Giving Up on Nonviolence: For Those Who Want to Believe Peace is Possible

Giving Up on Nonviolence: For Those Who Want to Believe Peace is Possible October 20, 2015

Giving up on nonviolence

The more I watch the news, scroll through my Twitter and Facebook feeds, and listen to NPR, the more I wonder if peace is possible.

The idea that we are progressing as a human race is simply folly. American bombs kill innocent aid workers in hospitals. ISIS displaces large segments of Iraqis and Syrians. Regular folks are being beheaded. The tension between Israel and Palestine hasn’t a hint of slack. Peace feels futile.

Can you relate?

Perhaps you are like me.

You grew up in a Christian culture that told you that violence was a bummer, but often needed. Violence was given support from the Hebrew Scriptures. Violence was justified with the New Testament by reading Romans 13 in isolation from its literary and historical context. And you bought it: hook, line, and sinker.

When 9/11 hit, you welled up with sadness and anger. No one kills innocent people on our land… no one!

Then, as Bush announced that we would be going to war with our so-called enemies, you cheered him on in the name of Christ. You may have even applied the passage from John 15.13 to soldiers: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” [If you are reading this and saying, “so,” the problem is that this passage has zero to do with using violence while laying down one’s life. In fact, crucifixion is about laying one’s life down for one’s enemies.].

As the war continued, and continued, and continued…

and continued…

oh, in case we forgot, America’s at war…

and continued…

You began wondering: Why? Is this war even justified? Does this war have anything to do with 9/11, actually?

The questions took on a life of their own from that point. Then you started reading your Bible with fresh eyes and noticed something: The New Testament never teaches that violence is allowable for followers of Jesus.

So you wrestled with the implications. What about innocent people? What about a child? A spouse? A puppy? Kitties (Oh, never mind)?

And when you came out the other side, even with some ambiguity and theoretical shades of gray, you knew that to be a Christian was to believe that peace is possible. In fact, you came to believe that creative nonviolence paired with prayer was the only way Christ taught his disciples to engage with evil in the world.

Militaries will do what militaries do, but we who follow Jesus will do something different. In fact, most Christian pacifists believe that pagan force (when used with restraint) can be the lesser evil in some limited circumstances, but we aren’t to promote or participate in that. We follow Jesus.

In Christ, you came to believe, peace was possible: even if it meant risking unarmed death to accomplish that end.

And then came ISIS.

And the continued work of the Taliban.

And the destruction of Syria and parts of Iraq.

And children being molested and crucified.

And men being beheaded.

And women being forced into sex slavery.

And bombs being dropped both from Gaza and even more so in Gaza.


Now you don’t know what to think. Me neither.

Giving up on nonviolence seems like the only way forward. You feel guilty. So do I. But… ISIS, et al.

And at the same time, deep in your bones, you still want to believe that peace is possible. So do I.

And it is the hope that peace is possible that keeps me trusting that Jesus’ way can make a difference. It is hope both lures me to face the evil and pain of this world, while also embracing the dream of a better world. The world will not always be like this. A day will come when evil is dealt with once and for all and when peace and justice will flow through the cosmos refreshing every square inch of reality with the love of God.

Those of us who see this dream must choose to imagine the world as it ought to be. With imaginations activated, even in the a world of ISIS and fear we can see possibilities for peace. Where the worst rivalries exist, in places like Israel/Palestine, peace can show its lovely face. Followers of Jesus (and anyone likeminded in the cause of peacemaking) must not lose hope. We can be part of making a better world, sometimes we just need inspiring reminders.

One of these reminders connects me back to a life changing trip I took to Israel/Palestine in 2014 with The Global Immersion Project (if you care about peacemaking, these folks need to be on your radar!!!). A new film, which is about 5 mins long, is called “Drop Makers.” It features three amazing men who nudge me forward in the midst of my nonviolent doubts. Here’s the description from the Humdinger Pictures website:

The Drop Makers short film looks at the heart of peacemaking in Isreal/Palestine.  Milad, Husam, and Muhmoud give shape to the appearance of a life lived fostering peace in an endless cycle of violence.  Where true strength is found not in the application of power, but in the restraint to use it.  Where hope lies in small deeds that may indeed be the very seeds of effective change.

If you need inspiration, start with this film.

But even more, if you need inspiration, look to Jesus. When violence would have saved his life, he chose to relinquish it: the ultimate model of a peacemaker. Jesus died for his enemies to make peace with them. May we carry our cross and make peace in our neighborhoods and advocate for peace in our world. Peace is still possible, but only if we do not give up hope.


THIS WEEK ON THE SERMON PODCAST: “We,” a series about the core values of Pangea | Communities in Seattle, Wa. In the first talk of the series we looked at our core value “Transformation: We choose the subversive path of knowing and following the crucified Christ.” In the second talk, we explored “Hope: We choose to imagine the world as it ought to be.” In that second talk, we also introduced our “Offering Hope Initiative,” in partnership with Mennonite Central Committee in their work for peace and justice among the refugee crisis of Syria and Iraq. PangeaCast: iTunesFeed.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Andy Duffey

    Yes… it is in times like these that faithful disciples practicing the way of the Prince of Peace are meant to shine. It forces us to truly trust in God and love him more than our own lives. Living sacrifices, even unto death.

  • Charles Cosimano

    In some ways one of the great tragedies of history is that Ghandi never encountered Stalin. That would have put paid to the idea of non-violence working.

  • cken

    I think many of us would like to live in a peaceful non-violent world. Unfortunately not all religions seem to think war is unacceptable. The question in my mind is based on the teachings of Jesus should we all lay down our lives to those who want to harm us or wish us dead. Perhaps the problem is not enough of us have totally surrendered to God and have made the sacrifice to spread the good news.

  • Nonbeliever

    This writer seems to do the same as many other people. He indicates a feeling that the world is worse than it was in the “past”, like the good old days. If you study military history across 4 or 5 thousand years, you quickly realize that nothing has changed except in the communication of conflicts from around the globe. The conflicts have always been there, but most people on the planet didn’t know about most of them for a long time, if ever. His discussion also seems to carry the same concept many progressives carry, which is that mankind will someday rise above all the violence, hatred, crime, etc… to live in some utopian fantasy. He says peace is possible, but there has never been a moment of universal peace on this planet and there never will be. Progressives seem to think peaceful coexistence can be legislated and indoctrinated into our youth. Both are delusional. We aren’t all created with equal talents, brains, physical abilities, or inheritance. Therefore, there will always be the have’s and the have nots, and the competition will always result in conflict including war.

    Why, because we exist in a material world with finite resources and a human characteristic to always try to grow, have more, further our selves, and achieve a legacy. In a finite world, as one person or group of people gain, it generally means others lose. I’m not saying a person can’t or shouldn’t be peaceful, but the only way a relative degree of freedom and self determination is possible for an individual or a group of people is if they are always prepared to defend their resources. Even the Bibles promise to a utopian existence is after death, maybe.

  • Dean

    Well, by any objective measure things are better now than they have ever been in human history. War, disease, poverty, starvation, infant mortality, human dignity pretty much anything you can think of is better today than it was even say, 50 years ago. I mean, millions of people died in the Black Plague, hundreds of millions died in WWII and the aftermath, we dropped atomic bombs on people in Japan. I’m pretty sure if any of those folks were here today, they would look at ISIS or whatever other stupid thing we are dealing with today and think we are just pansies. It is extremely difficult for people to think about human civilization with any sort of perspective, I mean, we’ve only been around for about 100,000 years, if you plotted our advances in science, technology morality, art, music, anything, you would have a flat line for 95,000 years and then a line going straight up parabolically for the last 5. In those terms, anything is possible. I don’t think Christian humanism is an oxymoron, I think God was the first humanist and if he thought we were worth dying for, I think we’re going to be ok.

  • The Mouse Avenger

    Well, I dunno…I do understand where you’re coming from, & I understand why you believe what you do. But without going into a long essay, I would be lying if I didn’t say that yes, I do believe the War On Terror was ultimately worth it, & a lot of good has come out of it, ALONG WITH a lot of bad things, too. War is never simple or clean-cut, let alone clean! It’s a brutal, ugly thing in which everyone gets their hands dirty. That having been said, I do agree that there have been a LOT of unnecessary civilian casualties, whether inflicted intentionally or otherwise. If I could, I would make it so that all civilians on all sides–men, women, children, & animals–would remain safe & unharmed. Alas, I don’t have a magic wand… 🙁 But, maybe, making recommendations for reducing the loss of civilian lives would do just as well. (I should certainly hope so, anyway!)

    Additionally, I do believe that the War On Terror is being waged for moral reasons that are good & just. No one in ANY country wants to live under a dictatorship; democracy & elections & freedom & things are NOT just things that belong to first-world countries alone. EVERYONE has the right to live & be happy without being told what to do by theocratic, super-conservative cults that won’t let children play with toys, let women get an education or career, enforce dress codes that not everyone might want, & so on, & so on, & so on…And, besides, if the War On Terror were totally immoral, why would our friends & allies in the Middle Eastern countries be asking for our help to take down brutal totalitarian regimes like Assad? Why would they agree to join us in the struggle in the first place? Why would they even open themselves up to democracy & freedom & such, if they didn’t desire it so strongly in the first place?

    My daddy fought in the Vietnam War, & I can see a lot of parallels between this war & that one. But I do believe there is a big difference: we’re actually winning this war, & we’re not doing it alone–not as long as we have allies all around the world, including in the Middle East.