There is a Christian case for the use of violence, and that case has been made, under the terms of “just
war theory,” for hundreds of years.
But the Church at its best has
always remembered what too
many people, including Christians,
forget – the coercion of others
should never be regarded merely as
“the continuation of politics by
other means” (as Carl von Clausewitz said so blandly), but only ever
as a last resort.
It is now sadly commonplace on
North American university campuses that a prominent speaker – it
doesn’t matter what point of view he
or she represents – will be harassed,
heckled and even harmed instead of
heeded. Violence, verbal or otherwise, will be planned and executed
for maximum exposure rather than
undertaken only when all other
forms of engagement are exhausted.
Vicious and violent snowflakes,
however, are everywhere, including our churches.
Christian leaders and their supporters love to cry, “Unity! Unity!”
when faced with dissent, let alone
criticism. Yet somehow their vision
of unity rarely includes the possibility of changing their minds to adopt
the recommendations of their opponents. It seems always to be unity
on their terms, backed by threats of
coercion rather than promises of
reflection and even reconsideration.
Even in the face of barbarian in-
vasion, Augustine warned Chris-
tians to resort to violence only if
they had made sure avoiding it
would result in worse evil. Thomas
Aquinas, worried about wicked re-
gimes within Christendom and on
its borders, nonetheless urged
Christians to consider a list of pre-
requisites before engaging in battle,
and in particular demanded we al-
ways seek peace, even via war.
Reconciliation of relationships and
the restoration of shalom must
never be lost in a storm of fearful,
Across Canada today, alas, it isn’t
only nervous politicians and CEOs
who seek to muzzle dissent. Christian leaders also warn their subordinates to keep quiet about
problems within organizations for
fear of “harming the ministry,”
while pastors and elders try to stifle
opposition with accusations of resisting the very will of God.
Leaders are quite right to invoke
and emulate Paul’s campaigns
against heresy, schism, gossip and
defiance of legitimate authority. But
they had better be as right as he was
about what constitutes truly illegitimate speech among Christians.
And they had better have obeyed
his instructions about how to communicate with other Christians,
including their critics, before they
lower the disciplinary boom –
“speaking the truth in love” (
Ephesians 4: 15), covered in “compassion,
kindness, humility, gentleness and
patience” (Colossians 3: 12), “so
that the body of Christ may be built
up until we all reach unity in the
faith” (Ephesians 4: 12–13).
In fact, before Christian leaders
decide to repress alternative opinions, they might hold each other to
account. Did we show obvious
compassion? Were we manifestly
kind? What evidence is there we
have been humble? Would a neutral observer call us gentle? Have
we been exemplary in our patience?
Before anyone else defends or
complies with such power moves
by fuming leaders, let’s resolve
together to ask questions like these
to make sure (in the same way
ethicists apply similar tests to any
claim of a “just war”) something
truly Christian is going on. /FT
Christian leaders also warn their
subordinates to keep quiet about problems
within organizations for fear of “harming
CHRIST & CULTURE IN CANADA
JOHN G. STACKHOUSE JR.
Before we resort to
violence, a checklist
Second thoughts on discipline in a Christian organization
John Stackhouse teaches at Crandall
University in Moncton, N.B., where he is also
dean of faculty development. Find more of these
columns at www.Faith Today.ca/ChristAndCulture.