Violence and the Christian

This afternoon, I pulled up Chicago Tribune: Breaking News, and browsed through the stories. I don’t know why I still do this. Most of the time, I’m looking to see if anything has happened in my home neighborhood of Hegewisch, on the Far South Side.

What I see every day is tragedy. So many of the stories involve shootings, almost always on the South Side of the city. Every night someone is shot in Chicago. This year, 428 people have died through homicide in the city I grew up in.

According to this Chicago Tribune article, Chicago has just as many police officers per capita as other major cities of its size. But it doesn’t seem to be doing much good.

As a Christian and a Chicago boy, how do I respond to this violence? Christ calls me to speak up and speak out for the victims and challenge the systematic injustice that creates the perpetrators. Christ calls me to do so without violence, without lashing out as they do. Christ calls me to “turn the other cheek” and not to repay an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth, to fight with words and non-violent actions and to be a witness to a better Way.

But I am not perfect. Part of me, the part of me still in love with the city that raised me and is home to my family, says to hell with the nonviolence. It wishes that a significantly greater police presence with the authority to raid and shoot to kill the gangs and dealers that have taken parts of the city hostage would be deployed to stamp out the evil. Send in the National Guard if necessary. To hell with the prayer for our enemies:

Gracious God, your Son called on you to forgive his enemies while he was suffering shame and death. Lead our enemies and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen

Push and pull, pull and push, these two opposing sides wrestle in my heart. I know what Christ calls me to do, but am I realistically strong enough? Christians aren’t exactly known for their non-violence. How many wars have we started? The Holy Crusades are some of the most egregious examples of Christian-sanctioned violence in history. This history of the Israelites revolves around warfare and holy wars. How many deaths have we condoned? American Christians are well-known for their dedication to military might and the death of America’s enemies (or inconveniences). Christians convinced of their callings have bombed buildings and massacred thousands. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the most well-known and well-respected Lutheran theologians of all time, was a terrorist who conspired to assassinate his own leader.

Is the fighting justified? Were Saints Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas correct in their developments of the Just War theory? Are we ever right to kill to protect others and ourselves?

I recall Bonhoeffer’s own words. He knew that what he was doing was wrong and evil. He, too, wrestled with how to reconcile his Christian calling and the violence which he concluded was the only possible solution. His conclusion was that he was guilty and that he could not justify his actions, but could only hope that he would make a difference in the world and that God could find enough grace to forgive him.

I know that, in my own actions, I am committed to non-violence. My parents own guns and have offered to teach me how to shoot, but I have refused. I don’t want to know how to use a gun. Only once have I felt the honest urge to deck a guy (he deserved it anyway), and was stopped by a friend before I could. That’s not my issue.

My issue is whether or not I condone the violence of others against others. I don’t know. I really don’t. Maybe it’s necessary. It probably is. But even so, even when I support it and think it is justified, I must always remember the Christian responsibility to non-violence and peace and rely on God’s grace to pull me through when I don’t think I can take anymore. Right or wrong, God’s grace is the only thing that will get me through anyway.

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Author: Pastor Ken

Ken Ranos serves as the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Three Lakes, WI, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

One thought on “Violence and the Christian”

  1. When I think of the push and pull situation in (your head) and many of us, I always think of police officers or soldiers who have to kill as part of their job, to protect themselves or others. They must have a tremendous amount of push and pull in their heads. What if I had to injure or kill (God forbid) someone who was hurting me or one of my family, particularly my children (even though they are grown)? Could I live with myself? Could, or would God forgive me?? Difficult questions to ponder.

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