Commentary

The way of nonviolence

Allan Bostelmann

We don’t know what exactly happened between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin because the primary witness was killed. But one doesn’t have to be an “unbiblical liberal” to take issue with Stanton Berg’s belief that Zimmerman’s use of weapons epitomizes what Jesus was about. (See “The weapons of Jesus and Zimmerman,” Metro Lutheran, September 2013, page 5.)

Berg’s Counterpoint saddens me. But I am aware that many Lutherans would agree with him. And I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit that, for most of my life, I saw Christianity supporting use of weapons and “justified violence.”

But I was following the wrong Jesus. The only Jesus is the Nonviolent Jesus. We either follow the Nonviolent Jesus or we follow a non-existent Jesus. The only Jesus that lived historically who continues to live in the universe and our hearts is the Nonviolent Jesus. A Jesus that uses swords and guns to defend and retaliate is a figment of our imaginations — reflective of our wealthy, violent culture, not the pages of the New Testament.

Nonviolence is one of the most obvious attributes of Jesus. He says: “Love your enemies”; “return good for evil”; “turn the other cheek”; “walk the second mile”; “if he demands your coat, give him your shirt as well”; “love as I have loved”; and “those who try to save their lives will lose it.”

Jesus chose a third way: the Nonviolent Way.

Even people outside Christianity see Jesus as nonviolent. That is often why they reject Jesus. The cross makes no sense to them. A Jesus that suffers and dies nonviolently out of love for those who are destroying him is foolishness to them. Unfortunately, it also seems foolish and impractical for many Christians who abandon and run away from the Nonviolent Jesus.

Jesus was disarming

Interestingly, Berg, while choosing a short section of Luke 22, leaves out the rest of the account. The later section explains Jesus rationale for getting swords. It wasn’t that Jesus approved of the use of weapons, but when ordering his disciples to get two swords, he explains, “That Scripture might be fulfilled. … He was counted among the criminals.”

What is more, if we took the implications of what Berg is saying seriously, then the Gethsemane story would have the disciples drawing their swords with Jesus leading the charge to “get the other ear.” Thus, according to Berg, Jesus would have been protected from imminent death and wouldn’t have had to be resurrected. But then, as St. Paul says, “If Christ be not raised, we would be still in our sins.”

But we know that is not what happened. It is quite clear from the New Testament accounts, that Jesus did a “non-Zimmerman” thing. When Peter took out the sword and sliced the ear off the guard, Jesus, said “None of this!” and “Put away your sword. Those who take the sword, perish with the sword.” (Early Church father Tertullian said, “When Jesus disarmed Peter, he disarmed all Christians.”)

What’s more, consistent with the compassionate lover that he is, Jesus stays behind and heals the man in excruciating pain. This results in his capture and death, escorted by the very person he had just healed.

Jesus chose a third way: the Nonviolent Way. And that made all the difference in the world.

Violence and the use of weapons are inept for what Jesus is about in his mission in the world. And it’s clear that is not what we are to be about as followers of Jesus if we want be consistent with the power of love in the Gospel.

Nonviolence is not passivity. It takes more courage, more work, more thinking, more discipline, more awareness of the environment, more cunning than violence.

Although it is part of the Spirit that lives in our hearts, in our culture, nonviolence doesn’t come naturally — at least it doesn’t come naturally for me. After being taught and schooled in the military to be violent, and use weapons to kill, I wanted to deprogram myself back into life, mind, and the Spirit of Christ.

I participated in the Alternatives to Violence Program (AVP) developed by Mennonites and Quakers. It is an intensive experiential program training to find nonviolent responses to threatening situations. The belief behind the training is that the Holy Spirit is in every threatening situation offering a nonviolent response; a response where your attacker isn’t harmed and you won’t be harmed — but if there is a choice, you suffer on behalf of your attacker.

Nonviolence is a “force more powerful” than violence and weapons. It is why we celebrate Martin Luther King Day not Lyndon Johnson Day. The power of nonviolent love of friend and enemy is what the Gospel is about. It is what we receive at baptism and every time we take the Eucharist. It’s the power that raises people from the dead.

Allan Bostelmann is a member of Mount Olive Lutheran Church and the Joint Peace with Justice Committee of the St. Paul Area Synod and the Minneapolis Area Synod.

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