Q & R: When is violence justified?

Here's the Q:
Just finished reading your book. When, where or is violence ever justified? To protect others from grave harm or death? If you have the time to do so I would like to discuss this with you. Thank you.

Here's the R:
Good question. Anything I say briefly will be subject to misconstrual, but let me risk offering something I hope will be both honest and brief.

For starters, let me define violence like this: a forceful action intended to cause pain, harm, or death.

With that definition, my answer to your question would be never.

But that would raise a related question using a different word: when, where, or is nonviolent force ever justified?

And I would say it is appropriate to use nonviolent force to impede injustice and harm. That's what I believe Jesus meant by "turn the other cheek." Here's the late Walter Wink explaining:



In other words, for me, force and violence aren't the same thing. I would use nonviolent force to protect vulnerable people, but my goal would be to protect the victims and stop the oppressor.

One other thing. Peacemaking doesn't start when an attacker is coming. Peacemaking addresses the conditions that turn people into potential attackers.

Those are a few super-quick thoughts ... again, easily misunderstood because of their brevity ... that I hope will be useful.


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Q & R: A Bloody Mess for Eternity?

Here's the Q:

Hi Brian,

I know that you were raised in the brethren church like I was and my 82 year old father just came for a visit the other day and he's still staunchly in the old theology, he blurts out phrases and old remembrances thinking to comfort me, but they only seem to make me saddened for him.

He went on and on this time about the blood, how it's all about the blood and how the blood is the focus of everything important. It has stayed with me as I remember those sermons, hymns and tropes from my days in the pews and I just can't seem to shake the feeling that they (and he) have got to be wrong.

In the evolution of my faith I have come to know a god of love, not one of violence, who needs violence, who achieves the plan with violence. Can you please help me think this through? There has to be something either wrongly translated or wrongly understood, or intentionally screwtaped for the distortion of the future. It can't be that God intended everything to be a bloody mess for eternity, can it?

If you've written on this I must have missed it and would so appreciate anything you could point me to that might help me unwrap this in my head. You've been such a great guide for me out of the darkness, I am truly grateful. Thanks again.

Here's the R:

Two places I think you'll get some help from me - three, actually:

  1. Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? In the chapters on original sin and eucharist, I give a summary of some of Rene Girard's seminal work that I think you'll find helpful.
  2. The Great Spiritual Migration: The middle section, especially.
  3. A New Kind of Christianity: One of the sections addresses the question: Is God Violent?

Obviously, I think you're on the right track, and I hope these resources will be helpful. I'd encourage you to also see work by Brian Zahnd and Derek Flood, who are doing such good work in this regard, among many others.

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A dream while napping in church …

In my book The Great Spiritual Migration, I talk about the church as school of love.

This post reflects a similar perspective - well worth reading!


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Q & R: Belief VERSUS Practice, or Belief AND Practice?

Here's the Q:
As a 20+ year employee of a conservative Evangelical organization, I may seem an unlikely one to appreciate your work. However, that is not the case.

I have long articulated what I believe to be a false dichotomy made during the fundamentalist-modernist controversy between the “beliefs” chosen by the fundamentalists and the “practice” adopted by the modernists. In reading “The Great Spiritual Migration,” I resonate so much with a large portion of what you embrace. Admittedly, I still find myself compelled to not abandon most of what might be identified as fundamental beliefs, but I resonate with the posture that sees Christianity as much larger than any of our theological systems, and see the desperate need for a movement to break the grasp that holds “evangelicalism” captive to valuing doctrine over practice. Candidly, I almost feel the same dichotomy coming from your writing but from the opposite perspective, as if one must “give up” certain beliefs in order to adopt a healthy posture toward justice, stewardship, etc. I, for one, do not believe that is the case.

I attend a mainline church, one that… ordains women, baptizes infants, is “open” to LGBTQ involvement… because I see them as healthier than any “evangelical” church in our area. While I am certainly in attendance as a “minority” with my beliefs, our pastor also embraces a distinction between “position” and “posture”… between what one personally understands scriptures to teach and one’s way of interacting with others who are at a different place on the journey. We constantly help each other be respectful of the way in which we portray those who believe differently (from either or both of us), while trying to attract those who might practice the faith well at every level.

In light of the nature of humankind and our “tribalism,” your writing doesn’t get much steam among the more conservatively theologically leaning part of the church… at least from what I observe. My question to you is, “Do you see leaving certain beliefs inherent in your message, or are there at least pockets of more theologically conservative Christ-followers who are embracing the call to practice a more widely-redemptive Christ-following well?” If there are, I’d love to connect with them to see how they gain traction in the movement among conservatives.

Your brother in Christ,

Here's the R:

Thanks for your letter (and so sorry for the long delay in responding).

You asked, "Do you see leaving certain beliefs inherent in your message?"

Short answer: No. Most of the people I talk to, however, are struggling with being required to believe certain things, and it is for them that I am emphasizing that you can live the way of life Jesus taught and embodied with or without assenting to this or that group's requirements. (That may be another way of affirming salvation by grace through faith, and not by works?)


You also asked, "Are there at least pockets of more theologically conservative Christ-followers who are embracing the call to practice a more widely-redemptive Christ-following well?"

Short answer: Yes. But if the Trumpcult continues to take over more and more of conservative Christianity (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox alike), more and more of these pockets will feel themselves squeezed to the margins. They'll hear their "conservative Christian" fellows saying, "We have no king but Caesar," and they'll be forced to make some tough choices. I have no idea where this will lead, but I think the current situation is quite volatile, even where Sunday by Sunday, business as usual seems to reign.

The good news in this ... I think we are closer to the conditions for a genuine spiritual movement of justice, joy, and peace than at any time in my life.

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Where I’ll be This Fall –

The fall season kicked off with the wonderful CONSPIRE gathering in Albuquerque, NM, with the Center for Action and Contemplation. It's always a joy to speak with Fr. Richard Rohr, one of the most truly brilliant and genuine people you'll ever meet ... along with Barbara Holmes, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Mirabai Star. You'll find information here, and you can see my slides here and here.

September 8-9 I'll be at Peace Lutheran in Ohio. You'll find a link here.

September 22, I'll be with the Student Farmworker Alliance and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers here in Florida. Info here.

September 30 - October 1 I'll be at Mercer Seminary in Georgia, and then at Drew Seminary in New Jersey October 3-4. Links here.

October 5, I'll be in North Carolina with Vote Common Good, and I'll be with them in Sioux City, SD on October 11. Information here. Be sure to check out Vote Common Good events in your area too!

October 9-10 I'll be in Des Moines with folks who focus on Faith Formation ... links here.

October 13 I'll be with the Presbytery of Long Island. Link here.

Then, October 15-20, I'm co-leading (with Aisha Brooks-Lytle) a pastors' retreat at Montreat in North Carolina. You're invited - or pass this info on to your pastor. Information here: https://www.convergenceleadership.org/fall-leader-retreat

November 3, I'll be in Austin TX with the New Story Festival. Info here.

November 9-10, I'll be at the Mountaintop Lectures. Link here.

Then November 12-13, I'll be at an event called Just Worship at Perkins Seminary in Dallas. You'll find information here:


My busy fall ends in Denver with W/, November 13-15. Information here.

I hope to see you at one of these events!

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