There have been some great comments on recent posts. Thanks to all who have written in with thoughtful things to say. Even when folks have disagreed with me, they’ve been charitable and reasonable.
I’ll focus today on how Christians might understand needless violence. With pursuits like football, or backyard boxing, or karate, how are we to think as Christians about these things? Let me first say that I don’t think that there is an easy answer here. In other words, I am not assuming that I have everything figured out, and that in thinking about this topic, all gray areas have been peeled away and I am now in a position to clarify the black area and the white area regarding this topic. Simply put–I’m not. There is a significant amount of gray area relative to the topic of “needless violence”. For example, I play pickup basketball. It is not as violent or physical as is football or boxing, but it does involve physical contact, and thus in playing it, I run a higher risk of injury than I do if I simply stay home and exercise. With all of us, then, there are areas that cannot easily be defined as right and wrong; we are in one in this discussion.
Having said all that, I’m still game to try and come up with a framework for thinking through these matters. I start, as I did yesterday, with noting that it is fundamentally a good thing for a man to prepare his body for defense of self and family. I am not a pacifist, and I do not think that the New Testament teaches pacifism, but readers should note that neither do I sneer at it. It is true (however much we might like it to be otherwise) that there is no explicit command (that I know of) in the NT that enjoins us to defend our families with violence. Indeed, there is much material that does call us to peace and non-violent response to provocation and even pain (Matthew 5-7, for instance). With that said, the Bible doesn’t cover everything, and I think it’s legitimate to defend oneself and one’s family from attack. No, that’s too weak. It’s imperative that one do so. If self-defense, after all, is not explicitly commanded in the Word, neither is pacifistic response to attack. This is a gray area, and I think that we have freedom to defend ourselves and our families from attack.
It is important, then, that men take the time and effort to make their bodies ready for defense and also for utility around the home. I don’t have a specific verse to point to here, but it’s a shameful thing when an able-bodied, physically capable man allows his body to become weak and flabby due to gluttony, laziness, and irresponsibility. We may joke about it, but if our homes were attacked, if our wife’s purse were snatched, if our families were threatened with violence, would we be able to respond? In my humble opinion, men should take care of their bodies, exercise regularly, and make themselves strong (to a reasonable extent, of course) for the purpose of protecting and caring for their families. Get a BowFlex, join a gym, run three times a week, do pushups–exercise doesn’t have to be fancy or even that long to be profitable.
Moving on to the matter of needless violence, we’re all going to have to use our minds on this one. We’ll need to think hard about our involvement in pastimes that could hurt our bodies and damage our ability to physically care for our families. There’s no code to refer to here, and the Bible has very little to say on this matter, directly. It is my own personal conviction that I will play sports that have a relatively low degree of contact and possibility of injury. I personally would not box with other men. Concussions can come fairly easily in boxing, and I could not justify such potential injury. I need to be able to use my mind for the rest of my life, and I cannot see how risking long-term injury for no purpose fits in with responsible Christian headship. I am able to get the exercise and exhaust the energy I have in far less dangerous pursuits. If I am involved in a football game, I will always advocate for touch or flag-football. It may be fun to tackle (though it’s not for shrimps like me), but let’s face it: most of us twentysomething guys are getting old, and we can easily get injured from tackle football. With something like karate, I’m fine with it, personally. I don’t know a ton about it, but if one does karate carefully and for the purpose of self-defense, I think that’s fine.
But with things like mixed martial-arts, we’re in another category. Yes, the church needs more testosterone–that is true, and if you read this blog for more than a day, you’ll see that I argue just that, if in a nuanced way (I hope). But we don’t need to lift up bloodletting and physical pain and needless violence to encourage a culture of masculine leadership. If we do so, I think that we’re making a mistake. The authors of the New Testament do not teach us that physical exercise is of huge value–they teach us that it is of little (1 Tim. 4:8). It is possible for us to be so captured by the idea of a masculine pastorate that we go well beyond the categories of the New Testament and make requirements of our leaders that it simply does not make. While encouraging men to take care of themselves, to seek to live long by eating well and exercising much for the benefit of others, and to be robustly, unapologetically masculine, we must be very careful not to exceed scripture and think that our pastors must be capable of beating people up. If that is the requirement, friends, I have clearly misperceived my call.
On the matter of what entertainment we watch, some commenters made good points. I can honestly say that I am probably not as careful on this point as I could be. We should be careful about reveling in violence. In a violence-saturated society, sometimes it’s hard to see that we are doing so. I’m sure that I’m sometimes guilty of this, and those who have pointed out this potential hypocrisy in me and others have made a good and worthy point.
Thanks to all who wrote in. Let’s continue this discussion in days to come.