Nonviolence and Love
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…
The message of Jesus is inherently and undisputedly nonviolent. There is no evidence, biblical or otherwise, that Jesus approved of physical violence against others, even in self-defense or to save the lives of others. Jesus did not passively accept the state of his world, however, living and teaching active confrontation of injustice, only in nonviolent ways. There is likewise no evidence that Jesus intended to establish a new religion or encouraged anyone to abandon their current religion. There is no evidence he encouraged people to worship him, let alone to aggressively encourage others to worship him. Jesus was a devout Jew and did nothing to destroy, replace, or evangelize the Jewish religion, although he was unapologetically critical of certain factions of its leadership and practices. What Jesus modeled and taught was a way of life to be practiced under any religion. His was a universal way, which is one of the foundational meanings of the Christ, which is a universal title and not one reserved for a single individual. Jesus taught a way to internal transformation that would draw us closer to God while helping heal the world around us, within or without a specific religious structure. Rather than worshipping him, Jesus encouraged people to follow him: to live as he lived, to treat others as he treated others, and to offer one’s life in service to a higher purpose.
There is, however, ample evidence that Jesus encouraged his followers to respond to aggressive others nonviolently, with love, surrender, and submission, even at the cost of their possessions and lives. Yes, they were to speak truth to power. Yes, they were to confront injustice. And yes, they were to be willing to sacrifice their lives for the way of Jesus, but there is no indication Jesus encouraged the sacrifice of anyone else’s life for that or any other way. It seems to me an obvious conclusion that physical violence of any sort or for any reason is a significant obstacle in the path to union with God, to approaching the kingdom of heaven, which was the goal then as now.
There are a number of events that led to the life and teachings of Jesus deteriorating into a new religion worthy of violent defense instead of a nonviolent way of life characterized by love and inclusion for all, as was originally intended. One of the most significant happened in the 4th Century when what had become the Christian church became a sycophant of the Roman government. By becoming the official religion of Rome, much of the violence being done to early Christians by the Romans ended, but that tenuous peace came at a tremendous cost. A measure of security was gained, but the independent voice of the Church was lost. Instead of exposing the system and its leaders for their abuses, injustices, and corruption, as Jesus did in his day, the Church had to look the other way and remain in the “religious lane” established for it by the government. Criticism against the powers and principalities of the day could result in the loss of its cherished and protected position as the official religion, even though its prophetic voice had been largely neutered.
This Church-Government partnership reared its ugly head during the Crusades of the 11th, 12th, and 13th Centuries, when the Church encouraged and supported massive bloodshed of primarily Islamic peoples for a land-grab cloaked in religious garb. The Crusades, perhaps more than any other event up to that time, firmly established the Christian Church as a violent instrument and co-conspirator in governmental greed done under the banner of Jesus of Nazareth. In my opinion, Jesus would have rolled over in his tomb (had he still been there).
Of course, a few centuries later was the establishment of what we now know as the United States, which was founded as one nation under God. I have already addressed the horrific violence utilized in building and maintaining our nation from its beginnings to today, so I will not repeat it here. Suffice it to say that whenever the names of God or Jesus are invoked to justify violence against others, my heart sinks, as it does when violence is done against innocent others out of fear, want for notoriety, or whatever motivation some might believe justifies physical harm to others. Clearly, there is a disconnect between what our state and federal laws allow, i.e., “Stand Your Ground” laws, and what following Jesus requires. What is needed is compassion and mercy to help break the cycle of violence in which we find ourselves. Violent responses only perpetuate violence, or in Jesus’s prophetic words, “…all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
This is the 37th in a series of Life Notes titled Guns, Mental Illness, and Jesus. The opinions expressed here are mine and not necessarily those of other individuals or organizations. To engage with me or to explore contemplative spiritual direction, contact me at email@example.com.
 Matthew 5:38-39a
 Matthew 26:52b