Sjolander Road Fellowship

Declaring the God of Unconditional Love

the role of the church in our culture of violence



As a country we have engaged in much hand wringing and soul searching over the issue of violence in our world. From terrorism to human trafficking, we are inundated with news of death and destruction at the hands of the perpetrators of violence. Preachers, pundits, and politicians endlessly share their proposed solutions, but little seems to change for the better because of their efforts. People become paranoid, withdrawn, and angry; but real improvement in the level of violence never seems to materialize.


Of course, historically humanity's approach to dealing with violence has been to engage in counter violence. From wars to capital punishments, the rationale has been that what deters violent people is making them suffer violence in return. Inflict enough pain on the violent ones and they will cease their violence or more likely cease to exist. Like much that exists on our list of unimpeachable truths, this notion that violence can be eradicated by enough timely counter violence is largely unquestioned by the majority. In fact, our legal system, foreign policy, entertainment, and even religion are predicated on this very idea of overcoming evil violence by exerting righteous violence in response. Our  culture is so infused with the assumption that violence is the only conceivable approach to maintaining societal order that any who dare to question it are summarily dismissed with any number of pejorative labels.


Despite the above facts, many people during the course of our national history have questioned the appropriateness of so called righteous violence as the way to maintain the well being of society. This is especially true of those who claim the name of Jesus and identify as Christians. Every military engagement and every coercive measure to manage other people's behavior and lives has caused some to ask how all of this coincides with the teachings of Christ.


Admittedly, on the subject of personal security and that of close friends and loved ones, none of us are particularly rational and objective. The call to self preservation is strong and largely essential. That being noted, we are still left with the issue of what is and is not proper, honorable, and ethical in our efforts to be secure in persons and property.


A great many, quire naturally, see self preservation as the highest priority in life and therefore whatever serves that purpose is logically and invariably justified and correct. Generally, those of a religious persuasion manage to interpret and apply the ethical instructions of the Bible, including those of Jesus, in some manner which allows personal security to remain the overruling priority.


The question one might ask relative to Jesus is whether he taught that personal security was our paramount goal in life or did other things take precedence. Furthermore, did he promote violence in the pursuit of personal security? This point has been endlessly debated throughout Christian history with the majority concluding that security and self preservation are logically so important that no interpretation of Jesus which does not allow for defensive counter violence can even be considered. Thus, those raising questions about church approved violence have been generally rejected if not vilified by professing Christians. The visceral need for a feeling of safety prevents most from even consider the idea that counter violence is not only ineffective but is actually the basic problem jeopardizing our security.


For those affiliated with Christian Orthodoxy, it is exceedingly difficult to let go of the use of coercion to promote righteousness, when the traditional doctrines state that God is in the business of coercion and retribution through violence. One of the givens of religion is that what the gods do is proper and that the emulation of the gods is the best mankind can do. If God inflicts pain through violence and destruction as his way to encourage righteousness, then it follows that men should do the same. As long as we adhere to a violent, angry god, we are will struggle to rise above a culture which ironically views violence as both a criminal activity and a mark of the righteousness.


Criminal violence versus righteous violence- what's the difference? Not much. Both stem from the idea that violence is okay as long as you can define it as just. When personal safety are perceived to be at stake, counter violence is automatically justified in our typical thinking. Self preservation is an instinctive reaction prompted by the working of our lowest level brain. That being said we cannot blame the reptilian brain for wars and other unproductive counter violence campaigns. Most of these activities are perpetrated over long periods of time in which the higher level brain has had ample opportunity to evaluate the consequences and draw conclusions from those consequences. Most of our practice of counter violence results from longstanding assumptions which have conditioned our higher brain to accept as a fact what is not only ethically questionable but historically ineffective. We continue to operate per Albert Einstein's definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.