The NRA’s Myth of Redemptive Violence

Earlier today, the NRA proposed that the solution to gun violence in schools such as Sandy Hook is to put armed guards in school. As has been the case with the gun control issue in general, you get one of three responses: the extremes and the third option. Some completely agree. The underlying assumption is that power solves power. If you don’t like what somebody else is doing, you solve it by becoming stronger than them in order to keep them in line by force or threat of force. In a way, the gun control argument on the other extreme is operating on the same assumption but with the major difference that they trust only the government to use force in order to contain force. This is often called the myth of redemptive violence. We tend to forget that there are ways to solve problems other than escalating the amount of power needed.

Others, including myself, try not to laugh at the concept. To me it is just logical but I suppose maybe I wouldn’t think so if I didn’t take Jesus seriously. You’re going to solve violence in schools by putting guns in schools where all it would take is one volunteer getting trigger-happy to have another shooting? You’re going to complain about kids being corrupted by video game violence by putting actual guns in front of them every day of their lives and telling them that it is necessary? You’re going to complain that a gun registry is a breach of privacy and propose a mental health registry instead? The reasoning reeks of the myth of redemptive violence which primarily sees violence as a solution and never as part of the problem except when it is committed by those other people.

I’ll try to be fair: the myth does make perfect sense when you assume that you have the right to judge everyone else. Once we say that we can decide who should be controlled by force and who shouldn’t, we are not only allowed but also obligated to use force in controlling them. And most people do assume that they – as indidivuals, as a group (including religious group), as a nation – have the right to judge everyone else. Once we start breaking the assumptions that our enemies’ lives are worth less than our friends’, though, the myth falls apart and we start to realize that we are doing the exact same thing that we’re claiming to be trying to stop. And then the cycle continues with somebody trying to control us because they’re unhappy with our violence.

The reality is that Jesus clearly opposed this idea. He told us to love enemies. He told us to turn the other cheek. He even modelled this to us by dying at the hands of his enemies instead of summoning armies of angels or telling his disciples to fight for them. He even directly says that the reason his disciples don’t fight is because his Kingdom is of a radically different type than the kingdoms of the world. And yet, his followers have largely been modelling themselves after the kingdoms of the world for the past 1700 years since Constantine formed the church and state alliance. As usual, I’m not speaking so much to the secular who feels like they must have guns to defend themselves. I do challenge those to question how effective the myth is because so far in history it has continued to fail miserably. Primarily, though, I’m speaking to the church who claims Jesus as Lord and then ignores almost everything he says including his teachings about violence.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

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