One of my major concerns, ever since becoming a Christian, was over the ethics of violence. This is so on account of my own personal background. Before I was a confessing Christian, previously living in vain imaginings and the darkness of my own mind, I was slated to join the Marine Corps. I had all my papers signed, but a number of events deterred this. Over that time, during which I became a Christian, I became more uneasy with what being in the military meant. I struggled over questions of war, of peace, and what Scriptures said. I eventually found the two routes as incompatible.
Initially, I gravitated towards almost dogmatic pacifism and non-violence. I struggled with some of the implications, but I pushed ahead. I struggled to walk the line of the reality of violence in the Old Testament, at times bordering on Marcionite tendencies. But through growth, maturity, and wisdom, I've learned to think a number of these issues outside of the boxes people place over them.
One of these is the very definition and issue of violence. Usually the question is boxed in around absolutes: violence, yes or no? Of course, if one says no, which I was prone to do, it unleashes a torrent of questions, both fair and unfair. There's the problem over non-physical coercion and violence. Isn't shouting a kind of violence, a forcing of one's voice into another's consciousness? How violent is persuasion and argument? What about the crisis and demand of conversion? I find arguments about the violent non-violence of verbal, symbolic, and non-physical acts as casuistic. It encourages, under the surface, passive-aggression, manipulation, dissembling, and psychological warfare. I've seen this take place, in Christian and liberal groups, and it is truly horrible. Listening to way some people talk or gesture, I'd rather get punched
The question, more properly formulated is the nature, use, and authority of violence. In this light, there's nothing inherently wrong or sinful in violence in se. This, of course, opens the floodgates to evil teachers, but it must be done if we ever want to progress. Yes, I still argue voluntary professional military service is still sinful, especially in the current context of the United States. But I'm not going to get roped into impossible corners to try and box out of. Instead, it's a question to what extent people are given force for and how it is used.
The model of violence for the Christian is Christ turning over tables. We might nod our heads, but most of us are inherently uncomfortable with this act. It's a combination of liberal sensibility, whinging for civility, and our evil value over the sanctity of private property. Both of these Christ violates with ease and ferocity. His pure and purifying rage ought to model the purposes of violence. It is the tearing down, destruction, of evil accretions. It is the humiliation of the money changers. It is an attack upon an institution. This is a paradigm worthy of meditation.
Symbolic violence can bring about a feeling of liberty, a form of repentance and an attack upon the false gods that feed upon us. Violence in quelling our passions, or otherwise called the mortification of sin, is something all Christians are called to. Our vocation is a spiritual war against powers and principalities, but it is a spiritual war waged in the flesh. Of course, false gods command power over our hearts, but when it came to Greek Christians destroying Pagan temples or Dutch Reformers smashing stained glass windows, I can't argue with them methodologically. They might be wrong in practice, but not in principle. Physical actions may be goads to realize spiritual reality.
Thus, this leads us to the recent video where an Alt-Right White Nationalist was punched on TV. Against a liberal sentiment, Christians should not be appalled or offended by the action because it was violence. We ought to ask, what was the violence, and what was it for? It's similar to an episode where bishop Nicholas of Smyrna, apocryphally, punched Arius when he said that "There was a time when the Son was not". Whether this actually happened is irrelevant, the story communicates that even though Nicholas was jailed, an angel approached him and he was commended for his defense of Christ. This is not a question of whether someone should or should not get punched for denying the full divinity of Christ, it's a question of method.
There's something right and just about a foul, rebellious, and petulant child being slapped by his or her mother for speaking evil against her. Ideally, the violence is not to destroy the child, rather the exposure of humiliation, shock, and anger is to drive the child back onto the path of life. Again, not every act of child-discipline is good, many times it's destructive or vindictive, but it's a question of method and principle, not concrete practices. In other words, maybe a White Nationalist should be humiliated on national tv, maybe a Christ-denier ought to be physically challenged with the weight of his declaration in front of his peers. This is not the whole story, but it's worth meditating before blanket condemnation of force and violence. It's a correction of offensive boundary setting, a strong declaration of righteousness. Ultimately, the principle is repentance and liberation, even when people don't understand or want it.
This is something to thought through carefully, but thought through nonetheless. Again, if it's not clear, this does not validate the voluntary professional military, modern policing, the penal system of incarceration, or the modern state's death penalty. These are all things I see as demonically inspired, sin fueled, death-worshiping institutions, many times being driven along by pawns and peons who barely understand the chessboard they are standing on.
But being a peace-maker does not mean becoming doctrinaire pacifist or non-violent, in the purest sense of the term. Christ is the Prince of Peace, He did not revile His accusers even as they reviled Him, He taught us to turn the other cheek when slapped, and even restored the ear of His enemy which Peter had lopped off. Christ told us the Kingdom was seized by the violent, He turned the tables of the money-changers, He came as a sword, diving families, and the cause of the rising and falling of many in Israel. All of this is what it means to be a Peacemaker, perfectly revealed and formed in the life of Christ which we are to imitate. Let us attend to Wisdom. Amen.