I’ve had so many people ask me, “Why do you press that one issue so much?” or “Why do you think this is so important? If you would just relax on it a little bit, people may hear you out more.” The issue is violence, or rather, nonviolence. The answer is that I believe it to be at the core of the gospel message. I believe violence to be the primary issue Jesus came to address. I catch so much flack for this and most of it revolves around a thought that if I speak of nonviolence, specifically of it being “a better way” then I must be saying something negative about those who believe violence to sometimes be a “necessary evil” or those who would own a gun with the intent to protect their family if it ever came down to it.
For those of you who have felt that way, I get it. But I would ask you for a second to try to step into my shoes. I once felt as you do. I once believed that God would support our wars. I once believed that people who murdered people should lose their life in return. I once believed that my nation was a nation chosen and blessed by God. At one point in my life I would have been all for keeping a gun in the house for protection. Then something changed.
A friend gave me a book called The Irresistible Revolution, and at first, it offended me. I threw it on the ground and shouted out (to no one in particular), “This guy is a communist!” Several months later, I was reading the Bible, and began to see clearly that Jesus taught a nonviolent way. I went back to that book, picked it up, and my worldview was changed.
So, it seems I now have a severe predicament on my hands. I am a thirty year old white American male who has lived in the south his whole life. Most of my friends and family own guns and say they would use them to protect their families. Yet I now hold to a theology and worldview that says that I cannot kill my enemies. However, every time, without fail that I speak about this, people get offended. I am told I’m being exclusive, or harsh or pharisaical among other things. I truly want to find a way to convey what I believe is at the heart of the gospels without it coming across as me saying, “You are bad if you don’t do this,” yet more and more I am beginning to feel this may not be possible. There are several interesting things I’ve noticed through my debates on facebook.
First, is that tolerance generally only extends as far as you agree with someone. I have heard my conservative friends complain that if they speak out against homosexuality they become the victims of intolerance. Everyone is for free speech until the person speaking is speaking against something they believe in. So for that reason it does not matter how I phrase my posts about nonviolence. People who disagree with me will find them offensive simply for the fact that they disagree.
Next, why, specifically is violence so treasured in America, especially by Christians, when Christians in most other nations seem to recognize so easily that following Jesus means leaving our weapons behind? I believe violence is the spiritual stronghold of my nation. America was founded at the barrel of a gun and it grew through violence in God’s name (manifest destiny anyone?) Violence literally runs through our veins. To lay down our arms would almost be similar to renouncing our citizenship. I can tell you at times, they have felt very similar to me. We live in a place where self-sufficiency is valued more than anywhere I have ever been (and I’ve been a lot of places). So of course, defense is best done by self, right? But what if, what if we Christians began to believe that the power of Holy Spirit was more powerful than the power of a bullet. What if we followed the lead of great Americans like Martin Luther King Jr. and Antoinette Tuff (if you don’t know who she is, type her name into youtube, she’s a hero!), and chose to trust in Holy Spirit to protect us? I know these are gigantic what ifs, but I believe they could be the beginning of us changing our culture.
Next, I have made the mistake in the past of being overly political. I hate the tragedy I have seen happen at the wrong end of a gun barrel so I have advocated a law that would just ban firearms. I realize this was a mistake. I cannot expect people who do not know Jesus to follow the way of Christ. Violence is the way of the world and that will never be changed through legislation. I no longer care about the gun laws in America or anywhere else. You will not see me advocating tougher gun laws in public, regardless of what my heart may desire. However, to my brothers and sisters who claim to be followers of Christ, I will continue to urge you to lay down your weapons and trust in the miraculous hand of Abba. And even if God does not bail us out miraculously, for we know that evil is present and evil people do evil things all the time, would it not be better for our lives to end as we love our enemy than for it to possibly end as we try to kill our enemy? Jesus hung on the cross, tortured, bloody, beaten, naked and mocked. His prayer was, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” As followers of Christ, should this not be our prayer even if we face an enemy with evil intent? Revelation twelve says, “They did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” We serve a God who would rather die, than slay His enemies, if we want to live Godly lives, then should we not feel the same my friends?
Finally, and this is the hard part, for I know that for those of you who vehemently disagree with my stance, if you are still reading now, this will be the tough part. People have said to me that my views on nonviolence are exclusive. This is simply false. If you do not believe or partake in nonviolence Jesus still loves you infinitely. My stance does not in my mind make me more acceptable to God. In fact, if I were to write about my beliefs in the afterlife many of you would probably think I am not exclusive enough! So I will never be the person to say someone is not a Christian or not included in anything because they do not have the right doctrines or because they do not live the right way. God judges that, not me. However, I will say nonviolence is a better way. I will say that supporting war and capital punishment and carrying a gun “just in case” is destructive to us as individuals. It is interesting to me that a friend of mine recently found just me saying, “I have found a better way,” when speaking of moving from violence to nonviolence offensive. Let me be clear to any of you reading this. If you believe something wholeheartedly, you will believe that it is a better way than the thing that stands contrary to it. I would venture to say that pretty much everyone reading this will believe that doing drugs is wrong. At one point in my life, I was a drug addict, but I found a better way. Is that a dis on current drug addicts or some exclusive commentary? No, it is simply my personal revelation that doing drugs habitually was unhealthy and I needed a better way to live my life. So if I encounter a friend who is on drugs, am I being hateful, condescending, exclusive and judgmental if I encourage him to get help for his addiction? No you say? Then why, if I view the problem of violence in the same light, is encouraging my friends to lay down their arms seen that way?
The bottom line is this. I love you. All of you. No matter what you believe. If you think I am full of crap and you never want to read another thing I write that is fine. That is your right. But if our friendship is dependent upon me remaining quiet about something I believe is central to the gospel message, then we never had much of a friendship to begin with. I can agree not to bring it up with you when we are hanging out. That’s understandable. But please know that who I am is someone who is going to advocate for peace from whatever rooftop I have. I hope you can understand my deep love for you even though I may disagree with your right to bear arms. Sure, as an American you have it, but as a Christian, you should lay it down. For your own benefit. Peace and love friends. Talk to you soon!