Violence: The Christian Response

Even though the year 2013 has already began, the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut is still fresh.  Now many people, including myself, have opined to one degree or another on how to curb the violence.  While I am not for the wholesale ban on gun ownership in America, I have already spoken out in a blog for better regulations on gun ownership and restrictions on assault weapons.  I also want to go on record and say based on my understanding of Romans 13:1-5 that I believe the government has God-ordained authority to employ armed security/police forces in public places, including schools, as a means of protection and crime prevention.

Having said all of that, I believe we are still missing the bigger issue.  I maintain that the problem of violence is “neither a lack of gun-control nor a lack of well-armed citizens” (see this blog).  Rather, the problem of violence is a spiritual issue that lies deep within our hearts and it’s a problem that we as a whole society own.

However, I want to push harder on this to and say that the problem of violence is exasperated because we live in a culture of violence.  That is, I sadly surmise, violence has become part of the American cultural ethos and for the most part, the cultural ethos of American Christianity too!  It’s not just the violent crimes that take place (and thankfully are on the decline), violence is part of the daily rhetoric and entertainment.  Even in the political process, militaristic violence is so easily championed as an expedient that we can hardly envision a way of life without violence.  And when we appeal to common sense or conventional wisdom as the rationale for such violence, it only seems to suggest that we have subconsciously convinced ourselves that violence is natural to creation rather than a departure from God’s creative-redemptive intent.

America needs the church to be what the church alone can be!

So when it comes to a response to the problem of violence, the loudest voice is that which calls for more arms.  In fact, from where I sit this voice has great support from many Christians, something I regard as gospel failure.  The American society already has enough voices advocating for more arms, so the last thing society needs is the voice of the church lending support to this cause.  Though likely not so welcomed, what America needs from the church is for the church to be what the church alone is called to be and that is to be the voice of the gospel that exemplifies forgiveness, love, peace-making, and reconciliation.  This is for the church to do what it is admonished to do in scripture and put off the old, putting on the new self instead, including a new mindset, and speak truthfully as one body (cf. Eph 4:22-25).

Back on October 2, 2006, Americans, myself included, were horrified to learn that a gunman entered an Amish school near the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, killing five children before killing himself.  However, in this case, the Amish Christians responded by speaking as all Christians should in the wake of such mayhem.  That is, rather than advocating for a violent resolution, they advocated with the voice of gospel-wisdom.  Ironically, this garnered a sentimental response from many Americans (and a book about the story titled Amish Grace).  But what if the Amish response was the normative response of all Christians?

What if the overwhelming response of Christians to tragedies like Newtown, Aurora, Fort Hood, Columbine, etc… was to be a voice promoting forgiveness, love, peace, and reconciliation, leaving the rest of Americans to be the advocates of violence if they so choose?  Too many Christians seem too eager to dismiss such a forgiving, loving, peace-making, reconciling response as impractical but has such a response ever really given such a chance?  More importantly, does the church have the faith to patiently wait for God too work in such a response?  The church does still believe that God works through the message of the cross, despite how foolish or offensive it may be to the society at large?

Like I’ve said earlier, I am not opposed to the state exercising its right to place armed security in schools and other public places.  But what if society heard from Christians — in conversations, Facebook chats, etc… — the same response the Amish offered to a mass shooting? How might that begin to change society’s ethos of violence?  How many potential future mass shooters might that disarm?  After all, there is more than one way to stop bad people with guns and it’s called the way of Jesus, the gospel way, the way of forgiving, loving, peace-making, and reconciling!  How many mad gunmen will it stop is something we will never know unless and until such a response is given a chance.  But then again, to give that a chance requires the church, from the recesses of deep faith, to echo the voice of truth rather than the voice of American culture.

15 responses to “Violence: The Christian Response

  1. Rex, is this a gut feeling or do you have anything that backs this up? “violence has become part of the American cultural ethos and for the most part, the cultural ethos of American Christianity too!”

    Second, to what level do you think that is a problem in American Christianity? Is it on the level of just assenting to or condoning violence as a legitimate means of preventing or defending against criminals? Are you saying Christians have embraced this more thoroughly than just on an intellectual level and actually act out in violent ways that show this culture has crept in not just in attitudes but in actions? I am wondering how far you are willing to take that assertion and I am wondering at what point it is a problem because you have said in the past that violence should be condoned in some situations. So where do you draw the line?

    • Good questions.

      As for your first question, I said that “I sadly surmise” meaning that I don’t have definitive research to back up the claim but as I listen as an observer of culture, violence is everywhere. That is, it is a part of society’s rhetoric that fills up social media, entertainment, and public praise. For example, why did the Toby Keith song “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” gain such popularity? Musically, it’s not anything spectacular but it sings what many Americans want to hear (“we’ll put a boot in your a**…courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue).

      To the second question, I think it is a problem for American Christianity because many of the Americans who champion violence in various ways from everything to a Facebook wall post to an uncritical support of violence happen to proclaim themselves to be Christians. Most Christians appear to be “just-war” advocates since they are not pacifists. Yet, I’ve heard both Lee Camp and Stanley Hauerwas say that most of the Christian students they teach in ethics classes come to college never even hearing the criterion that makes for a just war or justified violence. And that is because it is just often assumed that all American warfare and the way that warfare is conducted is morally right. So that is all some of the reasons why I say that violence is a part of the ethos of American Christianity…it is an accepted part of our thought and speech, which always proceeds action.

      Where do I draw the line? That’s a good question that I wish I had an easy answer for but I don’t. As a Christian, I am very uncomfortable with the just-war position as it is not only conceived by a human – Augustine – who had become as much as a nationalist as he was a Christian but it is also, in my estimation, devoid of the cruciform way of life that Jesus calls his disciples to follow him. Having said all that, I don’t think I am a true pacifist, even though I want to champion non-violent/peace-making approaches to problems. I’m not a true pacifist because I think it is better for us to do situational ethics rather than draw some universal ethical principle, such as pacifism, and then broadly apply it (which can never be done in the trenches, so to speak). If an assailant entered my home and tried to hurt my family, I would try my best to stop him. I don’t keep a loaded gun in the house but a baseball bat can stop a many of people from aggressing. And I recognize the God-ordained right of the state to wield the sword for the sake of law-enforcement (cf. Rom 13). On the other hand, I won’t support the state in war-making just so it can protect and/or advance a kingdom of this world. Nor will I engage in war-making to advance the cause of Christ as the earlier Christian crusaders did. So where does that leave me and where do I draw the line? I don’t know. I don’t think I am a 100% pacifist but I am extremely reluctant to champion any form of violence as means of justice. And believe me, I wish I was not so conflicted on this issue.

      Any ways, I hope that answers your questions and thanks for your comment.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

      p.s., I don’t know why but every time you leave a comment, it automatically gets dispensed into my spam folder. So if you leave a comment and it doesn’t appear after a while, let me know so that I can check the spam folder.

  2. Because of posts and discussions such as this, I decided not to see “Django Unchained” even though I’ve always liked Tarantino movies and had been greatly anticipating this one. Rather than focus on policy changes, individual Christians need to examine their exposure to violence and determine whether or not they have become desensitized to it. I have a hard time picturing Jesus advocating his disciples enjoy leisure time by going to see “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

    • My wife and I stopped watching movies like the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” along time ago. I think it was a decision we made after we saw the movie “Scream” which just seemed to glorify such macabre violence. But lately I have even stopped watching other movies which seem only to promote the myth of redemptive violence. For example, I am a big fan of Bruce Willis but so many of his movies, especially his “Die Hard” movies (which I love watching), glory in violence and I do think that is subconsciously desensitizes us to violence while convincing us that violence is the only solution.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  3. The culture of violence starts early with young boys, even in Christian homes. “Most” of little boys, big boys, and even dads favorite XBox games are very violent. I worry about my own grandsons but when parents don’t see it as a problem there is little I can do but pray.

    Almost all of the mass killers have had a history of years of violent video games. They should be banned.

    • You are so right! There are a couple of games we have banned our children from playing on the computer (even though those games appear on websites that are designed for their age) because they involved attacking and killing a target. I do not want my computer to serve as my children’s training course in how to become a domestic terrorist.

      I agree also that some of the violent video games need to be banned. The problem we run into, which you are surely aware of, is the right to free speech. But in our own households, we are the ones who thankfully determine what is allowed.

      Grace and peace,

      Rex

  4. Rex, something that I have been thinking about (and Paul Smith articulated on his blog) is how much America’s existence and position as a superpower have depended on weapons.

    How different would things have been if the native Americans had had guns instead of the Europeans? What if the African tribes had had better weapons than the slave traders? America (both the U.S. and the real sense of the word) would not exist as we know it.

    The U.S.’s present situation came from being able to amass better weapons than our enemies during the 20th century. Consciously or subconsciously, we know that the luxuries we enjoy are due to being able to subdue our enemies via violence.

    Doesn’t it seem natural that guns would be a part of this country’s ethos?

    • That is a great point. I have no disagreement. That is also why I find it so difficult to celebrate in the festivities of the 4th of July…because I know that independence was gained through a violent revolution (which also, based on my understanding of Romans 13:1-5, is against the will of God).

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  5. James Schaffner

    “what America needs from the church is for the church to be what the church alone is called to be and that is to be the voice of the gospel that exemplifies forgiveness, love, peace-making, and reconciliation.”

    Beautifully written, Rex. Far and away the largest volume of hatefulness, political vitriol, anger, and gun clamoring on my facebook feed comes from the mouths of Christians. I can’t think of a much more heartbreaking scenario actually. Are those the fruits of the Spirit referred to in Galatians 5? I certainly don’t think so. Likewise when we read Ephesians 4, we often stop with verse 29 and assume that “letting no unwholesome talk come out of our mouths” must be referring to swearing (which surely it is). But we ignore the stark truth of verse 31 which calls us to do away with far more than 4 letter words: “31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” By the measure of Galatians 5 and Ephesians 4 the Church (or at least large portions of it) has lots its vision.

    It would be truly tragic for Christians to continue fostering a culture of rage and fear as a surrogate for the gospel of reconciliation.

    Blessings,
    JS

    • Thank you for the comment. I too see a lot of unChristian talk being posted on my Facebook wall by Christians and that is a gospel tragedy. Also, besides the Galatians 5 passage you referenced, you also referenced a passage in Ephesians 4 but originally wrote Romans 4. So I took the liberty of correcting for you. I hope you don’t mind.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  6. James Schaffner

    I did mean Ephesians. Thanks for looking out for my typos. :)

  7. Kel makes a really great point. As an individual, wishing to live in God’s image, one must make changes in his/her own life. It can be challenging, and it means making sacrifices, but violence has become desensitized. When I have children, I hope I remain aware of that fact, and raise them with little exposure to violent images, films, games etc.

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  9. Robbie Mackenzie

    Great post. I recently visited Columbine High School and had some similar thoughts.

  10. Pingback: The Gift of Peace « Peter’s Patter

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