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I live in a country where there are no school shootings. It’s probably due to us having extremely restrictive gun laws in Sweden, as it is illegal for civilians to carry a gun unless they have a license and guns are required to be unloaded, hidden, and supervised when transporting them.
The United States, on the other hand, has more guns than people, guns are involved in 79 % of homicides (compared with 4 % in the UK) and the gun lobby is extremely rich. Tragically, many pastors and other Christian leaders enthusiastically support the gun industry despite Jesus’ words about loving our enemies and turning the other cheek. As a result, many of them refuse to acknowledge the need for more gun control in order to prevent school shootings like the one in Uvalde that killed 19 children and two adults.
For example, worship leader Sean Feucht warned his followers against seeking political solutions to the gun problem, telling them that the solution is to bring God “back in schools” (which, ironically, is a political suggestion):
In fact, when the National Rifle Association (NRA), the leading gun lobby organisation in the US, arranged a prayer breakfast at their national convention just a few days after the shooting, nobody on stage mentioned the attack or prayed for the families of the victims. Instead, they prayed against “Democrats and liberals” who want to have better background checks on those who want to buy guns. After all, this is the same organisation that has actively lobbied against background checks and undermined efforts to keep firearms away from those with mental illness.
Yet, there was a voice in the wilderness, a remnant of righteousness among the gunmongers. Our friend Shane Claiborne, activist and theologian, was there. Not because he is a NRA supporter, but because he wanted to show the people at this prayer breakfast the difference between the Gospel of Jesus and the gospel of guns.
He and some friends started to pray for the victims of the shooting in Uvalde, and immediately were kicked out by the police. Shane writes at Red Letter Christians blog:
I carried with me the Uvalde paper we had picked up. The front page had all those babies’ faces and the two teachers who died with them. We also had a list of all their names, along with the names of the 10 people killed in Buffalo. Our goal wasn’t to get kicked out of the prayer breakfast. Our goal wasn’t event to disrupt it.
We had tickets and waited until there was a space without speakers in the program so we didn’t interrupt. Our goal was singular – to pray for the victims by name, and to invite everyone to join us. With the help of a coalition of clergy around the country known as National Faith Leaders For Ending Gun Violence, we had created a liturgical, call-and-response, prayer. Before reading aloud each name, we say together, “God knows their names.” And after each name, we say, “Lord, have mercy.” Simple, heartfelt prayer.
As we were told that the program would pause, and breakfast would begin, I stood, holding the Uvalde paper, and invited people to join us in prayer for the victims. After the first name, we were told that we would be arrested if we did not leave. So we invited people to join us outside, as we respectfully complied with police orders. It is noteworthy that the police came quicker to kick us out of the prayer meeting than to confront the shooter in Uvalde.
“I’m going to go straight to Jesus and say we cannot serve two masters. And we really are at a crossroads where we’ve got to choose: Are we going to follow Jesus or the NRA? And literally, you couldn’t come up with much more contrasting messages. The gospel of Jesus — turn the other cheek, love our enemies — stands in direct opposition to the rhetoric of the NRA — stand your ground. The gun and the cross give us two very different versions of power.”
“Idols are things that we put our trust in. They’re not God, but we treat them like they are,” Claiborne said. “We put this sort of sacred reverence into things that should only be given to God. And it’s been said that idols are things that we are willing to die for, kill for, and sacrifice our children for. And literally, by that definition, I think guns would have that sort of unreasonable dedication.”
“Guns are not made in the image of God but children are,” he added.
We live in a violent world. The war in Ukraine is killing thousands and causes huge waves of refugees, economic instability and food shortages. The war in Syria is still going on, and the conflicts in Yemen, Afghanistan and South Sudan no longer even make headlines. During most of the last decade, the world has become less peaceful.
In response to such violence, many people think that the solution is more violence. Conventional wisdom tells us that we need to arm ourselves so we become stronger and deadlier than the “bad guys”.
Christian pacifists, who just like most Christians for the first 300 years believe that Jesus’ words about loving our enemies and turning the other cheek mean that we should not use violence, are often accused of being naive. Some have even claimed that Christian pacifism is evil! While abstaining from violence sounds loving in theory, many argue that the practical consequences of such a stance is catastrophic with countless innocent people killed as the “good guys” refused to harm or kill those who were after civilian blood.
War and violence are thus portrayed as a necessary evil, a last resort that we unfortunately have to use to stop authoritarian, mass-killing regimes.
All this is intuition. It’s what seems reasonable. But when researchers started to compare violent resistance to nonviolent resistance, they were in for a chock.
It turns out that nonviolence is at least twice as effective.
I encountered this research when I was part of a program in peace and conflict studies at Uppsala University. The findings is a real game-changer, making scholars from all around the world rethinking the need and use for military violence in the modern era.
An influential study by conflict researchers Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan from 2012 showed that nonviolent movements are twice as effective as violent movements in achieving their goals. They expanded upon this research in the book Why Civil Resistance Works. They collected data from over 300 protest movements between 1900 and 2016. 53 % of the nonviolent movements managed to achieve their goal, usually a change of regime, within a year, compared with 26% of the violent movements.
Of the 25 largest movements they studied, 20 were nonviolent, and 14 of them achieved their goals. Most astonishingly, if the nonviolent movements included at least 3.5% of the population, they always succeeded in meeting their goal. Always. Chenoweth calls this the “3.5 rule”.
This study was groundbreaking, as no one had compared the results of violent and nonviolent methods in such a comprehensive way before. In 2018, Chenoweth published a new study together with Evan Perkoski that examined how well nonviolence compared to violence counteracted mass killing, when regimes kill 1000 people or more. They found that nonviolent movements were five times more effective at avoiding this than violent movements.
What are the reasons for the effectiveness of nonviolence? Chenoweth points to several factors. Nonviolence is generally cheaper and can easily recruit many more, there is greater variety of nonviolent methods than violent methods, it is psychologically more difficult for loyalists to harm or kill nonviolent trainees than armed rebels, and it is easier for loyalists to change sides and unite with nonviolent protests and nonviolent sabotage.
Chenoweth’s work has made a significant impact on peace and conflict research in general. Even non-pacifists like James Pattison and Ed Cairns have gained greater respect for non-violent methods and warned against resorting to violence too quickly. Cairns wrote:
I’ve never believed that pacifism is an adequate answer to a world of atrocities that – in truly exceptional cases – call out for an armed response. But there’s an awful lot of evidence for caution – and reason to give peace a chance.
Note that Chenoweth’s research does not say that nonviolence leads to guaranteed success. Rather, nonviolence is more likely to succeed than violence. Even in countries where nonviolent campaigns have failed, people have been ten times more likely to move to democracy within a five-year period than if they protested with violence.
Even if you can not guarantee that non-violence will succeed, you can also not guarantee that violence will succeed. The “necessary” in violence as “necessary evil” is difficult to prove scientifically.
This is great news! Loving enemies, like Jesus commanded us to, is actually more beneficial than killing them. Such love does not have to be at the expense of protecting the innocent. The question now is if the leaders of the world will take this research seriously and spend time and money developing nonviolent defense systems rather than military ones?
We are called by Jesus to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), resolving conflicts as we go forth to spread the Gospel about his love. Peace is always dependent on at least two parties, which is why we might experience conflict even when our intention is peace.
This is why Paul writes “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom 12:18). We try our best on our part, and pray that the other respond constructively.
What does this look like in practice? God seems to be very concerned with us asking that question, since the Bible provides us with several practical tools for conflict resolution and peacemaking.
1. Breaking the cycle of hostility
The first tool is given to us by Paul right after he says that we should seek to live at peace with everyone. He continues: (more…)
If a violent man attacked your family, what would you do?
Probably every Christian pacifist has been confronted with this question.
The purpose of the question is to make the pacifist realize that violence is sometimes necessary: no matter how much you want to love your enemies, you may face situations in which refusal to use violence will lead to the harm or even death of people you love.
As John Howard Yoder points out in his book What Would You Do?, the questions is emotional. The attacker is always an anonymous man, and when the family members are specified, they are almost always a mother, daughter or wife.
The one posing the question wants as little emotional bonds to the attacker as possible, while the opposite is true for the one being attacked.
Reality, of course, is not as simplistic. (more…)
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the ”War to End All Wars”: World War One. It directly killed nine million combatants and seven million civilians. Furthermore, it contributed to the spread and severity of epidemics that killed an additional 100 million people.
And here’s the really embarrassing part: with few exceptions, WW1 was a war in which Christians killed other Christians. Catholics fought other Catholics; Protestants fought other Protestants. People who claimed to follow Jesus slaughtered their supposed brothers in the trenches because their leaders – many of which claimed to have been appointed by God – ordered them to.
Madness. Utter, disgraceful madness. (more…)
This is a segment from Heidi’s message at Awakening Europe in Stockholm, October 2016. She tells about a young Mozambican girl who taught her how to love even one’s most cruel enemies. This is what Christian nonviolence looks like!
The book of Joshua describes how the Israelites on God’s command invaded the land of Canaan and killed all who stood in their way. Over and over we read how they left “no survivors” (Josh 10:28, 30, 33). To modern ears, this clearly sounds like a genocide. Yet, Scripture actually tells us that this wasn’t the case: there were survivors!
I talk about this in the video above. In response to the accusation that the God of the Bible commands genocide, apologists like Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan have given a renewed focus to the hyperbole theory for being a good, evangelical take on this problem. They even wrote a book about this together, suitably titled Did God Really Commande Genocide? Flannagan writes on his blog:
Joshua affirms he exterminated all the Canaanites in this region. Repeatedly it states that Joshua left “no survivors” and “destroyed everything that breathed” in “the entire land”, “put all the inhabitants to the sword”. Alongside these general claims the text identifies several specific places and cities where Joshua exterminated everyone and left no survivors. These include Hebron (Josh. 10:40), Debir (Josh. 10:38), the hill country and the Negev and the western foothills (Josh. 10:40). In the first chapter of Judges, however, we are told that the Canaanites lived in the Negev (1:9), in the hill country (Judg. 1:9), in Debir (Judg. 1:11), in Hebron (Judg. 1:10) and in the western foothills (Judg. 1:9). Moreover, they did so in such numbers and strength that they had to be driven out by force. These are the same cities that Joshua 10 tells us Joshua had annihilated and left no survivors in.
Sermon notes on John 8:1-11.
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap,in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. (Jn 8:1-6)
“Well, kill her of course” would be a proper Phariseic response to this question. Many witnesses had seen her commit this sin, and the Old Testament punishment for adultery is death (Lev 20:10). There is obviously a gender-based injustice here since only the woman is supposed to be punished, while the man she had sex with is nowhere to be seen, but many Pharisees would not care so much about that.
Jesus’ response, though, is revolutionary and unexpected:
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (Jn 8:6-11)
I’ve been enjoying Samaa Habib’s autobiographical book Face to Face with Jesus as I did research for my upcoming book Charismactivism last month. Samaa is from a Muslim country that used to be ruled by Soviet and that has experienced some horrible civil wars, and she opened her heart to the Gospel as a Christian ministry showed the Jesus film to the war torn public. She was amazed and told her father: ”He cannot be just a prophet, he must be more than that! He is alive. Mohammad’s skeleton is still buried in Mecca. Jesus is my super hero!” Her father didn’t agree of course, but tolerated the young girl’s enthusiasm.
She eventually went to a church service and gave her life completely to the Lord together with two of her sisters. Now, her father was enraged. After she had confessed that she will not live without Jesus, he abused and tortured her, strangling her until she fainted. She later escaped her family’s house through a window and fled to the church.
As time went by, more people in Samaa’s family were saved. Her mother was healed from a heart problem and encountered Jesus in a dream. This made the father tolerate Christianity a bit more, even if he still was in severe disagreement.
One day as Samaa was worshipping in church, a bomb exploded right next to her and she died instantly. She saw Heaven and Jesus, and He said that she could either be with Him or return to earth to lead more people to Him. She chose the latter, and woke up blind and deformed as she was taken to hospital. Her brain was visible and her appearance was a mess. (more…)
Why I Wish I Were a Mennonite
My name is Aaron D. Taylor and I’m a charismatic Christian. If you ever see me driving with my glasses on, I may look dignified, but don’t let my appearance fool you. Throughout my life I’ve been slain in the Spirit and drunk in the Holy Ghost on numerous occasions. I’ve felt the anointing, laid hands on the sick, cast out devils, and been prophesied over countless times. It’s taken me a long time to feel comfortable in my Pentecostal/charismatic skin, but I can honestly say today that I wouldn’t trade my Pentecostal/charismatic heritage for anything. I’ll admit it’s been a very long time since I’ve “shaken under the power” or “danced in the Spirit”, but to this day I pray in tongues, lay hands on the sick, and if I ever need to get the devil off my back, I’ll gladly pull out the “Sword of the Spirit” and start quoting Scripture. We Pentecostals and charismatics have a lot to be proud of. We were a miniscule, lower class fringe movement 100 years ago and now there are over 600 million of us around the world!
So why do I wish I were a Mennonite? Yesterday was my 30th birthday and when I think about the past 30 years of history, on nearly every moral issue that speaks to how Christians are supposed to live as a peculiar people surrounded by a godless culture, the Mennonites have been right and we’ve been wrong. While charismatic leaders were “naming and claiming” plush clothing, fancy cars, and million dollar mansions, Mennonites were teaching their children to live simply so that others could simply live. While charismatic leaders were petitioning the government to keep under God in the pledge of allegiance, Mennonites were warning their children about the dangers of nationalism. While charismatic leaders were building “apostolic networks” to win the world for laissez-faire capitalism, Mennonites were sharing possessions, building communities, and identifying with the poor. While charismatic leaders were putting bowling alleys and coffee shops in their multi-million dollar church buildings”, Mennonites were providing a decent living for third world farmers by setting up international co-ops and selling fair trade coffee.