Thursday, July 23, 2009

Violence and Christ

"Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment -- even to death. If one had committed a murder; the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged. It is, therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death or a Christian soldier to kill an enemy." (C.S. Lewis "Mere Christianity") Both Cole and JH responded to me 2nd amendment posters with a somewhat different view point. I would like to describe here how I look at Violence with regards to the teachings of Jesus Christ and his apostles.

There are four basic views that Christians normally have with regards to violence and war. Most Christians will fall into one of these categories. Some Christians believe in Pacifism, others in Nonresistance, some adhere to the the Just War theory or when violence is just, and lastly some Christians ascribe themselves to a theory of Preventive War or of Preventive Violence.

To the best of my understanding pacifism takes the stance that all war and violence is morally wrong. Pacifist adopt the stance that the Lord instructed us to turn the other cheek and that love even our enemies and we cannot love someone that we kill.

Pacifists adopt the belief that all violence is contrary to the will of God and un-Christian. Pacifists believe that even using violence is self defense is morally wrong. If we cannot absorb the violence on a personal level without resorting to resistance or to retaliation how can we then be proponents of pacifism at a national or international level.

Some pacifists argue that we as Christians are citizens of God's kingdom and we should fore go the secular justifications of the world and we should obey God rather than men. That even though we live in a fallen world we should not be part of that world.

Nonresistance is a view that some Christians take that comes from the concept found in Matthew 5:39 that we should not resist and evil person. Adherents of nonresistance would not go as far being conscientious objectors in war or in violence but rather that we should be non combatants. That we can do good but that we should not personally resist the enemy by taking up weapons and hurting or killing others.

The Just War adherents of Christianity hold the view that an aggressive war or use of violence is wrong but that defensive violence is acceptable and that to support a nation's right to peaceful existence. Those who advocate the use of justified violence or war see pacifists and those nonresistors as not taking scripture out of context and avoid responsibility toward there fellow man. Some would even say that simply surrendering to evil is immoral.

Those who believe in justified violence see a Christian duty toward making the world a better place and that human life is a gift from God and should be protected and that violence is justified if it protects and defends the innocent. They believe as Christians they must make a stand against evil. If we do not stand against evil with more than words then how can we stand against evil in other forms.

Lastly we have those who believe in Preventive War. Preventive war advocates see that we should pursue the cause of justice further than simply defending ourselves against aggression. People who believe in preventive violence see that if self defense is biblically justified then why should we react to violence we know will happen. They would argue why should I wait for the first blow when in certain circumstances that first blow may be the first and the last if that first blow is sufficiently strong. If there is clear and present danger then Violence and war are justifiable. Preventing violence means that sometimes Christians will have to use violence to correct gross injustices, stop the Hitler's of the world, and stop innocents from hurt. As Christians we are bound by a moral obligation to lift the yoke off of those who are victims of tyrants and despots.

However I believe that this discussion should also look at some of the scriptural outlooks on violence. For these outlooks I turned to Keith Stump's article.

"Luke 3:14. "Then some soldiers asked him [John the Baptist], 'And what should we do?' He replied, 'Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely -- be content with your pay.'" John condemned not the profession itself, but the unethical practices associated with it. He nowhere advised soldiers to leave the military.

· Matthew 8:10. "I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith." Jesus thus praised the extraordinary faith of the Roman centurion in Capernaum. Jesus did not oppose earthly
governments or their right to maintain armies, nor participation of the faithful in those armies.

· Matthew 10:34. "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Christ came to bring peace between people and God. But the inevitable result of Jesus' coming is conflict between good and evil on the earth.

· Luke 22:36-38. "If you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one." Thus Jesus warned his disciples of perilous times to come. They would need defense and protection. These are not the words of a pacifist. (This does not conflict with Jesus' forbidding Peter to use a sword in a religious cause -- Matthew 26:52; John 18:36.)

· John 2:15. "So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area...." Jesus violently drove the money changers from the outer court of the Temple. The Greek language implies that he used the whip on the money changers as well as on the sheep and oxen. Physical force can be applied with justice.

· Matthew 5:9. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God." Peace is rarely the product of appeasement. In the words of Billy Graham: "There come times when we have to fight for peace."

· Matthew 5:39. "Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." A slap on the cheek is an insult, but certainly an insufficient provocation for violence. Christians are to go out of their way to avoid conflict and live in a peaceable manner.
But those efforts will not always succeed. What about a more serious injury than a slap? To suggest that Jesus is requiring Christians to be passive victims of violence, abuse and exploitation is taking the scripture far beyond its intent.

Some commentators have also suggested that Jesus' advice involved a special circumstance. If his followers at that time had replied to Roman violence in kind, they would have been swiftly crushed, and the fledgling Christian cause extinguished. It should also be noted that Jesus himself did not quietly turn the other cheek when slapped, but boldly protested the affront (John 18:22-23).

Understood in its own context and that of other scriptures, "turning the other cheek" does not support an attitude of non-resistant pacifism in the global arena.

· Matthew 5:44. "Love your enemies..." Is there an incompatibility between love and the taking of human life? A Christian never delights in the killing of people. But one can actively oppose a criminal without hating him. Through the centuries, devout soldiers with deeply held Christian convictions have shown that it is indeed possible to overcome hate in one's heart and kill without a vengeful spirit of hatred.

"Loving one's enemy" does not mean accepting what he has done and allowing him to avoid responsibility for it. Love sometimes calls upon Christians to restrain an enemy that seeks to harm the innocent. Seeking justice is not inconsistent with loving and forgiving the perpetrators. An enemy can be challenged in love. We can forgive him, but he still has to live with the consequences of his actions -- and sometimes die because of them.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was saying that Christians should not lash out in revenge, returning evil for evil. Vengeance and vindictiveness have no place in the Christian life. But it is not inconsistent with biblical teaching to defend oneself and one's loved ones. Love requires action to protect human life. Self-defense is not revenge, but the restraining of further evil.

· Acts 10:2. This sympathetic reference to the "devout and God-fearing" centurion Cornelius implies an acceptance of the worthiness of a military career.

· Ephesians 6:10-17; 2 Timothy 2:3-4. These and other military allusions of the apostle Paul do not square with a pacifist orientation. A pacifist would never use martial imagery in a positive context. Jesus also used illustrations of war and battle to convey spiritual lessons (Luke 14:31). The New Testament does not renounce using the physical equivalents of spiritual weapons.

· Hebrews 11. Military men are among those recognized as heroes of the faith.

· Romans 12:17-19. "Do not repay anyone evil for evil... If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone... Do not take revenge...." Notice that Paul says, "if it is possible." Christians are to cultivate peace with everyone -- to the extent possible.

Hatred and vengeance must not shape our actions. But there is a difference between vengeance taken with a hateful heart and appropriate self defense. Retributive justice is not the same thing as revenge. There is an appropriate use of force that is neither vengeful nor vicious, and is aimed at seeking peace and justice.

· Romans 13. In this key chapter, the apostle Paul teaches that civil government is ordained by God and should be supported by Christians. Paul was no anarchist.

Those in authority, Paul notes, do not bear the sword for nothing. "He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer" (verse 4).

Here is an unambiguous biblical endorsement of the use of the sword for the maintenance of good order. As long as there are those who are bent on doing evil -- victimizing innocent, law-abiding citizens -- police and military will be necessary to restrain evil and protect the weak and innocent.

God has given human governments authority in the physical sphere. And nowhere in Scripture does one find a prohibition on Christians having full participation in legitimate governmental functions -- including the right to use arms to restrain and punish evildoers.

Spiritual Warfare

The above interpretations are presented to explain the majority Christian viewpoint, not to belittle or condemn other legitimate moral choices.

All Christians, however, can agree on this: Prayer can help resolve conflicts!

Physical warfare exists because spiritual warfare exists. There is an underlying spiritual conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil. The powers of darkness are continually attempting to subvert the purposes of God. The apostle Paul acknowledged this spiritual warfare when he wrote that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood,but against the spiritual forces of evil" (Ephesians 6:12).

The clear mandate for all Christians, therefore, is to pray that evil will be restrained, and that the innocent will be protected. Prayer combats the evil forces ultimately responsible for violence and wars. This victory can be won only with spiritual weapons.

Further, it must be kept continually in mind that God will bless those nations that honor him. (Psalm 33:10-17). The strength of a nation is in its devotion to

God, not in the size of its armed forces. This is not to diminish the need for a strong defense, but to remind us that our ultimate confidence must be placed in God.

There will come a time when the nations of this world "will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks." (Isaiah 2:4). All humanity will seek to live by the peaceable wisdom of God rather than the passions of corrupted human nature.
But that time is not yet.

Christians must not let the promise of the final removal of war distract them from working for its elimination here and now. We must reach out to all humanity, working to change enemies into friends, working to remove the causes of suffering, working to change the world for the better in every way possible.

For some Christians, this effort will involve participating in armed conflicts. Each individual is responsible before God for his own decision in that regard.

Regardless of our personal views and convictions, we can all thank God for the courageous men and women who fight against the evildoers of this world -- and especially those who, at this very moment, face peril far from home.

Many -- like Sgt. Alvin York -- are soldiers of deep spiritual faith, who prove their courage and character by fighting -- and sometimes dying -- for God and country.

They are all heroes.

Alvin York carried a Testament with him and read it through five times during his stay in the army. "It was my rock to cling to," he wrote in his diary. And so it is with countless others who bear arms.

Whether at home or abroad -- whether in times of peace or of war -- those who follow the Prince of Peace must be in the forefront of those working for a better, safer world -- whether their warfare is spiritual, physical or both. "

Also I would like to list some perspectives on violence and war from prominent Christians we can look at.

"Now personally, I'm a man of peace, but this is a defensive war against a destructive evil. As a Christian ethicist, I believe that the most loving thing to do is to seek out the evil perpetrators and their supporters and bring them to justice. If someone comes up and strikes me on the right cheek, I turn the other one. But if someone comes to destroy my family, love becomes justice."
-Henlee Barnette, professor emeritus of Christian ethics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Those responsible for such barbaric acts must be held to account. But we must be guided by higher goals than mere revenge."
-George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury

"So I speak as a Quaker of not particularly good standing.It seems to me that in confronting the forces that attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the United States has no sane alternative but to wage war; and wage it with unflinching resolution."
-Scott Simon, host of National Public Radio's Weekend Edition

"Drape the sanctuary in black and mourn that we've had to kill."
Stanley Hauerwas at a forum at Duke University

There are certain truths in this world. I hope for a better world. I look forward with faith to the coming of our Lord where the Lion shall lay with the lamb, but until that time happens I realize that we live in a fallen world. That war and violence existed antemortally. That there was a war in heaven. I have been commanded not to murder but that does not mean I have been commanded not to kill in self defense or in preventing violence to myself. Yahweh himself is describes as a "man of war" in Exodus 15:3. Abraham in his battle to free his nephew Lot from Kedorlaomer did not leave Lot to live in slavery. Abraham who was by Paul counted to be the father of the faithful went after those who were the aggressor and attacked them and defeated them. If I must use violence to defend my God, my family, my freedom, or my country then I will do so. In taking up arms to defend my self or those I love from violence I will not do so with a glad heart delighting in bloodshed but with a reluctant heart knowing that one day I will not have to wage war any more and that violence will be a thing of the past.