3 Bad Arguments for Christian Violence
In a comment discussion on another blog, I was given three really bad arguments in favour of Christian violence, so I’m going to take a minute to answer them here just in case others have heard similar. To be clear, I have heard better arguments. I’m not dismissing genuine proponents of Just War Theory as not really Christians or anything like that. But these particular arguments are really bad.
The first was the parable of the tenant farmers in Matthew 21:33-45. Short version: God is landowner but rents it out. Tenants refuse to pay for the land, so God sends messengers (prophets) who they kill, until he sends his son (Jesus) who they also kill. God will “totally destroy” (CEB) those farmers.
Therefore violence is ok for all Christians, so the theory goes. One problem with that theory is that it equates all Christians with God. Since God can destroy people, so can Christians. But I have an unfortunate newsflash: we aren’t God.
More to the point, the parable’s message is precisely opposite of how this man was using it. The whole point is how the tenants (Israel) kept killing people, including God’s son, and God did not like that very much. To take that as a message that violence is good is completely missing the point. If there’s any message about violence in this text, it’s that God will totally destroy you for taking violence into your own hands.
Note: I’ll stay out of a bigger debate about what God’s judgement means, whether it is an active punishment or an allowing us to experience the negative consequences of our choices. Either way, the main point here stands.
The Argument from Selected Silence
Jesus met Roman soldiers and didn’t tell them immediately to quit. Therefore, Jesus was totally ok with everything the Romans did to the Jews and elsewhere, including and especially violence to assert their power.
This isn’t even a complete argument from silence. They need to use silence in a couple of discussions to ignore blatantly-opposed teaching elsewhere.
Imagine if we did this for every topic. Nobody ever has to share their wealth because Jesus didn’t tell everyone he met they had to, even though he did tell some that. Nobody ever has to treat women with respect, because Jesus didn’t tell everyone he met they had to, even though he modelled it and taught in empowering ways. Pick your favourite sin and find any story where Jesus doesn’t mention it and you’re home free!
It should be pretty obvious that not saying anything on the topic in one spot does not overrule saying it completely clearly in others.
Kingdom Not of This World
This may be the most confusing of the three. Jesus says to Pilate that his Kingdom is not of this world and that is why his followers don’t fight like Pilate’s followers do. Somehow that translates into it being ok for his followers to fight just like Pilate’s.
My guess is that he was thinking that sometimes your loyalty is to Jesus, sometimes to your country. When it comes to violence, and often a lot of other things, loyalty to country wins. In other words, he was focusing on Jesus’ acknowledging that Pilate and his men used violence to get their way.
It’s a problem to ignore the contrast that Jesus’ acknowledgement leads to, though: Jesus’ followers – ie Christians – don’t fight. We are different than the ways of the Roman Empire. This to me is one of the most clear statements of Christian nonviolence. We don’t fight because Jesus’ Kingdom is not one of violence. If your loyalty is to the state, not to Jesus, fair enough – don’t call yourself a Christian. You’re a [insert nationality here] with some occasional elements of Christianity sprinkled in when they don’t conflict.