I have a serious and honest question for my friends on the Religious Right, because what you told me recently has left me confused as to your actual position.
An American city saw terror descended upon it by a bunch of proud, white supremacist nazis– people who hold what most of us, whether liberal, conservative, or somewhere in-between, have long agreed is among the most vile and repulsive belief systems that a human being could hold.
These nazis came out of the dark shadows of the internet; they shed their anonymous avatars, they came before us without even wearing white hoods to conceal their identities, and they literally ended up killing and injuring people. It was the natural result of a belief system founded upon hatred, and whose ultimate goal is dominating and eradicating other human beings who don’t have the right DNA.
All of us, from across the political spectrum, had once claimed to believe that white supremacist nazis represented an evil that cannot be ignored– until President Trump deflected blame for murder and violence away from them, and began to place it on those who had the courage to publicly stand up to these nazis.
It didn’t shock me that the president deflected blame– these terrorists were literally wearing uniforms designed to look like him. They were part of his core base and how he became president in the first place. Neither did it surprise me that he tried to paint a picture of their being an “alt-left” who are somehow a moral equivalent to nazis, and equally to blame for the violence– violence that left protestors dead, not the nazis.
But here’s what did surprise me: so many of you on the Religious Right jumped on this. As I publicly condemned and spoke against the murderous white supremacists, many of you quickly reiterated Trump’s talking point and pushed back on me, saying things like, “But aren’t you ignoring those who were willing to use violence against the nazis? They were wrong too, Benjamin.”
Every single time a right-wing commenter dismissed the fact that nazis actually killed and injured people in American streets, instead saying “Yes, but some of those people in the streets were willing to use violence to fight the nazis, so they’re both responsible for what happened,” it left me with a confused look on my face as I asked myself the following question:
“Didn’t you just finish telling me that you believe in violence against nazis?”
You see, if I am ultimately remembered for anything, I hope it will be for the work I’ve done around the issue of Christian nonviolence. I believe that Jesus not just invites us, but commands us to be people who love our enemies and who are unwilling to repay an eye for an eye or to stop evil by violent means. I see no place for violence in the life of a Jesus follower– as I read the words of Jesus, and look at the perfect life he modeled for us to emulate, I know of no other way. In fact, Jesus taught on this point more forcefully than any other issue, telling his followers that the commitment to love one’s enemies and not use violence against them, was an actual requirement of becoming sons and daughters of God (Matthew 5:45).
As I have written extensively on this over the years, it has been the American Religious Right who has pushed back on this most forcefully– the idea that Jesus forbids us to be violent is an abhorrent concept to them. Instead, I am consistently told that when evildoers are determined to harm others, it is actually our god-given responsibility to oppose them with violence in order to stop them.
And here’s where this all applies to the nonsense of there is “fault on both sides” between the nazis and the protestors recently:
It forces those on the Religious Right to do a full reversal from what they say to me every day.
You see, every time they push back on the doctrine of nonviolent enemy love, they quickly go to the same arguments. As they escalate the scenarios they believe proves my position of nonviolence wrong or foolish, they always (and I mean always) end up pulling out the same trump-card, as if it were the Mother of All Rebuttals as to why the way of nonviolence is wrong:
“Oh yeah!? Well what about the Nazis in World War II? Thank God the last generation knew that evil like this can only be stopped with violence.”
I’ve heard the argument a thousand times from a thousand people on the right, right up until recent events where Nazis marched through American streets, injuring and killing people. But then? Well, apparently they now think that opposing Nazis with violence makes one equally wrong.
So here’s my sincere question for my Christian friends on the right trying to call me out for not saying both sides were equally wrong: didn’t you just tell me that you believe in using violence against nazis?
Don’t lie– we both know you did, and that you did it nearly every time I posted an article on nonviolence.
Why do you believe that violent opposition to Nazis in WWII was not just necessary, but good, but that somehow in today’s world the willingness to use violence to oppose this same evil is now morally equivalent to the evil itself?
My position is consistent, and always has been: I am against the use of violence wherever I see it. But your position?
Well, your position five minutes ago was that violent opposition to the rise of Nazis is proof positive that some violence is good, necessary, and ordained by God. You see the anti-fascists of years gone by as some of the most courageous people our country has ever produced– so much so, that they have often been called the “Greatest Generation.”
But the minute those who continue to live out the values you so long admired got labeled the “alt-left”?
Well, it appears that made you have a change of heart, and that you now disagree with the version of yourself from five minutes ago.
My sincere question remains:
Because didn’t you just finish telling me you believe in using violence against Nazis?
Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com.