As a child, I was often told the phrase, “Violence is not the answer,” to one conflict or another I might be having with my brother, or a friend, or a classmate. It seemed so wise at the time, that we, as children, were being entrusted with learning how to use diplomacy, develop trust, and become peacemakers. I can tell that the teaching had a great and lasting effect on me, especially when the phrase, “Well, if you’re gonna bomb them, go ahead and annihilate several cities so that we don’t drag this stupid war on for years,” vomits out of my mouth.
Violence has been in the news a ton recently. We have more mass shootings today than ever before, with very little constructive deliberation on how to curb it. (Notice I said “constructive.” No end of debate.) We’re hearing more threats of nuclear action now than we have since the slow decline of the Cold War back in the late 80s. Depictions of violence continue to find more and better ways to show the realism of what happens to a human body when it encounters knives, guns, bombs, fire, drowning, etc. And from what I can see… we all (American Christians, in general) seem ok with all of this…
I’ve been wrestling with violence and Christianity’s relationship with it a lot lately. To tip my hand, I have been working through the immense “Crucifixion of the Warrior God” by Greg Boyd, which seeks to lay out a hermeneutic (interpretive method) for dealing with the violent passages of Scripture. It’s challenged me to go back and really give a good, long, hard look at those passages that do depict violence and ask the questions, “How does this reflect God? What does this say about God’s story?”
I’ve also been thinking historically about Christianity’s relationship to violence. In its earliest days, violence was not something particularly loved by the church… mainly because it was the victim of a good deal of it. The early church had no say in the government’s use of violence, and so peaceful solutions seemed to be the choice of the day. However, once Christians got the reins of power and had some say, the view seemed to shift. (As usual, this is a broad oversimplification of a process of transition that took place over centuries and had multiple stages in its evolution.)
Today’s church looks like it has some choices to make in regards to violence. The question lingers, though: what happens when the church loses its influence on the American government? (Or any government for that matter.) How will the church view violence then?
I’m going to be honest and say I’m not sure where I fall anymore on the use of violence. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with going through a period of examination and thinking through each aspect of the argument. Is there a time when violence is justified? If so, what are the criteria? Who gets to make the call? How do we wrestle with the depictions of violence in Scripture?
For families, it is worth thinking about how you talk about violence with your children. Talk through the shows and media that take in: “What other options could the characters have chosen to solve this problem?” Ask questions to get kids thinking critically and creatively on how to solve problems. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll be the generation that finds a way to solve these problems we’re still working through today.