Breaking The Cycle of Violence

I was nauseated by Sarah Pailn’s remark in a speech Saturday to the National Rifle Association where she said, “If I were in charge, they would know that water-boarding is how we baptize terrorists.”  

Sarah Palin publicly affirms that she is a Christian, but yet she not only obviously condones torture, but is willing to frame it and legitimize it in religious/Christian terms. That comment is totally incongruous with the Jesus that I encounter and have come to know through the pages of the gospels.  If Jesus was about anything at all, he was about breaking cycles of violence.

Ten days ago we gathered at the foot of the cross where Jesus was subjected to a most hideous and cruel form of execution – crucifixion.  In the midst of that ghastly scene we heard the most remarkable words ever spoken come from his lips, “Father forgive them.”  Jesus was about breaking the cycle of violence, even when it seemed absurd.

Jesus did not buy into what contemporary theologian Walter Wink calls The Myth of Redemptive Violence which is the belief that violence is redemptive and that violence can save and make us whole.  The only power in this world that has the power to save and make us whole, in the deepest sense, is radical love.

Jesus took the sword out of the disciple’s hand who would have resorted to violence at Gethsemane to defend Jesus.  Jesus admonished him saying, “Put your sword back into its place; for those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” 

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

In the same sermon he went on to say, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer… turn the other cheek.  “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you will be children of your Father.” 

Again, Jesus was about breaking  cycles of violence, and he calls upon his followers to be about the same.

One the scriptures in the lectionary for this Sunday is about the conversion of Saul who became Paul.  (Acts 9:1-22)  Saul  was a temple sanctioned persecutor of followers of “The Way.” (what early followers of Jesus called themselves)  On the road to Damascus Saul had a mystical encounter with the risen Jesus, and he was transformed from a persecutor of Jesus followers to a promoter of the love and grace of God.  Saul, who became Paul, was a living example of the cycle of violence being broken in a human life.

Tragically, when we look at the history of Christianity through the ages we see a religion that too often has more closely resembled the vocation of Saul the persecutor than Jesus the bringer of the grace of God. We see a religion that has perpetuated cycles of violence rather than broken cycles of violence.  We see a religion that has legitimated violence by using the name of God when it’s convenient and questing for power, control or revenge. We see an appalling and dreadful landscape littered with the victims of an oppressive and persecuting religion in the name of God and Jesus. People have been dehumanized with guilt, bigotry, and intolerance.  In God’s name, slavery and segregation have been defended.  In God’s name children have been abused, women diminished, homosexuals hated, wars waged, torture condoned, and the unrepentant condemned.  Jews have been persecuted, doubters excommunicated, and violence used to achieve conversion; all seemingly without care or conscience.

Mahatma Gandhi once made this chilling indictment: “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”    Amen!   No truer words have ever been spoken!


3 thoughts on “

  1. Rod Schofield

    Thank you, Joe, for articulating so well my own rage at Sarah Palin’s distortion of the gospel and your reasoned, scripturally based interpretation of what we are, in fact, called to as Christians.

  2. Janice Baumgartner

    I also say “Amen!” and thank you for always giving us such insightful reflections. I love your blogs.


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