I’m the kind of Christian who believes that, when Jesus said Love your enemies, he probably meant Don’t kill them. I’m also the kind of Christian who thinks that the discernment of the early church was correct when they concluded that military service is incompatible with following Jesus. For those of us who worship a man who rejected the role of a military messiah, and who died at the hands of the imperial state, participation in state violence should be off the table.
It’s a live question. From my perspective Christian nonviolence is self-evident, but this is a minority viewpoint within the wider Christian community. Most modern-day Christians accept that violence and even warfare between nations is something that followers of Jesus can participate in.
And I get it. I understand why millions of my fellow believers see no alternative but war and bloodshed as the lesser of two evils. Just like the ancient Roman state that killed Jesus, the modern empires we live in do bring about a certain kind of peace. It’s definitely preferable to live in a strong, centralized state that has a monopoly on violence than it is to live in a chaos of perpetual warfare. Peace and security count for a lot – probably more than most first world citizens truly appreciate.
Still, I am convinced that God has more in store for us than the peace and tranquility of empire. Jesus invites us into a life where we can truly trust in God to be our strength and protection. The way of Jesus is dangerous for sure, but it’s also full of vibrance, beauty, and passion that simply can’t compare to the sad security of violent domination.
That’s not to say that the arguments of fear aren’t persuasive. Perhaps one of the most effective challenges to pacifist conviction is to simply ask the question: What would you do if someone broke into your house and was threatening your family?
This question contains so many assumptions – about violence, masculinity, and my ability to project force onto others with predictable consequences. And yet, despite all the problems I have with this question, there’s a reason people keep asking it. It strikes at something important, a challenge that must be answered: Am I willing to sacrifice my loved ones on the altar of Christian nonviolence? Am I really willing to allow my family to become martyrs along with me?
I think that anyone who answers this question easily hasn’t really thought enough about it. I can take risks with my own life, but what business do I have endangering the lives of those under my care? If I can protect my loved ones, isn’t it worth using violence?
My honest answer is: I don’t know. I just don’t know. I haven’t ever been in a situation where I’ve been presented with this horrible dilemma. I pray that I never am.
One thing is for sure: I know that, in such a situation, I couldn’t stand by and do nothing. I’m not capable of simply being a passive spectator while evil people abuse and slaughter my family. Honestly, it’s hard for me to imagine anyone having the callousness to do nothing while such terrible, personal injustice is being committed.
At the same time, I have hope that I am becoming a person who is open to a power that can guide me in such moments of crisis, in ways that go far beyond my natural capacities. I have experienced the Spirit that Jesus promised, who will guide me in those times of extremity. When I’ve gone to the breaking point and beyond, God is there.
I want to be a person who trusts the power of the Spirit to find a creative, loving response to any situation – even those that terrify me.
If you ask me whether I would use violence to defend myself or others, my human nature says yes. Without a doubt. But my identity in Jesus calls me to find a more creative, beautiful, loving way. A way that demonstrates the power and justice of God. A way that imitates Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.
I can’t even fathom what it would mean to live this way in a moment of crisis. But with God’s help, I want to be ready to find out.
How about you?