Category Archives: Non-violence

What about the second mile?

Bloch's Sermon on the MountIn discussing the issues of violence and non-violence, pacifism and non-pacifism, something comes up at times that I think needs to be re-examined. I’ve heard it said that Jesus’ comments about non-resistance to evildoers only applied to religious persecution.

In mulling this over and weighing it out, a thought kept coming to mind: what about the second mile? You know the teaching:

If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

It’s in the context of Jesus’ reframing the concept of vengeance (“eye for eye, tooth for tooth”), two phrases after the command to turn the other cheek. And it’s definitely not about religious persecution. There’s no evidence that the concept of Roman soldiers forcing non-Romans to carry their gear was a religious oppression. It was more akin to the quartering that the British Empire practiced prior to the American Revolution.

Jesus’ answer is that such oppression is not to be resisted.

Now I know that there are other ways of teaching that the Sermon of the Mount doesn’t apply to us. We’ve looked at those in a series on this blog. If you’d like to restate those views, fine. I don’t expect to spend a lot of time replying to such comments.

For those that think that Matthew recorded Jesus’ teachings for the edification of Jesus’ church, I’d like to discuss this point: doesn’t the teaching about the second mile move the conversation away from the subject of religious persecution?

No more speaking up for evil

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAOK, I want to go back to a recurring theme on this blog, the idea of speaking to the political system from outside the system. I admittedly wrestle with terminology a bit, for I tend to think of politics in terms of partisan struggles, while others think that anything affecting the public (the polis) is politics.

What I’m talking about is Christians refusing to align themselves with human groups, be they liberal or conservative, Republican or Democratic. At some point, those groups begin to exist with the aim of winning elections and guaranteeing their continued existence. Ideas begin to be judged more in terms of practicality, feasibility, and electability, rather than in terms of right and wrong.

So we Christians speak out on the issues, but not with the same talking points that our non-Christian friends use. If your political views line up with a non-believer’s political views, your views probably aren’t Christian. It’s as simple as that.

One area where I’d like to see Christians take a firm stand these days is on the topic of life. We need to be pro-life, far beyond what those who merely oppose abortion are. We need to be anti-death. We need to stop saying, “Well, this form of killing is worse than that form of killing, so I’ll oppose it.” I read a Christian blogger who said that the conservatives are wrong for supporting overseas wars, while liberals are wrong for supporting abortion, but he’d support the conservatives because of “body count.”

No! When we choose the lesser of two evils, we are still choosing evil.

Let’s be known for saying, “I don’t care who gets elected. I don’t care if this idea has public palatability. I’m going to speak the truth.” Let’s be known as the people who won’t compromise their beliefs just to be able to identify themselves with a popular movement. Let’s be known as those who unwaveringly seek the truth. (imperfectly, yes, but relentlessly)

Let’s stand up for life. From womb to the tomb, as they say. We oppose abortion. We oppose war. We oppose humans causing the death of other humans.

Once we start speaking out against ALL killing, people will realize that we aren’t just another partisan voice in the political maelstrom. As long as we choose the lessor of evils, no one will believe that we are really speaking out for good.


photo from my old friend,

From New Wineskins: Jesus’ Way Doesn’t Work

New Wineskins coverKeith Brenton, editor of New Wineskins magazine, asked me for a contribution for this month’s issue on Violence and Vulnerability.

Here’s the article I sent him, which is on the magazine’s website today:


Jesus’ way doesn’t work.

I thought we should clear that one up right off the bat. We live in a pragmatic society, that tends to judge things based on their practicality. Because of that, it’s worth repeating: Jesus’ way doesn’t work.

That goes for a lot of the things that Jesus said and did, but it especially goes for what Jesus taught about self-defense, revenge, and dealing with violent enemies.

It just doesn’t work.

Look at the facts. The way Jesus dealt with his enemies led him to a violent death. Of Jesus’ twelve closest followers ten were killed by their enemies, one committed suicide and only one died of old age (if traditional history can be believed).

Over the next few centuries, the church suffered ten periods of intense persecution. Christians were killed in horrible ways. There is little indication that they fought back or resisted the evils being enacted upon them.

For, you see, Jesus’ way doesn’t work.

According to the norms and standards of this world, Jesus’ way is a complete and utter failure. It offers little to no protection to its followers. It’s manner of dealing with evil men does little to dissuade them from their immoral deeds. It gives us no sense of vindication, no gratifying undoing of the wrongs of men.

By men’s standards, Jesus’ way doesn’t work.

That’s why so few would be willing to turn the other cheek, for example. They want turning the other cheek to stop the violent man in his tracks. They want submission to aggression to cause the aggressors to repent of their ways and begin to defend the innocent.

Turning the other cheek doesn’t work.

Loving enemies? Completely impractical. Do good to those that hate us? That will only make them take advantage of us all the more.

Jesus’ teachings do not fit in the real world.

When Jesus offered impractical teachings about money, Luke tells us that the Pharisees scoffed at him (Luke 16:14) Then Jesus said something that should make us stop and think: “What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” (Luke 16:15)

Just as Jesus’ way doesn’t fit the real world, the world’s way doesn’t fit Jesus’ kingdom. In the Kingdom of God, the world’s way doesn’t work.

In the Book of Revelation, we find God’s people in the Roman province of Asia struggling to know how to deal with an evil ruler. This wasn’t a question of high taxes, oppressive legislation or immoral practices. Christians had been killed, and all evidence suggested that more would be killed. How should the church respond?

One option was to flee. The Apostle Paul fled danger on more than one occasion (Acts 9:25, 30); it was possible that God wanted his people to emigrate to an area more tolerant of their religious views.

Or maybe they should fight. Gideon and three hundred men had defeated a foe that couldn’t be counted. If God wanted his people to fight, numbers wouldn’t matter. Maybe God wanted them to take up swords and punish the evildoers around them.

God sends an angel with a message for his church: the Book of Revelation. And the instructions of that book were to reject both of the above options.

In Chapter 5, John is before God’s throne. God holds a sealed scroll, one that no one is worthy of opening. Then John is told that the Lion of the Tribe of Judah is able to open the scroll.

What happens next redefines everything. It tells us how to read Revelation. It tells us how to understand the Old Testament in terms of the cross. It tells us how to respond to the evil in the world around us.

Turning to see the Lion of Judah, John sees “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain.” We can’t overstate the importance of this. The Conquering King, the heir of David, the awaited Messiah is a Lamb, not a Lion. Not only is he a Lamb, but he’s a slain Lamb.

In case we miss the significance of this, John spells it out for us by quoting a heavenly chorus: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9)

Jesus is worthy because he was slain. He is the faithful witness (Revelation 1:5) because he held true to his identity all the way to the cross… and beyond. He can call his followers to “patient endurance” (Revelation 1:9; 13:10; 14:12) because he has already walked that path.

“If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.” (Revelation 13:10)

The church heard Jesus’ message. They didn’t run away. They didn’t fight. They endured patiently. For more than two hundred years. They suffered. They died. They loved their enemies and prayed for them. They turned the other cheek. And they were killed for it.

Because Jesus’ way doesn’t work. It doesn’t protect your from suffering. It doesn’t protect you from death. (well, not immediately) It doesn’t bring your enemies to their knees. It doesn’t protect the weak nor avenge the innocent. In the eyes of the world, Jesus’ way is a complete failure.

If you’re looking for something that works, don’t look to Jesus’ teachings. But remember one thing: if you choose what makes sense to men, you’re choosing something that God despises. If your views line up with the views of your non-Christian neighbor, you’re probably not using God’s values. If your outlook is that of the Democrats or the Republicans or the Tea Partiers or NPR or the NRA, then you’re probably not following Jesus’ way.

Which is just as well. Jesus’ way doesn’t work.

Consistent Life Ethic

I came across the Consistent Life Ethic a few years ago while doing research for a class I was teaching in the course “Christianity in Culture.” The idea was new to me. I found it to be a surprising take on some important issues, especially because it seemingly cuts across the traditional divisions of left and right, conservative and liberal.

Apparently, this ethic was first articulated by Joseph Bernadin, a cardinal in the Catholic church. He sought to tie together all issues that have at their core the value of human life. He urged people to take a consistent approach to these questions, stating that: “When human life is considered ‘cheap’ or easily expendable in one area, eventually nothing is held as sacred and all lives are in jeopardy.” In another speech, Bernadin said, “The spectrum of life cuts across the issues of genetics, abortion, capital punishment, modern warfare and the care of the terminally ill.”

The Consistent Life Ethic condemns abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia. It opposes the death penalty and economic injustice. Bernadin condemned what he called “unjust war,” but the Consistent Life movement today (which was once called the Seamless Garment Network) has embraced pacifism. The mission statement of Consistent Life expresses:

We are committed to the protection of life, which is threatened in today’s world by war, abortion, poverty, racism, capital punishment and euthanasia. We believe that these issues are linked under a ‘consistent ethic of life’. We challenge those working on all or some of these issues to maintain a cooperative spirit of peace, reconciliation, and respect in protecting the unprotected.

They go on to describe their purpose as follows:

We serve the anti-violence community by connecting issues, building bridges, and strengthening the case against each kind of socially-approved killing by consistently opposing them all.

I’m not ready to align myself with any movement other than the Kingdom of God, but I find this idea to be very intriguing. What do you think? Can you see some value in seeking consistency on these issues? Or is this approach misguided?

Is it only cowards that turn the other cheek?

Going back to the original post in this series on the Sermon on the Mount, it all started with a line in a Weird Al Yankovic which seemed to imply that turning the other cheek is stupid. I broadened that to include the whole sermon, but now I’d like to focus on the concept of turning the other cheek.

We’ve talked about whether this concept is stupid. A more common charge that I hear is that turning the other cheek is an act of cowardice. My hunch is that these people haven’t really imagined what it would require to take a blow and allow someone to deliver another one. I also think that people would call this cowardice because they’re much too afraid to actually try it themselves!

What would a coward do when struck by another? He might run away, if he thought he could get away. The most likely reaction is that he would fight back.

“Are you saying that everyone who fights is a coward?”

No, I’m not. I’m saying that neither fighting nor refusing to fight says anything about cowardice or bravery. Look at the animal world. Almost any animal will fight when cornered. Animals that would normally run will fight when forced to. It’s the same with humans. Many people fight more out of fear than out of valor. And some of the most courageous acts in history were done by people who refused to do violence to another human being.

Turning the other cheek forces the other person to look you in the eye to strike you again. If they gave you a backhanded blow, an insult in the ancient world, they would be forced to back it up with a dignified strike. They would be forced to deal with you as a person. It demonstrates a refusal to use violence nor to cave in to violence.

Turning the other cheek requires a level of courage that I don’t claim to have. I aspire to it, but I don’t claim to have arrived. If I were able to do it, it would only be by the power of God.

Those are some initial thoughts on this specific teaching. What are yours?