The Gospel and the nuances of violence
Swearengin is an author, emotional & spiritual well-being coach, podcaster and content creator through his social media presence as Unconventional Pastor Paul. He talks religion and politics at times joined by his wife Ashley, a former elected official and community leader. Find him at Pastor-Paul.com.
We've recently marked the 22nd anniversary of 9/11. As we remember our collective pain and the lives lost, can we also take a moment to remember that the Jesus of the Christian Bible was a decided proponent of non-violence even while displaying occasional nuance on the subject.
As we keep in mind that Jesus taught his followers to “turn the other cheek” when struck, can we also be cognizant that he flipped a table and grabbed a whip when he saw those with power using it to oppress those less powerful. When we, as a nation, hold the power to choose to oppress or to bring a powerful spirit of peace, can we critique ourselves in a dispassionate manner? A famous quote states that war is about “killing people and breaking things,” therefore, wouldn’t it be valuable to soberly, and with stark honesty, consider the times our killing and breaking was a righteous battle, and the times it might have felt rewarding in the moment but only created a spirit and cycle of retaliation?
I once heard an American operative who spent many years active in the Middle East say, "America will not be able to solve its problems in the Middle East until we stop blowing things up in the Middle East." He emphasized that as Americans, each time we visit violence upon a predominantly Muslim nation in that area, we prove to the average people there that we are what the extremists say we are and "another hundred families give their children to Al Queda."
That comment pushes back mightily on the narrative we heard after 9/11 that this act of terror was due to hatred against us simply because we're Christian and good.
In no way am I endorsing the actions of the terrorists who committed these acts, nor do I say that victims of that act were deserving of their fate. I'm simply asking us to have an honest assessment of what could possibly have facilitated such an act, and to wrestle with our response as a people, so that we can better evaluate how we should react when scary things happen to us in the future.
The gospel teachings of Jesus were that people who "live by the sword, die by the same." Thus, a follower of the Christian religion or even of sound wisdom might consider if any violent acts we have suffered might be an “eye for an eye” response to violence we have inflicted on citizens of other nations as opposed to times in our history, like the Pearl Harbor attack, that was an act of aggression against us that required a World War II level of righteous response.
Jesus radically taught that someone suited for their cloak should also give their tunic. In first century Palestine, it was illegal to take a person’s inner garment as the lack of warmth provided by the tunic was considered a death sentence. Jesus never taught, “get really good at killing and breaking things in order to save your tunic."
Now this was not a call from Jesus to let oneself be abused; that's never OK. But when biblical wisdom says that simply loving those close in is no big deal, we might want to learn that the mark of someone who's connected to divine goodness is one who can love those they consider enemies of their religious, racial, or nationalistic beliefs. As we see the devastation of wars that were created from our desire to get retribution for 9/11, let us challenge ourselves to consider better ways to reach for peace than being the best "killer and breaker" on earth.
I certainly understand this is a nuanced discussion that we as a nation rarely have. I fear we rarely think about the possibility of our culpability when violence visits within our national boundaries. These are difficult questions indeed as we remember the horror of having our fellow citizens killed; but certainly questions worth considering.