A Christian response to violence: radical love
2011 began with some bleak news for Muslim-Christian relations around the world.
Recent attacks against churches in Iraq, Nigeria and Egypt have killed dozens of Christian worshippers. Meanwhile, the Pakistani government is standing by the country's controversial blasphemy law which critics say threatens religious minorities.
How should political and religious leaders deal with these challenges to interfaith relations?
Violence is a violation not only of the Other, but it is a violation of our own religious tradition and of God. An all powerful God does not need the violence of humankind. God needs us to understand that we all breathe the breath of the divine, that we all carry the image of God, that we all have a responsibility to protect God's creation. God requires us to love with an extreme love, with a radical love even in the wake of violence.
It would be easy to understand the sectarian violence that we see as religious conflicts. It is not. This violence between groups defined according to religious affiliation is at bottom about economic, political and sometimes personal rivalries. Various groups compete for power. Governments have an obligation to protect their citizens and to bring those who perpetrate violence to justice.
Religious leaders have an obligation to instruct their members against violence. However, as a Christian, I say the Christian obligation is to follow the teachings of Jesus.
In Christianity, salvation is free, but it is not cheap. Jesus paid the entire price of our eternal salvation when he suffered, bled, and died on the cross. The work of temporal salvation is our work to do. Those of us who decide to follow Jesus, who commit to Christianity, know that we have been bought with a price. (I Corinthians 6:20) We have made up our minds to become living sacrifices. (Romans 12:1) We choose to respond to all that life brings in ways that are different from the norm, and we act according to the will of God as lived and taught by Jesus.
Jesus teaches a nonviolent response to those who do violence against us. He commands a radical love that loves enemies. In the Sermon on the Mount he says: "But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5: 44-45) Jesus instructs us to:"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48)
Perfection here means complete, mature. In our spiritual maturity we love completely. No exceptions. We love the terrorists, those who want to prevent the construction of churches or those who want o gain political power through sectarian violence.
The Pauline school of Christianity continues this thinking by reminding us that "the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds." (II Corinthians 10:4) We defeat the violence perpetrated against us by controlling our own minds: "we take every thought captive to obey Christ." (II Corinthians 10:6)
Further, in the Letter to the Ephesians, we are told that "our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12)
The struggle is against the ideas that rationalize violence. In Paul's time these ideas were understood as cosmic spiritual powers known as rulers and authorities in the heavenly realm. Today we may understand these forces as emanations from the idolatry of our own ignorance. When human beings allow group identity, religious traditions, greed, political ambition and personal grudges to become ends in themselves that fracture human community, then we are worshipping a false god. Our own limited vision and ignorance become our gods.
The Christian response is to live the morality of Jesus as a living breathing example of a counter idea that negates the logic of violence. In Paul's Letter to the Romans, he writes: "Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all." (Romans 12:17) We are to overcome evil with good.
I believe that the violence that greeted this New Year and that stained the season of peace and good will with blood ought to be and can be overcome with our prayers for both victims and perpetrators of violence. All kinds of violence, everywhere. It can be overcome with our radical love.
Valerie Elverton Dixon
January 6, 2011; 8:42 PM ET
Save & Share:
Previous: Eco-friendly Christian theme park confounds | Next: Selective highlighting of scriptures has gone viral