A Double Shot of Dubious Wisdom — Part 1, Violence

Moscow’s Doug Wilson, the most powerful, most famous, and most prolifically opinionated pastor in town, continues his tear on violence and Christianity. And I continue to refute much of it, if only to provide an alternate perspective that I believe is not only Biblical where his isn’t, but better captures the heart of New Testament theology, which suffers under his analysis.

It’s almost as if I think this stuff really matters . . .

But it does, actually. It is important, and absolutely worth refuting, when a Christian pastor mocks his pacifist brethren while calling for the State to do its Scriptural job and practice violence against criminals — a duty required, though, only until the Church gets its anemic, feminized act together and grasps that the full realization of the Kingdom of God involves war. It matters greatly when he describes the inevitable victory of Christ and its effect on the world as something much like a spectacularly executed, mighty, even merciless, military undertaking complete with the physical carnage war leaves behind. And it certainly is worth discussing when a pastor fails to grant that centuries of a Christian theology of non-violence has at its origin the Reconciler whose example and teaching pacifists take as their model, probably because they love Him enough to take his words as seriously and literally as they can.

Is it really odd that so many of those taught by the Lamb of God find themselves so repelled, so outraged, by violence?

Was the Church’s witness for peace, justice, nonviolence and reconciliation over the past two millennia simply the demonstration of muddle-headed, soft-hearted, sentimentalists who, in their piety, actually sought to be like Jesus? Who led them before Wilson came along to slap their weak little wrists and teach them the ways of warfare — not spiritual warfare, not the combatting of the violence of sin with the power of love, but real war? Gory war, weapons-and-tactics war — war that, presumably, makes real men out of its participants and levies real justice against its victims. If the Church, by and large, has failed to proclaim a Gospel of violence in offering the message and person of the Prince of Peace, should it remedy its errors by calling for more combat, more violence, and more aggression so as to “take the world for Christ”?

More to the point, do we teach our sons to develop the fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, mercy, gentleness and self-control), or to develop big biceps and a robust, hearty appreciation for fighting? Remember that on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Christ Church held a boxing tournament, one that included kids in the 60-lb. range. While other Christian churches were praying for peace, for our soldiers’ safety, for the well-being of the Iraqi people, Wilson and his macho men were enthusiastically encouraging their kids to step into the ring and throw a few punches for Jesus. All in fun, of course, which makes the grotesque irony even more hideous.

Hanging in the living room of our first house was a poster that said, “There will be peace on Earth when the Christians of the world agree that they will not kill each other.” My son is a pacifist. I am not. I would fight to defend someone in my care, my neighbor or a guy on the street; I think I would defend myself. I have been the victim of violence. I’m unalterably opposed to capital punishment because in slaughtering the poor and extending the mercy of continued existence to the rich (you may read “slaughtering Blacks” and “extending mercy to whites”), it has become an illegitimate exercise of the State, reflecting the very worst, most sinful attitudes of society.

Even if Romans 13 allows for the State to execute wrongdoers, and I’m not convinced that it does, that command would require justice and equality as God sees it, and those are in short supply in this country’s gallows, prison cells, and courtrooms. His justice is certainly not demonstrated when the race of the victim determines the sentence of the murderer, or when shoddy legal representation brings about the death of people darker and poorer than I am. Above all, I grieve over the execution of even the most violent, malevolent, unremorseful killer. His death at the hands of the State and the crimes that sent him to it represent the ruin of a human being created in God’s image, a person Jesus died for. That loss of potential is tragic, and I won’t apologize for my grief.

Wilson disagrees. In his declaration that the State HAS to kill criminals, and that it really ought to do a better job of it, he writes, “If the violence is directed against a serial rapist and murderer, the State’s violence is obedient and holy.” If Romans 13 truly does command the State to wield the sword of capital punishment, the righteous, just application thereof would be obedient. But I cannot call it holy, and I cannot preach a gospel that looks so little like its own founder’s example. I don’t doubt that violence will poison our world until the Righteous One comes again; I just don’t intend to take up any weapon or applaud any combat other than that of love and its assured victory over evil.

Leave a Reply