In my last two posts, I wrote about the pervasiveness of violence in our world, the temptation to use violence to combat violence, and my conviction that for myself, anyway, Jesus’s teachings and example prohibit my giving in to that temptation.
Then something happens like what happened in Orlando Sunday morning.
I can hear the voices now. How can you maintain a stance of nonviolence in the face of such evil? How can you argue against Christians’ using violence to protect themselves and other vulnerable people when you see time and again what happens when they go unprotected? Is it not cowardice rather than conviction that leads you to champion nonviolence in such circumstances? Don’t we have a moral obligation to struggle against evil, using whatever weapons we have available to us to do so? How can you suggest we sit still in the face of this virulent hate?
I can hear these voices because many of them are asking these questions and others like them inside my own head.
I too feel the helplessness and rage when I consider not only that fifty innocent people were gunned down, but also that it appears the shooter specifically targeted them because they belonged to the LGBTQ community. I feel this helplessness and rage when I consider that they were killed inside a gay bar, which for many LGBTQ people has long been the closest thing they have to a safe place. I feel it when I consider the quick opportunism of the despicable leaders of the despicable ISIS, jumping in almost immediately to claim responsibility for the attack, even though investigators have found no credible evidence that that there was any connection at all between the shooter and ISIS besides his “pledge of allegiance” on a 911 call in the middle of the massacre. I feel it when I consider that this act will only intensify the hate- and war-mongering of a significant chunk of our populace and our so-called leaders. I feel it when I consider how quickly the real lives of the persons killed and wounded in the Pulse attack will be forgotten in those leaders' rush to make whatever political hay falls in line with their particular ideologies.
I feel all this, and in the heat of the moment, in sorrow and sympathy and anger, I am tempted to join my voice with those calling for retribution. I am tempted to believe that hate is stronger than love and that vengeance is the same thing as justice. I am tempted try to lay my hands on a rocket launcher of my own.
But if I wait, that moment passes, and I remember the words and experience of Jesus. I remember his experience in the wilderness. When he was tempted to use the power at his command to seize worldly power and riches, to fulfill the hopes of his people by leading them to throw off the yoke of their oppressors by military means, he said no. I remember his words in his sermon on the mount, "Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you." I remember his words on the night of his arrest, "All who take the sword will perish by the sword." I remember his words on the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
When I call these things to remembrance, I can see the claims of the equivalence of revenge and justice and the superiority of hate over love for the lies that they are. I can see through the lie that taking up the sword will bring victory, or closure, or emotional satisfaction. I think of the dismal ending of the movie Seven, and the long road of sorrow, recrimination, and punishment that stretches before Brad Pitt's character because he surrendered to the voice of the tempter—Kevin Spacey's character telling him, "Give in to your anger. Become wrath!" His act of death-dealing does not bring the satisfaction he had hoped it would; it only brings more death.
So I'm sticking with my story. While I cannot and do not wish to control anyone else's conscience, for my part I stand by what I have said before about the incompatibility of violence and Christian discipleship. I will hold firm as best I can to my conviction that love is infinitely more powerful than hate, that prayer and faith are more effective than bullets and bombs, and that, in the words of Frederick Buechner's greatest literary character, Godric, "All the death that's ever been, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup."