Last Christmas, Reed began a series on Theophiliacs about Non-violence. It’s a really good series; you should read it if you haven’t done so. This is one of those issues that haunts me. It wakes me up in the middle of the night. I brood over it. The question of whether or not a Christian should use violence will not leave me alone. So, here a few further ideas concerning Christian non-violence that have been rolling around in my head recently. Maybe if I write them down I’ll sleep better tonight.
Note #1: I recently had the opportunity to stay at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Centennial, CO. One morning, I was waiting for the rest of my group to wake up and get ready to go (I was on a church trip with teenagers), and so I decided to avail myself of the church library. One of the books I picked up that morning (I had to wait for a long time) was John Howard Yoder’s What Would You Do? In this book, the esteemed Anabaptist theologian explores the “big” question that pacifists and advocates of non-violence are asked by those who wish to confound, confront, or shame them. There are variations, but the basic question is this: “What if someone was trying to attack your _______ (insert wife, sister, mother, child, etc., etc.,), would you just let your loved one be killed or would you do something violent to stop the attacker. Yoder notes that the question is designed to elicit an emotional rather than a rational response. He exposes the presuppositions that the questioner almost always has when asking the question, namely that there could only be one possible outcome (a bad one) if the person to whom question is posed would refuse to act violently. Yoder then systematically lists all the outcomes, and weighs their probability of their being negative or positive. Here they are:
1. Tragedy: Your loved one is killed, while you watch. This, as far as the questioner is concerned is the only outcome available to those who reject violence. But, in actuality, there are far more likely outcomes, especially since not acting violently rarely means not acting at all.
2. Martyrdom: 2a:Your loved one is martyred for the sake of the peaceful Gospel of Christ and meets his/her reward on the Last Day. 2b: You are martyred by non-violently coming between the assailant and your loved one, and you receive your reward on the Last Day.
3. Another way out: 3a: A natural way out. The police come, the assailant changes his mind, trips, drops his weapon, or one of a million other possibilities happen providing a nonviolent solution to the conflict without the loss of your loved one’s life. 3b: A providential way out, Yoder chides his violence-believing fellow Christians for their lack of faith in the possibility of God intervening in a situation, especially when the Christian involved in committed to being faithful to the peaceful Gospel of Jesus.
4. Attempted killing of the assailant: 4a: Successful: There is loss of life, legal trouble, guilt, retaliation, etc., etc. 4b: Unsuccessful: There is a high probability that the average person will be unsuccessful in an attempt to violently intervene in this sort of situation. Unsuccessful attempts of violent intervention almost always lead to an escalation of violence, more unnecessary loss of life is almost always certain.
When weighed, especially from a Christian perspective, the possible positive outcomes from acting non-violently (2a, 2b, 3a, 3b) far outweigh the possible negative outcomes of acting non-violently (1)., and the likelihood of something positive happening from non-violent action (2a, 2b, 3a, 3b) is much greater than the likelihood of good things coming from violence (4a, if you can count any loss of life as a “good thing”).
This all reminds me of Pascal’s Wager, anyway, it’s an interesting book.
Note #2: I have begun to wonder if Christians interested in acting non-violently can learn something from Buddhism. I have questions. If I understand things correctly (and there’s a fair chance I don’t) one of the ethical tenants held by some Buddhists is to “do no harm.” Is this the same as doing no violence? It’s a tricky question. Can you, for instance, spank your child (a seemingly violent act), but do no harm to the child (if it theoretically teaches him a lesson and makes him a better person, yadda, yadda, yadda)? A Buddhist monk developed the martial art of Aikido as a way to defend oneself without doing harm to the attacker. Is this type of self-defense permissible to a non-violent Christian? It’s not exactly “turning the other cheek,” is it? I’d be interested in hearing other’s opinions on this, especially those who know more about Buddhism than I.
Note #3: Episcopalians (in true Episcopalian form) do not necessarily agree on, or have a consistent stance on the issue of Christian non-violence. An example of this is in the curriculum for the Sunday School class that I’m teaching. One of the units is on non-violence. A lot of time is spent in this unit examining what Scripture says, and after coming down firmly on the side of non-violence, it uses the examples of Martin Luther King and Gandhi to explore how non-violence can be put into practice. The very next unit, is about self-defence. In this unit, students are encouraged to kick at the shins and groin, and elbow the face and neck of any one who even remotely looks like they could possibly be capable of rape or kidnapping. Not surprisingly, disagreement on this issue in the Episcopal church has been going on for a long damn time. One of the bright examples of Christian non-violence in the Episcopal church has made his way onto the Church Calendar, however. This coming Friday is the day we remember the Blessed Paul Jones, bishop of Utah 1914-1918. Here’s a good article about him, but I’ll give you the short version: he was very outspoken about how WWI (and all wars for that matter) was “unchristian” and was consequently forced to resign his bishopric. He was an amazing man with an amazing witness to the peaceful Gospel of Christ; you ought to read up on him or at least give him and especially his cause a thought this Friday; you can rest assured I’ll be thinking about it.
Merciful God, who sent your beloved Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Raise up in this and every land witnesses, who, after the example of your servant Paul Jones, will stand firm in proclaiming th Gospel of the Prince of Peace, our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. AMEN.