Thursday, April 23, 2015

Progressive Christianity: Non-Violence

The next chapter in Ben Corey's book Undiluted is 'Undiluted Love'. Here Ben talks about violence and Jesus' call to turn from it. Again, Ben contrasts what he sees in the Bible with what he sees around him.

What Jesus teaches in regard to violence is so radical that it almost doesn’t even make sense. When we serve an Americanized version of Jesus, we tend to subconsciously imagine that Jesus would have said something to the effect of, “Don’t use violence unless you really and truly fear that your life may be in danger.” However, that isn’t what he taught — Jesus repeatedly taught that those who actually “follow” him must adopt a position of nonviolent love of enemies.

Here we see that Ben advocates a strict understanding of non-violence so that even self-defense is not a legitimate justification for the use of violence.

As you would expect, he refers to the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus calls His disciples to turn the other cheek when enemies strike them. Ben reminds us that in that sermon Jesus also calls us to love our enemies and to pray for them.

Ben summarizes his point with these words.

If we want to participate in this something new that God is doing, opting out of these violent systems that so easily influence us is not enough — he also wants us to also opt in to a system of radical, unspeakable, unexplainable love of enemies.

I think that it is beyond dispute that when it comes to responding to insult or offense our American culture has ideas that are very different from what Jesus taught. And, sad to say, the Church has been affected by that culture. The American Church really does need to do better at turning the other cheek and praying for our enemies. That Jesus taught these things is obviously clear. We cannot ignore them.

However, Ben has left out some things. And that really does affect how we are to understand Jesus' teaching.

It's just a fact that Jesus used violence, at times, in dealing with His enemies.

Have you considered some of the things that Jesus said to those who opposed Him?

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. Matthew 23:27

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. John 8:44

Hypocrites? Whitewashed tombs? Uncleanness? The murdering devil as a father to imitate?

Now, some might say that these examples don't qualify as violence. They're just words. Really? Try going up to someone and say what Jesus said. Who wouldn't be insulted (and angered?) by what you say?

But let's follow that logic. They're just words. So, it's okay to use words that attack as long as you don't attack with some physical weapon? You can attack a person's psyche as long as you don't attack his body? Is that it? Too many of us have been deeply hurt by words to agree with that.

But even if following the logic doesn't work there's some Bible to consider. Proverbs disagrees with the idea that using words can't be acts of violence.

​There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18

​Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. Proverbs 18:21

Words can be tools of violence and death, or tools of healing and life. And Jesus used them in both ways. If you deny the evil that words can bring I think that you'll also need to deny any good that can come from them.

Let's move beyond words. There is also that time when Jesus was in the Temple.

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” John 2:13-17

A whip? Which He used on people to drive them out of the Temple? Overturning tables? How is this not violence?

Ben has dealt with only part of the Bible's testimony about the use of violence. It gets more involved when you add these other parts. (And I haven't mentioned God's use of violence in the times before Jesus' arrival.) We can't pick and choose which parts of the Bible we want to apply. Because of the way that it has been written we need to include all that it says to understand any part of what it says. If the Bible had been written as a manual then all we'd have to do is go to the 'V' section and look up 'violence'. But it's not a manual. Its teaching on any topic is scattered among letters and histories and poems and more. We need to know all of that well to understand the Bible's teaching of some topic.

Ben needs to be more sophisticated in his understanding of the Bible so that he can be more careful when he teaches how to live as a Christian. To be sure, our default position is to avoid violence. But there must be times when we are to opt for something else. And understanding when to opt for that something else is not as easy as Ben makes it out to be.