Now, non-violence doesn’t mean getting stepped-on. The call to non-violence is to disarm violence. A part of the way we do that is suffering with those who suffer. I’ve learned a ton of lessons about that by living in a neighborhood that has all kinds of reasons to hope, but also really struggles with an epidemic of violence, averaging about one homicide a day. That violence is something that we actively combat. We do it on our block, but we also believe in calling out the government. Violence anywhere is a threat to the love of Jesus that we see on the cross. So we try to teach our kids that, and we try to teach our presidents that.
From Kelsey: I hear often of non-violence & would consider myself a pacifist However, I have noticed that many of the voices of pacifism are men with unexamined privilege and and thereby do not address the street harassment and threat & fear of rape that women face frequently. I've heard about loving people through beatings and muggings - but there is something so dignity shredding about sexual violence, that the thought of it makes me want to forget I ever read the sermon on the mount. Do you have any women pacifists in your life who have touched on this issue at all?
We absolutely do have women in our community committed to the principles of non-violence. But I do want to be careful of using binary language here—like pacifist or non-pacifist. Polarities and labels can be really unhelpful in this conversation because the world is just so much…squirmier…than our categories.
What I do see is Jesus as a living, breathing, existential incarnation of love that challenges so many of our categories and camps. And when it comes to the patterns I see in the Kingdom of God, which are perhaps best expressed in Mary’s Magnificat—the mighty are cast from their thrones, the lowly are lifted, the hungry are filled with good things, the rich are sent away empty—what seems really clear to me is that God is deeply and profoundly protective of the vulnerable and marginalized. Jesus is very critical of those who step-on and exploit. In fact, Jesus’ harshest words were reserved for the religious elite and self-righteous, who, in many ways, made their religion violent in that they used it to exclude and oppress and marginalize.
Joan Chittister—I love her!—likes to say is that Jesus consistently challenges the chosen and embraces the excluded. So what does that mean for us? It means that we should be near to those who are hurting. We should do everything in our power to lay down our life if we must to get in the way, non-violently, of that which might hurt another person.
Now, I absolutely do not think that Jesus is pointing to a sort of pitiful, masochistic toleration of abuse, or suggesting that a woman caught in abuse or violence should simply love her abuser or allow such violence to continue. Not at all.
What I try to point to in Jesus For President, and also in Jesus, Bombs, and Ice Cream is what Walter Wink and others call the “third way,” a way that exposes evil without mirroring it. So a big part of responding to injustice is exposing evil and making people uncomfortable by it. You don’t have to be violent to expose evil; sometimes you just have to get out and make some noise. And it’s important that we do this in community. When a community responds to injustice together, there are a lot more options for the marginalized and abused. So, if we’re doing it right, a person caught in abuse will know that they are not alone. That’s a big part of the good news: that you’re not alone in those situations.
Christians of all people should be the most suspicious of violence. We should be the whistleblowers against violence, not the drum-beaters for it! We should be the last people calling for the death penalty because we have a God who died on a cross to save us from death! So one thing we have to be careful of is finding the hardest cases for non-violence and then using them to justify violence across the board. We have an entire culture that is infected with violence—we’re talking 10,000 homicides a year in America, $20,000 a second spent on war. So maybe not all of us come out saying we’re pacifists; maybe some of us simply make more deliberate moves toward non-violence. (For example, we have a great partnership with Hunters Against Gun Violence. These are folks who say, “we want to hunt, but we don’t want guns that can shoot a hundred rounds a minute in the streets.”)
So let’s be the champions of non-violence even when we find it difficult to know exactly what we would do in specific situations.
From Registered Runaway: Shane what is your position on same sex relationships? I remember a clip I saw of you and Boyd and Colson discussing this and sounded like you supported celibacy for gay folks. Am I correct? Also, what are your thoughts on the state of the culture war raging over gay rights? How do we redeem it? Where do you see it headed?
Frist of all, I think we have to begin by acknowledging that part of the reason this is a difficult topic, and part of the reason we have disagreement on it, is because Jesus never really talks about it directly. There are other things that are made much clearer in Scripture and in the teachings of Jesus, so we all have to start with a posture of humility, and a posture of listening, and maybe even a commitment to disagree well. That’s what we’ve had to do within our community.
Now, having said that, there are certain things that we would say, the first being that God is love. So when people are holding signs that say, “God Hates Fags,” that doesn’t look like the God we see in Jesus. So we have a duty in that regard to move the world closer to love and closer to Jesus.
Second, there is this tendency we have to think that it is our job to point out what we believe other people are doing wrong….on whatever issue it may be. Billy Graham has a great line on this. He said, “It’s God’s job to judge, the Spirit’s job to convict, and our job to love. And we dare not mix those up.” I think that’s a good posture to have—to trust that God is working in people’s lives and to keep in mind that people are known by their fruit. So in any relationship, I think the question is, “Does this have good fruit? Do I see the Spirit in this friendship or in this community?”
But in the end, when the studies (like the recent Barana research) show that the #1 answer from young non-Christians about their impressions of Christianity is that they think Christians are anti-gay (followed by judgmental and hypocritical), we’ve gone terribly, terribly wrong. It must break God’s heart that this is what we have become known for. Jesus said they will know we are Christians by our love. So my admonition on this is that we become known for our love again. And that’s not limited to this issue, but applies in a lot of areas—whether it’s in the Occupy movement, or anti-war movement or picketers outside an abortion clinic. They’re not going to know we are Christians by our bumper stickers or our protest signs, but by our love.
And finally, I think it’s important that this is not something we discuss simply in ideologies or rhetoric, talking at people and around people, but rather that we begin talking with people. That’s when the conversation radically shifted for me. I had plenty of apologetics on what I thought Scripture said about homosexuality, but then I met a kid who became a close friend of mine and he’s gay, and he told me he wanted to kill himself because he thought he was a mistake, that God had made a mistake. If people like him can’t find a home in the church, and if they can’t find a friend to confide in without that friend rattling off a list of what they should or shouldn’t do, I think we need to reexamine what our faith is and ask if it’s really embodying good news for these folks too.
From DeeBrew: Dear Shane, I got to see you in person on your "Jesus for President" tour stop in Dallas. My son, then 16, begged me to take him to see you. Not really knowing who you were, I agreed to make the drive from Tulsa. We pulled into the parking lot of the church where it was held just in time to witness several guys dressed in what looked to be home-made clothing, jumping on top of an old bus, I glanced over at my son wondering what exactly he had gotten us into. (It turns out this was helping the used vegetable oil that the bus burned for fuel!) But that night changed my life. It changed my son's life. You spoke about things that our family had been discussing for several years but had never been able to verbalize within our church or to our families. You gave us the words.
My question is - what should I do now? We have come full circle in our search for what it means to follow Jesus. I teach in a Christian high school. The Bible teacher was concerned when I gave the Seniors "Irresistible Revolution" for graduation presents. My children graduated from this school. I have known these people for years but now am completely at odds with how they see the world. Do you think that being an "ordinary radical" is to stay in this situation and try making small strides in opening students' eyes about issues such as -why do they just accept that Christians should be for war, etc? Or am I contributing to the problem by helping support this institution - one that has some amazing people but are dedicated to teaching students more about how evolution is wrong than in following the call of Jesus to love your enemies. I desire to use my life to bring others to the understanding that following Christ is radical. I know others are in the same boat as I am, some in churches, jobs, etc who see the great need for change, and are unsure as to how to proceed. Do we change everything or do we work for little victories where we are already and hope for long term change. Or are we just contributing to the problem, maintaining the status quo. As someone in her 50s, I realize just how short life really is. With your broader view of where America is going - Christianity and the Church in particular - I would like to know where you think we as Christians should be dedicating our time and resources most.
Remember that movie, “What About Bob?” and the line about “baby steps to the bus…”? I think maybe there’s something to that! (laughter)
I do think it’s important to keep in mind that conversion is not just about a moment; it’s about a movement, about continually changing into the people that God has made us to be. So we need to have the same sort of patience with one another that God has with us as we move through that process. Sometimes, when I speak at a mega-church or something, someone will ask, “How do you come here, after being in Iraq or Calcutta? How do you speak into a culture like this with love?” And it’s because I see myself in the mirror! We’re all in process and that should give us great patience and peace with one another.
….That and the fact that the Bible is full of really messed-up people! Saul of Tarsus was a terrorist, for example. David was a womanizer who pretty much broke every command there was in two chapters of the Bible. But that’s part of the story—that God uses not only our gifts, but also our brokenness and our history. Desmond Tutu says that the love of God is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free. What a beautiful reminder that we should should never write anyone off.
A guy came up to me when I was speaking in Texas the other day and said, “I’m a redneck, and I mean a textbook redneck—NRA card-carrying, gun-toting, pickup truck-driving redneck. But I’ve been reading your stuff, and it’s really messed me up. It’s got me reading the Bible and rethinking some things.” So you never know how your life might impact people.
And when you look at Jesus’ ragamuffin group that included a tax collector and zealot, you can’t help but approach this whole thing with a little more humility.
But still, I think it’s important not to compromise on the cost of following Jesus. I don’t want to get so wishy-washy that I gloss over that and say you can just do anything with your life. One of my mentors says that a Christian can do any job as long as they’re willing to get fired at any point.” So if you’re a soldier, or if you’re working for a company that has a history of exploiting workers, well there may come a point when you might lose your job.
At the end of the day, we need the prophetic word both inside and outside. We need the voices in the wilderness, like John the Baptist, but we also need the Daniels. Daniel worked inside the king’s court, but he never compromised; even though he was in the king’s court, he wasn’t drinking the king’s Kool-Aid. This is why it’s really good to have a group that keeps us accountable, a community that helps us grow. And sometimes, if you’re the only one growing, it may be time to move on.
Be sure to check out the rest of our "Ask A..." series here.