Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
The cross is lost to the church. While it hangs on walls of sacred buildings and around the necks of believers, we are no way yoked to it if our responses to murder are any indication of our faithfulness as related to this ancient symbol of torture. Truly, I say to you, the nature of the cross is not found nearly as much in it’s capacity to remind us of the torture of Jesus; but the nature of the cross is most powerfully known in the church’s willingness to burden itself with a cursed tree.
Jesus calls on his disciples, and subsequent members of the Body of Christ, to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him. Nowhere is our collective failure to understand the possibilities of how cross-bearing can reveal God’s will in our own point in history than in the typical Christian response to mass shootings. With every murder, we patronize the dead by pointing to their victimization as evidence of the necessity that our own political or public policy outcomes must be realized. Yet with every murder, and every patronizing sentence muttered by Christians and politicians alike, members of the Body of Christ fail to witness credibly to the Jesus we know is Scripture, for the truth of our God is revealed in peace-making, and not in blaming our opponents and mocking one another in endless attempts to rally our political brethren into battle array.
Like same-sex marriage, gun control and mass shootings are facilitating the burial of the Christ-centered ethic. We neglect Jesus’ revealed truth that name-calling leads to violence. We neglect Jesus’ command to refuse to hold ill-will against one another. We violate Jesus and we violate the cross as we post memes, mock one another’s intelligence, and accuse our neighbors of hatred. We forget that the brother of Jesus tells us to control our tongues so that our tongues do not become the rudders of our own destiny.
In our response to mass shootings across America, our destiny appears to be our own destruction, and with it, the credibility of the very faith we claim undergirds our democracy. My belief is that our trust in democracy has limited our willingness to carry our own cross. We are not willing to sacrifice, or to deny ourselves privilege, when we can vote for favored outcomes that never really address the root causes of violence, but only the symptoms. If the church does not attend to brokenness and sin, we will never move toward the perfection of our creator in heaven, we will only preach up sin, and it will continue to master us, legislatively and otherwise.
Gun control is not an issue of Christian concern. Healing and redemption is the vocation of the church, and when we refuse to attempt to heal or redeem or witness to grace until we win our political and cultural victories, we make enemies, not peace. The more relevant we try to be to the culture of violence that surrounds us, the less faithful we are to the sacrificial and self-emptying example of the messiah. Jesus would not take weapons away, he would change the hearts of those who use them – indeed, this is the very nature of his life and ministry.
We as Christians are called to sacrifice. In order to be peace-makers, we must empty ourselves of privilege or take the side that defends our preferences. I do not know if more or less guns are needed in schools, but I do have my preferences. However, my preferences will not resolve the deep-seeded brokenness that is felt by a murderer, or, those who wish to avenge the blood of the murdered.
What I believe to be true, is that a non-violent presence is needed in our schools, our mental hospitals, and our communities. Yet, we refuse to make time to spend in relationship with those who are isolated, mentally ill, or simply so broken they are driven to kill. Even more indicative of our spiritual laziness is our refusal to be a non-violent presence in public places that acts as both witness and boundary against violence. Why are we not, as Christians, laying down our firearms for just long enough to patrol our public schools and places, being in relationship with others, and yes, even willing to sacrifice ourselves when crisis and panic occur. This is the legacy of Jesus, Woolman, King, the suffrage movement, Ella Baker, and so many others. Non-violence as a cleansing response to hatred and oppression – and our oppressors.
The outcry has been that Christians have been targeted by mass killers. My response is that more of the faithful need to be in these places where shootings occur, with the very intention of acting as a barrier between innocence and brokenness, or, if you prefer, between innocence and the manifestations of evil. We need not be targets when we offer ourselves as proxies, moving together to ward off the violence while others escape and call for help. We need not resist evil to swallow it whole in light.
Such are the true peace-makers - those who practice non-violence on behalf of God’s justice (not fairness), without using the coercive and militant hand of criminal justice or militancy. The world can legislate against violence, but the people of God must use love and self-sacrifice to point out that violence can never answer violence and still act as witness to the desire of God.
Imagine schools populated with volunteers that are mere presence – a non-violent commitment to the well-being of our youth, our aged, and those deemed mentally ill. We can be the eyes and ears of community professionals, a steady presence against bullying, a friend for the otherwise friendless, and a witness to positive interaction as a life-ring for those who are targeted for marginalization and scorn. If our violence is a product of alienation, than we must repent of our complicity in the culture of alienation. Radically broken people are not coming to church, so we must go to the radically broken. People are not coming to our churches because we are radically broken. We must empty ourselves, deny our privilege, so that people will come to us despite our broken nature. Sin is real – but sin cannot win if we choose love, and live out our Christian ethic - an ethic of cross bearing in the face of radically broken invitations to lord it over our opponents, whether they be Christians or otherwise.
If the Body of Christ takes up our cross – if we eschew our comfortable financial status and intellectual sensibilities to take on the emotional and social suffering that comes with offering ourselves to others, we not only reflect Christ, but we do something. And isn’t that what we all want – something to be done. God is in fact calling us to act in history, to end an age and usher in a radically new messianic era where we respond to violence with love and sacrifice. The nation state has its realm, and so does the church. The responses of the two entities to violence and evil should not mirror one another, for the nation state is given the sword, but the church – the church is given a cross to bear with the promise of vindication.