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This Sunday in Adult Bible Study: Prophetic Voices

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012 @ 9:30 am in the fellowship hall
Shane Claiborne -
The Myth of Redemptive Violence

This Sunday we begin a new format for our Adult Sunday Bible Study.  Throughout this fall, we are going to be interacting with and discussing "prophetic voices" in our culture - individuals who either entice us or force us to address a controversial topic of our modern world ... anything from how we treat the poor and disadvantaged members of our community, to our care (or lack thereof) of God's creation, to rampant materialism in the Western world.

This week we begin with a man who has become a popular speaker throughout the country - at conferences and at churches.  He grew up in the evangelical wing of the Christian household, attending Wheaton College in Illinois and eventually working at one of the larger churches of America, Willow Creek.  While he was always known to be a bit different, his life and voice became even more radical following an experience he had with Mother Teresa on the harsh streets of Calcutta.  Today, he lives in an intentional Christian community in downtown Philadelphia, and he champions a radical ministry of poverty and to the poor known as The Simple Way. 

His name is Shane Claiborne, one of America's modern prophets. 

Following the tragic shooting in Colorado this past July, Shane Claiborne wrote an article for titled "The Myth of Redemptive Violence."  It was an article clearly intended to bring a difficult and controversial issue out in the open:  violence and gun use in America. 

Our purpose will not be to determine whether or not Shane Claiborne is right.  Our goal will be to evaluate the article and to use the Bible to "test" or measure the article.

As you read this article, ask yourself:  what parts of the Bible speak about violence and the use of force?  Does the Bible have anything to say about "necessary conflict"?  Is there ever a case when war is "good" in the Bible?  Shane Claiborne includes his own references to the Bible, including the scene before Jesus' crucifixion where he is arrested and he tells Peter to put away his sword. 

Don't worry if you don't agree with this week's article.  I'm going to pull from both sides of the theological aisle in the weeks to come.  Also, if you think of an article or sermon or book that you think would be great for us to read and discuss, just let me know.  Remember, the goal is to find articles that seek to address a part of our modern world in a prophetic way.

And ... with that ... on to the article.  Here's Shane Claiborne's "The Myth of Redemptive Violence."  I'll see you Sunday,

The Myth of Redemptive Violence
by Shane Claiborne 07-24-2012

I had a veteran friend once tell me, “The biggest lie I have ever been told is that violence is evil, except in war.”  He went on, “My government told me that.  My Church told me that.  My family told me that. … I came back from war and told them the truth—‘Violence is not evil, except in war… Violence is evil – period.’” 

Every day it seems like we are bombarded with news stories of violence—a shooting in Colorado, a bus bombing in Bulgaria, drones gone bad and the threat of a nuclear Iran, a civil war in Syria, explosions in Afghanistan and Iraq.  

The recent cover story of Time magazine was "One a Day," showing that soldier suicides are up to one per day, surpassing the number of soldiers who die in combat. The U.S. military budget is still rising—more than $20,000 a second, more than $1 million a minute, spent on war even as the country goes bankrupt.  
Our world is filled with violence—like a plague, an infection, a pandemic of people killing people, and people killing themselves. In my city of brotherly love, Philadelphia, we have nearly one homicide a day—and in this land of the free we have more than 10,000 homicides per year.  

This week President Barack Obama called the shooting in Colorado “evil.” And he is right.  

But perhaps it is also time that we declare that violence is evil, everywhere—period.  It’s obvious that killing folks in a movie theater is sick and deranged, but the question arises: is violence ever okay?

Our kids keep getting mixed messages. A few years ago there was a national news story about a second grader in Rhode Island who wore a baseball cap to school with soldiers carrying guns on the front. The school authorities ruled that his hat violated dress code, which did not allow for weapons on clothing, a code established with the kids best interest in mind for their safety and protection. But then school authorities pushed for an exception, working to allow for clothing that had soldiers with guns in the interest of promoting “patriotism and democracy.”  No wonder our kids are confused by our double-speak. Even for those who believe violence is a necessary evil in our world, maybe there can be a renewed commitment to still call it evil.  

We must not forget that Timothy McVeigh, who committed the worst act of domestic terror in U.S. history, said he learned to kill in the first Gulf war. It was there that he said he turned into an “animal.” He came back from war, mentally deranged, and continued to kill. And then the government that trained him to kill killed him to show the rest of us that it is wrong to kill. There is something deeply troubling about our logic of redemptive violence.

One of the patriarchs, Cyprian (African Bishop in the third century), critiqued the contradictory view of death so prevalent in our culture where we call killing evil in some instances and noble in others: “Murder, considered a crime when people commit it singly, is transformed into a virtue when they do it en masse.”  
Contemporary thinkers like Renee Girard contend that this challenge to violence inherent to Christ-like Christianity is, at least in part because, at the center of the Christian faith is a victim of violence—as Jesus was brutally murdered on the cross.  And there is a triumph over death as rises from the dead, a final victory over violence and hatred and sin and all ugly things.  

And yet, even in the face the evil that Jesus endured, he consistently challenged the myth of redemptive violence. He looked into the eyes of those killing him and called on God to forgive them. He loved his enemies and taught his disciples to do the same. He said things like, “You’ve heard it said ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’… but I want to say there is a better way,” and  “You’ve heard it said, ‘love your friends and hate your enemies’… but I tell you love those who hate you … do not repay evil with evil.’” He challenged the prevailing logic of his day, and of ours. He insisted that if we “pick up the sword we will die by the sword”—and we’ve learned that lesson all too well.  

When one of his disciples picks up a sword to defend him and cuts off a guy’s ear, Jesus scolds his own disciple, picks up the ear, and heals the wounded persecutor. Christian theologians have said Jesus teaches a “third way” to interact with evil. We see a Jesus who abhors both passivity and violence and teaches us a new way forward that is neither submission nor assault, neither fight nor flight. He shows us a way to oppose evil without mirroring it, where oppressors can be resisted without being emulated and neutralized without being destroyed.  

We can take courage that Jesus understood the violence of our world very well. At one point he wept over Jerusalem because it didn’t know the things that make for peace. 

No doubt Jesus is still weeping.  

And lots of us are weeping with him—from Colorado to Kabul. Perhaps it’s time for a united, nonviolent assault on the myth of redemptive violence. Perhaps it’s time for us to declare that violence is always evil—period. There is always a third way.   

Opening Questions:
1.   Shane Claiborne says that our culture sends mixed messages to our kids about guns.  Do you agree with him?
2.   Do you think the young boy should be allowed to wear his hat with guns on it to school?
3.   How do you interpret the following command from Jesus:  "You have heard that it is said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.  But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also" (Mt. 5:38-39).
4.   How do you think Shane Claiborne would explain the violence and judgment described in the Book of Revelation especially in such places as Revelation 18?  Do you think Gods ultimate judgment of evil and its apparent destruction constitutes redemptive violence?


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