What does the birth of the baby Jesus 2000 years ago have to offer the violent, troubled world we live in? Or what would Jesus say to the NRA?
I want to suggest — A lot. A whole lot.
Jesus entered the world from a posture of absolute vulnerability — as an unarmed, innocent child during a time of tremendous violence. The Bible speaks of a terrible massacre as Jesus was born, an unspeakable act of violence as King Herod slaughters children throughout the land hoping to kill Jesus (which the church remembers annually as the massacre of the Holy Innocents).
Perhaps the original Christmas was marked more with agony and grief like that in Connecticut than with the glitz and glamour of the shopping malls and Christmas parades. For just as Mary and Joseph celebrated their newborn baby, there were plenty of other moms and dads in utter agony because their kids had just been killed.
From his birth in the manger as a homeless refugee until his brutal execution on the Roman cross, Jesus was very familiar with violence. Emmanuel means “God with us.” Jesus’s coming to earth is all about a God who leaves the comfort of heaven to join the suffering on earth. The fact that Christians throughout the world regularly identify with a victim of violence – and a nonviolent, grace-filled, forgiving victim — is perhaps one of the most fundamentally life-altering and world-changing assumptions of the Christian faith. Or it should be.
So what does that have to do with the NRA? Underneath the rhetoric of the gun-control debate this Christmas is a nagging question: are more guns the solution to our gun problem?
Everything in Jesus’s world, just as in ours, contends that we must use violence to protect the innocent from violence – which is the very thing Jesus came to help us un-learn through his nonviolent life and death on the cross. Surely, we think — if God were to come to earth, he should at least come with a bodyguard… if not an entire entourage of armed soldiers and secret service folk. But Jesus comes unarmed. Surely, we think – if God were about to be killed he would bust out a can of butt-kicking wrath, but Jesus looks into the eyes of those about to kill him and says, “Father forgive them.” The Bible goes so far to say that the wisdom of God makes no sense to the logic of this world, in fact it may even seem like “foolishness” (or at least utopian idealism).
When soldiers come to arrest and execute Jesus, one of his closest friends defensively picks up a sword to protect him. Jesus’s response is stunning – he scolds his own disciple and heals the wounded persecutor. It was a tough, and very counter-intuitive lesson: “The one who picks up the sword dies by the sword… there is another way.”
That lesson that Jesus taught his disciple is as relevant to us, and the NRA, as it was the early movement of Christians in the first century. Violence will not rid the world of violence. You do not use swords to get rid of swords or guns to get rid of guns. There is another way.
Many Christians have begun to speak of Jesus as an interruption to the “myth of redemptive violence,” the assumption that we can use violence to get rid of violence or that we can destroy a life to save a life. The myth of redemptive violence has many ugly faces. It teaches us that we can kill those who kill to show that killing is wrong. It teaches us to live by the law of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” a law that Jesus firmly spun on its head, saying, “You’ve heard it said ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth… but I tell you…” There is another way. Killing to show that killing is wrong is like trying to teach holiness by fornication. The cure is as bad as the disease.
At one point Jesus even weeps over the violent world he lived in, lamenting that “they did not know the things that would lead to peace.” The fact that Jesus carried a cross rather than a sword has something relevant and redemptive to offer our violent-possessed world. After all, the Bible has a lot to say about loving enemies, and “Thou shalt not kill,” but doesn’t even mention the right to bear arms.
So let’s imagine. What would Jesus say to our nation, where these are things are true:
- 10,000 people die from gun-related homicides each year, that’s one Sandy Hook massacre a day, every day
- there are nearly 90 guns for every 100 people
- there are over 51,000 licensed gunshops (and 30,000 supermarkets)
- guns that can shoot 100 rounds a minute, and are only designed to kill, are still legal
- other than auto accidents, gun violence is the leading cause of death of young people (under 20)
- 20,000 dollars a second is spent on war
There is a reason we talk about “Peace on Earth” so much around Christmas. There is a reason why we talk about Jesus as the “Prince of Peace”. He consistently taught that we can disarm violence without mirroring it, and that we can rid the world of evil without becoming the evil we abhor. So let us recommit ourselves to Peace this Christmas season and new year — in honor of Jesus, and in honor of the holy innocents.
Shane Claiborne is the co-founder of The Simple Way, and is a bestselling author, prominent Christian activist, sought-after speaker and recovering sinner.
I dont know, I wonder what he would say about all the wars fought in his name,
Claiborne’s comments provide some valuable reminders about the ubiquitous nature of violence in a fallen world. However, I’m at a loss as to exactly how to put his thoughts into practice in the context of mass shootings.
Claiborne states “Everything in Jesus’s world, just as in ours, contends that we must use violence to protect the innocent from violence – which is the very thing Jesus came to help us un-learn through his nonviolent life and death on the cross.” Is he suggesting that placing a gun in the hands of a “good guy” who might use it to stop someone engaged in mass shootings goes against our calling as Christians? Is he confusing arguments against capital punishment with arguments against placing armed security in schools?
I’m not sure what Jesus would say to groups like the NRA, the Democratic Party, the Congressional Black Caucus, or the National Right To Life. Such suppositions are tempting, but using Jesus’ words to target a particular political ideology tends to say more about us than Him.
Christians need to talk about these things. I’m glad Claiborne is a part of the debate.
Jesus was also born to be tortured to death. He knew the score. He didn’t need a gun or a body guard because his Father told him how he would die. He agreed to it to save souls from Hell.
I have no such assurances. The rapist who is threatening to do unspeakable things to me, also doesn’t care about God’s plan or the 6th commandment.
The Jesus of the Gospel had a very straightforward message and tended to be silent on any other issues, either religious or political. He never addressed Rome’s occupation of the Holy Land either with the Jews or the Romans themselves. He never spoke out against the death penalty even as He Himself was sentenced to death. He didn’t denounce the politics of Zealots or Sadducees or even Pharisees (though He had plenty to say to all of them otherwise), all of which were represented among His Apostles.
There was always room at the table for all manner of opinions and beliefs. Christ’s message was for Jews and Gentiles, pagans and criminals and prostitutes. I think Jesus’ response to the NRA would be the same as His response to any political issue of His day: “What has this to do with me?”
All this “violence begets violence” talk is rubbish. Bad people do bad things. Good People (including good gun owners) will never use their arms for the sake of violence. You talk like the mere presence of a gun will break out in a fight. How many children did Herrod massacre—and how many guns did he use?
I think he would quote Leviticus 18:21 and His followers would write Acts 7:43. This worship of the gun and violence for violence has become America’s Molech (Moloch) and the NRA Molech’s high priest. Just look at the blood offering we give the gun god every day!
The NRA has went beyond any honest political group or lobby – it is the promoter of violence for violence which is anti-Christ in nature.
People would be so surprised at what Jesus really thought about political issues!
While I appreciate and agree with the overall thrust of this essay, I would note that the argument would be stronger if you didn’t front load it. e.g. Certainly Jesus came into the world vulnerable. We all come into the world vulnerable. And certainly Jesus was born into a violent age just as every person is born into a violent age. So, nothing is gained by noting that.
Second, while I am happy for this to have happened, the family of Jesus was forewarned about the coming danger of the massacre of the innocents. He was carried away to safety while others were left to die at the hand of Herod’s violence. Again, I rejoice at that but that fact cuts at the root of your claim of Jesus’ “absolute vulnerability”. Many victims of violence do not get that ‘heads up’ and are thus ground up by it.
Jesus was not a ‘homeless refugee’. To me, and I may be wrong, that phrase sounds more like a rhetorical hedge than it does a statement of fact. Jesus was not ‘homeless’ and he was not a ‘refugee.” If you are speaking in reference to Bethlehem, he was more like someone who lacked a reservation than a homeless person. And if you are referencing Egypt, he was not a refugee in the sense that most take that. His refuge was in the hands of God who faithfully ‘carried’ him there and back.
Your way of framing the ‘way of Jesus’ may be characterized as “utopian” because it is “utopian.” Perhaps I am misreading you but you say that we cannot get rid of violence by means of violence. That is true enough. However, are you implying that we can get rid of violence by means of non-violence? While I want to and try to embrace the ‘way of Jesus’ in my own life (and do subscribe to that way as a non-violent way) I do not think that this will somehow rid the world of violence. If anything it brings violence to the surface. It exposes the violence implicit to the world system.
Jesus was not a ‘victim’ of violence. As the Gospel of Mark (and other texts) makes clear Jesus’ death was a part of God’s design. His references that he ‘must’ go to Jerusalem and undergo rejection and suffering suggest that there were larger reasons for his suffering, that these reasons were compelling, and that they had to happen.
While I certainly want to identify more with victims of violence than the perpetrators of violence and have on many occasions, the essence of true victimization is its senselessness. Unless one wants to argue that all ‘victim crimes’ are a part of a larger plan, then one cannot draw such a close parallel between Jesus’ death and the death of victims.
My friend was murdered by a man who stalked her. He surprised her and shot her. Unless I can demonstrate in advance of her death that it ‘had to be’ then she is not of the same cloth as Jesus whose death was a part of God’s purpose and design. As Jesus and Ghandi and King and a host of others have demonstrated embracing non-violence can get you killed AND lead to the increase of the expression of the violence which always lurks beneath the surface.
The reason for “the way of Jesus”, at least in mind, is to direct us and others to the ways of God. I don’t think Jesus ever implied that turning the other cheek would somehow “work’ to keep the offender from slapping the other one.
Your claim about 10,000 homicides per day being equivalent to 1 Sandy Hook per day is bogus. There is no comparison between the murders (e.g.) that occur between two drug dealers and the murder of innocent children in what is supposed to be a place of safety, even sanctuary is a false equivalence.
I am not arguing these points simply to be picky. I am arguing these points because I want us as Christians to make better arguments without feeling the need to couch our arguments in rhetorical flourishes that are designed to move the reader emotionally without engaging him intellectually.
In my view, your arguments, while couched in Christian terms (and many I agree with) are very similar to the arguments made by non-Christian Progressives.
We can be very good a knocking the Christian right for hooking their politics to Republicans but we are not so good at knocking the Christian left for hooking their politics to Progressivism.
First off your living a lie like thinking Jesus was born in december…
Luke 22:35-38 following was said by Jesus
“…it you dont have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one”
heres another hard fact:
When a government begins asking its people to disarm itself that government soon becomes tyrannical… Or has the teaching of history while you were in school failed you??
Think about this, Mexico is a disarmed nation, you should think about moving there.
Or get yourself a time machine and go back to a germany that disarmed its citizens a few years prior to Hitlers rise as leader…
… hmmm another good place to be would have to be Stalins Russia, alot of gun bans, but still alot more mass killings during his rein.
…. or how about Maos china??? They must have a Utopia by now right??
Hey Shane Claiborne, stop being a media and government lemming you base less coward.
Thanks Shane! Interesting reader’s comments… Reminds me of the kinds of arguments made by the supporters of slave trade in Great Britain that William Wilberforce had to deal with before slavery was abolished there.
Seriously??? You are going to refer to gun ownership and violence as America’s Molech? When was the last time you crawled out from under your rock? In 2011, we saw some inexplicable atrocities occur through the use of firearms. Truly tragic. And while no value can be placed on those innocent lives being lost, they only account for .5% of the gun related homicides in the US.
That being said, over 1.2 million unborn children were aborted in 2011 and 54,559,615 since 1973. If you want to talk about making our children pass through the fire to Molech… this would be it. The parents of the Sandy Hook victims did not offer up their kids as a sacrifice to some diabolical deity… but the would be parents of the 1.2M unborn elected their abortions.
With 26 killed in Connecticut and 12 in the Colorado theatre, that is still less than 10% of the average number of justifiable homicides each year of 400. Christ did tell us to turn the other cheek but he did not insist on the disarming of the people. If you honestly believe that gun control will change things, I suppose you are entitled to that opinion but to call out those who wish to protect their right to bear arms as if they are serving Molech… please think about what you are saying.
Great article! Indeed, it is hard for faithful Christians to justify and rationalize using tools of lethal force — sadly, many try. Here’s my take on this: “Jesus – an unwanted Christmas present?”
Re: some of the comments above. They remind me of another quote from the story leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion: “Give us Barrabus!”
An interesting quote from this article: “You do not use swords to get rid of swords or guns to get rid of guns.”
I wonder, would the author also impose this principle on the Civil Government?
Is the Civil Government disallowed from using swords or guns to get rid of swords or guns?
The pacifist argument against guns is a “double edged sword” in the sense that it also means that we must not force people who wish to own guns to give them up by the means of the law.
I don’t know if it is the author’s intent to promote more “gun control” laws, but the fact that the article is addressed to the NRA makes me think that is the author’s intent.