When a tragedy of human violence occurs, what is our general reaction?
Revenge? Retaliation? Hatred? Do we seek to follow the teachings of the one we call Lord, or do we follow our own convictions in the name of self-protection and the old eye-for-an-eye narrative?
Last Wednesday, we witnessed another heinous act of mass violence, another school shooting that prematurely and senselessly claimed the lives of 17 human beings and injured numerous others.
As has become the norm in the aftermath of these occurrences, I’ve seen numerous politically conservative Christians on the local and national levels issue cries for beefed-up security measures, nearly always suggesting more armed personnel.
While this may be a typical way of addressing these issues in the U.S., it’s not the way of Jesus, and it does nothing to promote the healing power of the gospel.
When will we learn that redemptive violence is still violence? When will we, as followers of the Prince of Peace, stop trying to fight the world using the methods of the world?
As I have wrestled with my faith and struggled greatly with what I’ve perceived to be many shortcomings in the narratives of the dominant U.S. Christian culture, I have been drawn to the ideas of Anabaptism through the teachings of some incredibly talented contemporary Anabaptist teachers, including Shane Claiborne, Benjamin L. Corey, Greg Boyd, Scot McKnight, Bruxy Cavey and Stanley Hauerwas.
A hallmark of the Anabaptist faith is its aversion to violence. On the basis of Scripture and the teaching of Jesus, Anabaptists renounce violence in human relationships and view peace and reconciliation as being at the heart of the Christian gospel.
This ethic, according to Anabaptist thought and practice, was given by God not simply as a notion to ponder, but a command to obey.
As much as I would like to call myself a devoted pacifist, I haven’t reached that point yet. However, the dominant U.S. church’s propensity and thirst toward violence is out of control.
It’s evident in our thoughts, our words and actions. It’s evident in the conversations I hear every day among professing believers. It’s evident in remarks from conservative, high-profile U.S. evangelicals.
So, how do the Anabaptists react when mass violence hits home? Here’s a story I share frequently when discussing this subject, and it’s one many of you will remember well.
On Oct. 2, 2006, a gunman walked in to the West Nickel Mines School, a one-room Amish school in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, brandishing a 9mm handgun.
When it was all over, five young girls were killed, with three others suffering gunshot injuries. As is common in these occurrences, the gunman took his own life.
For those who remember this incident, I pose a question: Do you happen to recall the gunman’s name or his motive? Probably not, but chances are you remember something much greater: How the Amish community responded and the way it impacted an entire nation.
Radical forgiveness and reconciliation are hallmarks of the Amish and Anabaptist belief systems.
While these may seem strange and contrary to our human need for revenge, self-protection and vindication, they are major tenets of the message of the Kingdom of God.
The Amish community put its beliefs into practice and thereby showed the love of Christ, and the world took notice.
Within hours of the shooting, Amish representatives were contacting the family of the shooter to extend their forgiveness.
They visited with his family for hours offering comfort, attended his funeral and established a charitable fund for his family.
The reaction of the Amish community transformed the hearts of an entire nation for a brief period in time and showed the world, Christians and non-Christians alike, the power available to us if we will only deny ourselves, refuse to be conformed to worldly patterns and live out the gospel taught by Jesus Christ.
What if we decided to actually follow Jesus in these situations and refused to succumb to fear?
What if the attitudes and actions of the Amish was not just an isolated incident from a minority group of Christians in America but the general norm?
This is how the world is changed, hearts get healed, and Christ is exalted.
Jerry A. Hudson is a former news writer and reporter who now serves as press liaison for a local law enforcement agency in Georgia and is currently enrolled in the certificate of ministry program at George W. Truett Theological Seminary. He is an ecumenical Christian, blogger, online seminary student and armchair theologian who describes himself as a moderate evangelical with Wesleyan-Arminian and Anabaptist theological leanings. His writings also appear on his blog.