From the outside looking in, you might assume that I have no trouble embracing non-violence as an ideal. Especially since I’m the one who’s throwing together this day long conversation about pacifism, poverty and immigration called the Pacifist Fight Club. But the truth is there’s nothing ‘easy’ about following Jesus in these areas. Or any area for that matter.
Jesus warned us that we should count the cost before putting our hands to the plow – or before taking up our cross daily to follow Him. Why? Because he knew it was going to be anything but ‘easy’ for us.
Can I be perfectly honest with you? I struggle personally with several aspects of the non-violence argument. Not that I disagree with it, but that I wrestle with the full implications of the idea on myself and the world around me.
For example, I’m not sure I believe that a non-violent response to the Holocaust of the Jews would have ended the reign of Hitler. Perhaps it would have, perhaps not. In some ways we’ll never know because it wasn’t attempted. History reveals another solution to the problem that runs counter to the idea of non-violence, so we can only speculate. But, honestly I’m not sure how, or if, a non-violent approach may have worked.
I follow Jesus. This is why I embrace the ideas of loving my enemies and turning the other cheek. Without Jesus I would not hold such convictions, but because I love Jesus and I have made a conscious decision to make Him my Lord, I must obey Him in this area and contend for peace whenever possible.
But, if I’m honest, I’m a very violent person. By that I mean that I was raised on television and movies that glorified violence. I read books – and even wrote my own stories – that used the idea of violence as an effective tool to defeat evil. It’s in my blood in ways I cannot even communicate, or fathom completely.
So, I have an internal struggle within myself as someone who believes in the ideals that Jesus communicated, and is trying to live out that Kingdom principle, but is also aware of inconsistencies in his own heart and life.
For example, I recently read a collection of selected writings from Gandhi on the topic of non-violence. Granted, Gandhi is not a Christian, per se, but he was greatly influenced by the Sermon on the Mount (and read it every day). In one chapter, Gandhi made a bold claim that anyone who desired to follow the path of non-violence must become non-violent in every part of his life. In other words, it is hypocrisy to contend for non-violence as an ideal and still practice violence – or take pleasure from violence – in one’s personal life. Or, to put it another way, the condition of our heart must align with our rhetoric before we can honestly speak about non-violence with any sort of integrity.
This idea cut me to the heart. Because I know that I still find violence entertaining. Whether in a film, or a book, or a video game, violence is still tolerated – even celebrated – in my private life.
Then I ran across this quote from an early Christian writer who said, “But we, deeming that to see a man put to death is much the same as killing him, have abjured such spectacles. How, then, when we do not even watch, lest we should contract guilt and pollution, can we put people to death?” - Athenagoras, A.D. 177
Granted, this brother is speaking of watching the actual death of another person, not a dramatic or simulated death. But notice that he says, “…to see a man put to death is much the same as killing him” and “we do not even watch lest we contract guilt and pollution”.
This idea of our imaginations corrupting our hearts is similar to what Jesus says about lust being equal to adultery, or anger being equal to murder. These desires of our heart are revealed as we imagine the sin, and to regard the sin in our heart is the same as committing the sin itself.
So, even though I firmly stand on the side of non-violence for the sake of following Christ, I must confess to everyone that I have not yet arrived at the place where my entire being is fully surrendered to Christ in the way it should be. I am still praying for Him to wash me clean and to turn my whole heart into one that – like His heart – is free from a desire to do harm, or to see others come to harm.
This isn’t the only area where I struggle. I also don’t know how I feel about allowing others to come to harm in the name of non-violence. I don’t know where to draw the line between helping the poor and enabling their sin. I don’t know how to love homosexuals as Jesus does without seeming to approve of their lifestyle. I don’t know how we can help people who are living here illegally without breaking the laws of the land.
Frankly, there are a lot of things I do not know. That’s a given. But these questions are part of why we’re coming together this Saturday (tomorrow) for Pacifist Fight Club. To ask these questions, and to engage in meaningful dialog, and to challenge our assumptions, and hopefully to draw closer to the heart of Jesus so that He might soften us and change us and reveal to us more about who He has called us to be as disciples.
I hope you’ll join us and please bring your own questions with you. I have learned that sometimes well-formed questions are more useful to us than well-formed answers.