“Violence does solve problems.”
Surely it was a typo. The words were embroidered on the back of his hat, next to an American flag. Seemed like such a shame to have a typo already stitched into place.
But it wasn’t a typo.
A quick Google search revealed these words were the motto for a defunct paramilitary organization formerly affiliated with the “American Sniper” Chris Kyle. Defunct, because the group is in some legal trouble now.
Maybe violence will solve that, too.
The language is jarring. You read it and, like me, think there must be some mistake. Surely no one thinks this way.
Except that we do.
Even in our churches.
This wasn’t always the case. Alexander Campbell, for example, believed Christians shouldn’t participate in war because God’s kingdom “is not of this world.” David Lipscomb, in response to the Civil War (and the American Christian Missionary Society’s resolution in support of the North), preached with an apocalyptic eye on government, and could not fathom how “disciples of the Prince of Peace” could kill one another. Both were pacifists.
And yet, the American Sniper’s gospel has a stronghold in many churches today. This, not because it is actively preached (overt militarism, war mongering, etc), but more often because we fail to preach against it.
I would wager, for example, that very few white preachers raised concern about police officers’ use of lethal violent force against two black men this week. Our own racial biases are partially to blame. But if you step back and take a second look, you’ll notice that our silence on #blacklivesmatter (in mostly white churches) is consistent with our resistance to criticize wars in the Middle East, drone strikes, capital punishment or violent prisons.
It boils down to this: there is an immense social pressure inside our churches to condone and even celebrate violence if “we” are not on its receiving end.
In churches of Christ, we should ask ourselves the question we ask about everything else: “Is this biblical?”
Consider Col 3:1-17. You are familiar with this passage because you grew up hearing verse 16, where Paul says to “admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
So, Col 3 is all about a cappella music, right?
The whole passage is riddled with the language of peace and corresponding criticism of violence.
We rid ourselves of “anger” and “rage” (3:8) and clothe ourselves with “compassion” and “gentleness” (3:12). We “forgive” and “let the peace of Christ rule in [our] hearts, since as members of one body [we] were called to peace” (3:15).
In our misguided focus on the particulars of corporate worship, we made a huge error in exegesis. The real principle here is that right worship occurs when we resist violence and model peace toward each other and for the sake of the world.
When we don’t name violence in all its forms as contrary to the real gospel, the American Sniper’s version remains firmly entrenched and is even strengthened. Good Christian folks begin to default into the position that, “Yeah, sometimes…violence does solve problems.”
That’s a problem violence won’t solve.
Like you, I watched as the news updates of the Dallas shooting last week poured in. My heart was heavy.
I found myself lamenting the loss of both black and blue lives that week. My grief was compounded as I realized that the common denominator in all of these cases is violence and the belief that it solves problems.
It’s time for the Church to say something different.
Eric and his wife Lindsey have been at Highland Church in Memphis since 2012. You are likely to find them walking the local Greenline with their sons Noble, Foster, and dachshund Tucker. Eric cares deeply about preaching and social justice. He has a BA in Biblical Text and a Master of Divinity from Abilene Christian University. Eric is a board member for HopeWorks, an organization that provides hope and job training to the chronically unemployed and formerly incarcerated in Memphis.