Redemptive Violence…

I have always been a U.S. history reader since my first years of exposure to it from a gruffy old farmer/teacher in the public school system. He taught me that if you want to really understand something you need to get as close to the source as you can. Learn what the founders thought.

During the years since that time I have read extensively about the people around the forming of our nation, most particularly Jefferson, Washington, and Madison.  Learning about their lives and how they thought gave me an insight into what the country was meant to be.

It would be years later before I applied this same principle to my spirituality/religion.  In order to understand just what being a Christian was all about I read  about the early days of Christianity and particularly the words of its founder.

It was about a decade or so ago that I discovered Shane Claiborne and his books. Shane often goes back to the beginnings with his stories.  He is a passionate guy who influences my greatly. Here are some words from his book “The Irresistible Revolution”:

Every time our government chooses to use military force to bring about change in the world, it once again teaches our children the myth of redemptive violence, the myth that violence can be an instrument for good. This is precisely the logic we are trying to rid ourselves of, especially here in the inner city, and even more so for those of us who have pledged allegiance to the cross rather than the sword, and heed Jesus’ rebuke to Peter that “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matt. 26:52).

Violence infects us. We begin to believe that violence can bring peace in our world, in our neighborhoods, in our homes, in our hearts. I think of the memorial garden a few blocks from my house, near the inner-city school with the most graduates who died in Vietnam; it’s no coincidence that it is in one of the poorest neighborhoods in our city. There are plenty of times I’d like to bust out a sword and cut someone’s ear off like Peter. But…

Claiborne, Shane (2008-09-09). The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical

Jesus consistently taught that violence was never the solution to a problem. His early church thoroughly understood that but that was a lesson quickly forgotten in the ensuing years. The crusades against Muslims in the tenth century was a time when the church totally abandoned their founder’s teachings and went to war with a competing religion.

We as a people and especially as religions simply refuse to learn that military force most often just results in more violence in a tit for tat exchange. It saddens me to see that some of the most avid supporters of redemptive violence are those in religious institutions.  As Shane says above violence infects us deeply. If we only stuck to the words of our founder that certainly would not have been the case…


  1. Being a student of history as well, I have one question.
    Were “we” justified in breaking as a colony from England in a violent way?
    I have thought about this more often as I wonder if those fleeing violence in a non violent way are justified in violent rebelling- since violence seems to be as old as Cain and Able.


    1. Interesting questions Jan, I also have pondered them myself. As a matter of fact I have a post coming out in a week or so about this very topic. It is interesting to ponder what we might look like now if we hadn’t gone our own way. I won’t put any spoilers on that post but I will agree with you that violence is just part of our nature and that is something that God regrets about his creation. Through the words and actions of Jesus Christ he tried to once again convince us to follow the way of peace. We haven’t learned that lesson and I am skeptically pessimistic that we ever will. In some ways the U.S. brand of aggression is unique and that is not particularly a good thing…. more on that soon…

      Thanks for the thoughts…


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