Torn Allegiances

I am watching the “John Adams” HBO miniseries based on David McCullough’s book of the same name, and I am really enjoying it. I’m intrigued by the personal relationships and “bartering” between John Adams and representatives from the other colonies, in order for John to convince them to get on board with the Revolution. I am impressed and encouraged by the relationship between John and his wife Abigail. They were truly a couple who discussed ideas, built one another up, and held onto each other in hard times. John often sought the advice of Abigail through letters, truly seeing her as an equal. I am swept up in the moment, whether it is wondering if a child will live through a disease breakout, or watching anxiously as John gets the votes he needs to move on to the next step of the Revolution. I cheer every time we get one step closer to the founding of America.

And yet I am torn, because I know that soon I will be cheering for people shooting and killing one another. I am torn, because in a very real way, violence was integral to the founding of our country. The colonies fought the Revolutionary War from 1775-1783, and we’ve been fighting ever since. (Think that’s an overstatement? Google “List of United States Wars”, or something similar.) Or we could look at it from a more contemporary point of view-I turned 33 on Monday. We have been at war for over 20 of those 33 years. Well over half of my life, America has been at war.

So I am torn. Torn between my appreciation for our country, and my love for peace.

But then a greater Truth occurs to me. I have an identity that is far more fundamental for who I am than the identification of “American”. That identity is not founded on war. That identity is founded on “Love God” and “Love your neighbor”. That identity is founded on “Blessed are the peacemakers” and “the meek shall inherit the earth”. That identity is founded on “Love your enemy and bless those who persecute you”. That identity is founded on the sacrificial love found in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

See, far more fundamental than being an American, I am a part of the Body of Christ, and that is an allegiance that I can cheer for without reservation.

Getting Married At The Grammy’s

As most of you probably know by now, Sunday night at the Grammy’s, 33 couples, both homosexual and heterosexual, were married in a ceremony, in a faux church, with Queen Latifah presiding. With Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and others singing in the background, the couples exchanged rings.  As the singing and ceremony ended, the crowd was on their feet with applause, cheers and tears.

Monday morning, article after article appeared on the internet, some approving, some calling it propaganda, some calling it anti-Christian and leftist. Many wrote about how they wished a music awards show could simply be about music. Christian responses ranged from being disappointed to calling the whole thing demonic.

I didn’t see the ceremony live, but I have since watched it. My immediate reaction: “Why are we surprised?”

For the better part of at least 40 years American Christians have been pulling out of society, creating our own Continue reading

Didn’t Jesus Tell His Disciples To Buy A Sword? (Common Objections To Nonviolence #2)

Another common objection to nonviolence comes in Luke 22:36-38.  In verse 36, Jesus tells his disciples to sell thier cloaks in order to buy a sword.  That seems like a pretty open-and-shut case, doesn’t it?  If Jesus tells his disciples to buy swords, then he can’t be teaching nonviolence, can he?

But then we have verse 38.  The disciples tell Jesus that they have two swords.  Jesus responds bg saying “That is enough.”  Wait…what?  Two swords is enough for what?  It is certainly not enough for a war, or even a small rebellion.  Heck, two swords aren’t even enough for individual self-defense, considering there were twelve disciples.

So what are two swords enough for?  And why did Jesus tell them to buy swords anyway?
Continue reading

Does Nonviolence Actually Work? (Common Objections To Nonviolence #1)

Perhaps the most common objection to nonviolence is that it simply doesn’t work. Of course, the first question that comes to my mind is, “Work for what?” If you mean “Nonviolence doesn’t get rid of all the violence in the world”, or something along those lines, you’re right. Nonviolence doesn’t work for that. Having said that, there are numerous examples of when nonviolence has worked. Rather than copy and paste examples that others have worked hard to gather, I will simply send you to this website for a timeline of nonviolence throughout history.

The question that must be asked, then, is “What is the goal of Christian nonviolence?” In other words, if we say that nonviolence does or does not work, we have to ask, “Work for what?” We’ve already come close the answer in a previous post. We find the answer in the Sermon on the Mount, specifically Matthew 5:13-16. The goal of Christian nonviolence  Continue reading

Jesus’ Example Of Nonviolence (A Biblical Argument For Nonviolence #5)

We come now to the climax and foundation of the Christian argument for nonviolence—the life and example of Jesus. When we look at Jesus’ life, we find that Jesus’ life and example was extremely nonviolent. In order to see this, though, we should first look at the context in which Jesus lived and the expectations that Jews had for what a Messiah would look like.

During New Testament times, it was expected that the Messiah would be a king who delivered the Jews out from oppression and bring his own kingdom. Many, if not all, Jews expected this to happen through a violent revolution. If you read Josephus, for instance, you see some stories of these Jewish Messiah figures and the revolutions they started. From the Bible and other sources, we know of Judas of Galilee, Manahem Ben Judah and the Sicarri, and Theudas, among others—Messiah figures who all led violent revolts.

We know the story of Gamaliel in Acts 5. The Jewish leaders had become upset at some of Jesus’ followers and planned to move against them. Gamaliel warns the other leaders and says, basically, “Be careful! If this movement is of human origin, it will die out like all the other false messiahs’ movements died out. But if it is of divine origin, then you will be working against God! Best leave well enough alone.” Gamaliel is here referencing other messiahs who had led violent revolts, who had been killed and whose movements had then died. Gamaliel knew that these previous Messianic figures had led violent revolts. (It is interesting, in this context, that at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when he is tempted in the desert, the temptations have to do with Jesus taking up kingdoms and practicing power in ways that more traditionally align with Jewish expectations of the Messiah.)

It is in this context and with these expectations that Jesus begins his ministry. Jesus does claim to be the Messiah, and this is clear because he is eventually crucified, probably for sedition and blasphemy—claiming to be God, and claiming to be king. But Jesus does not turn out to be the kind of Messiah the Jews were looking for. Continue reading

The Command To Love Your Neighbor and Nonviolence (A Biblical Argument For Nonviolence #4)

We’ve just finished talking about loving your enemy. In Matthew 22:34 we read of a time when an expert in the law comes to Jesus trying to trap him. He asks Jesus, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and the second is like it—love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and Prophets hang on this.” Jesus knew that love was at the heart of all the Scriptures, and if he appealed to love, all other laws would be covered in that one.

In Luke 10:25, something similar happens, but with a different twist. In Luke, a lawyer asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus says, “What do the Scriptures say?” The lawyer replies, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says, “That’s right. Do this and you will live.” The lawyer, perhaps looking for a loophole, says, “Well, then, who is my neighbor?” Who counts? Who do I have to love? Who can I get away with not loving?

Jesus answers by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. Continue reading

The Sermon on the Mount and Nonviolence (A Biblical Argument For Nonviolence #3)

As we move in our discussion of nonviolence from the Old Testament to the New Testament, we will start with Matthew 5—the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon begins with a series of blessings that we know as the Beatitudes. In many cases, though, the people who Jesus says will be blessed are the exact opposite of those who seem to be blessed. For instance, “Blessed are those who mourn…”, “Blessed are the persecuted…”, “Blessed are the meek…”, and “Blessed are the poor in spirit…”. Among those who are blessed, Jesus says, are the peacemakers. Not those who use less evil to stop greater evil, but those who actually make peace. With these words and this Sermon, Jesus begins building his Kingdom. But his is an upside down kingdom; a kingdom built not by power, violence and political position, but by mercy, suffering and ultimately love.

At the core of the Sermon, in verses 13-16, Jesus tells us why we are to act and live in a different way. “You are the light of the world…”, Jesus says. As followers of Jesus, we are to look different, to shine out to everyone we come into contact with, so that all men might see God through us. “You are the salt of the earth…”, Jesus says. As followers of Jesus, we are to add a different “taste” to life. We are to preserve it. If we no longer look different than the world, Continue reading

The Prophets and Nonviolence (A Biblical Argument For Nonviolence #2)

In our last post we spoke about creation, and the fact that humanity was created by God, in the image of God. Because of this, all human life is sacred. From here, we move to the prophets, in particular, Isaiah and Micah. The passages we want to focus on are Isaiah 2:2-5 and Micah 4:3-5. These passages are in large part parallel, so we will discuss them both together. These passages are prophecy about what will happen “in the last days”. At that time, the prophets tell us, God will judge between nations and settle disputes between nations. He will teach us (his people) his ways, and we will live in them. God’s people will “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, and they will train for war no more.”

Now, when we hear “in the last days”, we think of what we call the End Times—in other words, Jesus’ Second Coming and all the events that come before and after that. But we have to be careful, because there is a distinction in the Bible between “the Last Day”, and “in the last days”. When we hear about “the Last Day” or “the Day of the Lord’s Judgment”, that is indeed talking about the final judgment. But when we hear “in the last days”, the Biblical authors are speaking about something that has already begun—the Kingdom of God. How do we know this? Well, take, for instance, Acts 2:17, where Peter speaks says that “in the last days” God will pour out his Spirit on people, and then that continues to happen throughout Chapter 2 and the whole book of Acts. What happens “in the last days” has already started happening.

So what is the implication, then? The implication is that followers of Jesus should already be living into the Kingdom of God, not simply holding out and waiting for the Second Coming. What does that look like? Continue reading

Creation and Nonviolence (A Biblical Argument For Nonviolence #1)

Life is sacred. This is a truth that most religions and all Christians would agree on. Life is sacred. But where do we get this from? Why do we believe life is sacred?

We get it mostly from Genesis. There are other Scriptures that support his idea, like Psalm 139:19, but we mostly get it from the creation story. God created everything, and called it good. Then God makes humans and calls them very good. The author of Genesis notes that humans were created “in the image of God”. This sets humanity apart from the rest of creation. Humanity was created in order to reflect God’s image back into all of creation. The fact that we were created by God, in the image of God, is the foundation of what makes life sacred.

Some have questioned whether this fact is negated when sin enters the world. Is life less sacred because the world is now fallen? Continue reading

Thoughts On Nonviolence

As a Christian, I never dreamed there would be so many fellow Christians so vehemently against the idea of nonviolence. Frankly, it disturbs me how tightly we American Christians cling to our guns and how quickly we are willing to let go of any ideas or methods of nonviolence. Many times nonviolence is seen as naive at best, unloving and neglectful at worst. Through many conversations, I have come to the conclusion that many Christian Americans have justified violence through the command from Jesus to love our neighbor. Loving our neighbors, they say, means to violently defend our neighbors’ lives, as though our enemy wasn’t also our neighbor. Even more disturbing than this conclusion, though, is the simple lack of knowledge about nonviolence and its Christian history. Ask the average American Christian if they could name leaders who used nonviolent methods and they would name Martin Luther King Jr., and perhaps Gandhi after some more thought, and then most would be stumped. Ask further what they know about Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi, and my guess is that the details would be fuzzy.

It is this fuzziness that has inspired a new series on my blog called “Thoughts On Nonviolence”. We will explore the ideas and methods of nonviolence from a specifically Christian point of view, although there have been strong arguments made for nonviolence from other faiths as well. The first group of posts will build the Biblical foundation for nonviolence, and we will move on from there, eventually tackling common challenges to nonviolence and alternatives to violence.

I’m excited about this new series. I think the time is ripe for both our country and our religion to reopen the ideas and methods of nonviolence and Continue reading