Turn the Other Page: A Host of Recent Books Tackles the Topics of Religious Violence and Nonviolence. What Would Jesus Do? These Authors Say He'd Be Creative, Courageous, and Compassionate

Article excerpt

"RELIGIOUS VIOLENCE" SHOULD BE AN OXYMORON, but ever since Cain slew Abel in a dispute over whose worship was more pleasing to God, people of all different faiths have killed in the name of religion. The attacks of September 11 and the War on Terror have forced us to look again at the disturbing ties between belief and violence, and to ask how Christians--who are called to follow the Prince of Peace--should respond to the mayhem in the world and our own hearts. How is religion--particularly our own--responsible for violence in the world, and how can we become a "peace church"? Several recent books examine these questions and offer some helpful ideas and inspiration.

How should Christians respond to terrorism? Edward LeRoy Long Jr. offers three options in a timely and lucid little book called Facing Terrorism: Responding as Christians (Westminster John Knox, 2004). We can take up war against terror in a military crusade to vanquish terror by force. We can work with other nations and international organizations in a law enforcement approach that treats terrorism as a criminal activity. And/or we can take a peacemaking path that seeks to understand and address the causes of terrorism and to work toward reconciliation with our enemies.

Long favors a combination of the law enforcement and peacemaking approaches, and divides his short book into chapters examining the nature and causes of terrorism and warning of the dangers of an overzealous crusade that violates justice and provokes greater violence. A Christian response to terror must acknowledge the violence in our own hearts and history and seek reconciliation with those trying to provoke us to graver violence.

In the wake of 9/11 many Westerners and Christians pointed accusing fingers at the violence of Islam and the Qur'an, but Catholic biblical scholar John J. Collins argues in Does the Bible Justify Violence? (Augsburg Fortress, 2004) that the problem of religiously inspired violence is not peculiar to Islam. The Bible also portrays God as violent and as commanding us to slaughter the Lord's enemies, and down through the ages more than a few Jews and Christians have found biblical support for their violence.

In scripture God commands the Hebrews to annihilate the Amalekites (1 Samuel) and Canaanites (Joshua) inhabiting the Promised Land, and later generations of Jews saw this "ban" as justifying the Maccabean revolt and the "zealot" rebellions of Jesus' day, while Christians have used these texts to justify the Crusades, the wars of religion after the Reformation, and the colonial slaughter of indigenous peoples.

We cannot deny the violence we find in scripture, Collins argues, but we can read and interpret these troubling texts in light of the central biblical themes of compassion, repentance, and reconciliation, and we can acknowledge that these texts uncover the violence in our own hearts as well as the all-too-human tendency to project this violence onto God. Collins also warns that the heart of religious violence is to be found in a stubborn unwillingness to dialogue and a temptation to beat our biblical texts into spears with which to slay our opponents. We must read scripture peacefully.

But it's not only the Bible that's implicated. Christianity itself has charges to answer, and editors Kenneth R. Chase and Alan Jacobs ask Christians to look at the plank in our own eye in Must Christianity Be Violent? Reflections on History, Practice, and Theology (Brazos Press, 2003).

Several essays in this thoughtful examination of conscience take a long look at violent episodes in Christian history, the Crusades, the colonial conquest and slaughter of native peoples, the enslavement oftens of millions of Africans, and the Shoah. How did Christians justify, tolerate, or! oppose this violence? And what can we learn about ourselves and our vocation to peace from these episodes?

Other probing essays look for links between Christian theology and violence or peace. …