condone (even if it apparently includes mass infanticide and genocide).

However, when God directs us to know Him through Jesus most perfectly, we are called to learn His character backwards.  We learn what God is like by observing and studying Jesus and then read backward through the Old Testament through His lens.

Whatever these violent stories may mean (some are more confusing than others), through the primacy of Christ we regard them as an incomplete and inadequate picture.  Where they contradict what we see in Jesus (war, genocide, even self-defensive violence), we embrace Jesus’ way as the EXACT REPRESENTATION of God, and find some other way to make sense of them.

Interestingly, I believe this is why Jesus’ time on this earth was so long.   Certainly the death of Jesus was important in freeing us from the bondage of our brokenness, but his life was equally as important.  For in his life, and ultimately in his self-sacrificial manner of death (the final exclamation point to how we should respond to violence), God demonstrates his character and what he desires.  He lives and interacts with people and finally dies non-violent in the face of violence to show THE EXACT REPRESENTATION of God.

The problem of violence in the Old Testament is admittedly uncomfortable, but however these scenes are explained, as followers of Christ we are compelled to not use them to create pictures of God that are contradictory to what we plainly see in Jesus.

Ok.  That’s enough for today.  We’ll jump into some more tangible parts of the discussion in the next post.

Happy Thinking…