A few days ago, I saw a post from Benjamin Corey and duly “liked” it on Facebook. It was advocating that we see Jesus as essentially nonviolent, and that we follow his example.
Now, I find that there is pushback. To quote that article, “It’s easy for a privileged person to to think that Jesus was a pacifist. It’s even easier, I would presume, to say that “it’s a central commitment to nonviolent enemy love as a non-negotiable qualification of the Christian identity…””.
The author, Andy Gill, goes on to say “Ben’s perspective could be stemming from what’s called a “Eurocentric Hermeneutic.” He’s, seemingly, picking and choosing which scriptures stand out the most while simultaneously using an understanding and interpretation of the text (i.e. scripture) that best suits his opinion (to be fair, we all do this to a large extent).”, and then quotes Revelation and various Old Testament passages to indicate that violence is indeed scripturally sanctioned and approved in some cases.
I think I can dispose of the Old Testament quotations rather easily by pointing out that Jesus redefined what we should be doing in Matthew 5:21-48 (and particularly vv. 21-24, 38-41 and 43-46). I really don’t think that leaves us any wriggle room in which to take violent action, or indeed to harbour violent thoughts. Prior to the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps there was room for violent action, but Jesus removed it there.
In respect of Revelation, the imagery is indeed violent (but then, Paul makes use of military imagery in Ephesians when he is talking about spiritual warfare, and this definitely does not involve real swords and armour), but I note “Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations.” If there is violence there, it is of language, not physical; just like Paul, the author is using a figure of physical combat to indicate spiritual struggle.
Gill also says “I want to make it clear and known that although I’m not against the idea of pacifism we must embrace a Christian realism as opposed to a progressive idealism.”.
I really don’t think that “Christian” and “realism” can be linked this way. Yes, I accept that complete nonviolence is somewhere between slightly daft and batshit crazy, and probably the more so for the nation as opposed to the individual. Jesus’ economic prescription, to sell all you have and give it to the poor, is no less loopy as a concept. These are not realistic instructions, they are idealistic. Paul also says that the gospel is “a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks”. And, indeed, it seems from the tenor of his article that Gill finds nonviolence both scandalous and foolish.
But it is the gospel.
Now look, I am definitely a realist; I’m also a pragmatist, but I don’t try to suggest that Christianity should be pragmatic. I also haven’t given away all my possessions, nor do I think that it is practical for not merely myself but my whole society to be nonviolent – but in taking that attitude, I am being a not-very-good Christian, I am not being a “realist Christian” or a “Pragmatic Christian”. I hope that someday I might be able to get my realist, pragmatist side (SR Chris, or the Scientific Rationalist side of me) to take the leap and actually follow Jesus wholeheartedly, but there is a distinct element of Augustine’s “Lord, make me chaste – but not yet” about that.
It does, at least, give me something to confess every Sunday.
No, Christianity is not realistic. But as Maya Angelou said “I’m always amazed when people walk up to me and say, ‘I’m a Christian.’ I go, ‘Already?'””. We are, in trying to be Christian, aiming at a target which is unattainable, to be “perfect, as our father in Heaven is perfect”. We should not dilute that by thinking that half measures can ever be sufficient.