thoughts on faith, justice, politics and philosophy

Month: September 2014

The Case For Nonviolence

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Yesterday, MPs voted to take part in air strikes against terrorists in Iraq and Syria. The action was justified on the grounds that the terrorists posed a threat to UK national security, and that they are causing untold misery already in the middle east and must be stopped.

I watched the debate – and the vote – with a heavy heart. People from across the political spectrum, and across the religious spectrum – voted to engage in violent conflict. It is my firm belief that Jesus advocated non-violence, and did so for good reason: violent conflict does not resolve problems. Here I want to set out an outline for why I believe as Christians we should engage in conflict, nonviolently.

First and foremost, I don’t believe violent conflict ever fully resolves the conflict in question. It can often appear to do so. For example, the bombing of the terrorists in Iraq and Syria will inevitably lead to their weakening as a force – but for how long? and who will be upset in the process? It is quite conceivable that being a part of the force attacking them, Britain will be the victim of a terrorist attack in the future. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 arguably got us in to this mess in the first place.

Secondly I believe it is vital for Christians to be engaged in conflict. If the conflict is violent, we can provide respite, care, help and support to those hurt, injured or affected by that conflict. We can also choose to deal with, not shy away from, problems – on a small or international scale. There are a great many things we can, and should, be doing as God’s people.

We can pray for peace. We can pray for those suffering and we can pray for our hearts that they would be stirred to enter into conflict with those we oppose – with a view to a peaceful resolution.

We can dialogue with the other parties involved. As Christians we can encourage and foster a culture of grace, forgiveness, and moving forward – just as God has done for us in inviting us into the Kingdom of Heaven. The Northern Ireland conflict is a great example of this happening. Yes, it isn’t perfect, but it’s so, so much better than it used to be now that both sides are talking, positively.

We can get in the way. Nobody wants to bomb a city full of its own citizens. Radical? Yes. Crazy? Probably. Risky? Almost certainly. But Jesus didn’t ask us to lead long, comfortable, cosy lives. He asked us to risk them. And besides, wasn’t it Paul who said that “the greatest thing a man can do is lay down his life for a friend”? When Paul says “friend”, think “neighbour”. What does Jesus have to say about who our neighbour is? hmm…

We can make a point. It would be wrong for Christians not to engage in conflict. We can see Jesus engaging in conflict all of the time. My favourite example is the adulterous woman – Jesus didn’t just stand there. He got in the way, made a stir, made a point – very, very well. His prophetic act of drawing people’s names in the sand (I forget where I heard that explanation from, sorry) really riled the woman’s accusers and turned the tables on them. Jesus loves turning the tables. We should follow his example.

So I think we can be involved and engaged in conflict – but never violent conflict. For “those who live by the sword will die by the sword”, after all. Jesus asked Peter to put his sword away, and he asks the same of you. He asks the same of our armies. He asks us not to bomb, not to shoot, not to hit, not to even direct our anger at one another – for otherwise we risk our existence being worthy only of being consigned to the garbage dump.

Instead let’s follow Jesus’ example – pray for those who persecute us (or our ‘allies’), work to create understanding, stand in the way of conflict and prophetically proclaim the good news that God came to the earth not as Justifier of War, but as Prince of Peace.



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Over The Line

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Nadia Bolz-Weber has written a wonderful book called “Cranky, Beautiful Faith”. I highly recommend you get hold of a copy and read it. She’s refreshingly blunt and has a lot to say about grace and inclusion. So much so, that she reminds me of another recovering alcoholic, Brennan Manning. I couldn’t help but see many obvious comparisons between Nadia’s story, and Brennan’s collection of stories in The Ragamuffin Gospel.

There is one story in Nadia’s book that I keep coming back to, though. She tells of a time when her church – full of gay people, transgender people, homeless people and others who have been rejected by society – experiences an influx of trendy hipsters in the wake of her taking a service in front of a large audience.

She tells of her instinctive reaction to want to exclude those people. And then she says this: “the trouble with drawing a line as that as soon as we have drawn it Jesus is on the other side“.


It can be easy to sneer at Christians for their exclusivity. I find myself often fuming at the way in which people try to keep the club as small as possible. They often exclude women, non-heterosexuals, transgenders, those of a different (usually lower) social class, those with differing theological viewpoints, those who are differently abled, those of a different race, and so on.

Too often the Church has been on the wrong side of history when it comes to equality. Which is somewhat ironic when you consider that its founder was radically inclusive towards women. No wonder I frequently come to find Christianity wanting.

The challenge becomes not being like the Christians. Yet in saying that very sentence I draw a line between “us” (the welcoming, liberal Jesus-followers) and “them” (the conservative Christians). It’s the ultimate conundrum on being liberal – the whole philosophy is to be inclusive towards everyone except those being exclusive.

I’ve been mulling over this paradox for a few days and the conclusion that I have come to is that God likes paradoxes, especially this one. We are always going to find ourselves on the “wrong” side of Jesus, here, I think. I can’t see how it could be any other way. So perhaps this is God’s way of reminding us that we haven’t got it all sorted, and that there is always a bigger picture, and there is always a bigger love to grasp hold of?

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