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Christian Nonviolence – A Reflection

July 14, 2021
from the King Center Museum in Atlanta, Georgia

Watching the increasing divisiveness in our nation and world can be, to be blunt, deeply and darkly depressing. When I see this hatred and divisiveness creep, or in some cases march proudly, into the church my heart breaks. This sort of hatred is completely counter to the teachings of the one whom I follow who is proclaimed the Prince of Peace.

In this nation, I watched in horror as insurgents broke into the Capitol on January 6, 2021. What was even more horrifying to me was the fact that so many of these insurgents carried signs proclaiming Jesus as Lord. I don’t know what Jesus has to do with a crowd that set up a gallows in order to hang the vice-President and members of Congress. Jesus surely must have wept. I know that I did.

In 1930’s Germany, a “ church” arose that claimed Christian Nationalism in the era of Hitler. They fully supported what was going on in Germany at that time. A movement arose in opposition to that and out of that rising came the “Barmen Declaration.” It is a part of the Book of Confessions which is a part of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA). I have used this section of the declaration as a Confession of Faith in my present church and the previous church that I served. We believe that God has revealed God’s self as the one who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people; that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things… that the church must witness against and strive against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others. If you want to read more about the Barmen Declaration, follow this link: The Barmen Declaration

Thomas Merton spoke passionately about nonviolence and peacemaking as did Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. Sadly, they had planned a meeting at The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane but Dr. King was assassinated before they could meet. In the photo above from The King Center, the words of Dr. King say it all: It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.

Merton had the following to say in his book, Blessed Are the Meek: The Christian Roots of Nonviolence: Christian nonviolence does not encourage or excuse hatred of a special class, nation, or social group. It is not merely anti- this or that. In other words, the evangelical realism which is demanded of the Christian should make it impossible for him to generalize about “the wicked” against whom he takes up moral arms in a struggle for righteousness. He will not let himself be persuaded that the adversary is totally wicked and can therefore never be reasonable or well-intentioned, and hence need never be listened to. This attitude, which defeats the very purpose of nonviolence — openness, communication, dialogue — often accounts for the fact that some aspects of civil disobedience merely antagonize the adversary without making him willing to communicate in any way whatever, except with bullets or missiles. (Blessed Are the Meek: The Christian Roots of Nonviolence as found in Thomas Merton: Essential Writings, p. 127)

The church, church leaders, and so many others need to have a “come to Jesus meeting” with the Prince of Peace. I believe that this is a life or death situation for the church as we know it today.

  1. We do need to figure out a way to talk to each other across the divisions in our nation. Thanks for your reflection.

  2. For many years I held onto a lot of pain and resentment over what felt like being forced out of the denomination I was basically born into. Now I breathe a deep sigh of relief that I am not a pastor and believe I was brought out of the “church” of a reason. What is going on now makes me so sad I think I can be more effective as an “outsider.” But I have great respect and gratitude for you Michael and my other brothers and sisters out there hanging in there and encouraging your flocks to follow Jesus in the way of peace.

    • Thank you, Rogene! I truly appreciate your words of support and encouragement. I am also saddened by your experience with your former denomination.

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