I have struggled off and on throughout my life with the statement: “Christianity hasn’t failed. It just hasn’t been tried yet.”
Because over the centuries there have been individuals that took Jesus literally about not killing, even in self-defense. Many more have been willing to lay down their own lives by serving others. In my own times, I remember Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Corrie Ten Boom and her family, the lone unarmed Chinese student standing in front of a line of tanks, the students killed while protesting at Kent State.
There are unsung heroes that have given their lives in different ways for others in every century, of every gender, from every nation, religion and walk of life. In the 13th century when the church with the help of the King of France began a crusade to wipe out the Cathars, a heretical group in the Southwest of France, the Cathars’ Christian neighbors and friends tried to protect them by joining them when they sought sanctuary in the Cathedral at Beziers. Unfortunately, the “Christian” military leader decided to let God sort them out and burned the Cathedral down with both heretics and Christians inside it.
On the public stage three people come to mind immediately who changed governments by putting their lives on the line for justice and mercy without counting the cost. They inspired others to do the same. One, Gandhi, admired Jesus, but didn’t claim to follow him, though his actions spoke louder than his words. The other two, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela did claim to follow Jesus. None were perfect, but they all were willing to lay down their lives for others and not to return evil for evil. And they changed their worlds.
Frankly, when I look at history and listen to Jesus Christ, this is what true Christianity looks like to me. Yet most Christians cannot seem to accept the reality that not only was Jesus non-violent, but throughout history violence has never put an end to violence.
The main difference between Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and militia protest groups now on our front pages is that the first three didn’t come to confrontations armed and Mandela came out of prison determined to lead people to forgive and reconcile.
The difference between Jesus and some of our loudest nominal Christians is that he invites, “Come and follow me.” He was never deluded, as centuries of Crusader Christians continue to be, that people can be forced to truly follow Him by law or fear or discrimination.
Who are the “bad” guys in your eyes? ISIS? Obama? Militia Groups? Gays who want to get married? Donald Trump? Muslims? Immigrants who take our jobs. American companies who out-source American jobs to foreign countries? Christians who want to deny other Americans religious freedom. Tea party members? Liberals who risk putting compassion for foreigners above Americans’ safety? Billionaire CEO’s of Conglomerates whose greed threatens America’s economic survival? Gun toting Christians who think violence is the answer to conflict of opinion? All of these are the “bad” guys in someone’s eyes.
As a follower of Jesus I’d like to think I’d risk my life at least for those I love or admire and hopefully for a helpless child. But Jesus died for the bad guys, everybody’s “bad” guys. Isn’t that a bummer?
I admit that I’m not there yet. But, I’m not comfortable with just accepting that. My struggle isn’t over. Maybe I haven’t really tried Christianity yet.
When I first heard about the horrifying massacre of young children in Connecticut, my response was that I should buy an Uzzi and volunteer to guard the nearest school any of my grandchildren attended. Realizing that I have grands and great-grands in six counties and three states, I decided to start a movement to arm grandparents as guards in the schools of America. When I calmed down a little, reality reared its ugly head. Mental pictures of me (and those like me) forgetting how to get the safety latch off or shooting the maintenance person, because the glare from a window behind him made the mop look like a rifle, squelched that idea.
I’ve followed the responses and proposals in the media and on the internet and thought a lot about violence and counter-measures, that I’ve witnessed in my seventy-five years.
I don’t have statistics to compare the amount of violence in the decades since I first experienced it personally in 1954 (See post: My Introduction to Violence), but I remember the Kent State student shootings by the National Guard, innocent young black children killed over integration, a father shooting five or six elementary school children on the school playground in my neighborhood in Houston in 1959, The Texas University sniper killing students from its Campanile, and of course the killing of the children in the preschool in the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. If there seem to be more of these now, perhaps it’s partly because of increasing population, partly because of the impersonal anonymous climate of larger and larger institutions, and partly because we don’t imprison the mentally ill in insane asylums any more, but haven’t found a viable alternative for those who are a danger to themselves and others.
But with the killers being students, parents, outsiders, extremists, and even the National Guard, it appears to me that while we certainly have to try to make our schools safer, there really isn’t any way to prevent an insane homicidal/suicidal child or adult from killing groups of children. Groups of children are vulnerable in the school, on the play ground, going from building to building between classes, on school buses, waiting to load onto school buses. They are vulnerable at Science Museums, Chucky Cheeses, Disney Land, Park playgrounds, Zoos, Skating Rinks, Little League games, school sporting events.
Several thoughts confuse the issue of gun control. The guns that killed in these cases were not in the hands of known criminals. And some were ordinary guns, not repeating rapid-fire guns, and then some were bombs. And just about anybody that can read, can make a bomb today.
The problem calls for more than just arming personnel in schools or curtailing the sale of certain types of guns or turning school buildings into bunkers.
My concern is not just the tools of violence, but the hatred that fuels it, a hatred that now comes out in elections, in sports, in marriages, and even in the name of religion. What is the source or catalyst for so much hatred?
To find that answer, we can only begin by looking within.