There is the way of violence, and there is the way of Jesus, and they are never the same path.

Seems simple enough, right? And yet, we’ve been living in a culture in which many who claim to follow Jesus are willing to resort to violence to defend their specific doctrinal and political beliefs. From the Civil War to the January 6, 2021 insurrection attempt at the U. S. Capitol, Christian nationalists (including those who don’t realize that’s what they are) keep proving their willingness to put the cross, the American flag, and an assault rifle into the same package of values to be celebrated. And then we wind up with God, guns, and country bumper stickers and t-shirts.

It’s a problem. And it’s a problem Jesus personally spoke to with his own early disciples. As Rob Bell says,

To respond to violence with more violence, according to Jesus, is not the way of God. We find him in his teachings again and again inviting his people to see their role in the world in a whole new way. As he says at one point, those who “draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matt. 26).

~ Rob Bell, Love Wins

Each week, I write out sermon ideas based on upcoming texts assigned for reading among liturgical Christian congregations around the world and then I send them out via The Reflectionary newsletter along with other links and resources for leaders. This week (the fifth week of Easter, which is a season, not a single day), the assigned readings included two seemingly disconnected passages – John 14:1-14 and Acts 7:55-60.

Jesus, in John 14, encourages the disciples with the promise that he’s going to prepare a place for them and will return again to take them there. Then he makes another “I am” declaration, one of seven around which John’s Gospel is at least somewhat organized. Here, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

This verse usually gets used as a prooftext about how Jesus is the one and only “way” to go to heaven after death. (Here’s a short video explaining why this is the wrong way to apply John 14:6.) But when we narrow Jesus’ statement in this manner, we miss the bigger point. And the bigger point is that Jesus came to show his disciples, and all of us, THE way. His way. His way of life, which can become our way of life, which is the one and only way of life that leads us into companionship with God.

As the supreme representation of what God is all about, Jesus modeled a different way of life for a rather violent world.

The other passage, Acts 7:55-60, is about the final moment of Stephen’s life as he was being stoned to death by Saul’s band of religious persecutors. Why are these two passages assigned for reading on the same day? What’s the connection between them?

I believe both passages are ultimately about the one and only true Way to live if we’re going to follow Jesus.

Stephen’s persecutors followed the typical human pattern of defending their belief system to the point of picking up rocks to throw at someone whose ideas were a threat to the way of life they’d enjoyed. They lived the way of violence.

Stephen, instead of picking up stones to defend himself, pleads and preaches and prays with his dying breaths. He yielded himself to the moment and loved his enemies until his brain activity ceased. He lived the Way of Jesus.

The Way of Jesus is the way of love. The Way of Jesus is to leave the stones where they are and the sword in its sheath (or the gun in its holster) and to keep on loving the very people who threaten us. And yet, I still hear Christians using a vocabulary of violence to describe how they feel they need to relate to culture. We’ve gotta “fight” for our rights, our freedoms, our country, etc.

In the sermon notes I shared for this week, I tell a story about a conversation I had just a couple of years ago in the lobby of our evangelical church, which highlights the issue to which I’m speaking now…

The idea that modern American Christians might resort to violence in defense of their beliefs and values might seem preposterous, but it was just a few years ago, during a hotly-contested presidential election, that I was approached in the lobby of our church with a disturbing question.

A young man wanted my opinion on whether or not he should join a particular organization that was making news for its involvement in various protests around the country. And their involvement was not in protesting against systemic injustice but in attacking and beating those who were doing so.

Could it really be that someone who had been attending an evangelical Christian church for some period of time had gotten from the teachings of Jesus that he was being led by God to, in his words, “fight to protect our nation and take back our country?”

His confusion highlights the point. Today, there is a popular version of Christianity that has wandered from the Way of love and nonviolent resistance to corruption and injustice and has, instead, chosen the way of power.

~ Me, over at Preaching for Change

There is the way of violence. And there is the Way of Jesus, which is the way of love. Only one approach to life is consistent with declaring oneself a Christian, and there are no two ways about it.


About the Cover Art: Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash.

PS – Here are some good books to read about all of this.

Nonviolence
  • Sprinkle, Preston (Author)
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