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Micael Grenholm, a Swedish charismactivist, apologist and author.

Micael Grenholm, a Swedish charismactivist, apologist and author.

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The Gospel of Guns vs the Gospel of Jesus

Originally published at PCPJ.

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.

Claiborne also said:

“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.

Amen.

Research Shows Nonviolence is Twice as Effective than Violence

Originally posted on PCPJ.

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.

Erica Chenoweth

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?

“Kill them all, and let God sort them out” – Why Evangelicals’ Reaction to 9/11 Went so Wrong

20 years ago, Al Qaida killed 3,000 civilians through terror and fire. That was a horrifying, indefensible act of violence.

In response, the USA started two wars that have killed 70,000 civilians in Afghanistan and 200,000 (!) in Iraq. Thousands of them were children.

That was also a horrifying, indefensible act of violence.

Shane Claiborne is an activist and theologian who had wise things to say concerning the violent aftermath of 9/11. From his book The Irresistible Revolution (2nd edition, pp. 185-187):

When Kingdoms Collide

Shortly after September 11th, I traveled to speak to a large congregation in the Midwest. (And no, it wasn’t Willow Creek.) Before I got up to preach, a military color guard presented the US flagat the altar. The choir filed in one-by-one, dressed in red white, and blue, with the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” playing in the background. I knew I was in big trouble. The congregation pledged allegiance to the flag, and I wished it were all a dream. It wasn’t. I got up to speak, thankful I was standing behind a large podium lest anyone try to pelt me with a pew Bible. I went forward to preach the truth in love with my knees knocking and managed to make it out okay with a bunch of hugs and a few feisty letters.

This is a dramatic (though painfully true) illustration of the messy collision of Christianity and patriotism that has rippled across our land. I thought this was an exceptional and dramatic example, but l’ve had same zingers since this. I spoke at a military academy where they had a full-on procession of military vehicles and weaponry. They fired cannons and saluted the flag, and then I got up to speak. I felt compelled to speak on the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control), the things Scripture says God is like and we should hope to be more like.

I talked about how the fruit of the Spirit take training and discipline and are not always cultivated by the culture around us. Afterward, one young soldier came up to me, nearly in tears, and told me that as he heard the list of the fruit of the Spirit, it became clear to him that these were not the things he was being trained to become. We prayed together, and I think of him often. I know that young man is not alone.

I saw a banner hanging next to city hall in downtown Philadelphia that read, “Kill them all, and let God sort them out.” A bumper sticker read, “God will judge evildoers, We just have to get them to him.” I saw a T-shirt on a sold’ that said, “US Air Force … we don’t die; we just go to hell to regroup.” Others were less dramatic-red, white, and blue billboards saying, “God bless our troops.” “God bless America” became a marketing strategy. One store hung an ad in their window that said, “God bless America–$1 burgers.”

Patriotism was everywhere, including in our altars and church buildings. In the aftermath of September 11th, most Christian bookstores had a section with books on the event, calendars, devotionals, buttons, all decorated in the colors of America, draped in stars and stripes, and sprinkled with golden eagles.

This burst of nationalism reveals the deep longing we all have for community, a natural thirst for intimacy that liberals and progressive Christians would have done much better to acknowledge. September 11th shattered the self-sufficient, autonomous individual, and we saw a country of broken fragile people who longed for community–for people to cry with, be angry with, to suffer with. People did not want to be alone in their sorrow, rage, and fear.

But what happened after September 11th broke my heart. Conservative Christians rallied around the drums of war. Liberal Christians took to the streets … Many Christians missed the opportunity to validate both the horror of September 11th and outrage at war as a response to September 11th.

In the aftermath of September 11th, many congregations missed the chance to bear witness of God’s concern for the victims of the attack and God’s concern for the victims of the imminent war. Many of us hunkered down into familiar camps rather than finding a more creative way of standing with all who suffer. Many of the antiwar activists would do well to visit the memorial in NYC. And many of the war hawks would do well to visit the Ameriyah shelter in West Baghdad. Every life lost is reason for grief and outrage.

The cross was smothered by the flag and trampled under the feet of angry protesters. The church community was lost, so the many hungry seekers found community in the civic religion of American patriotism. People were hurting and crying out for healing, for salvation in the best sense of the word, as in the salve with which you dress a wound.

A people longing for a savior placed their faith in the fragile hands of human logic and military strength, which have always let us down. They have always fallen short of the glory of God.

Shane Claiborne is a Red Letter Christian and a founding partner of The Simple Way community, a radical faith community that lives among and serves the homeless in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. He is the co-author, with Chris Haw, of Jesus for President. His newest book is Executing Grace: Why It is Time to Put the Death Penalty to Death.

Three Ways to Deal with Conflicts According to the Bible

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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…)

Why Bringing Guns to Church is a Horrible Idea

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Originally posted at PCPJ.

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…)

The Bible and the Quran – Equally Violent?

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A couple of people have asked me to comment on a recent viral video from the Netherlands called the Holy Quran Experiment, in which two guys read violent, scandalous passages from what they claim to be the Quran to people on the street and ask them to comment and compare it with the Bible. The respondents say that it’s horrible and that the Bible is much more peaceful, and then comes the reveal – the book they’ve read from is the Bible!

The video has become popular both among those who want to combat islamophobia and think that people are hypocritical to how they view their own religious heritage compared to others, and among people who think that all religions are stupid and inspire violence and bad values.

Now, as an apostolic Christian I’m the first to say that there are commands and descriptions of practices in the Bible that no one should follow today, such as the violent punishments in the Old Testament. And it is indeed the Old Testament that the Dutch guys read from, with one exception: Paul’s statement in 1 Tim 2:12 on how women shouldn’t teach, a command most Protestant churches today would say is culturally bound (women had hardly any access to education in ancient times, and most couldn’t read). (more…)

Why Did Jesus Tell the Disciples to Buy Two Swords?

The following text was originally published by someone on a site called Harmless as Doves. I thought it was so good that I copied it and saved it on my computer, but now I’ve seen that the original site has been removed. So here it is, re-entering the Internet:

Luke 22:35-38 is often cited to challenge the Christian pacifist perspective. In this passage, Jesus instructed his disciples to buy swords, amongst other items.

Luke 22:35-38: Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. For it is written: ‘he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That is enough,” he replied.

First we must ask, why did Jesus want them to buy swords? It seems unlikely that Jesus’ instructions were intended to prepare his disciples for armed conflict and self defense, because two swords does not seem to be “enough,” as Jesus put it, to defend twelve men. In fact, in the passage itself Jesus explained the purpose for the swords. Jesus instructed his disciples to buy the swords, “for it is written: ‘he was numbered with the transgressors.’”

Here, Jesus referenced Isaiah 53:12, which contains one of the many Old Testament prophesies concerning the life of the Messiah. Jesus wanted the swords present when he was arrested, because the presence of the swords would indicate to those arresting him that he was one of the “transgressors,” that he was leading a violent rebellion. Jesus again referenced this while he was being arrested:

(more…)