To respond to violence
Many people dead…
The borders of France closed…
Strong responses promised…
And how are we to respond?
I am a Christian, a person who attempts to follow the way Jesus of Nazareth taught and demonstrated in his life, death, and resurrection. That said, I recognize that the term “Christian” has taken on a number of loaded meanings in this highly politicized world, this world beset by civil, religious, and inter-ethnic strife. Far too many people who claim the name of Jesus Christ are espousing violence, and violent responses to others’ violence.
Events of a few years ago taught me the huge value in Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, particularly his teachings about response to violence. Note that I understand violence to include not just physical violence, but any assault on one’s person, including professional and personal insults.
‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.’ (Matthew 5:38-41)
Turning the other cheek has often been interpreted to suggest that Christians should be wusses: lie down and let your attacker beat you again. Nothing could be further from the truth. Without going into a detailed exposition of the text, suffice it to say that this is better interpreted as standing up and requiring that you be treated as an equal. We expose the attacker for who he or she is by countering their hate with our selves: sons and daughters of the Most High, equally deserving of respect as those who present as enemies.
I had long believed this, but some events in my ministry a few years ago taught me its truth in a way that I could never have imagined before. It’s a long story, but let’s just say that I found myself under attack from some quite unexpected quarters. I had various people counselling me through this. Some urged me to fight back in kind. Others said I should go away for a while, and let things die down. Fight or flight, the classic responses to aggression.
I chose to do neither. Instead, I held my head high, and continued on in my ministry, doing my work in the best way I knew how. A year later, the parish had changed, as my co-worker observed. She had gone on a year’s leave just before the stuff blew up, and when she returned, she encountered a radically different atmosphere. Another friend told me later that my example had helped the parish turn the corner. I turned the other cheek, standing up and saying (by example) that you can’t treat people with disrespect as had been done to me.
That’s my story. Now on the world stage we find ourselves once again faced with appalling acts of violence against innocent people. The standard response — fighting back — has not worked. Read about it HERE. I believe with all my heart that we need to find a new way, one in keeping with the Gospel of Christ. A collective turning the other cheek and loving our neighbours. And yet, the words coming out of France can best be summed up as “REVENGE!”
There has to be a better way. Seeking revenge, even the limited revenge demanded by the Old Testament (“eye for eye, tooth for tooth…” cf. Exodus 21:23-25), perpetuates the cycle of violence. Revenge proves the attacker right, sucking us into an inescapable vortex. The last 14 years have proved this beyond any doubt. Revenge does not work; it does not stop violence.
What is the better way? It won’t be popular. Seeking with Jesus to halt the cycle of violence will inevitably lead to cries of betrayal and cowardice. My admittedly limited personal experience proved to me that loving our enemies is costly, but is ultimately of immeasurable value.
Let us seek to find that better way in our lives, our communities, and between nations. Let’s leave the last word to the prophet Micah:
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. (Micah 4:2b-4)
Post-script: Bishop Pierre Whalon has written eloquently on the same topic. Read his comments HERE.