|| Peace News: The Christian God Cannot Be or Tolerate Violence|
By Howard Bess |
If God is love, God cannot be violent nor can God tolerate violence. Jesus was a non-violent, loving people’s rabbi. He was never violent in action, nor do we find endorsement of violence in his teachings.
There are far-reaching changes that are taking place in Christian churches. Older churches and denominations are shrinking, and new expressions of Christian Faith are popping up at a dizzying pace. The changes that are taking place are not a matter of speculation. The upheaval is confirmed with hard numbers produced by professional researchers. The changes that are taking place are numerous, varied and undefined. The future shape of the changes cannot be defined. Our understanding of Christianity and what it means to be a Christian is up for grabs.
All theological discussions are contextual. The present upheaval in Christian churches cannot be divorced from a younger American population that is weary of war on the world scene, weary of violence in our American communities, and outraged at the violence that is taking place in our homes. For many violence has become unacceptable. ...
One of the key questions that is taking center stage in the new developing Christianity is “Is God violent?” Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins” put him on the cover of Time magazine and won him a major piece in The New Yorker. Bell is not a lonely voice. He represents a growing base of American Christians who are weary of an angry, violent God, who sometimes loves some people and not others, loves some kinds of Christians but not others, loves Americans and not Chinese, loves Christians but not Muslims, and endorses our insane wars.
But what about the God found in the Bible, who is sometimes loving and sometimes violent. For many folk, choosing a God that knows no violence is a denial of the Holy Bible. Another question must be raised by thoughtful readers of the Bible. Is the Bible indeed a Holy book without error or is it a collection of writings that reveals ongoing discussions and arguments about the nature and activities of the God of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jesus and Mohammad?
The growing American objection to violence is forcing a new look at the authority of the Bible as a Holy book. At this point in the changing scene of American Christendom, few generalizations can be made about the search for authority. However, one reality is found throughout the movements. The new breed of emerging Christians is looking at the Bible with a critical eye. They are reaching a new conclusion. They are looking to Jesus for their authority rather than the Bible.
When the new breed of emerging Christians looks at Jesus, they read simple statements like “Love your enemies” and “Blessed are the peacemakers.” They hear him telling his disciple to “Put up your sword” with the added admonition “Those who live by the sword will also die by the sword.” These short sayings are memorable and give good guidance to living life in a different, non-violent, peaceful manner.
Can America become a non-violent, peaceful country? Or have the wars of our past poisoned our minds and hearts beyond recall? Have we fallen into the lie that peace and security can be attained with bigger armies and more powerful weapons? Do we hear the warning of Jesus “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”
I recently reread Martin Luther King’s “Pledge of Nonviolence.” He asked masses of people to take the pledge. It was one of the key motivators of peaceful change in America.
The emerging Christian churches are leaving traditional churches in large numbers. They are leaving for good reasons. One of those reasons is that traditional churches (with some notable exceptions) have not pursued their role as peacemakers.
Let us be fair. In the history of America, Christian churches and individuals have done an amazing amount of good. They have established a host of organizations and ministries for the doing of good in the name of Jesus. The drive to rid the country of slavery was church driven. The civil rights movement of the 1960’s was church driven. The nation assumes the services of Salvation Army and Catholic Social Services. We all benefit from Christian based health and education networks.
However, Christian churches in America have utterly failed in communicating the message of peace and non-violence that is written in large letters in the teachings of Jesus. Just War Theory has been used to justify every war that America has chosen to wage. Some timid churches have prided themselves as being tolerant. I believe Jesus would find the standard of tolerance disgusting. To be true to Jesus, Christians must be pro-active and shout the message of peace and non-violence from the house tops.
I find the present upheaval to be encouraging because people involved appear to be taking Jesus seriously. Jesus said that a small light could light up a whole room, that a bit of yeast could raise a whole loaf, and that a bit of salt could flavor the whole pot. Our new crop of Jesus followers is our nation’s hope. I pray that they will lead a nation from war and violence to the Jesus way of peace and non-violence.
The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska. His email address is [email protected]
[07 March 2013]
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