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Q & R: Catholics on Gun Violence?

Here's the Q:

I recently was involved in this exchange on the National Catholic Reporter website concerning a Johns-Hopkins University study of gun violence. I wrote in about the failure of redemptive violence and what our response as followers of Jesus should be.

I don’t think it's bad theology (as he states in his comments) to compare Jesus’ work with the work we are to do. My question is: Am I off the wall or am I missing something here?

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I Wrote:
The fact that redemptive violence does not work is pretty evident in the world. Violent acts cascade upon violent acts. The body count just keeps climbing, both for the "good" guys and the "bad" guys.

What we, as followers of Jesus must keep in mind, is that if Jesus is the image of the unseen God, then the image is of an innocent, naked man being executed on a cross. He refused to call on his Father's 12 legions of angels to rescue him. He trusted his Father, not power.

If we consider this as happening in order to offer us an escape plan from this world at the end of our mortal lives, then you are right - we simply must duke it out by whatever means are necessary, and the winners are the ones with the most firepower.

On the other hand, if we consider it as establishing the pattern of redemption of all creation through the path of redemptive suffering that not only Jesus, but his followers throughout the ages are called to walk, then the conversation takes a far different turn.

The other person’s response was:

1) The path that was laid out for Jesus is very different than the path laid out for his followers. HE was the redemptive lamb for whom it was necessary to die on the cross (without calling his legion of angels for rescue). It's bad theology to compare his work with the work we are to do.

2) The fact that redemptive violence does work is evident. Would you explain to the slaves in the Antebellum South that the violence of the war that was coming was to be in vain? Would you let the Jews in the concentration camps know that the coming violence against the German army was not really "working."Your problem is that you equate all violence as "bad" with no consideration that it may be used for good. The return of Jesus in the book of Revelations is filled with imagery of great violence.

3) You simply have no workable and realistic answer for the "here and now." I too would like the world to be perfect, but when facing down the barrel of a gun in the hand of a thug it is not the time to be considering solutions that will take decades of work to make a difference.

4) I would consider you much more consistent if you acknowledge that when you hear a noise of breaking glass in your home at 3:00 in the morning while you are on the 911 call you insist that the policemen leave their firearms at the station house before they respond to your call.

To which I replied:

Well, Jack, we will simply have to agree to disagree in the knowledge that God indeed loves us all.

I do know there is a very serious discussion going on about how Jesus' followers, as his body, fit into his redemptive work in the world.

Here's the R:
It's so interesting to see how similar conservative Roman Catholics and conservative Evangelicals can be. The reduction of Jesus from Lord and Teacher to atoning lamb/sacrifice - so that we must believe certain doctrines about him, but neither do what he said nor follow his example - is as stunning as it is commonplace. As well, the use of absolutistic, all-or-nothing thinking is quite typical - and unproductive. I've written quite a bit about this in my books - especially Story We Find Ourselves In and New Kind of Christianity, and also on this blog (here for example).

The willingness to use Revelation as "a license to kill" goes beyond stunning and unproductive to frightening and dangerous. I addressed this in some detail in my book Everything Must Change.

The best response to absolutistic and reductionistic thinking on the side of "just war theory," I think, should not be met with its mirror image on the side of something called "pacifism." That's why I'm such a big fan of the approaches taken by Walter Wink, Rene Girard, and others. I tried to outline these alternative approaches to "preemptive peacemaking" in my book The Secret Message of Jesus ... and it is central to my newest book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road (Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World). I'm sorry to mention so many titles, but obviously, your question has been an important one to me for quite a few years and has drawn a lot of my attention. I hope it will similarly engage others.

I don't think you're at all off the wall, and I'm glad you're helping to get this important subject in front of people ... even if your conversation partner is completely satisfied with the "old wine and wineskins" of redemptive violence, more and more of us believe such solutions are no longer good enough.