I’m not even sure where to begin with this post. There’s a lot I could write – a great deal has already written about this subject so many times. Too often the subject ends up being just intellectual – another topic to have debates about, but far from living out in the world.
The subject is nonviolence. I think too often we think that nonviolence is great – it’s an ideal – we agree with it in principle. However, it can only be done by great people, like Martin Luther King, Jr., but it’s just too difficult for average people to do.
Nonviolence is a subject I’ve been thinking about lately. You can’t help but think about it the more you read the Bible. I’ve been doing two seemingly contradictory things when it comes to reading the Bible. I’ve been tweeting my way through the Old Testament – posting tweets about Bible passages with a modern spin and some humor (If you are interested in seeing the tweets, you can follow me on Twitter – @laceduplutheran). I’ve also been preaching on the Gospel lessons every other week.
What I’ve found is that violence and nonviolence are addressed in both Testaments. That may surprise you. If you’re reading the Precious Moments version of the Bible, then you missing a good portion of the Bible. The Bible deals with real issues and violence is a big issue in the Bible. Some of it is attributed to God by the writers. And some of it is dealt to followers of God. There’s no getting past that reality.
And then we have Jesus. He comes along and shakes everything up. The norm of humanity is broken. Violence is no longer the accepted way of dealing with people or animals or the rest of creation. And it all sounds so good. And how often do we ignore it because we just don’t think it applies to life in America in the 21st century.
We rationalize the acceptance of violence and our participation in it by saying we live in a violent and dangerous time – because, you know, Rome was totally peaceful, especially after it became an empire. Never mind the persecutions, hanging people on crosses that Rome didn’t like, constant state of war, and worship of the god of war that was the personification of the empire itself. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Michael Hidalgo wrote a very well articulated article on nonviolence that should make many people uncomfortable. Here are three paragraphs that summarize the biggest challenge for Americans concerning nonviolence:
Revenge, self-defense and retaliation are normal for us, and, in many cases, considered necessary. It seems the narrative of an earthly, militarized empire has captured the Christian imagination in America. And maybe there’s another reason we can’t make sense of the early Christians in Rome not fighting back.
You see, the early church was made up of people on the margins, and many of us are people of privilege. In other words, we are far more like the Romans citizens enjoying the benefits of an empire than the early Christians who were constantly persecuted. Like the Roman citizens, we have way too much to lose to go quietly.
Maybe that’s why nonviolence is so threatening. It asks us to be willing to give up everything—all our wealth, power, possessions and influence that lend us a sense of self-worth and security and certainty. Maybe that’s why we get so angry at the suggestion of nonviolence; we are terrified of losing what we have worked so hard to get.
Of course, so often we think that nonviolence only has to do with physical nonviolence too. But maybe another reason that nonviolence is a nonstarter for so many people is that physical nonviolence is just the beginning.
Maybe nonviolence goes far beyond the physical. Maybe it enters into the words we use. I wonder how a Christian’s politics might change if they adopt nonviolence – how would you talk about opposing sides, candidates, ideas?
How would a Christian’s religious practices change if they were to live out nonviolence. How would a Christian’s work change? How would a Christian’s family relationships change? What about going about in public? What about in sports? What about how they are entertained? What they read? How they surf the Internet? Drive? Would making judgements about others change – what others wear, who they support for President, what music they listen to? What about interactions with the poor, those on the edges of society? Someone of a different race, sexuality, economic status, job, religion?
Now I get it. Now I see why nonviolence is a non-starter for so many. It just requires too much from people. You know, like Jesus. And dammit, Jesus doesn’t call us to a life of comfort – what was he thinking?!?
I’m ending this post with a statement that Mr. Hidalgo started with:
There is something that terrifies and angers many Christians even more than the threat of violence: nonviolence.