Nonviolence 101 – 2 "What ifs" [Another Hitler or Someone Attacks Your Spouse/Child] (part 8)

Nonviolence 101 – 2 "What ifs" [Another Hitler or Someone Attacks Your Spouse/Child] (part 8) February 17, 2011

The following is part of a fairly long series on the theology and practice of nonviolence.  If you would like to read all of the posts, you can do so here.


“What if…” #1

Without fail, there are two “what if” scenarios that always emerge when having this discussion with American friends.  The first of these is: What if a Hitler-like dictator emerges? The conversation usually goes in the direction of claiming that there was no other option than to fight in WWII to stop the genocide of millions of people.  It may be true that by the time the United States intervened, that there was no other foreseeable path but war.  But that is exactly the problem with the question.  It assumes that the war is well under way and that we peacemakers now have to go and turn the hearts of the Nazi’s through nonviolent subversion.  The problem is that WWII is a product of the myths we just dealt with.  Imagine if all Christians in Germany would have “turned the other cheek” and refused to take up arms?  Nazism would likely have come to nothing!  Robert Brimlow, in What About Hitler, takes this a bit further:

If the question is asking how a pacifistic church should have responded to the horrors of the Holocaust, the answer surely lies in being a peacemaking church long before the Halocaust ever began.  The church should have preached and lived a love of the Jews for many centuries before the twentieth; the church should have formed Christians into the kind of people who do not kill Jews, or homosexuals, or gypsies, or communists, or other Christians, or Nazis, or whoever else was victimized by the war.  The church should have lived and taught in such a way that the First World War would have been incomprehensible in a largely Christian Europe…  The failure of the church and of Christians to be peacemakers in 1942 is horrible precisely because it was a result and culmination of centuries of failure.[1]

“What if…” #2

The second “what if” question is no easier than the first, and gets quite personal for someone espousing nonviolence: What if your spouse or child is attacked? This is where we need to go back to our main Matthew text for a moment (to understand this part of the argument, you have to read posts: 2, 3, & 4).  Remember that Jesus instructs his followers to not “use violence to resist evil!”  Then, what follows are three examples of how to resist both passivity and violence, through unlocking the imagination and seeking a “third way.”  The importance of each of the solutions that Jesus offers is better understood in an honor-shame culture.  Each time, Jesus invites followers to restore their own honor and in doing so to shame the oppressor—perhaps, in such a way that leads to repentance.  What I am getting at is that in each of these situations, not only is violence resisted, but full human dignity is being restored.  Clearly, a central reason why violence is wrong in this textual context is that it is dehumanizing.

To answer the question at hand I want to reflect on the idea of dehumanization as being the definition of violence.  This certainly is not a stretch based on the background of the passage.  Therefore, in certain emergency scenarios, such as rescuing a loved one, the use of restraint or even force is not out of the question.  If an attacker was dehumanizing my wife or child, my hope is that I would discover a “third way” out of the situation that may even include sacrificing myself for their sake.  But, it is also possible that things would move so quickly that the use of force may be the only option.  So, perhaps I would pull the person off of my loved one, allowing the chance to flee for safety.  If need be, I suppose that tackling the attacker may be a borderline option as well.  What is not an option is passive inaction.  This is obviously a circumstantial approach with several shades of “gray.”  Any restraint must always be within the parameters of avoiding anything that would treat a person as less than a human created in God’s image.  Hitting, kicking, or the use of weapons have taken restraint into the realm of violence and out of the realm of loving our enemies.

Finally, let me be clear: the above is what I HOPE I WOULD DO, NOT WHAT I ‘WOULD’ DO.  By God’s grace I desire that in all situations I would refuse violence, but the reality is that the lesser-evil-kind-of-sin of resorting to violence in a situation like the one I just outlined may be what would actually happen.  If I resorted to violence, it would not be justified by the New Testament witness and it would not be the creative “third way” of Jesus.  So, I pray that I am never in such a situation, but if I am, may God’s grace be with me; and may the Holy Spirit give me words and actions to catch the attacker off guard without resorting to the use of the sword.

[1]. Robert W. Brimlow, What about Hitler?: Wrestling with Jesus’s call to Nonviolence in an Evil World (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2006), 168-69.

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  • Concerning #1 – I agree whole-heartedly…in fact, wasn't it one of Bonhoeffer's compatriots that mourned that, by the time the true nature of the Nazi party was known by the Christians in Germany, it was already too late? Something about "When they came for the Jews, they were silent… when they came for me, there was no one left." For that matter, consider US foreign policy in the years leading up to Hitler's rise to power and the economic interference in German national issues. Would the environment of xenophobia been nearly as strong if the German people were, instead of being punished for WWI, been blessed and helped, or, at the very least, left alone to recover?

    Concerning #2 – I agree with the getting creative thing. There are any number of stories of where people greeted burglars and robbers at the door and, instead of fighting them off, welcomed them in, fed them, gave the clothes and food and stuff and let them go. But then you have men like the home invasion in CT where the purpose of breaking in was not to steal things but to steal life, to steal honor and then to destroy people… if the husband had been home, would I have blamed him if he had taken up a gun and shot the invaders? Probably not… situations like that seem like there is nothing that can be done, even being creatively non-violent… and our love for our family takes over and trumps (perhaps not necessarily "Christian" like) the love for enemy… Would I HONESTLY give my wife and daughters over to rape and murder? No… I don't think I could… I'm not there yet… That's where I lean HEAVILY on God's providence and protection to make it so that I NEVER have to face that decision… ever… Lord, have mercy on me and my family….

    • Kurt

      Great comments on both What ifs and very brutal honesty on question 2. Wonderful insights!

  • Great series Kurt! I'm really enjoying it.
    Both those scenarios come up often for me too anytime I talk with people about non-violence. They're tough, but not unanswerable (far more answerable than many questions that can be posed about the system of violence).
    In "Nonviolence: the History of a Dangerous Idea" Kurlansky makes the case that not only were there active nonviolent options as WWII began, those nations that attempted them actually had far better outcomes than the nations that either capitulated or resisted with force.
    As for the wife and kids question, I agree, I don't know what I'd end up doing, but I know what I should do and hope I do. The thing is, not shooting an intruder is a different thing than not resisting, there may be a sense in which the lesser of two evils is using non-leathal force to protect your loved ones.
    Nonviolent resistance to evil is far better than violent resistance to evil, but maybe passivity is worse than both…?

    • Kurt

      Mason… I think passivity is indeed worse than both. At least based on my translation of antistemi. If I am wrong on that word, then the old 'nonresistance' view may be right. Nevertheless, based on the knowledge I have I agree with your final statement/question.

      Thanks for your great thoughts on WWII and the spouse situation. So hard to know how I would actually respond and I hope to never find out.

  • Zack

    The conclusion in #1 is, of course, spot on. But it doesn't seem that the question was actually answered. The fact if the matter is Christians DID fail at living out a truly Christian witness fir centuries and the situation DID actually arrive. So what do we do then? How do we all of a sudden in a desperate situation overcome centuries of poor Christian witness? Do we wipe 'em out and start from a clean slate? Of course not! It only fuels the endless tit-for-tar game.

    So what DO we do? What CAN we do? What would have been the proper Christian response?

    Now notice here I'm not overly concerned with the USAmerican response. I don't necessarily hold the nation accountable for the evil committed because 1) I don't believe that's for me to do, and 2) they were likely within their God-given boundaries or using the sword to squash evil. So again, I'm not convened with "How should America have responded?" but with Christians.

  • JM

    "What is not an option is passive inaction. This is obviously a circumstantial approach with several shades of “gray.” Any restraint must always be within the parameters of avoiding anything that would treat a person as less than a human created in God’s image. Hitting, kicking, or the use of weapons have taken restraint into the realm of violence and out of the realm of loving our enemies."

    I respect this answer, Kurt, and I applaud your willingness to live in the tension created by the grays.

    However, I don't think I can ultimately agree with your last sentence. Hitting, kicking or the use of weapons does not automatically negate love for our enemies, no more so than spanking our child negates love for them. As a martial artist and martial arts teacher, we teach concepts such as the "Five Levels of Force" (presence, verbal, soft hands, hard hands, lethal) and when each can or should justifiably be used. There are times when strikes or chokes are used to incapacitate an attacker in order to preserve life (including their own). Likewise, if someone is firing bullets in to a crowd of schoolchildren, a police officer who shoots the attacker because there is no other way to stop him/her is not violating the essence of Jesus' teaching, since honor and shame are not the issue in question. I believe the deeper question which determines whether or not use of force spills over into sinful violence is "what is the INTENT of using such force?" Is the intent to preserve as much life as humanly possible, or is it retribution? Are we defending life, or are we defending our pride?

    I think these questions are the key and I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all answer to them. Biblical Wisdom calls for discernment based on situational awareness…including New Testament Wisdom, such as the Sermon on the Mount.

    Great posts man!

    • Kurt

      "Likewise, if someone is firing bullets in to a crowd of schoolchildren, a police officer who shoots the attacker because there is no other way to stop him/her is not violating the essence of Jesus’ teaching, since honor and shame are not the issue in question."

      JM – Thanks for your complements even where we disagree. I quote you above because I think this statement stems out of a fundamental 'category mistake.' In a previous post, based on my reading of Romans 12-13, I claim:

      "We must remember that Roman soldiers served as modern-day equivalents of both the local police and the national military…. …that doing acts of violence in retaliation was not only against the way of Jesus, but that such would bring the punishment of the policing sword of the emperor’s soldiers and other authorities….
      …we need to address the issue of government and its distinctness from the church. It seems that American readers have a tendency to blur the lines between who can “bear the sword.” Can Christians carry out the work of sword-bearing since this passage clearly justifies the need for such? My answer to this question echoes what seems to be the witness of the New Testament as a whole and this text in particular: no! This is because “it is quite plain that Paul envisages two quite distinct spheres of ‘service’ to God.” The idea that Christ-followers would also be the ones carrying the sword goes against the logic of this literary unit… …Based on this reading of Romans 12-13, it is clear that Christians are called to be separate from the violent roles of the state and to avoid putting one’s self in a compromised scenario where violence could be employed."

      If Christians are not given permission to use violence but are instructed to "leave wrath to God"; and if God then delegates such wrath to an external entity (the state); it follows that only the state has the authority to use violence. It also follows that Christians are not to carry out vengeance; therefore, they cannot participate in roles that could compromise such clear teaching.

      The Roman soldier was the ancient 'police force' of the day. The early church is almost unanimous that being a soldier was inconsistent with the way of Jesus. Therefore, it follows (based on Romans 12-13 and early church witness) that modern day Christians ought not be in the vocation of police officer if it means that they may have to use violence. It also follows that the separate entity, the state (police), does have such authority to save life by use of violence (but that, again, this is separate from anything having to do with Christ-followers). So, although I mourn the loss of any life, if a police officer has to kill an attacker of school children to save the many, that is his God-given right as a emissary of the pagan state. Such action is fine for non-Christians. The text does not seem to give room for the blurring of the categories though.

      FYI – I have friends and fellow church goers who serve as police. And based on their worldview, they have chosen a noble profession and I do not question their passion for Jesus. To judge them would be equally unchristian. But, based on the reading of the text I present (which seems to be faithful to both historical and literary context), if one buys into this reading, then they are ought not be police, for doing so would be directly disobedient to this text.

      • JM

        Kurt, I see your logic. And if I granted your starting assumptions about the two separate spheres I would agree with you. I don't see these two spheres necessitated in Romans though, nor do I see soldiers in the NT ever being required to leave their profession. Likewise, as an OT guy, I see the character of God as not being compromised by having believers serve in protection/police/judicial capacities, all of which require discerning use of force ("discerning" being the key concept, I would argue). In other words, I think the pacifist reading of Romans 12-13 isolates it from the larger canonical context of Scripture as a whole. I believe if the non-violence ethic was as dominant as your position requires, it would be anticipated in the OT and made explicit in the NT. Since it's not explicit, I can only see it as a possible, but not necessary ethical approach that must be left up to the individual conscience of the believer.

        Blessings bro,

        • Kurt

          JM – I read the NT through the lens of Jesus, which may be where we part ways (this is a central anabaptist conviction). Also, in the NT it does seem that nonviolence is dominant and possibly central. To imitate Jesus, to walk "in his steps" is to choose against retaliation. Isn't it explicit in Matthew 5 and Romans 12? It seems pretty clear there. PS – Have you read Hays on this in his Moral Vision of the NT?

          Also, it is anticipated in many places… not least here:

          "They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore." – Isaiah 2 (anticipating the coming of the Kingdom of which we are drawn towards by the Holy Spirit)

          Finally, I would add that the allowances for going to war and doing violence in the OT are pretty narrow. Much more narrow than we Americans can justify by our norms.

          May shalom be yours my good friend and challenging conversation partner!!!!!! 😉

          • JM

            "Finally, I would add that the allowances for going to war and doing violence in the OT are pretty narrow. Much more narrow than we Americans can justify by our norms."

            I don't disagree with this at all. I think my position would be somewhere between typical Just War theories and your Anabaptist view.

            I haven't read that section in Hayes yet (though I believe he takes a similar approach to pacifism as Witherington does if I'm not mistaken).

            I think Matthew 5 is pretty clear…but one must take into account the often hyperbolic nature of Jesus' sayings in the Sermon on the Mount (unless you're writing this with no eyes and no hands, that is… 😉 as well as the context of honor and shame/personal retribution/violence-prone zealotry which characterized 1st century Israel, and into which He is speaking.

            I don't believe using force to uphold life and preserve shalom always necessarily violates the spirit of Jesus' teachings. And my only contention with non-violence approaches in general is that they tend to make absolute what Scripture leaves a little less concrete.

            Anyway, good discussion and I don't want you to think I totally disagree with you on this. I just lean away from your conclusions to a certain degree and can't justify taking the step into complete pacifism/non-violence from a hermeneutical perspective.

            Blessings bro!

          • Kurt

            Good thoughts JM, I appreciate you as a conversation partner.

            Peace be with you brotha!

      • "if one buys into this reading, then they ought not be police, for doing so would be directly disobedient to this text."

        I've got a slight problem with this. It implies that Romans 12-13 are direct commandments, laws, rules, that must be followed to be righteous. While I agree that violent response to situations seems problematic in light of those versus, I think it is a little harsh to say they should not be police.

        There's a lot to be said about what Christians do/should have done leading up to Hitler or to the "spraying of bullets" that may have prevented the situation. But when the situation is happening, to do nothing, seems to be back to passivity rather than working to save life in the situation. I like the analogy of the levels of force in martial arts as that I think applies. In a perfect world where people were no longer deceived by all the messages of the world around them, there would probably be no need for police forces with the need for violent action. But such is not the case.

        So, those men and women in the police and military that are devout Jesus lovers feel a call into those situations, not because they feel that they want to DO violence, but because they want to STOP violence by standing in the gap between those bent on destruction and the innocent victims.

        Can I, in my conscience do that? No. But can I necessarily judge them that do? That's where I need to read on beyond Romans 13 into Romans 14…there comes a time when we need to recognize that people are acting on convictions placed on their hearts by God. Some are "weak", some are "strong". It's hard, at times, to make that discernment. Am I strong in faith because of my conviction to not act violently? Or am I weak in that I do not have faith that God is guiding police and military personal? Are they strong because they are following God's guidance? Or are they weak because they feel they need to act forcefully rather than lovingly creative? Eating meat, don't eat meat. Holding certain days important, not holding them important. Circumcized or uncircumcized. Not sure if acts of violence fall into that category.

        My personal conviction is that I cannot, out of my conscience, join a group that will require me to use violence on another human being. I'm with you on this, Kurt. But can I say that someone who does is somehow disobedient to God? I have a hard time doing that… It's God to whom they must be accountable ultimately.

        • Kurt

          Robert… I think you missed my other clarifying comment:

          "I have friends and fellow church goers who serve as police. And based on their worldview, they have chosen a noble profession and I do not question their passion for Jesus. To judge them would be equally unchristian."

          I simply am saying that based on MY reading of the text that a Christian is never to be in position that would require violence. Again, this is my reading and I do not wish to superimpose it on other wonderful Christians with whom I disagree. No interpretation is infallible… but, it is odd that soldiers and police are synonymous during the time of Jesus and that just after that time (3rd cen.), to be a soldier is banned for baptismal candidates:

          “The professions and trades of those who are going to be accepted into the community must be examined. The nature and type of each must be established… brothel, sculptors of idols, charioteer, athlete, gladiator… give it up or be rejected. A military constable must be forbidden to kill, neither may he swear; if he is not willing to follow these instructions, he must be rejected. A proconsul or magistrate who wears the purple and governs by the sword shall give it up or be rejected. Anyone taking or already baptized who wants to become a soldier shall be sent away, for he has despised God.” — Hippolytus, 218 AD

          • "Ought not" and "Disobedient" are the key words to me… they imply that there is an expectation that is a must in your eyes, indicating that even though you say you are not judging, your words cast that judgement.

            I'm not willing to go so far as to say "ought" or "they are disobedient". As JM said, I see it as a possible but not necessary ethic, one that is subject to conviction by the spirit. I cannot go as far as Hippolytus… to deny someone baptism is saying that they cannot be part of the community on the journey… they are no more perfect or imperfect than me, who am I to deny them the fellowship?

            Greg Boyd in a recent sermon used the thief on the cross as a prime example of this… The thief's theology was not guaranteed. The thief's convictions were not necessarily what we probably think they should be. But Christ accepted him, not because he was perfect, but because he recognized Christ as Lord and that was, even in the last moments of life, the center towards which he was aiming. This is what I see as the Spirit behind Romans 14 and what I think Hippolytus missed in his statements… I know, a bit presumptuous of me to question an ancient father of the church, but that's where I stand.

          • Kurt

            You are supposing to much by the words "ought" and "they are disobedient."

            Notice I am talking about the person who by conviction chooses to embrace the nonviolent reading I put forth. You cannot accept a reading like this, with the conviction that to carry the sword is a non-Christian function, and then decide it is ok. This would compromise that worldview. This was my only point by those words.

            The worldview of those who by conviction feel it necessary to pick up the sword, however, are not bound by "ought" and "disobedient."

            Based on the worldview of the person the ethic is relative in this case.

            Are we talking past each other?

          • "Based on the worldview of the person, the ethic relative in this case."

            THAT I can go with and seems well within the spirit of Romans 14 then…

            Thanks for clarifying!

          • Kurt

            You bet! I am not trying to create a new legalism and am happy to worship and break bread with police officers and soldiers.

          • “I simply am saying that based on MY reading of the text” – How did moral-relativism like this sneak into the church?

    • jonathanhakim

      “However, I don’t think I can ultimately agree with your last sentence. Hitting, kicking or the use of weapons does not automatically negate love for our enemies, no more so than spanking our child negates love for them…”

      I like this addition to the conversation JM. I agree that in the right hands, any of those first four levels of force may be done in love of our enemies.

      The pertinent question for me – do we have love for our enemy in the forefront of our agenda when we carry out the action? If we punch the guy in the face because he’s hitting his girlfriend, are we doing it out of an actual desire to see him redeemed (and do we really discern that a punch in the face is the most likely act to lead to his redemption?), or because we hate him and his action in that moment?

      Too often, the “what if” scenarios remove the “enemy’s” humanity from the equation – that man just has to go to fulfill our objectives.

      Here’s my own “what if” scenario that brings this question to the center.

      “You are crossing a railroad track when a naughty child jumps in front of your car. You hit the brakes, and the child begins dancing in front of your car. You hear a noise and turn in horror to see that you are still on the tracks, and a train is barreling towards you. Your baby is sitting in the back seat, and your only option to get off the tracks is to pull out your concealed handgun and shoot the child, thereby removing them from the equation. What do you do?”

      I am making four points with this purposely impossible scenario.

      1) When we make up these scenarios, we grant ourselves the God-reserved power to choose who deserves life and who deserves death. We believe that we have the right to decide when others should die. Does it make a difference whether it is a “naughty child”, or an epileptic child? Does it make a difference whether the person assaulting your family is a “bad person”, or someone in the midst of a psychotic fit who only needs to get back on their medication? Are we given the right to judge, and what does the New Testament say?

      2) When we make up these scenarios, we use a ridiculous situation. Of course, it doesn’t “sound ridiculous”…until you stop and think about it. Even with all the horrific mass shootings recently, how often has a police officer shot someone who was in the process of actually spraying fire into a crowd of children? How often are you walking around with your family when an assailant with lethal intent runs up and tries to kill your wife or kids, with you right there and fully having the power to kill them, let alone where killing them is the one and only option? These “what if” questions have nothing to do with the obedience to Christ that 99.999% of us will be asked to act upon. They are attempts to us the most exaggerated situations possible in order to warp our responses in actual situations that are nothing like the scenario.

      3) We aren’t utilitarians, counting lives saved and then acting accordingly. Utilitarianism leads to horrific conclusions – running down one person on the sidewalk so that your ambulance can get two people to the hospital in time, or euthanizing a few people (let’s make them prisoners) to distribute their organs around and then save many more lives. Once we turn to utilitarianism in order to justify disobedience to God, we enter a slippery slope that isn’t easily halted.

      4) Our call to follow Christ as our Lord is not a call to base our obedience on what-if scenarios. I believe my friend Jason said it well:

      My Appeal To Each Of You: “But what if…” questions need to be dethroned. Jesus is Lord. They are not. “But what if…” questions need to be put in their proper place. We should not look to these questions to determine how we ought to live. We look to Jesus for that. Today, let us recommit to follow Jesus wherever that may lead. Then we can use these “But what if…” questions to help us ground Jesus’ teaching in the events of real life. That is their proper function.

      While I don’t believe that “what if” examples should ever determine our obedience, I believe they are useful to think through so we can be prepared to act in obedience when any and all situation does come up.

      So in answer to your examples, I don’t believe we can ever sentence someone to death while loving them and respecting their humanity in the image of God. Especially when they are in the midst of an evil act for which they appear unrepentant, we could arguably be sending them directly to hell in that moment. If we killed the man to save our spouse, then we might be saying, “I’d rather send you to hell right now than see my wife go to heaven early.” Can that decision truly be made out of love?

      There are times when soft hands or hard hands may actually be in the best interest of the person we use them against, and actually done in love. That is true far more rarely than is done in practice, but I would not eliminate it in all situations.

      In real situations, there is always more than one option. Far more mass shootings (including the recent London train attack) are stopped by unarmed citizens than by armed citizens, one example of an instance in which hard hands may be justified, but preserving the shooter’s life and giving them the chance to repent and know God (not to mention setting an example to society of us NOT entering their level of violence) is preferable to taking a life. Many, many instances of assault are addressed by a wide range of nonviolent responses. I’ve both defended others and defended myself in such situations with a variety of situation-specific responses that did not include the use of violence. Resorting to violence is such a default in our society that the full range of nonviolent options available to us hasn’t even began to be explored.

      There’s simply no way to ever know ahead of time, “Killing them was the only option, nothing else I or they or God could have done in the next five minutes would have kept them from killing my child.” We don’t have that insight into their heart, into God’s miraculous intervention, or into a future that has not happened. Without that insight limited to God, we don’t have the right to make judgments that have been reserved for God.

  • Juli Litchford

    I have been enjoying this series – especially parts 7 & 8 so far. Thank you for sharing.

    • Kurt

      Thanks Juli!

  • Amy Stone

    Great work, Kurt (and fellow responders). I really appreciate the peaceful tone of the conversation here. That's where it starts.

    I think challenge #1 has much in common with challenge #2. Without denying that violence happens between strangers in ways that cannot be anticipated or preempted, I would suggest that there are many things that we can do as people of peace to promote non-violence in our own lives on a broader basis. Most violence occurs between people who know each other: friends, neighbors, spouses, etc. How can we humanize one another and promote a culture of honor, long before violence becomes a viable or seemingly necessary solution to our problems? How can we train our children to respect themselves and others in such a way that they are less likely to engage in relationships and situations that present real dangers to themselves and others. For example, I'm thinking about the increase in intimate partner violence among teens. I recognize that it is important to ask idealogical questions, but hyperbolic scenarios are rare and almost irrelevant in light of our daily need to resist violence with the one's we love. How do we learn to promote honor between spouses, siblings, and between parents and children?

    It is notable that argument #2 typically frames a woman as the "victim" and a man as her "rescuer." The consideration that the woman in question has choices about how to respond in peace or violence doesn't even come up. I appreciate that you, Kurt, used gender-neutral language to frame the question. From my point of view, this particular discussion (Should we relinquish the power of violent force in favor of peaceful resistance in the face of imminent threat to life and limb?) is particularly difficult for Christians who find themselves in a position of power. North Americans (especially majority-culture males) hear, "Lay down your lethal weapons. I want you to be disempowered." But, remember that Jesus was not speaking to the superpower of Rome. He was speaking to the oppressed and powerless. According to Wink, he was not so much trying to disarm them, but to empower them with a new imagination, equipping them to promote honor even from their position of weakness. Maybe Jesus was saying, "Lay down your handful of rocks. You'll never win against horses and swords if you rely on such pathetic weapons. Let me teach you a more powerful way." As a woman, the typical worst-case-scenarios place me in the position of the one being harmed, not the one with the "gun" and the assumption is that I would want a man to "shoot" my attacker. I'm not arguing against that, maybe I would in some situations, but I have my own experiences with being victimized, and I know that I can exercise a power greater than lethal force.

    • Kurt

      Wow, I have nothing to add except that you comment is great. Those final few sentences are profound.

  • Katie

    Thanks Kurt –
    I think one of the things that drives me craziest when I get to q2 as a pacifist… is the assumption that somehow or other my spouse/child doesn't understand that I am a pacifist. That they do not know me well enough to know that my love for them is not predicated on doing violence in their defense.
    I truly believe that my family understands my pacifism. I've taken the time to explain to them my reasons for it and the ramifications of that choice. We don't have guns in the house, we don't threaten others, we don't make light of violence. Each one in my household is aware of these beliefs.
    So if it came to a choice of defending my family from violence, they would know and understand why I opted for non-violent means.

    • Kurt

      You are right on here. Prior to posting this I read it to my wonderful wife. She understands that love is not predicated by being willing to use violence. If that were the case, God would have killed not a few Romans and Jews (and all of humanity by extension) when they hung him on a tree.

    • That's all well and good for a partner, but for a baby? Should I just stand there and do nothing or only shallow anything's while someone steals my child and drives away in my car per say? Stop being idolatrous to peace.

  • Kurt, I have no doubt what I would do if I happened to get into a situation like that. I would "sin boldly" as Luther put it and do whatever it takes to immobilize the attacker, and if lives were at stake I wouldn't hesitate to use deadly force if necessary. You're absolutely right. There is nothing in the words of Jesus to back up such behavior. Bonhoeffer knew what his participation in the planning of Hitler's assassination meant. He still made this decision as the alternatives appeared to him as options which would mean the loss of more lives and continued suffering of countless people.

    The moral dilemma is not that non-violent resistance isn't a viable and undoubtedly the biblical option. It simply arises in extreme situations from counting the cost not for yourself but for others. And once again, I'm not saying to justify this decision but to help you understand it.

    • Kurt

      Josh, I fully understand where you are coming from. Remember, I have been on a journey on his issue for only a few years. About when Jesus for President came out is when I became persuaded.

      Also, here is a quote that frames it well for me. Miroslav Volf is discussing some feedback about the last page of "Exclusion and Embrace" (A book on reconciliation through nonviolent love) where he makes a statement about how at times even violence may be the last resort. Notice how he clarifies his view:

      "You rightly point to the end of my book. Mennonites catch it; Reformed people tend to miss it. Some of my Reformed friends see me as a champion of nonviolence who is blind to the fact that the alternative to violence need not be non-violence but just war. Because they are fixated on just war, which I reject, they never quite get the thrust of the last pages of the book. Some Mennonites, on the other hand, seem to think that I am taking back at the end of the book what I have argued for throughout it. What I'm concerned about is the religious legitimation of violence. I do think there are situations in which violence must be deployed by Christians, but it is never religiously sanctioned or justified violence. It is the lesser of two evils – an evil that does not become good on account of its necessity. One could sketch scenarios where I very clearly wouldn't think that it would be morally responsible not to deploy violence. Nonetheless, repentance for violence would be in order even in those situations; in my view there is no innocent use of violence.""

      • Great quote by Volf… thanks for sharing! "Exclusion and Embrace" is on my LOOOONG list of "must reads"…

  • Once again, great article Kurt.

    I would however classify tackling someone as violent force. But I do not disagree with your point there. I simply see as bringing any kind of physical harm to someone as violent, regardless of intent.

    That being said, I believe violent force to sometimes be necessary to resolve a conflict in a Christ-like manner. Such as tackling an attacker, or even so far as shooting someone (in the leg or arm or other non-lethal part of the body), as to prevent them from bringing harm (to others, and to their own soul).

    I fully believe that if one is acting out in the interests of saving the person's soul from damage first and foremost, then certain uses of force may be allowed. I hate to be one who refers to his own blog, but if you are curious about more of what I mean, I have a post on self-defense from Feb 9.

    • I have said something similar elsewhere. Good point.

    • Kurt

      Josh… see my response to Tasi below…

  • I also agree with doing what it takes to run away…but yet, you didn't really answer my question…isn't it better then to break a guy's leg or arm or whatever, so that we can escape? Remember I'm a woman…and tackling someone is probably not something I can do, but I could break a wrist or a knee using karate. And yes…then fleeing to safety.

    I think it's just one of those things that's situational. It's also probably something I'm dealing with on whether studying karate again is a good use of my time…or my sons' (see my fav. quotes for what I'm really after). Plus, shouldn't we always be saddened by whatever limited use of force we need to take…whether it's the tackle, the throw, a leg, or calling the police and seeing them wrestled to jail? I think so. I think this is a topic like divorce…we KNOW the ideal…we should live for the ideal, but in fact it's not always ideal. Thus, we need Christ all the more…and forgiveness is needed from all sides…even from the 'innocent.' I don't know why that is, but it is. Probably because we're not allowed to be prideful for being 'right,' for Christ is perfection, and even He was humble. Nowhere do I see Jesus telling us to be nonchalant about sin, even sin that's 'justified.' Nowhere do we get to say, 'oh, he deserved it.' Never. Point blank. Humility, mercy, love…but not door mats, either. My baby anabaptist two cents, anyways.

    Good work though, brother. Definitely helped me systematically sort through this.

    • Kurt

      Tasi, I think I understand your point. But any such violent action (however necessary) would not be legitimized by Scripture's witness. Would it be better, practically speaking… maybe, but not 'just'. Let me say that a quote from Miroslav Volf has helped me sort out some issues. He is discussing some feedback about the last page of "Exclusion and Embrace" (A book on reconciliation through nonviolent love) where he makes a statement about how at times even violence may be the last resort. Notice how he clarifies his view:

      "You rightly point to the end of my book. Mennonites catch it; Reformed people tend to miss it. Some of my Reformed friends see me as a champion of nonviolence who is blind to the fact that the alternative to violence need not be non-violence but just war. Because they are fixated on just war, which I reject, they never quite get the thrust of the last pages of the book. Some Mennonites, on the other hand, seem to think that I am taking back at the end of the book what I have argued for throughout it. What I'm concerned about is the religious legitimation of violence. I do think there are situations in which violence must be deployed by Christians, but it is never religiously sanctioned or justified violence. It is the lesser of two evils – an evil that does not become good on account of its necessity. One could sketch scenarios where I very clearly wouldn't think that it would be morally responsible not to deploy violence. Nonetheless, repentance for violence would be in order even in those situations; in my view there is no innocent use of violence."

      • Isn't that what I just said Kurt? You read my entire comment correct?

        I said because the ideal, the goal of God's peace, had been broken, then repentance would be needed no matter if the 'innocent' aka. the one being attacked seemed justified in what they did (breaking a knee, because the other dude was bigger and faster) and running. Once to safety, repentance and sorrow and thanksgiving all to God would be the appropriate response for the Christian who had found themselves in that situation.

        What I am suggesting is a highly uncomfortable position of UTTER and raging humility and subjugation to God for our sins, even as we seek to protect our children or others who are weaker.

        I mean, Kurt, you saw violence as a child, however how many people say, 'peace, peace,' but live in the burbs?? Don't tell me peace, unless it's a workable peace, because at some point we can't disappear like Christ did when He didn't feel like getting caught.

        Do we get to strut around like fighting roosters, though, either in our pacifism or just war beliefs??

        No, we're to seek the third way…we're to seek all matters of creativity to protect life…and get on our knees when all else seems to fail…and even if it does work. We're people of Jesus Christ!!!

  • "'I have friends and fellow church goers who serve as police. And based on their worldview, they have chosen a noble profession and I do not question their passion for Jesus. To judge them would be equally unchristian.'

    I simply am saying that based on MY reading of the text that a Christian is never to be in position that would require violence."

    I make it a rule NEVER to disagree with Kurt. He's awesome. But for the sake of being provocative, I can't see Jesus or the apostles saying these things. I think Christians SHOULD judge each other (Paul alludes to this) and I also think that the construction "MY reading" is humble enough, but employes an individualist/liberal approach to truth that I think should be dismantled a bit. Like Hauerwas might say, Kurt doesn't promote non-violence because that's his opinion, but because it's true.

    • Zack

      Thank you!

      I was wondering how to say this without sounding like a jerk.

      I mean is it the truth or not? Do you believe it or not? Do you want to follow Jesus or not?

      This IS a huge deal and I can't understand how we can simply lay it aside as just another of those things it's okay to disagree on (so long as we're all happy and understand each other).

      There was a time that I was unaware of this truth. Then I was and I disagreed with it. It rubbed me the wrong way. Then I grew and began to see it in a different light as I was being transformed by the renewing of my mind. Now I believe and live it with my whole life.

    • Kurt

      The Charismanglican and Zack, I fully get where you are coming from. I am simply trying to be humble enough to admit that I am wrong and trust that in the same way YHWH accommodated for the barbaric worldview of the OT people of God, we need to be willing to see that God does the same in our day… even if such violence is wrong. I am fully convinced that nonviolence is TRUTH but want to not create a new legalism. I will stand for peace, preach, peace, and try to persuade others to my view… but I want to not question the Christian commitment of those who are wrong. Give me a break here guys. Weird when both sides attack you. I know what Obama must feel like, hahaha! 🙂

      • Zack Allen

        "There was a time that I was unaware of this truth. Then I was and I disagreed with it. It rubbed me the wrong way. Then I grew and began to see it in a different light as I was being transformed by the renewing of my mind. Now I believe and live it with my whole life."

        At no point in this process do I not consider myself to have been a Christ-follower. I was growing (and continue to!). Of course God met me where I was and started a process. But the sad fact is that I was surrounded by people that are so ingrained in these two myths that I would have never received such teaching from them. It is only after being exposed to a differing view and the Holy Sprit beginning His work in me that I was able to change. If we aren't pushing those around us further along then we end up with pockets of the kind of people I'm referring to (that are so ingrained in these myths). To me, Jesus' living and teaching nonviolence is as central to what He did/does as anything else and needs to be taught as such. Yes, we have much time to make up for, but discipleship has to start somewhere.

        • Kurt

          Zack… Of course it is central. Of course it matters. Of course I am committing myself to spread the word. Of course I just spent a 9 post series on it!!!!! Come on man, to subtly accuse me of 'selling out' is pretty dogmatic given the context in which you accuse me brotha.

          I agree with basically everything you just said except: "At no point in this process do I not consider myself to have been a Christ-follower"

          Fully disagree. Unless you are trying to say that you hadn't "arrived yet." And if that is the case then there are zero true Christ-followers. But let me add that one of the greatest examples of a Christ-following disciple was my own Grandpa. He was quite close to Jesus but did not understand that nonviolence was the best interpretation of these passages. Was he a devout Christian… you bet he was. Is he "with Christ" awaiting the resurrection?… Amen, amen! I am simply saying that we need to embrace each other even when we disagree. That seems to be a VERY consistant theme in the New Testament, one that is may I dare say, more central than this very central teaching of nonviolence. Jews and Gentiles, in spite of their differences belong at the same table together. Nonviolent christian activists and church/state/christendom (blinded perhaps) Christians also belong at the same table together. May we continue to push this conversation forward through our teaching of the Scritptures and our practices of peacemaking… but never let it become 'power-over' against our brothers and sisters.

          That is my point brotha. Blessings and I appreciate your insights. Always like your comments, even if we disagree on this one.

          Peace! – Kurt

  • Speaking of Hauerwas…he might say this, too:

    “Of course (my friend in the police/military) was and is a sincere Christian.
    But that is just an indication of how little being a Christian has to do with sincerity.”

    • Kurt

      Interesting logic here. Hawerwas is an important voice. Unfortunately, I am not sure I have tons of respect for his (lack of) exegetical approach to this issue. I agree with his conclusions, but the path to getting there is a bit off.

  • Shirley Cunningham

    Great post. I really enjoyed all the comments.

    True how do we overcome centuries of a mislead or poor Christian gospel being lived out? I myself pray for peace and learn more of Christ to solve differences non-violently, and to teach one by one, about the freedom and wholeness that forgiveness, mercy and grace bring through the power of salvation… still so much to learn..

    That being said… Please help clarify for me…

    I am having a hard time understanding two points, one on the Godly allowance of Government and police to have the right to use violence, but not Christians, although we support them financially to be able to do this, just not physically?? If using any type of violence is something that needs to be repented for and unjustified, how can a Christian support any ministry or person to commit a sin, would that not be like leading them into temptation and giving them the power to commit such a sin? Bit confused here.

    and this one Kurt, please clarify.

    One could sketch scenarios where I very clearly wouldn’t think that it would be morally responsible not to deploy violence. Nonetheless, repentance for violence would be in order even in those situations; in my view there is no innocent use of violence.”

    Repentance for violence would be in order. If someone truly has accepted Christ as their savior and we are all at various levels of renewing of our minds, and growing spiritually, and the greatest commandments are to love God and our neighbor as ourself…. then using a real example of an individual (young mother had to use force to stop drug induced man from molesting her 9 yr old)

    Then if her conscience is convicted to love thy brother as thyself, and she herself would want to be stopped, even forcibly, if she were to harm an innocent child…. than if she had to do the same to protect a weak victim and to stop the offender from committing a sin also…. then where does repentance come into this?

    If one believes they themselves would want to be stopped forcibly from doing harm to a young child…. then are they not being true to their conscience before God and man under grace and the perfect law of liberty?

    Is the highest scriptural truth the non-violent act itself and not the intent of the heart?

    Thanks for great topic.

    • I would look at it that she wasn't wrong for doing what needed to be done, but if she violated the image of God in that man, yes the molester, then she ought to willingly seek forgiveness from God later, after she and the child was safe, mourning that any such action was needed in the first place.

      Christians ought to seek forgiveness constantly and willingly, because we're in relationship with God, not only causally, and this is one of those moments, as well.

      See my other comments above.

      • Shirley Cunningham

        Thank you. I will read prior post. I certainly understand mourning for any such action/s to have had to happen in the first place, and seeking forgiveness for what he reveals and convicts within me.

        I will study violating the image of God in another, that I will need to ponder.

        I do believe the ultimate spiritual truth is non-violence amongst other spiritual truths, and am always seeking God for the Spirit of Christ and peace and wisdom in every mans heart, but true non-violence seems more like a place to me that does not exist in this cursed world, only seeking the greater good as God reveals to each of us.

        I liked my daughters creative imagination, when we play, she has a special finger-tool and when I get too close she sprays freeze spray, or sleep spray or laugh spray or creates a magical protective shield around her…. Now that would be a wonderful non-violent tool, but again without regenerated souls, it would also be another weapon for evil.

        • I agree this is all a difficult thing in reality. However, I think it's clear about the consequences of violating the image of God. Violating the image of God in humanity as punishable is as old as Genesis 9:6…one such place that comes to mind immediately is why an animal who attacks a human to the death, shedding the 'lifeblood,' should be put to death.

          That's old covenant of course, but forbidding these people to eat blood, a substance of great 'power,' I think is one of the things that set them apart…and focus their understanding of strength as something from God, not from their own arm or from killing, oddly enough. So, while the OT seems so severe, I find it alarmingly cautionary in matters of justice.

          Upon further musing, this would forbid the use of animals to hunt down other humans. So no corrupting animals beyond their own base natures was allowed. Interesting.

  • bigglesworth

    The views about the two great wars are misleading, because they're too simplistic about cause/effect. And you should also account for the role of the Roman Catholic church in the war and their hand in the holocaust – and whether or not you consider these Catholics to be included in your description as "Christians."

    Also, I'd like you to comment on John the Baptist's comments to soldiers. when each group came to him and individually asked them what each group should do, the soldiers were among them. When the soldiers asked, John did NOT say for them to quit being soldiers or stop being violent or stop protecting people. (Luke 3) If God really was opposed to His followers being soldiers … why wouldn't he suggest they quit their job? (it's not like John was shy, or anything)

    • Kurt

      Nonviolent church prior to WWII = No holocaust. It is the most sound argument that I have seen. Catholics, whatever you may think of some of their theology are in fact Christians. They failed just as most protestants in Germany did as well.

      I agree with Dan Martin on this issue of John the Baptist. He is the last of Israel's prophets. He is not Jesus. Jesus comes after, John simply prepared the way. Therefore, Jesus takes what John the Baptist commanded of soldiers and took it to a new level. Also, pretty simple logic I think.

      • Nonviolent Western Europe prior to WWII = no holocaust. But it also equals a complete Stalinist takeover of Europe and most likely either a Maoist or Imperial Japanese takeover of Asia.

        Stalin’s purges killed more people than the holocaust did, though over a longer period of time. Mao’s purges killed even more.

        This isn’t idle speculation: the versions of Marxism followed by the Soviet Union and Maoist China had as explicit goals the conquest of non-socialist nations.

        I’m not sure how this is an improvement.

        This is really frustrating. Every time I get close to being convinced, I read something like this. It’s a non-answer, and it only works so long as you don’t look at the other major governmental massacres of the period. Also, it doesn’t address what people were supposed to do in 1940, when the “rest” of Europe most assuredly *wasn’t* nonviolent.

        When the holocaust is ongoing, is nonviolence still the best strategy? If all American Christians were pacifists in 1940, but all European Christians weren’t, there wouldn’t have been enough people left in America to stop Hitler.

        I don’t mean this to be critical of you, Kurt. Your series on nonviolence has really set me to thinking, and it’s been almost the only thing I’ve read about pacifism that I actually find convincing. But this non-answer is a real sticking point.

        • jonathanhakim

          I’ll give a real answer then.

          1) We didn’t go to war in Europe to stop the Holocaust. The Holocaust didn’t even start until 1942, AFTER the war was well underway. Pre-1939, there was no Holocaust. Concentration camps only held 21,000 people in 1939, and most were political enemies. Jewish ghettos were not established until after WW2 started. Most people, including Jewish groups, put the actual term of the Holocaust as 1941-1945, well into the war, and the “Final Solution” was not agreed upon by the Nazis until 1942, and the extermination camps were not regularly in action until late 1942.

          In fact, before WW2 started, the DEPORTATION of Jews was a major effort by Germany – 60,000 Jews were deported to Palestine alone. As stated in the Wikipedia article on the Holocaust, under “Resettlement and Deportation” headline:

          “Before the war, the Nazis considered mass deportation of German (and subsequently the European) Jewry from Europe. Hitler’s agreement to the 1938–9 Schacht Plan, and the continued flight of thousands of Jews from Hitler’s clutches for an extended period when the Schacht Plan came to nothing, indicate that the preference for a concerted genocide of the type that came later did not yet exist.”

          The very act of all-out war is what made possible an atmosphere where something like the Holocaust could take place. The culpability of our participation in war in producing the Holocaust is almost always ignored.

          2) War did an awful job of stopping the Holocaust. Over 50,000,000 people died in WW2, including 6,000,000 Jews. 70% of the Jews of Europe died, and the ones who didn’t were primarily ones who had fled, been harbored by nonviolent supporters, or were beyond Hitler’s reach. The # of Jews “saved” by the war when it finally liberated the concentration camps in 1944 and 1945 was tiny compared the to the total who were killed (I can’t find exact totals, but it was in the low six figures, less than 5% of the # who were killed). The war was not a successful strategy for stopping the Holocaust by any means.

          3) Nonviolent activists DID act in WW2. Andre Trocme saved 5,000 lives with the resources of a couple small villages. The people of Denmark saved 95% of their Jewish population through purely nonviolent means. The Dutch were late to get working in masse, but by the end of the war they were protecting 300,000 people with the help/knowledge of 1,000,000 conspirators, including German officials. Nonviolence DID happen and DID have a profound positive effect in WW2. We can only imagine what could have happened with a much larger effort – if Trocme’s efforts had been replicated by Christians across France, if Schindler’s efforts had been replicated across Czechoslovakia, if Christians in Austria and Poland had responded like the ones in Denmark, if efforts in Netherlands had been in full force earlier, etc.

          4) People using nonviolent means outside of Europe also worked to save a large number of Jews. Swedsih diplomat Raoul Wallenberg and his collegues saved 100,000 Hungarian Jews with diplomatic passes. Portugal saved another 30,000 the same way. Shanghai took in another 30,000. Luiz Martins de Souza Dantas, Chiune Sempo Sugihara, and Abdol Hossein Sadari (from Brazil, Japan, and Iran respectively) saved thousands upon thousands more. Sweden and Switzerland, while refusing to participate in the war, became places of refuge for hundreds of thousands of Jews. Even Vatican City sheltered hundreds of Jews within its walls and aided the escape of thousands more.

          5) It’s hard to predict what could be accomplished nonviolently with the massive #’s of men and resources that are thrown at war…because it’s hardly ever tried. If small groups or relatively less powerful countries were able to do so much, why couldn’t the massive countries with massive resources that were leading the war effort have accomplished far more with nonviolent means?

          6) If the world’s Christians were really opposing the Holocaust nonviolently like this, at the cost of their own lives, would Germans have been so able to casually keep carrying it out? Sure, Hitler would have remained committed, most likely. But he couldn’t do it alone. Wherever nonviolent activists opposed the Holocaust and began helping Jews, there were German officials who realized they were in the right, helped them, gave them warnings when raids were coming, looked the other way, etc. Small movements could have that effect on their surrounding officials – a large movement would have forced far more Germans to question what they were doing, and stop following Hitler’s insane plan. It would have the exact opposite psychological effect that being threatened by war and having your country’s own existence at stake does (that only makes you more fearful, more violent, more self-justified, and more wrapped up in your own nationalism and hero-worship).

          6) All that being said…I still actually think that the first answer was the best answer. Because we don’t preach nonviolence as a “quick fix” solution, we preach it as a way of life to transform the world. You don’t turn to nonviolence when things go bad. You practice it in your community and your life in order to transform yourself and the world around you, and work towards sharing Christ’s peace until we see the Kingdom of God come in its fullness.

  • @bigglesworth, I've encountered this statement many times, but it just occurred to me I've never heard anyone deal with the fact that (1) this was John the Baptist speaking, not Jesus. Jesus had not yet taught the nonviolent lessons of Matt. 5-7, and pretty much nobody had gotten God's nonviolent message yet. John was a prophet, yes, but he had not been given all God's knowledge on this point. Scripture faithfully tells us what John said, not that John's voice was the last word on the matter. The Voice whose way he was preparing, clarified the subject rather forcefully…

  • Bigglesworth

    Okay, so if I understand you guys correctly, then John the Baptist wasn't preaching God's will. Or – he was preaching God's will, but God's will changed. Or – John's message was only to Jews pre-resurrected Jesus.

    Those are problematic for me, because they would also apply to most of Jesus' teaching. Including, by the way, the sermon on the mount. That section (I believe) is really more correctly understood to be Jesus' Rabbinical interpretation of the Torah ("You've heard it said … but I say to you…," etc.).

    I'm kinda with you guys, but not yet convinced.
    Thanks for your patience

    • John was speaking to the occupying force of the land…and what he mentioned is probably the main evils those soldiers were known for committing. They were in effect police, so I don't know that what he said to them was right for all military forces, anyways.

      Besides, he isn't Christ. In a Christocentric reading, Jesus's words are given more emphasis, if you will, then other texts and usages. Kurt can explain the theology of that better, I'm sure.

    • Actually, Tasi is right on target here. John isn't Jesus, and neither is anybody else.

      Jesus taught nonviolence, both by example and word. John's lack or omission of a direction to soldiers that is as clear or complete as Jesus is not to be taken as a reason to trump Jesus' teaching. If you believe anything at all about progressive revelation, or about Jesus fulfilling/completing the law, then it stands to reason that Jesus brought a clearer, fuller, and more complete picture of God's will than anyone before him.

      Remember that your original objection is why John did not tell soldiers to quit their jobs. Simply, God did not reveal that truth to John. Nor did God reveal his full will to any preceding prophet. Nothing in Scripture, or in any theology I have yet read, suggests that every prophet throughout time was privy to God's comprehensive will even for the time in which he spoke.

      Jesus trumps all…full stop.

  • #2 – If you are not willing to defend your family from harm at all costs, then you do not deserve to have a family in the first place.

    • I wouldn’t go so far as to say a totally nonviolent person should not have a family.  I do worry about children, who can’t consent to be “unguarded.”

      A lot of things put children in jeopardy, like taking a road trip, which carries a far greater risk of injury or death through car accident than the risk of “stranger danger,” or owning a swimming pool – those things kill more children under 12 years old per year than guns do in the US, or letting them play high school football, which kills more high schoolers than gun accidents each year.

      Compare that to the half-hearted defenses most people (male or female – this isn’t about men rushing to the rescue of damsels in distress) who are not totally nonviolent take (the willingness to fight doesn’t always translate into the willingness to do the prep work necessary to win).  Totally non-violent people are in a tiny minority in the US, but only 1/3rd of households guns, and far fewer of those household members have trained or extensively practiced in defensive firearm use.  Fewer than 5% have permits to carry guns outside their homes.

      Joey, I’m not including you in the following criticisms, because I don’t know you and don’t want to be presumptuous or insulting.

      If people were serious about defensive violence, they would study how to notice dangerous situations, avoid them if possible, de-escalate them if possible, and overcome them through violence if necessary.  

      But most people are not serious about defense.  They assume that their willingness to defend their families will somehow translate into the ability, with no real work on their part.

      I don’t honestly think a totally nonviolent person’s kids are really in more danger than the average person’s. 

      And that’s coming from someone who believes in defensive violence and has taken some time and energy to learn about its use.

  • I hate to be negative, but your answer to the “Hitler question” isn’t really an answer.  If Christians were all pacifists in the 1930s, Hitler would never have come to power.

    And that is true, about Hitler.  But what about Chairman Mao?  Pol Pot?  Josef Stalin (by the time he took power Russia was a Marxist-atheist state)?  Idi Amin?  The Taliban? Ghengis Khan?

    What about genocidal aggressors who don’t hail from (nominally) Christian countries? 

    Was the correct course of action in 1950 to allow Chinese-backed North Korea to conquer South Korea, exporting a “Cultural Revolution” that dwarfed Hitler’s body count? 

    I have to admit, I struggle with this a little, because in the past I’ve swallowed the American cultural acceptance and glorification of violence, even among Christians, but as I leave that behind, I find that total pacifism feels, well, like falling off the horse on the other side, as C.S. Lewis said.

    Are we to be so Kantian that we care nothing for the ends of our actions, so long as our means are pure?  Or do we simply have faith that prolonged bureaucratic massacres with death counts in the tens of millions will be stopped by our principled refusal to stop them?

    • @8a442583387a575cb02bf236b67bf6be:disqus …. 2 thoughts.

      1) What is the basis (authority) of your critique of Christians being nonviolent?  If it is the New Testament, then certainly you have something besides “rationalism” to argue from.  Obedience is to Jesus and Scripture, not rational thought.  In case you didn’t read the previous post that deals with “Jesus is Irrational” here it is:

      2) on that note, I wonder if you read the rest of the series?  Particularly my exposition of Romans 12-13.  Just because I don’t believe that *Christians* should be involved in violence doesn’t mean I hold the state to the same standard.  here’s that post:

      Hope these links help!

      • Before I go any further, I want to thank you for writing this series.  It’s been a great help to me in challenging some of my acceptance of violence done in my name as an American and my (largely unconscious) acceptance of violence in the culture that I consume (media, etc) and create (through conversation, recommendations for media, online postings, etc).

        I don’t want to argue, but I do have a few questions.  Do I understand
        Part 5 correctly, that governments should use force to keep order, if
        necessary, but Christians shouldn’t be a that directly (ie, the Army
        should fight the Nazis, but Christians shouldn’t be in the army … with
        the idea being that eventually, the witness of the radically different
        lives of Christians will end the need for armies altogether)?

        Even from the perspective of someone like me who does not embrace
        total/radical nonviolence (calling your position “nonviolence’  leaves those
        outside without a workable counter-name.  Pro-violence?  Violent? Hrm), it makes a certain degree of sense to stay out of military and police work, at least at present.  America imprisons a ridiculous % of its population, up there with countries like China and North Korea, often for things that could be better dealt with through counseling and rehabilitation.

        And our war on terror seems, well, endless, without a clear victory condition.  Precision bombing technology has improved, but killing civilians still happens.  Both of those should be problematic even for Just War adherents.

        I’m pretty sure you’ve heard all the arguments before, and seen the alternative interpretations of various verses in the OT and NT.   I think “MT” does a pretty good job collecting some Scripture based arguments in one place here

        There is,clearly a difference between the insult of being slapped and
        the immediate threat of grave bodily harm presented by a violent man
        with a weapon, whether a gun or just a heavy stick.  The words of Jesus
        are 100% clear as to how we respond to being shamed, insulted, provoked,
        or wronged.  They are not as self-evident as to how we respond to a
        threat of grave bodily harm *that doesn’t stem from martyrdom or
        preaching God’s word.* 

        It occurs to me, however, that a lot of American Christians wouldn’t even go as far toward nonviolence as “MT” (who’s writing for a website that focuses on armed self-defense).  His warnings at the end  promote living peacefully and caution against inappropriate use of force (generally, anything other than immediate self-defense). 

        Our culture really does “idealize the man of violence,” even Christians do.  That myth of redemptive violence you talked about in part 7 is really powerful.  It creeps into our subconscious minds and lingers, left behind by a thousand hours of TV violence, by playing “GI Joe” in the yard with waterguns as kids, and so on.

        I shouldn’t be too hard on myself (and others): after all, redemptive violence is a theme of many Old Testament stories.  As Christians, I agree that we shouldn’t think in those terms.  Security preparations should be undertaken seriously, with the understanding that if things get to the point of self-defense, things, have gone terribly wrong.

        That said, I can’t help but think the US would be a less warlike, less punitive place, if evangelical Christians would examine our cultural assumptions in light of the Bible, not vice-versa.  I’m trying to do that, but it’s not easy.

  • This may be only tangentially relevant, but I do not think your plan (as mentioned in the comments) of
    pushing, grabbing, or just getting in the way of an assailant has a very
    high chance of success. 

    I’ve read enough FBI ballistics studies to
    know that determined assailants often do not stop until shot multiple
    times.  While throwing yourself in the path of danger may slow an
    attacker down long enough for a quick-footed friend or family member to
    escape, it may not.  And any potential victim with impaired mobility,
    such as a small child or elderly person, would not be able to escape.

    However, if your conscience and study of God’s word tell you to take
    this less-likely-to-succeed path, I do not want to dissuade you: God
    knows far more than I do, and He doesn’t sleep.

  • Richhellman