Is Violence Really Not the Answer?

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.


Gun Violence

Often times this blog is more of a place to allow me to air some thoughts that I feel are worth at least thinking about. I understand that not everyone will agree with all the thoughts, and, truly, that’s fine with me. As long as we can have a civil discussion (which I have had with several of you), I welcome disagreements and counter-thoughts that help me better understand the world around me. The news has been quite full lately of some pretty serious issues, and I’d like to write out some thoughts briefly. Also, I do not put the authority of ministry behind these thoughts, only the weight of a human, who like Israel, is constantly wrestling with God and what it means to be human, made in God’s image, and rescued by Jesus.

We are all, with regularity, terribly saddened by the deaths of so many at the hands of firearms – in schools, in homes, homicides, suicides. Before you start contacting me, hear me out. It may not be a regulation issue, even though we can do a much better job of that. It may not be a mental health issue, although we certainly need to do a better job at handling that. It is a sin issue… and that’s where the issue gets muddy. Is there sin in the hearts of those who would cause violence to innocents? Yes. Is there sin the hearts of some who look the other way when there are ways to stem the violence? Also, yes. Sin is the problem, and lies both in those that commit violence and in the idolatry of some who uphold their own rights and money instead of looking for ways to protect the vulnerable. I do believe in self-defense. I do believe there is merit to the second amendment and the heart with which the Framers wrote it.

Can I do anything to change things? Not really. I can meditate and prepare myself on how to survive situations. I can continue to train myself to use the firearms I do own. I can make sure my daughter understands firearm safety and gains a healthy respect for guns, the same as with knives, heavy machinery, and anything else that can end a life. I can prepare my children’s ministry for the possibility of an attack. I can pray for those who suffer loss. I can donate to support those who have lost loved ones. I can do all of these things, same as you.

If nothing else, use this as a moment to think about how you approach this issue. You may come out at a different position than I do, and that’s OK. What’s important is that you think, evaluate, pray, and have a rational and Scriptural foundation to your transformed, renewed mind that should be that of Jesus.

Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit?

Over my years as a minister and as a minister in training, I have come across the sense that a large portion of the church is afraid of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps rightly? When the Holy Spirit moves there is power, there is transformation, there is growth. When the Holy Spirit bursts out on someone, sometimes they seem like a different person. When the Holy Spirit enters the picture, suddenly all of our carefully constructed categories seem to fall apart as we find ourselves in the presence of something both familiar and strange, mysterious and known.

Growing up in the Southern Baptist branch of the church as well as the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ (comment if you need some background on that one) the topic of the Holy Spirit was often kept to the book of Acts. Outside of that, we kind of danced around the topic unless a teacher was particularly passionate about the work of the Spirit, and then we’d get some extra meat, which was exciting. (Sorry vegans for the meat metaphor… it is biblical, though?)

Some background on myself: I am in so many ways a product of the Enlightenment (via Modernity.) Honestly, Post-Modernism (or however many “posts” are in that by now) gives me headaches and exasperation, but I will not deny it’s had its own impact on my thinking. That said, I like evidence. In a lot of ways I wholeheartedly relate to Thomas when he states he needs to see the wounds or he won’t believe. I would be right there with him. You have to show me. So I tend to be very skeptical about the supernatural in general – along with what seems like a majority of Protestants. Maybe the Enlightenment hit Protestants harder than we realized. (No “maybe” about it, but benefit of the doubt and all that.) Perhaps we reacted too strongly to a Catholic mentality of miracles. Perhaps we’re scared of what it means that the Holy Spirit is still at work today.

When I run into fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who have had a spiritual experience different from my own, can I dismiss their experience out of hand? Can I state without a hint of humility that what they attribute to the Holy Spirit is all in their head?

The few spiritually charged moments I have had in my life I can count on one hand. Maybe I’m just thick-headed, or maybe I’m not open enough to the possibilities? Despite this, I have a hard time looking at a brother or sister in Christ who has had a spiritual experience and thinking they’ve made it all up. Now, there are some interesting discussions we can all have about what it means to have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the signs of that, and maybe discuss baptism in depth to really get to the heart of the Holy Spirit’s work there, too.

The Holy Spirit is our guide into the truth and toward Jesus. The Spirit is our comforter and advocate when we don’t know what to say. The Spirit is our prompter when we are called to give an answer, and the very presence of God that resides in us and in the church like God’s presence was in the Temple.

Are we willing to let the Spirit do its work? Are we willing to listen when the Spirit speaks? Are we willing to live in the mysterious familiarity the Spirit brings?

Naive White Male Makes Discovery in Foreign Land

Several times in my life I have found myself in a position of making a purchase in a market in a foreign country. In one of these countries I knew a smattering of the language, and the other, I found myself at a severe disadvantage knowing almost nothing about the language and less than I’d like about the culture at large. However, in both countries I found myself expecting everything to be cheap. I found myself valuing things as less than they would be at home. In some cases this was true, based on basic exchange rates, but in others I found myself surprised. (Now, some of this is my inherently trusting nature that renders me hopelessly naive at times.)

Today I wondered about that. What caused me to value someone else’s artwork or handiwork as less? Was it simple cultural familiarity bias where I assumed other countries were further behind? Was it pride? Was it relying on hearsay and assumptions built up over a lifetime? Was it a combination of all of these? Regardless, I was humbled and realized how much more I needed to grow in my understanding and appreciation for other cultures outside my own.

I wonder if this is how the disciples felt whenever Jesus raised up someone who, in that culture, was valued less. How did the disciples feel when they came back to find Jesus chatting with a divorced, unmarried, Samaritan woman? (What judgments are you unconsciously passing on her yourself?) How did the disciples react when Jesus touched a man with a skin disease – an unclean person? What did the disciples say when Jesus said that a Roman centurion, one of the hated, oppressive gentiles, had more faith than anyone in Israel? The disciples suddenly found themselves in a seemingly foreign land realizing that people had way more value than they thought.

We struggle with this ourselves today in America. How much to we value the immigrant, the foreigner God commanded his people to respect and care for? How much do we value women, and all of the struggles they face? How much do we value those with a different skin color, with all of the present and historical abuse they’ve suffered?

In our families, how much do we value our children? Do we show it by our actions, by our forethought, by our considering their dreams, hopes, and fears? Jesus raised children to a new level when he said, “Let the little children come to me.” He made them a priority, much like God did in the Old Testament – funny how that works, right? God taught his people that children are blessings, gifts that don’t belong to us as parents, but are gifted to us to raise, guide, disciple, and protect. Children are more than children, they are human beings, too. I know this sounds cliche, but a reminder of the value of children is needed on occasion.

How do your actions show what and who you value? How do your actions teach your kids who you choose not to value? What might you change about your habits to show your children to value all people?