Today, on Facebook, I posted a couple of thoughts on the direction some of my fellow Christians are heading in regards to the topics du jour (Open Borders, Terrorist Attacks, & Holiday Offenses).
A dear friend of mine asked me how I thought we should respond to those that have caused harm and our enemies. This is so complicated, but it got me to thinking about Jesus’ and, maybe more strikingly, Stephen’s response to those in process of murdering them:
These words haunt me. I can’t really comprehend them on a couple levels. First they confound me because I’m representative of privilege and power (White, Male, Cis-Gender) and therefore I’ve never experienced anything remotely close to persecution. Additionally, when I do face inconveniences (that’s the most I can bring myself to call any ‘plight’ in my life) I find it extraordinarily difficult to think in a manner that reflects these verses. So where does this leave me? Us? Christians?
I don’t know.
We’ve all experienced so many different things in this life. Heaven and hell. Peace and turmoil. Power and oppression. Some of us have had lives that have weighed down one side of this scale more so than the other. Personal experience(s) will ultimately be what shapes our ideals in regards to solutions.
Though I want to leave room for our conclusions to differ, I’d like to call us to consider some common foundations.
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 7.24-27 [NIV]
The Marginalized: Jesus was very concerned about how we treat those caught up in the repercussions of oppression. Hungry, Naked, Imprisoned were (and I’d argue still are) all categories of the oppressed in first century Jerusalem. Being occupied by the Romans meant subjugation to strict laws and taxes. Many of which led to extreme violence (Jesus was but one of thousands crucified) towards the marginalized and poor. What did Jesus ask of the people in these situations? Nothing, in fact, in some mystical and beautiful way, he identified himself as one of them. (“I was hungry and you fed me…”)
G_d always demanded of Israel to welcome the foreigner and stranger because it was only a short trip through their collective memory to the days of their own oppression in Egypt. Remembering is a powerful tool for G_d’s people.
17 You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. 18 Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lordyour God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.
19 When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. 20 When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.
21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. 22 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this. — Deuteronomy 24.17-22 [NRSV]
How do we begin to recognize who is a member of the marginalized and who is the oppressor? How can we identify ourselves within those that have been marginalized?
The Oppressor: “Turn the other cheek…” — we love to quote this when it benefits us but we are way less likely to quote this passage in moments like those in Paris, Beirut, Nigeria & Too Many More in 2015 alone. Does this mean we just lie down and be trampled? In the words of St. Paul, “Heavens no!” (Romans 6.2). I’d argue that these are not the words of someone that stands idly by while the world burns down around them. Rather if we read this in context we discover that turning the other cheek (or walking an extra mile) is actually a non-violent way of standing against the oppressor. Jesus asks his followers to find creative (and effective) ways to stand up and against those who might try to force your submission.
And of course the powerful words quoted above: “Forgive them…”
How do we stand up to those who would desire to make us submit to their wicked intentions? How must we do this in a manner that reflects the teachings of Jesus?
So where does this leave us? Because there are so many other sayings of Jesus to consider (ie. “Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you” Mt. 5.44 though we tend to prefer 5.43).
I don’t have the answer(s) for how to respond to these heinous acts against our neighbors but I do believe Scripture gives us some amazing foundations from which to begin the discourse. Though I don’t know the ‘answer’ I do know that the answer is NOT preying on one another for the sake of being viewed as ‘right.’
We must remember that even at the moment of torture and imminent death Jesus was teaching us what it means to be about forgiveness and reconciliation. This is offensive not to those we extend the olive branch but to our own sensibilities. I pray we work hard together to find a faithful way forward.
Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.
2 thoughts on “Forgive them…”
Quick question: Is it possible to faithfully put into practice the teachings of, and imitate the Way of, Jesus, while also seeking vengeance through military or police use of weaponry and warfare?
If your answer is “yes,” since you want to leave room for differences of opinion, then what’s the point of quoting Jesus saying things like “love your enemies”? I don’t recognize a love that also uses violence against another person.
If your answer is “no,” why even say that you want to leave room for others to believe there is another way? Why not just put forth your honest view and let others disagree if they chose.
I have no problem with people disagreeing with me. My view is that violence is always incompatible with the Way of Jesus. Those who disagree are welcome to make their case. I’ve heard many objections and I remain convinced. And I’m still open to hearing objections.
I think that’s a really fair question. I suppose I want to leave room for the fact that there’s almost always (at least) a third way of viewing things. I’ve discovered in so much of my life when I make statements or draw lines in the sand — I miss the beauty of the ‘other’ and their experiences or perspectives.
In addition I honestly don’t know what the right way is. There’s so much to this that any one line response is truly over simplified and not considering all the situations that may be necessary to consider.
I deeply respect you and your willingness to be so confident in your convictions and I lack much of that. I feel compelled to create avenues for discourse, mutual respect, and paths that allow us to remain sisters and brothers through and into the next complicated moment(s).