We will fight for peace, but we will do no violence.

Monday, July 28, 2014


“Hamas started this war,” said Anthony. “The soldiers of Israel must smash their skulls and break their spines.”

When he said that, a standing-room crowd of pastors and activists and politicians rose to its feet, waving the twin flags of the countries God loved.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Should Jesus Inform Our Christianity? by Rachel Held Evans

The myth of redemptive violence—the notion that we can kill our way to peace— is a powerful one, and I'm constantly amazed at how it sneaks into our culture, the Church, and even my own heart.

We saw it stated rather overtly when Sarah Palin, a Christian, declared to a roaring crowd at the National Rifle Association annual meeting that true leaders “put the fear of God in our enemies,” and that if she were in charge, those enemies would know “that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists."

The myth was perpetuated again last week by President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Al Mohler who, in response to Clayton Lockett’s botched execution in Oklahoma, wrote a post for CNN entitled “Why Christians should support the death penalty.

“In a world of violence,” he argues, “the death penalty is understood as a necessary firewall against the spread of further deadly violence.”

Violence to stop violence to stop violence to stop violence.

And on and on it goes...

I found it telling that in making his case for the Christian view on capital punishment, Mohler does not once consider the teachings of Jesus Christ. Instead, he supports his position by primarily citing Old Testament law, which he neglects to mention prescribes the death penalty not only for murderers, but also for adulterers and disobedient children.

And it is ironic that Mohler, who has been a tireless advocate for young earth creationism on the basis that the straightforward and direct reading of [Genesis] describes seven 24-hour days,” does not seem to think that a straightforward and direct reading of Jesus’ teachings regarding violence is necessary.

In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus confronted the myth of redemptive violence head-on:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

And when Jesus was given the opportunity to participate in the execution of an adulterer, he refused, challenging those who had gathered around the woman to drop their stones and walk away.

Funny how it’s easy to favor a “straightforward reading” of the text until the text says “love your enemies.”

Since he’s a brother in Christ, I’ll give Mohler the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn’t quote Jesus because he believes Jesus’ teachings regarding violence are intended to be applied exclusively at the personal level without affecting public policy. (While Old Testament law still applies?) He’s entitled to that opinion, of course, but I do wish he would stop accusing Christians who don’t interpret Genesis 1 as a literal, scientific text as having a “low view of Scripture” when his piece reveals that his own literalism is as selective as the next guy’s.

(Reality check: We’re all selective about what we interpret and apply literally from Scripture. And most of us are doing our best to honor the meaning of the biblical text while also considering its original context, culture, genre, and language. Disagreements don’t have to reflect a high view vs. a low view. Most simply reflect different views.)

Still, when we have folks declaring that support for torture and the death penalty reflect the Christian position on justice, I think it’s worth asking a seemingly obvious question: To what degree does Jesus inform our Christianity?

A recent Barna poll showed that only 10 percent of practicing Christians in America believe Jesus would support the death penalty for criminals. And yet a much higher percentage (42 percent of Christian Baby Boomers and 32 percent of Christian millennials) support the death penalty themselves.

That’s a pretty significant disconnect.

And I suspect it exists because we have created a culture in which Christians tend to see Jesus as a sort of static mechanism by which salvation is secured rather than the full embodiment of God’s will for the world whose life and teachings we are called to emulate and follow.

Basically, we believe that Jesus died to save us from our sins, but we haven’t yet embraced the reality that Jesus also lived to save us from our sins.

We haven’t embraced the reality that following the ways of Jesus leads to liberation and life more abundant - not only for ourselves but also for the whole world.

Instead, we tend to think of the Sermon on the Mount and the stories of the gospels as interesting backstory to Jesus’ march to the cross, where the penalty for our sins was paid in full. We flatten out the words of God-In-Flesh—(God eating and drinking and walking and teaching and laughing and crying among us)— and give them equal (or often lesser) value to those of the apostle Paul or Old Testament law.

But the Bible isn’t flat. The Bible reaches its culmination, indeed its fulfillment, in the person of Jesus Christ. So it seems like we ought to listen to what he had to say….and what he’s saying still.

But here’s the rub:

It’s easy for me to spot Al Mohler’s Sarah Palin’s inconsistent application of Jesus’ teachings, but the minute I turned to the Sermon on Mount to load up with proof texts against them, I was hit by this zinger:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell."

That word, ‘raca,’ basically means “idiot,” and when I think of all the times I’ve muttered that word under my breath in response to folks with whom I disagree, it’s a little convicting.

….Okay, a lot convicting.

(Seriously. Every time I go to the Gospels to mine them for a theological point to use in an argument, I end up walking away saying, "Dang it, Jesus! WHY!?!?")

The truth is, Jesus doesn’t always inform my Christianity either. In fact, sometimes I’m not sure I want to follow Jesus. I'm not sure it’s possible to be a healthy, well-adjusted person and go around loving your enemies and giving without expecting anything in return and turning the other cheek. For all my well-intentioned advocacy against the death penalty, I'm not certain I'd oppose it if the person on death row had killed my mother or my sister or my husband.

But if Jesus is really God-in-flesh, if he really shows us the way to live, then I need the Church to help me figure out what it looks like to do that faithfully. I need the Church to help me wrestle with these teachings, not ignore them.

And I think that begins by putting Jesus at the center, not the periphery, of what it means to be a Christian.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why I Object to Israel’s Military Campaign

[Even as Hamas fires missiles at my city]

Even today – when rockets are exploding above the city I love most in the world – even now, I oppose this military operation wholeheartedly.

I would still like to believe that this whole thing is a misunderstanding, and that if my own people would only give some more thought to the reality in the occupied territories, they would change their minds overnight. I want to believe that they don’t fully grasp the nature of the occupation, which is why they are so enraged by whatever the Palestinians do. This mindset leads to yet another violent Israeli response, which only paves the way for the next escalation. I do not know if this line of thinking is more naïve or more patronizing on my part, but what other explanations are there?

I keep running into Israelis who don’t know, for example:

  • That we still control Allenby Bridge (which connects the West Bank to Jordan)
  • And with it each entrance and exit of every Palestinian into the West Bank
  • That the Israeli Defense Force still operates in Area A, supposedly under the full control of the Palestinian Authority
  • That there is no 3G network in the West Bank because Israel doesn’t permit the Palestinian cellular providers to use the necessary frequencies
  • That we imprison hundreds of Palestinians without trial for months and years
  • Or any other factual, undeniable aspect of the occupation.

If all this is unknown, then perhaps this is all just a big misunderstanding.

Most of the time I try to correct misconceptions and argue over such details, but if I had to explain the whole thing briefly, I would use the following metaphor:

We’ve built two giant prisons. Let’s call them “West Bank Prison” and “Gaza Prison.”

The West Bank Prison is similar to a minimum-security facility, where prisoners get to run their own affairs as long as they behave. They are entitled to vacations from time to time, and once a year they are even taken to the beach. Some lucky people get below-minimum-wage jobs in nearby factories, and when you consider the low prices in the prison canteen, it’s actually not a bad deal.

Gaza, on the other hand, is a maximum-security facility. It is difficult to visit and impossible to leave. We allow in essential food, water, and electricity so that the prisoners don’t die. Apart from that, we don’t really care about them—that is unless they approach the prison fence, or the “forbidden” perimeter, where anyone who wanders too close is shot, or if they try to throw something over the fence.

The prison facilities now hold a total of 3.5 million people—an entire nation—all sentenced to life. Under such conditions, prisoners can turn to desperate measures, such as suicide missions, digging long tunnels, or swimming miles and storming our tanks with their old rifles.



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Potential Beauty That Could Come From Dying For An Enemy by Benjamin L. Corey

I sit down to write this post I’m realizing that I’m probably going to get branded as “that guy who writes about nonviolence”, but I can think of no core aspect of the message of Jesus that I’d rather talk so much about. Nonviolence is one of those utterly insane ideas that becomes ridiculously beautiful and exciting once that light bulb goes off in your mind.

As I’ve said before: there’s nothing more offensive in the teachings of Christ than the simple phrase “love your enemies”. It’s a phrase that defies common sense to the point that even most Christians I know, or talk to online, don’t functionally believe it should be followed– even if they do claim to believe the inspiration or inerrancy of scripture.

People reject this aspect of the teachings of Jesus for a variety of reasons. I think this is primarily because it’s a doctrine that’s been so neglected under the era of Christendom that when someone brings it up, it just sounds like complete hippie nonsense. One of the main ways some of my critics push back against the doctrine of Christian nonviolence is through questions such as, “How could it bring glory to God if your enemies kill you?”, “What good are you to anyone if you’re dead?”, or “It would not honor God to get shot by a guy who is stealing your television”. I’ve heard about seventeen different ways of asking the same question.

These questions appear to be driven by a few underlying assumptions that seem to be rational, but are revealed to be false when we consider what I believe is the core purpose for a Jesus follower. The false assumption is essentially this: “if I die before my time, God’s plan plan for my life will be thwarted”, or perhaps “I am no use to God or anyone else if I’m dead”.

And, I get it. The idea of dying for one’s enemies is crazy– and I’d reject it to if it were not for the fact that this is precisely what the guy who kicked this whole movement off did with his life. In Undiluted (you can pre-order your copy here), I write that it’s one of those things that makes me actually believe Jesus, because his message is too crazy to not be true.

Unfortunately, I think both assumptions are completely untrue when you look at the big picture of what we’re really here for. Instead of the above assumptions, I start with two different ones:

1. The first (central) purpose of my life is to follow Jesus, whatever that looks like.

2. The second purpose of my life is to invite others to do it too. One of the last things Jesus asked his followers to do was to go into “all the world” and create more followers, so that this movement keeps reproducing itself, and God’s Kingdom grows.

With those two new assumptions, let’s look at why I think dying for an enemy, instead of killing an enemy, could potentially be more beneficial to the goal of Kingdom growth:

Let’s say an intruder broke into my house to steal my television or raid my medicine cabinet. I accidentally walk in on what’s happening and end up getting attacked. Instead of reaching for something that could be used as a weapon, I pass on all opportunities to kill my “enemy”. However, let’s also say that passing on those opportunities costs me my very life– I die, and they live.

Here’s two things that could potentially happen that would play right into my master plan to keep inviting more and more people into this Jesus thing:

 1. The person who killed me, while sitting in their jail cell, is going to have a lot of time to think about it. In doing so, my hope would be that they’d start asking some questions about why I didn’t try to kill them when I had the chance. As they dug into my story, they’d find out the reason why I didn’t try to kill them was because I believed with all of my being that they had infinite worth and value to God– and that they were worth dying for. They would then potentially see that I was filled with a radical, self sacrificial love for them which I hope would spark a new question: “why the hell did that guy believe that about me?” This question would lead them to only one answer: Jesus.

 Furthermore, if I killed my enemy, I might potentially seal their fate of separation from God (if there’s no postmortem redemption), but dying for my enemy would give them more time and opportunity to be reconciled to God through Christ. I have already been reconciled– which means the loving and unselfish thing to do would be to sacrifice what was left of my years here, in hopes that this would help my enemy be reconciled before the end of their years.

By trading my life for theirs, an enemy could potentially spend the rest of their natural life asking the question, “why did he love me so much?” and every time, the ONLY answer it would lead to would be, Jesus. If I am thinking “long-game” for the Kingdom of God, that’s the right answer even if it seems like sheer foolishness in the eyes of the world. However, Jesus taught that whoever looses his life for the sake of the Kingdom will find it again (and that the opposite is true too)– and call me crazy, but I believe him.

2. The second potential impact would be the exponential discussion about Jesus that could potentially happen far and wide. It’s not often that someone willingly gives their life in place of an enemy’s life– and when they do, it generates some buzz. Just look at my hero, Dirk Willems (see image at top of article). Dirk was an Anabaptist and was sentenced to be burned at the stake (we Anabaptists tend to get that a lot). However, he escaped his holding cell and tried to escape– with his jailer fleeing close behind. When crossing a semi-frozen river, Dirk made it across safely, but his jailer fell and and would have died in minutes. Instead of continuing on to freedom and life, Dirk decided to save the life of his enemy– who, as it turns out, didn’t return the favor. Dirk was burned to death on May 16, 1569. But guess what? We’re still talking about Dirk Willems in 2014, and when we talk about him, we’re forced to talk about Jesus! If I were to give my own life in order to allow my enemy to live, people would talk about it because that’s a pretty crazy thing to do. But when they did, they’d be forced to talk about this Jesus guy who I’ve given my life to. That could be potentially huge for the Kingdom– perhaps even bigger than anything I could accomplish while still living.
Is it true that dying for an enemy is a poor use of your life? Not at all! In fact, if our dedication is to building the Kingdom and making it as big and as crowded as we possibly can– over and above temporal self preservation– giving our lives for our enemies might actually be one of the most practical and valuable things we could do.
But yeah, I know it all sounds crazy. Jesus is sorta like that sometimes

Read more:

Monday, July 21, 2014

Disarm My Heart, by Mary Emily Briehl Duba

It was February of my senior year in college.

I was studying and working abroad in northern Thailand,
but my heart was not present.

Back on campus,
my dearest friendship was falling apart.

We had had a terrible falling out,
just before I left,
and now—in my absence—things were getting worse.

Each Monday, my day off, I would travel into the city to use the internet.

I would read what my friend had sent during the week—read it with anger and suspicion,
ready to be hurt by whatever it said,
and I would reply,
sending the same sting straight back across the Pacific Ocean.

I said things in those emails,
I simply could not have said in person.

Had I been looking into her eyes,
standing in her presence,
I could not have said such hurtful things.

But in the disembodiment of email,
and in the physical distance that lay between us,
I felt protected.

I felt as though I were playing a character,
that, somehow we were writing a novel together,
or a screenplay,
and that this hateful dialogue would not be later held against me.
it would not cause real harm.
It did. 
Sin prays on disembodiment.
Sin says,
Why come face to face?
Why be that vulnerable to one another?
This September
saw a landmark in the war in Afghanistan.
It marked the most significant use yet,
of Drones.
Drones are unmanned planes,
remotely controlled from military bases, like the one in Creech Nevada.
These drones collect live video footage
          and send it back to the control station,
                   where the pilot—from the safety of his or her office—
          can drop missiles
without ever being in physical danger.
It is disembodied warfare.
Why come face to face?
Why be that vulnerable to one another?
*        *        *
In response to the horrific violence of World War II,
Albert Camus wrote,
“Hope only remains in the most difficult task of all:
          to reconsider everything from the ground up,
so as to shape a living society inside a dying society.”
A secular French philosopher,
          Camus nonetheless articulates for me the meaning of the incarnation:

Jesus is God reconsidering everything from the ground up.
Seeing our world of violence,
          God reconsidered the whole creation.
Choosing not to act with wrath or terror,
          God imagined a way of making peace with humankind.
God entered the dying world from the ground up
as the new Adam—a being of the earth—
          the firstborn of a new creation.
God entered human life,
          to bring us the embodied presence of the reign of peace.
The Incarnation—God dwelling among us in Jesus—is God’s
          supreme and subversive act of peacemaking.
Into a world that looks to military might to secure the peace
          and save the people,
                   into a region of the Middle East occupied by the Roman army,
          God entered human life as a dependent, vulnerable infant.
This confounded the ancient expectation that God would send
          a warrior-king,
and that Israel’s salvation would take the form of military victory
over its enemies.
God subverted the occupying powers with the weakness of a baby.

In Jesus,
God says:
I come to you face to face
I desire to be vulnerable with you.
In response repentant and joyful response to this God,
Christians embody the ancient practice of peacemaking and nonviolence.

We do not do it well.
But don’t we hunger for it?
          For communities where peacemaking is a way of life?
I invite you to share a practice of peacemaking with me.

It is a simple practice,
a prayer to say before leaving the house each morning, perhaps,
          or before responding to an email,
                   or anytime sin whispers in your ear:
          Why come face to face?
Why be vulnerable to one another? 
The prayer is this:
God of Peace, disarm my heart.

Disarm my heart. 
It is the prayer I prayed last winter,
          five years after I last spoke with my friend,
when I received word that she had given birth to her first child.
It is the prayer I prayed,
          as I knit a sweater for that little one,
                   that soft and vulnerable body,
          to welcome him into this world.
And this fall,
I received a thank you note in the mail.
It read: 
“I love putting Peter in your sweater when we walk in the chilly evenings—I feel
like I’m wrapping him up in a warm, safe hug.”
God the Incarnate,
knows that Peace comes in bodies.
In bodies, brought face to face,
in bodies vulnerable to one another.
And so, for the gift of the Incarnation,
          the gift of Peace made possible in the messiness of embodied life,
we say:
Thanks be to God!
Morning Prayer at Valparaiso University on December 8, 2010.
Original title: “The Word of God for the people of God”

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Challenge To Hamas, Israel and The Christian Church by Mike Rivage-Seul

The entire world stands aghast at the cruelty of Israel’s vicious and illegal collective punishment of Palestinian civilians for the perceived “crimes” of Hamas – the group of Palestinian resisters committed to the expulsion of illegal Zionist occupiers from the Palestinian homeland.

Today’s liturgy of the word implores the Zionists to abandon their butchery.

It also challenges Christians to denounce such ethnic cleansing and to withdraw the last vestiges of support for a group that more resembles their former Nazi persecutors than the “People of God” celebrated in the Hebrew Bible.

At the same time, today’s readings support rabbi Michael Lerner in cautioning Hamas against its policy of violent resistance. Though many of us would agree that Hamas’ tactics are understandable and often justified by principles of self-defense, today’s Gospel reading identifies them as counterproductive and ultimately harmful to the very people Hamas seeks to defend.

Instead, Jesus suggests that violent resistance should be replaced by greater reliance on more subtle and patient strategies. Such strategies are reflected in the three basic themes of today’s readings. They emphasize (1) the power of God expressed in leniency and forgiveness, (2) the futility of violent response to unwanted foreign presence, and (3) resistance that takes the form of patient trust that God’s forgiving power will prevail. In succession, the themes suggest challenges for Jewish Zionists, Palestinians, and Christians.

Begin with the first reading from the Jewish Testament’s Book of Wisdom. It is particularly relevant to Zionist Jews. The reading says explicitly that God’s power is not expressed in violence but in leniency to all, Jew and non-Jew alike.

That theme is repeated in today’s responsorial psalm with equal relevance to Zionists. There God is described as belonging to all nations. The divine Spirit, as Paul insists in today’s second reading, dwells within all humans regardless of nationality. It is slow to anger, good, forgiving, abounding in kindness.

From this, Jewish wisdom insists that the “People of God” must in turn be kind, lenient and forgiving to all – presumably even to their worst enemies. There is no room here for exceptions involving the indigenous tribal people of Palestine.

The second theme of today’s liturgy enjoys direct relevance to contemporary Palestinians. Whether they are Muslims or Christians (and many are Christians), they also recognize the Bible as the Word of God. I point to Palestinian relevance because this second theme addresses the question of resisting illegal occupation.

That is, Jesus’ parable of the weeds planted by an enemy in a landlord’s field can be read as addressing the Roman occupation forces encumbering Israel during Jesus’ lifetime. [According to John Dominic Crossan, Matthew’s allegorizing of Jesus’ parable – making it about the end of the world – is more reflective of the situation of the Jewish diaspora (following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE) than of the actual revolutionary situation of Jesus’ own day.]

In occupied Israel, the suffocating Roman presence was as unwelcome, alien, and destructive as weeds in a garden or field. It was like the presence of basically European Zionist colonizers who have encumbered Palestinian land since their colonial invasion in 1948.

The question was how to deal with such odious foreign presence. Zealot revolutionaries had their answer: Uproot the weeds here and now. Take up arms; assassinate Romans and their collaborators; drive them out mercilessly. Be as cruel and vicious as the Romans.

Jesus’ response was different. As a non-violent revolutionary, he could surely understand the more apocalyptic strategy. After all, much of his teaching expressed sympathy to the Zealot cause which included land reform, debt forgiveness, and expulsion of the hated Roman occupation forces. Many scripture scholars even identify possibly five members of Jesus’ inner circle as Zealots themselves.

But Jesus’ Parable of the Weeds is more prudent and sensitive to civilian casualties than the strategy of the impatient Zealots – or that of Hamas.

When the landlord’s workers ask, “Should we uproot the weeds?” Jesus’ landlord answers: “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.”

In other words, Jesus agrees with El Salvador’s Oscar Romero and with Brazil’s Dom Helder Camara that revolutionary violence, though understandable (and justifiable on the grounds of just war theory), is imprudent at the very least.

This is because when faced with a vicious, overwhelmingly armed oppressor (like the Zionist state) resistance inevitably leads to state terrorism – to the war crime of collective punishment impacting women, children, the elderly and disabled. At the very least, that’s why Jesus eschews Zealot violence.

How then respond to illegal occupation like Rome’s in the 1st century or Israel’s over the last more than 60 years?

Jesus’ response? Be like mustard plant, he says. Be like yeast in flour. Both puzzling recommendations are relevant not only to Palestinians, but to Christians who wish to help their brothers and sisters in Palestine against the Zionists-turned-Nazis.

First of all think of the puzzlement that must have struck Jesus’ listeners. Jews didn’t have much use for yeast. They preferred unleavened bread. Neither would any farmer sow mustard seeds in her field or garden. The mustard plant was like kudzu – itself a kind of weed that eventually can take over entire fields and mountainsides while choking out other plants weeds or not. The mustard plant was unstoppable.

So Jesus is saying:

ü * The Romans are weeds in your garden.
ü * Don’t try to uproot them.
ü * That will only lead to slaughter of the innocent.
ü * Rather become weeds yourselves – like the mustard plant which is much more powerful than simple Roman (or Zionist) weeds.
ü * Resist the Romans by embodying the Spirit of God that is slow to anger, good, forgiving, abounding in kindness.
ü * Only imitation of Wisdom’s God can defeat the evil of imperialism.

What does that mean for Christians wishing to express solidarity with Palestinians against their cruel oppressors? At least the following:

ü * Reject U.S. militarism in general as counterproductive, since fully 90% of the casualties it inflicts in war are civilians.
ü * To bring about change, be instead like the yeast a homemaker puts into 60 pounds of flour, “infecting” the greater culture by non-violent resistance rather than seeking to destroy enemies.
ü * Recognize the Zionists for what they are: an outlaw European “settler society” illegally occupying Palestinian land.
ü * Take sides with Palestine’s indigenous tribal People.
ü * Recognize them for what they are: “the Jews’ Jews” – treated by Zionists in the same way the Nazis treated Jews in Germany.
ü * Petition the U.S. government to withdraw its support of Israel (more than one million dollars per day) unless the Zionists obey UN Resolution 242 and abandon the occupied territory while tearing down the odious Wall of Shame protecting the illegal Zionist settlements.
ü * Support boycotts of Israel’s products by not buying them and by urging our churches and places of business to do the same.

Surely Jesus’ Way of non-violent resistance, forgiveness and love of enemies will strike many (non-believers and believers alike) as unrealistic. But according to the faith we Christians pretend to embrace, Jesus’ Way is God’s way.

But then perhaps we think we’re smarter and more realistic than Jesus -- or God?

- Mike Rivage-Seul