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by Niyi Adeogun
MATERIAL STATEMENT

Jesus disrupts our cycles of violence with compassion, solidarity, and perseverance

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by Mondo Scott

CRUCIFORM NONVIOLENCE AND CONFORMING TO THE IMAGE OF GOD

Andrew Rillera

Andrew joined the movement in 1999 when he left the Jehovah’s Witnesses and accepted the Triune God revealed in Jesus Christ. Andrew finds Pax by playing games with his family, reading, playing ice hockey and disc golf, and finding solitude. He has a Bachelor's in Biblical Studies (Eternity Bible College), M.A. in Theology and Ministry (Fuller Seminary), and is almost finished with a Ph.D. in New Testament (Duke). He co-wrote Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence with Preston Sprinkle and serves as an adjunct professor at Eternity Bible College. He and his wife (Karianne) and two kids (Eden & Zion) live in Durham, North Carolina.

Back in 2012, while I was in the processes of co-writing a book with Preston Sprinkle on nonviolence, I noticed something peculiar when talking with people about the project.

Many of those who disagreed would quickly bring up Jesus’ teachings on the Sermon on the Mount (“turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies”--see Matt 5:38-48) and tell me that they thought these teachings were restricted to only being about individual relational tiffs. That is, Jesus’ teachings don’t apply to things like war and they definitely don’t apply to any individual who wants to take your life. If someone tries to kill you it was taken as a matter of course that you are justified in preemptively killing them first as the ultimate means of self-defense. At the same time, others wondered why a whole book needed to be written on nonviolence since Jesus clearly taught us to “turn the other cheek” and “love our enemies.” 

However, both of these views are a rather shallow way to construct a case either for or against nonviolence. Rather than approaching nonviolence as a “rule,” I will show why nonviolence is a necessary correlate of the kind of love and hospitality all humans are called to live by according to the true humanity revealed in Jesus Christ. The whole context and drama of the biblical story, which Christians confess comes to its revelatory climax in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, needs to frame and discipline the way we approach this and any other so-called “issue.”

This article maps out a theology of nonviolence in three parts so that our conclusions are situated within the larger story of God attested in the Bible: First, I’m going to outline God’s vision for humanity as developed through some key Scriptures. Second, I’ll explain how Jesus is presented in the New Testament as the true Human Being who therefore makes it possible for all humanity to ultimately attain the fullness of God’s vision for humanity. Finally, I want to suggest that a crucial aspect of living into this vision is a renunciation of all violence on account of the kind of life we are called to embody in union with Jesus.

The Human Calling: Created In the Image of God

In order to properly frame the issue of nonviolence, we need to first answer the question: What does it mean to be human?

The most essential and distinctive feature of humans according to the Scriptures--and we learn this at the very beginning of the Bible--is that what it means to be human is to be made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28). But it is important to notice that Genesis does not say that humans are the image of God. Humans are only said to be created “in” the image of God and made “according to” his likeness (Gen. 1:26). It’s common to pass over the prepositions “in” and “according to,” but overlooking these prepositions leads to a grave mistake: the idea that humans are the image of God. The Scriptures are clear that humans are not God’s image or likeness, but rather something or someone else is. What the New Testament says is that we are to “conform” to God’s image (Eph. 4:23-24, Col. 3:10; Rom. 8:29, 1 Cor. 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18, Gal. 4:19).

Being made in and according to God’s image confers a particular destiny or calling upon humanity. God made humanity capable of union with him—able to unite in such a way that we become conformed to God’s likeness. To illustrate: a glove is made in the image of a hand; it’s made according to its likeness in order to “fit” with a hand. To unite with it. To conform to it. Being made in God’s image and according to his likeness means being able to unite with God, to be conformed to God’s image. Moreover, our union with God—our becoming like God in God’s character—is necessary for carrying out our God-given vocation to rule and serve all creation faithfully in a godly fashion (Gen. 1:26, 28; 2:15; Ps. 8:6–8). 

Psalm 8 celebrates this image-of-God-calling by saying that humanity is crowned with God’s “glory” and “honor” (Ps. 8:5). However, Paul says that all humanity “falls short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Sin has hamstrung humanity’s ability to conform to God’s glorious image. This is why Paul then says the solution (i.e., salvation) from falling short of the glory of God is glorification, which he says is conformity to the image of God (8:17–18, 21, 29-30). Thus, picking up on the themes in Psalm 8, Paul frames salvation as God bringing about humanity’s conformity to the glorious divine image so that all creation is glorified (8:17-25, 29-30).

But, we still haven’t said who or what the image is.

Jesus: The Image of God

Paul comes right out and says, “Jesus is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15; 2 Cor. 4:4), and Jesus is “the glory of God” (2 Cor 4:6). Since Jesus is the image and glory of God, this means he is the Human Being par excellence. Jesus is the image and likeness according to which the rest of humanity is to be patterned after. This is why many of the passages in Scripture about conforming to the divine image are actually about conforming to the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29, 1 Cor. 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18, Gal. 4:19, Eph. 4:23-24, Col. 3:10). 

This is also why New Testament authors make explicit that Psalm 8, a Psalm praising God for what it means to be human, is fulfilled in Jesus, the genuine human being who, through his death and resurrection, has “all things put under His feet” as Psalm 8:5 says (Eph. 1:22; cf. 1 Cor. 15:25, 27; Phil. 3:21; Heb. 2:8). Amazingly, Paul says that just as Jesus has been “raised” and “seated” with God with everything being brought under his feet (Eph. 1:20-23; cf. Ps. 8:5), Christians are likewise “raised” and “seated” “together with him” (2:4-7; cf. Rom. 8:35 ff.). In other words, by uniting us to himself, Jesus makes humanity capable of fulfilling their calling to be conformed to the image of God for the sake of all creation as sung in Psalm 8.

Cruciformity: Conforming to the Cross-Shaped Image of Jesus

Having faith in Jesus means believing that Jesus knows best how to live a truly human life and that he actually lived that truly human life. To be a follower of Jesus is to learn to be like him and live like him by following the example he sets before us. We must learn from Jesus how humans are to rule and serve creation faithfully (Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 8) because Jesus supremely reveals to us how we are to relate to creation, including fellow human creatures, in a truly human way. Looking to Jesus allows us to discover which ways of relating to creation are genuinely human and worthy of glory and which ways are dehumanizing and worthy of death. 

Importantly, in their own ways, various New Testament authors reaffirm Paul’s startling comments that conforming to Jesus’ likeness means being co-crucified with him (Rom. 6:5-6; Gal. 2:20). Paul says the crucifixion revealed God’s reconciling love towards his enemies who were helpless, ungodly, and sinful (Rom. 5:6-11). Therefore, to be conformed to the image of Christ means becoming the kind of person who dies for one’s enemies, since this is specifically what the crucifixion of Jesus was all about. Peter says that what is exemplary about Christ is specifically his crucifixion and how it teaches us to relate to others, especially enemies (1 Pet. 2:21-24; cf. 2:23 and 4:19). John says that those who claim to abide in Jesus “ought to walk just as he walked” (1 Jn. 2:6). And how did Jesus walk? He loved his enemies to the point of death and forgave them (see Lk. 23:34). This is why John goes on to express how Jesus’ death sets the pattern for how we are supposed to live lovingly and hospitably towards others (1 Jn. 3:16-17). This passage is highly significant. It shows how the cross isn’t simply about being ready to die if someone wants to kill you (to put it bluntly). Rather, the cross is about a certain pattern of life—a cross-shaped way of being in the world. It’s about the kinds of sacrifices and practices that make a life of genuine love of neighbor and enemy possible. Conformity to the image of God--Christ Crucified--is therefore cruciformity (“cross-shaped” = patterned after the crucifixion). 

Thus, the cross wasn’t only the place where sins were forgiven; it is the very kind of life all his followers are called to live (Mar. 8:34-38; 1 Pet. 2:21-25; 3:9; 2 Cor. 4:7-12). We are called to follow Jesus to the cross and thereby witness to God’s rule, healing, justice, and life to the oppressed, battered, unjust, and dying world.

Paul can hardly make it any more clear that to know Jesus, to have a personal relationship with him, means to be conformed to Jesus’ death (Phil. 3:10). Jesus’ death was the result of being “obedient” (2:8) to unconditional enemy-embracing and reconciling love even when—perhaps, especially when—it was not reciprocated. Paul instructs: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (2:5). Paul immediately goes on to show from the gospel story that the mind of Christ is self-emptying and self-humbling obedient service for others even to the point of death (2:6-8). 

Remember, Jesus had in “mind” (2:8) to die for and at the hands of the “weak,” the “ungodly,” the “sinners,” and his “enemies” (Rom. 5:6-11). What this means is all really quite simple, but the scandal of its simplicity has provoked all sorts of excuses to come forth from self-professing Jesus followers. Here it is: If we don’t have that kind of humble love in mind—to die for and at the hands of our enemies—then we don’t have the same mind of Christ! To reject this mind is to reject the way of the cross that Jesus requires all disciples to take up (Mar. 8:34-35). It is to reject a life “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27). 

Having the mind of Christ means embracing others, especially our enemies, in humble, reconciling, and forgiving love. It means never giving up on them even when they are putting us to death (“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”—Lk. 23:34; cf. Acts 7:60). Paul knows that in order to do this we need to be developing the virtue of humility together now (Phil. 2:3-4, 8), so that we are prepared when such encounters arise. A worldly and dehumanizing mind means just the opposite: to violently grasp for our own interests and security, ignoring “the interests of others” (2:4, 6).

We can also think of it this way: since picking up a Roman cross was the way Jesus brought resurrection-Life to the world and calls us to join with him, then this means that picking up swords leads to death. We blaspheme the cross of Christ as too weak and insufficient to deal with the evil and injustice of the world when we pursue other means (such as violence). But, more profoundly, rejecting the way of the cross is rejecting the human calling to unite with and conform to the image of God as it is supremely revealed in Jesus and especially in his death (2 Cor. 4:4, 10; Phil. 3:10). To reject this way is to reject genuine human-ness and embrace dehumanization. That necessarily leads to death because it rejects the way of life God has revealed in Jesus. But here’s the kicker: the ultimate paradox is that the way of Jesus—the way of the cross—is to bear the death of those who embrace dehumanization (these are the ultimate enemies of God and creation), waiting upon God alone to bring Life and Blessing where there is Death and Curse (1 Pet. 2:21-24; 3:17-18; 4:19).

No wonder Paul says that the “message about the cross” is “foolishness” and a “scandal” (1 Cor. 1:18, 23). Being a Christian is tantamount to being co-crucified with Christ by enemies (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:20)! Jesus said to count the cost of being his disciple and the cost is great. Indeed, the cost is the cross (Lk. 14:27-28), and the cross is what happens when humble love is despised and rejected and yet continues to love. So the cost is great to be sure, but we are promised that the reward is even greater (see Phil. 2:9-11 and Eph. 2:5-6).

A Warning: Christian Nonviolence Can Be Abused

Given how easily cruciform nonviolence can be misunderstood and abused, it behooves me to denounce wielding cruciformity as a weapon of oppression. “No demand has been more completely misused,” as Howard Thurman observed, than the injunction to love one’s enemies and “absorb violence directed against them.” This is because the motif of sharing in Christ’s suffering is often invoked to reinforce the status quo of oppression. As Thurman says, it “has many times been used by the exploiters of the weak to keep them submissive and subservient.” If rejecting cruciform nonviolence means to reject the way of Jesus, then those who wield cruciformity as a weapon have blasphemed the cross of Christ all the more. Jesus’ suffering, among other things, is the divine challenge to the upending of all systems of domination. Thus, those who seek to reinforce these oppressive systems and individual abuses are engaging in anti-Christ actions; i.e., trying to reinforce and preserve what the cross of Christ is condemning and destroying.

The call to cruciform nonviolence is also not a call to passivity in the face of violence, oppression, or any manner of evil and injustice. It is first a call to active peace-making (“pacifism” actually means “to pacify,” “to make peace”). But this entails actively fighting against evil and injustice. For Christians, this has to take place in a Christ-like (cruciform) manner in order to not lose one’s humanity by being conformed into the image of oppressors rather than to Christ Crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). Counting the cost of the cross is about recognizing that telling the truth to those in power can cost us our lives. It means telling wolves that they are acting like wolves and calling them to repent and invite them to be sheep under the Good Shepherd. But the deep truth of the matter that Jesus wants us all to reckon with is that when we engage in this witness, many of these wolves react beastly and get drunk off our blood (Rev. 16:6; 17:6; 18:24).

Jesus and Paul advise everyone to flee situations of active oppression if possible. So no one should interpret cruciformity as being the proverbial “doormat.” In fact, Jesus himself often escaped hostile situations (Jn. 8:59; 10:31, 39; Lk. 4:28-30) until he was convinced his “hour” had come (Jn. 12:23, 27). Jesus also tells those in Jerusalem to “flee to the mountains” rather than fight the Romans to save the city (Mar. 13). Paul was humiliatingly lowered from a basket down a city wall to escape persecution (2 Cor. 11:32-33; Acts 9:23-25). Paul tells slaves to seek freedom if they could (a little more of a viable possibility for certain forms of Roman slavery) (1 Cor. 7:21). Many disciples fled Jerusalem after a persecution broke out when Stephen was murdered (Acts 8:1-3) and fleeing is not only not looked down upon, but God uses it to spread the gospel to the areas they fled to (8:4ff.).

So, if you’re reading this and you’re in an abusive situation, do everything in your power to flee. Jesus is not calling you to passively accept abuse or violence. Cruciformity in this situation is about not allowing our own humanity to be corrupted by the violence inflicted upon us. But that doesn’t require us to remain in abusive situations, so far as it depends on us.

Conclusion

It is thus my contention that nonviolence isn’t so much an ethic or a principle that gets “applied” in a so-called ethical dilemma. Rather, it’s simply a way to name what sorts of actions are necessarily dehumanizing for the divine calling of humanity. Violence orients one further away from a life patterned after and conformed to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the revealer of humanity’s destiny. Violence is dehumanizing by definition since, for Christians, the cruciform character of Christ defines what “human” means. Make no mistake, though. We are called to fight and resist every manner of evil and injustice we encounter in this chaotic and wicked world. But what I have shown from the Scriptures is that we are called to engage this fight in a Christ-like, cruciform, and therefore nonviolent way.

Many misunderstand Jesus’s teachings as if he is laying out some instructions for a utopia. Love my enemies? Give to those who ask? Let my yes be yes? Forgive 70 x 7 times? Maybe in a “perfect world.” But Jesus’ so-called “moral” teachings were never meant for a “perfect world”—they are precisely for this very imperfect world. It is precisely in a world always at war that Jesus says his followers can only imagine being nonviolent. It is precisely in a world that traffics in revenge and retribution that Jesus says his followers can only imagine being merciful and forgiving. It is precisely in a world of voracious acquisitiveness that Jesus says his followers can only imagine being generous. It is precisely in a world of deceit that legalizes injustice that followers of Jesus can only imagine being truthful and just. It is precisely in a world of domination and despotism that followers of Jesus can only imagine being servants of all. It is precisely in a world ruled by fear of the stranger that children of God can only imagine being hospitable. Jesus practiced what he preached. His life led to the cross because that’s what it looks like when the image of God lives a truly human life among an imperfect world of sinners. 

This is what conformity to the cruciform image and glory of God looks like in a violent world. This way of being in the world is simply the way we faithfully witness to the peaceable and merciful character and rule of God.

Back in 2012, while I was in the processes of co-writing a book with Preston Sprinkle on nonviolence, I noticed something peculiar when talking with people about the project.

Many of those who disagreed would quickly bring up Jesus’ teachings on the Sermon on the Mount (“turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies”--see Matt 5:38-48) and tell me that they thought these teachings were restricted to only being about individual relational tiffs. That is, Jesus’ teachings don’t apply to things like war and they definitely don’t apply to any individual who wants to take your life. If someone tries to kill you it was taken as a matter of course that you are justified in preemptively killing them first as the ultimate means of self-defense. At the same time, others wondered why a whole book needed to be written on nonviolence since Jesus clearly taught us to “turn the other cheek” and “love our enemies.” 

Nonviolence is a necessary correlate of the kind of love and hospitality all humans are called to live by according to the true humanity revealed in Jesus Christ.

However, both of these views are a rather shallow way to construct a case either for or against nonviolence. Rather than approaching nonviolence as a “rule,” I will show why nonviolence is a necessary correlate of the kind of love and hospitality all humans are called to live by according to the true humanity revealed in Jesus Christ. The whole context and drama of the biblical story, which Christians confess comes to its revelatory climax in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, needs to frame and discipline the way we approach this and any other so-called “issue.”

This article maps out a theology of nonviolence in three parts so that our conclusions are situated within the larger story of God attested in the Bible: First, I’m going to outline God’s vision for humanity as developed through some key Scriptures. Second, I’ll explain how Jesus is presented in the New Testament as the true Human Being who therefore makes it possible for all humanity to ultimately attain the fullness of God’s vision for humanity. Finally, I want to suggest that a crucial aspect of living into this vision is a renunciation of all violence on account of the kind of life we are called to embody in union with Jesus.

The Human Calling: Created In the Image of God

In order to properly frame the issue of nonviolence, we need to first answer the question: What does it mean to be human?

The most essential and distinctive feature of humans according to the Scriptures--and we learn this at the very beginning of the Bible--is that what it means to be human is to be made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28). But it is important to notice that Genesis does not say that humans are the image of God. Humans are only said to be created “in” the image of God and made “according to” his likeness (Gen. 1:26). It’s common to pass over the prepositions “in” and “according to,” but overlooking these prepositions leads to a grave mistake: the idea that humans are the image of God. The Scriptures are clear that humans are not God’s image or likeness, but rather something or someone else is. What the New Testament says is that we are to “conform” to God’s image (Eph. 4:23-24, Col. 3:10; Rom. 8:29, 1 Cor. 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18, Gal. 4:19).

Our union with God—our becoming like God in God’s character—is necessary for carrying out our God-given vocation to rule and serve all creation faithfully in a godly fashion (Gen. 1:26, 28; 2:15; Ps. 8:6–8).

Being made in and according to God’s image confers a particular destiny or calling upon humanity. God made humanity capable of union with him—able to unite in such a way that we become conformed to God’s likeness. To illustrate: a glove is made in the image of a hand; it’s made according to its likeness in order to “fit” with a hand. To unite with it. To conform to it. Being made in God’s image and according to his likeness means being able to unite with God, to be conformed to God’s image. Moreover, our union with God—our becoming like God in God’s character—is necessary for carrying out our God-given vocation to rule and serve all creation faithfully in a godly fashion (Gen. 1:26, 28; 2:15; Ps. 8:6–8). 

Psalm 8 celebrates this image-of-God-calling by saying that humanity is crowned with God’s “glory” and “honor” (Ps. 8:5). However, Paul says that all humanity “falls short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Sin has hamstrung humanity’s ability to conform to God’s glorious image. This is why Paul then says the solution (i.e., salvation) from falling short of the glory of God is glorification, which he says is conformity to the image of God (8:17–18, 21, 29-30). Thus, picking up on the themes in Psalm 8, Paul frames salvation as God bringing about humanity’s conformity to the glorious divine image so that all creation is glorified (8:17-25, 29-30).

But, we still haven’t said who or what the image is.

Jesus: The Image of God

Paul comes right out and says, “Jesus is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15; 2 Cor. 4:4), and Jesus is “the glory of God” (2 Cor 4:6). Since Jesus is the image and glory of God, this means he is the Human Being par excellence. Jesus is the image and likeness according to which the rest of humanity is to be patterned after. This is why many of the passages in Scripture about conforming to the divine image are actually about conforming to the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29, 1 Cor. 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18, Gal. 4:19, Eph. 4:23-24, Col. 3:10). 

Having faith in Jesus means believing that Jesus knows best how to live a truly human life and that he actually lived that truly human life.

This is also why New Testament authors make explicit that Psalm 8, a Psalm praising God for what it means to be human, is fulfilled in Jesus, the genuine human being who, through his death and resurrection, has “all things put under His feet” as Psalm 8:5 says (Eph. 1:22; cf. 1 Cor. 15:25, 27; Phil. 3:21; Heb. 2:8). Amazingly, Paul says that just as Jesus has been “raised” and “seated” with God with everything being brought under his feet (Eph. 1:20-23; cf. Ps. 8:5), Christians are likewise “raised” and “seated” “together with him” (2:4-7; cf. Rom. 8:35 ff.). In other words, by uniting us to himself, Jesus makes humanity capable of fulfilling their calling to be conformed to the image of God for the sake of all creation as sung in Psalm 8.

Cruciformity: Conforming to the Cross-Shaped Image of Jesus

Having faith in Jesus means believing that Jesus knows best how to live a truly human life and that he actually lived that truly human life. To be a follower of Jesus is to learn to be like him and live like him by following the example he sets before us. We must learn from Jesus how humans are to rule and serve creation faithfully (Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 8) because Jesus supremely reveals to us how we are to relate to creation, including fellow human creatures, in a truly human way. Looking to Jesus allows us to discover which ways of relating to creation are genuinely human and worthy of glory and which ways are dehumanizing and worthy of death. 

Importantly, in their own ways, various New Testament authors reaffirm Paul’s startling comments that conforming to Jesus’ likeness means being co-crucified with him (Rom. 6:5-6; Gal. 2:20). Paul says the crucifixion revealed God’s reconciling love towards his enemies who were helpless, ungodly, and sinful (Rom. 5:6-11). Therefore, to be conformed to the image of Christ means becoming the kind of person who dies for one’s enemies, since this is specifically what the crucifixion of Jesus was all about. Peter says that what is exemplary about Christ is specifically his crucifixion and how it teaches us to relate to others, especially enemies (1 Pet. 2:21-24; cf. 2:23 and 4:19). John says that those who claim to abide in Jesus “ought to walk just as he walked” (1 Jn. 2:6). And how did Jesus walk? He loved his enemies to the point of death and forgave them (see Lk. 23:34). This is why John goes on to express how Jesus’ death sets the pattern for how we are supposed to live lovingly and hospitably towards others (1 Jn. 3:16-17). This passage is highly significant. It shows how the cross isn’t simply about being ready to die if someone wants to kill you (to put it bluntly). Rather, the cross is about a certain pattern of life—a cross-shaped way of being in the world. It’s about the kinds of sacrifices and practices that make a life of genuine love of neighbor and enemy possible. Conformity to the image of God--Christ Crucified--is therefore cruciformity (“cross-shaped” = patterned after the crucifixion). 

The cross is about a certain pattern of life—a cross-shaped way of being in the world. It’s about the kinds of sacrifices and practices that make a life of genuine love of neighbor and enemy possible. Conformity to the image of God--Christ Crucified--is therefore cruciformity.

Thus, the cross wasn’t only the place where sins were forgiven; it is the very kind of life all his followers are called to live (Mar. 8:34-38; 1 Pet. 2:21-25; 3:9; 2 Cor. 4:7-12). We are called to follow Jesus to the cross and thereby witness to God’s rule, healing, justice, and life to the oppressed, battered, unjust, and dying world.

Paul can hardly make it any more clear that to know Jesus, to have a personal relationship with him, means to be conformed to Jesus’ death (Phil. 3:10). Jesus’ death was the result of being “obedient” (2:8) to unconditional enemy-embracing and reconciling love even when—perhaps, especially when—it was not reciprocated. Paul instructs: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (2:5). Paul immediately goes on to show from the gospel story that the mind of Christ is self-emptying and self-humbling obedient service for others even to the point of death (2:6-8). 

Remember, Jesus had in “mind” (2:8) to die for and at the hands of the “weak,” the “ungodly,” the “sinners,” and his “enemies” (Rom. 5:6-11). What this means is all really quite simple, but the scandal of its simplicity has provoked all sorts of excuses to come forth from self-professing Jesus followers. Here it is: If we don’t have that kind of humble love in mind—to die for and at the hands of our enemies—then we don’t have the same mind of Christ! To reject this mind is to reject the way of the cross that Jesus requires all disciples to take up (Mar. 8:34-35). It is to reject a life “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27). 

Having the mind of Christ means embracing others, especially our enemies, in humble, reconciling, and forgiving love. It means never giving up on them even when they are putting us to death (“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”—Lk. 23:34; cf. Acts 7:60). Paul knows that in order to do this we need to be developing the virtue of humility together now (Phil. 2:3-4, 8), so that we are prepared when such encounters arise. A worldly and dehumanizing mind means just the opposite: to violently grasp for our own interests and security, ignoring “the interests of others” (2:4, 6).

We can also think of it this way: since picking up a Roman cross was the way Jesus brought resurrection-Life to the world and calls us to join with him, then this means that picking up swords leads to death. We blaspheme the cross of Christ as too weak and insufficient to deal with the evil and injustice of the world when we pursue other means (such as violence). But, more profoundly, rejecting the way of the cross is rejecting the human calling to unite with and conform to the image of God as it is supremely revealed in Jesus and especially in his death (2 Cor. 4:4, 10; Phil. 3:10). To reject this way is to reject genuine human-ness and embrace dehumanization. That necessarily leads to death because it rejects the way of life God has revealed in Jesus. But here’s the kicker: the ultimate paradox is that the way of Jesus—the way of the cross—is to bear the death of those who embrace dehumanization (these are the ultimate enemies of God and creation), waiting upon God alone to bring Life and Blessing where there is Death and Curse (1 Pet. 2:21-24; 3:17-18; 4:19).

No wonder Paul says that the “message about the cross” is “foolishness” and a “scandal” (1 Cor. 1:18, 23). Being a Christian is tantamount to being co-crucified with Christ by enemies (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:20)! Jesus said to count the cost of being his disciple and the cost is great. Indeed, the cost is the cross (Lk. 14:27-28), and the cross is what happens when humble love is despised and rejected and yet continues to love. So the cost is great to be sure, but we are promised that the reward is even greater (see Phil. 2:9-11 and Eph. 2:5-6).

A Warning: Christian Nonviolence Can Be Abused

Given how easily cruciform nonviolence can be misunderstood and abused, it behooves me to denounce wielding cruciformity as a weapon of oppression. “No demand has been more completely misused,” as Howard Thurman observed, than the injunction to love one’s enemies and “absorb violence directed against them.” This is because the motif of sharing in Christ’s suffering is often invoked to reinforce the status quo of oppression. As Thurman says, it “has many times been used by the exploiters of the weak to keep them submissive and subservient.” If rejecting cruciform nonviolence means to reject the way of Jesus, then those who wield cruciformity as a weapon have blasphemed the cross of Christ all the more. Jesus’ suffering, among other things, is the divine challenge to the upending of all systems of domination. Thus, those who seek to reinforce these oppressive systems and individual abuses are engaging in anti-Christ actions; i.e., trying to reinforce and preserve what the cross of Christ is condemning and destroying.

The call to cruciform nonviolence is also not a call to passivity in the face of violence, oppression, or any manner of evil and injustice. It is first a call to active peace-making (“pacifism” actually means “to pacify,” “to make peace”). But this entails actively fighting against evil and injustice. For Christians, this has to take place in a Christ-like (cruciform) manner in order to not lose one’s humanity by being conformed into the image of oppressors rather than to Christ Crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). Counting the cost of the cross is about recognizing that telling the truth to those in power can cost us our lives. It means telling wolves that they are acting like wolves and calling them to repent and invite them to be sheep under the Good Shepherd. But the deep truth of the matter that Jesus wants us all to reckon with is that when we engage in this witness, many of these wolves react beastly and get drunk off our blood (Rev. 16:6; 17:6; 18:24).

Since picking up a Roman cross was the way Jesus brought resurrection-Life to the world and calls us to join with him, then this means that picking up swords leads to death.

Jesus and Paul advise everyone to flee situations of active oppression if possible. So no one should interpret cruciformity as being the proverbial “doormat.” In fact, Jesus himself often escaped hostile situations (Jn. 8:59; 10:31, 39; Lk. 4:28-30) until he was convinced his “hour” had come (Jn. 12:23, 27). Jesus also tells those in Jerusalem to “flee to the mountains” rather than fight the Romans to save the city (Mar. 13). Paul was humiliatingly lowered from a basket down a city wall to escape persecution (2 Cor. 11:32-33; Acts 9:23-25). Paul tells slaves to seek freedom if they could (a little more of a viable possibility for certain forms of Roman slavery) (1 Cor. 7:21). Many disciples fled Jerusalem after a persecution broke out when Stephen was murdered (Acts 8:1-3) and fleeing is not only not looked down upon, but God uses it to spread the gospel to the areas they fled to (8:4ff.).

So, if you’re reading this and you’re in an abusive situation, do everything in your power to flee. Jesus is not calling you to passively accept abuse or violence. Cruciformity in this situation is about not allowing our own humanity to be corrupted by the violence inflicted upon us. But that doesn’t require us to remain in abusive situations, so far as it depends on us.

Conclusion

It is thus my contention that nonviolence isn’t so much an ethic or a principle that gets “applied” in a so-called ethical dilemma. Rather, it’s simply a way to name what sorts of actions are necessarily dehumanizing for the divine calling of humanity. Violence orients one further away from a life patterned after and conformed to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the revealer of humanity’s destiny. Violence is dehumanizing by definition since, for Christians, the cruciform character of Christ defines what “human” means. Make no mistake, though. We are called to fight and resist every manner of evil and injustice we encounter in this chaotic and wicked world. But what I have shown from the Scriptures is that we are called to engage this fight in a Christ-like, cruciform, and therefore nonviolent way.

The call to cruciform nonviolence is also not a call to passivity in the face of violence, oppression, or any manner of evil and injustice. It is first a call to active peace-making

Many misunderstand Jesus’s teachings as if he is laying out some instructions for a utopia. Love my enemies? Give to those who ask? Let my yes be yes? Forgive 70 x 7 times? Maybe in a “perfect world.” But Jesus’ so-called “moral” teachings were never meant for a “perfect world”—they are precisely for this very imperfect world. It is precisely in a world always at war that Jesus says his followers can only imagine being nonviolent. It is precisely in a world that traffics in revenge and retribution that Jesus says his followers can only imagine being merciful and forgiving. It is precisely in a world of voracious acquisitiveness that Jesus says his followers can only imagine being generous. It is precisely in a world of deceit that legalizes injustice that followers of Jesus can only imagine being truthful and just. It is precisely in a world of domination and despotism that followers of Jesus can only imagine being servants of all. It is precisely in a world ruled by fear of the stranger that children of God can only imagine being hospitable. Jesus practiced what he preached. His life led to the cross because that’s what it looks like when the image of God lives a truly human life among an imperfect world of sinners. 

This is what conformity to the cruciform image and glory of God looks like in a violent world. This way of being in the world is simply the way we faithfully witness to the peaceable and merciful character and rule of God.

1 The original title was Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence (Cook, 2013), but it is now re-titled to Nonviolence: The Revolutionary Way of Jesus (Cook, 2021). No changes are being made to the content.
2 Howard Thurman, “Good News for the Underprivileged,” Religion in Life 4 (1935): 408.

Nonviolence is a necessary correlate of the kind of love and hospitality all humans are called to live by according to the true humanity revealed in Jesus Christ.
Our union with God—our becoming like God in God’s character—is necessary for carrying out our God-given vocation to rule and serve all creation faithfully in a godly fashion (Gen. 1:26, 28; 2:15; Ps. 8:6–8).
Having faith in Jesus means believing that Jesus knows best how to live a truly human life and that he actually lived that truly human life.
The cross is about a certain pattern of life—a cross-shaped way of being in the world. It’s about the kinds of sacrifices and practices that make a life of genuine love of neighbor and enemy possible. Conformity to the image of God--Christ Crucified--is therefore cruciformity.
Since picking up a Roman cross was the way Jesus brought resurrection-Life to the world and calls us to join with him, then this means that picking up swords leads to death.
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by Mondo Scott

COMPASSION, SOLIDARITY, AND ENDURANCE IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD

Dennae Pierre

Dennae Pierce is Executive Director of the Surge Network, a movement of local churches partnered together to put Jesus on display in Arizona. She is a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary and serves as one of the Co-Directors for City to City North America. Dennae is married to Vermon, the lead pastor at Roosevelt Community Church in Phoenix and they have four children: Marcel, Mya, Judah, and Jovanna.

The idea of Christians living with a radical commitment to nonviolence is often reduced to a romantic vision that only idealists can imagine and perhaps a few great heroes ascend to. But while our imaginations allow us to ruminate about the potential terror an enemy might strike, we rarely use the same imagination to envision the kingdom of God in which Christ reigns. For the Christian, this is not a mythical utopia we arrive at once we die, rather the Kingdom of God and the ways of the Kingdom most perfectly displayed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is what is most true. Resistance to the Kingdom of God or trying to live by a different set of rules is a way of turning away from truth and facing the kingdom of darkness.  

While our imaginations allow us to ruminate about the potential terror an enemy might strike, we rarely use the same imagination to envision the kingdom of God in which Christ reigns.

In the Gospels, we see Jesus disrupt violence, resist the patterns of earthly kingdoms, and redefine power according to God’s Kingdom. What would it look like if God’s people were so captivated by the reality that Jesus welcomed his followers to enter that it transformed our actions, words, and posture in relation to enemies, injustice, and violence? I’d like to consider three ways Jesus invited his followers to enter his Kingdom, namely through the doors of compassion, solidarity, and endurance. 

Compassion

It is interesting to notice the posture of Jesus all throughout Scripture. He sits and rests near a well while he talks to a five-time married Samaritan woman (Jn. 4:1-42); he hangs out in a temple and gently points out the widow who quietly gives her tiny offering (Mar. 12:41-44). Jesus withdraws from town to mourn the death of John the Baptist, but his mourning is interrupted by a crowd and he is moved with compassion for them (Mt. 14:14). Jesus even has compassion and heals the ear of a soldier who had come to arrest him (Lk. 22:51-53). He experienced tenderness, affection, and sorrow for the entire nation of Israel as well as particular aspects of people’s stories and pain-filled lives. Compassion allowed Jesus to move past the exterior of what was visible to the human eye and see deeply into the inner world of those around him. 

One of the great barriers to us seeing the reality of God’s kingdom is a lack of compassion. Without compassion, we cannot share the mind of Christ. We cannot interpret the events around us in the same way he would interpret them. Compassion acts like a salve that washes away the cloudiness that impedes our vision and allows us to look at people and situations through the Christ-lens of love, grace, truth, and mercy. 

What would it look like if God’s people were so captivated by the reality that Jesus welcomed his followers to enter that it transformed our actions, words, and posture in relation to enemies, injustice, and violence?

Compassion doesn’t ignore the reality of the world’s brokenness or the consequence of sin. It isn’t a pass that excuses and ignores harm done by others, rather it opens us up to see the consequences of that sin on the person or people group committing it and long for them to find a restorative path of healing. Compassion interrupts patterns of violence and instead allows our judgement and self-righteousness to be transformed into a grace-filled capacity to speak truth and advocate for repair and restoration. My children and I were at a McDonalds once when a customer began yelling at a Latino cashier and then threw his french fries at him. I watched as an older woman, a stranger to the yelling man, instantly moved toward the angry man and put her hand on his arm and said, “Take a breath. Please don’t take your anger out on this young man trying to serve you.” The enraged man physically melted when the older woman placed her hand on him and he turned around and left the store. The woman then turned to the young man and began to see if he was okay and emphasized that what had happened to him was wrong. Compassion allows us to do far more than respond or react to mistreatment and violence, but also empowers us to interrupt violence and seek out those overlooked, pushed to the margins, and suffering from injustice.

Solidarity

In Luke 14, Jesus tells his disciples a parable about “the Great Dinner,” in which it is said “blessed is the one who eats at the dinner feast in the Kingdom of God.” Jesus goes on to share how a man prepared a great banquet and invited his neighbors to join, but they did not. Some had to get married, others had to tend to their ox or new field and so the man sent his servant to go to the streets and alleys to invite the poor, crippled, blind and lame. Even still there was more room at the feast and so the servant was sent to the distant roads and far out lanes to invite strangers. You are left with a picture of a man hosting a feast surrounded by a table of those who have spent their life on the margins and outside the center places of their society. 

In this parable, Jesus illustrates for the religious Israelites that they have turned their back and snubbed such a significant invitation: life with Christ in his Kingdom. This short parable is symbolic of Jesus' entire ministry. Everywhere you look in the Gospel stories Jesus is eating meals and at tables with outcasts. Others were welcome, but they could not get to Jesus without finding him surrounded by marginalized people groups.     

Compassion interrupts patterns of violence and instead allows our judgement and self-righteousness to be transformed into a grace-filled capacity to speak truth and advocate for repair and restoration.

Those on the margins are often on the front lines of violence and injustice. If we are to live into a radical ethic of nonviolence, our tables will require the presence and friendship of those on the margins. We have been present in a neighborhood near our church for over thirteen years that has high poverty, high incarceration rates of at least one parent, and low high school graduation rates. A young man named Gabriel in his mid-20s told me once that it’s easy to tell when church folks come to the neighborhood to try to convert them. “They don’t treat us as equals. They want to teach us something. Give us stuff. Help out the poor neighborhood kids.” He went on to describe some of his best memories as a child were coming to church, and while he doesn’t remember the sermons, he remembers the meals we had after. “I just forget you guys are church people. You treat me like family. I always feel equal when we’re together.” For those who have experienced violence and injustice, a paternalistic relationship only continues to rub against their wounds, but solidarity integrates our lives as equals with those who suffer. As we organize our life to live in solidarity with those on the margins, our longing for God’s Kingdom to reign on earth as it is in heaven grows. 

Endurance

The Kingdom of God is here and yet it is not fully realized. The more we move into solidarity with those on the front lines of injustice and violence, the more we bump up against darkness and evil. The more we step into Christ’s compassion, the deeper our lament becomes for the way things are not to be. A life of nonviolence requires developing endurance by regularly anchoring our lives in Christ and all the implications of his Good News. Otherwise, over time our anxious attempts to fix what is broken through our own power will lead to cynicism, despair, and eventually inspire our own acts of violence, even if it's violent words.

Those on the margins are often on the front lines of violence and injustice. If we are to live into a radical ethic of nonviolence, our tables will require the presence and friendship of those on the margins.

My husband is African American and leads a multi-ethnic church. In the years leading up and following the 2016 election, our church experienced division surrounding the growing political and racial polarization. Throughout this time our family received multiple racially charged emails and accusations and somewhere in the midst of that intense season, we woke up to the “N” word written across our front door. We were feeling depleted from navigating on-going conflict, but prayer, walks, and council from wise friends became sustaining during that time. It reminded us that even if this season continued another year, or ten, ultimately we know how the story ends. In order to endure without becoming cynical or retaliatory, we needed the wisdom of other saints to remind us of the trajectory of God’s Kingdom. 

Endurance allows our vision of what will one day be our eternal reality to keep us patient, hopeful, and consistently moving forward even when the days, weeks, and years of resistance to violence feel long and at times unbearable. Endurance allows us to be honest about the present pain while joyfully marching forward because we know where the story is ultimately taking us.

A life of endurance is formed and sustained through prayer, Scripture and community. These are essential means to anchor our lives in God’s Kingdom. They allow us to return again and again to center ourselves in Christ every time we are prone to wander or tempted to give into retaliation, alienation, or violence. 

A life of nonviolence requires developing endurance by regularly anchoring our lives in Christ and all the implications of his Good News. Otherwise, over time our anxious attempts to fix what is broken through our own power will lead to cynicism, despair, and eventually inspire our own acts of violence, even if it's violent words.

If we are to live nonviolent lives that are committed to repair, restoration, and peacemaking then our lives must be captivated and formed by an ever growing vision of God’s Kingdom. As the Spirit of God guides us to inhabit more and more of God’s reality we can discover more of Christ and mimic his patterns and way of life as a means of mirroring his Kingdom of peace, righteousness, and justice to the world around us. In closing, I’d like to offer a brief prayer for us to continue to be captivated by God’s Kingdom:

KINGDOM VISION

Give me a vision
Of your kingdom
I want eyes to see
Your people, glorious
Unhindered by lies
Freedom to love
Abundance flows

Ordinary people
Lonely people
Awkward people
Even grumpy people
Are redeemed
Laughing, rejoicing in love

Give me a vision of your kingdom
I want eyes to see
Where what once was treasured
Now lays at your feet
Delighting in the treasure
Given us in the holy brethren

Give me a vision of your kingdom
Tears wiped away
By tender hands
By listening ears
Of other saints
Christ’s compassion flowing

Give me a picture of your kingdom
As we remember
Abused and worn bodies
Weak, old, and young
Sick and strong
Limping done
All radiating Christ’s love

Give me a vision of your kingdom
Where no amount of
Wealth, praise, or power
Can possibly replace
The holy wonder
Of unity with God

Give me a vision of your kingdom
When secret things
Are exposed in love’s perfect light
No longer ashamed
We marvel and stand
That we've been made clean

Give me a vision of your kingdom
Delighting in you
And you in us
With each other
One with you
Sharing all things in common
Receiving from you our daily bread
Lord give me a vision of your kingdom
Words to describe
To those far off and alone
Disgusted by religion
Tired by the rules
Worn out from addictions
Burdened and weary
From the sirens’ song
They are welcome
To arrive at your shores
And delight in pure love
Greeted by our Lord

The idea of Christians living with a radical commitment to nonviolence is often reduced to a romantic vision that only idealists can imagine and perhaps a few great heroes ascend to. But while our imaginations allow us to ruminate about the potential terror an enemy might strike, we rarely use the same imagination to envision the kingdom of God in which Christ reigns. For the Christian, this is not a mythical utopia we arrive at once we die, rather the Kingdom of God and the ways of the Kingdom most perfectly displayed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is what is most true. Resistance to the Kingdom of God or trying to live by a different set of rules is a way of turning away from truth and facing the kingdom of darkness.  

In the Gospels, we see Jesus disrupt violence, resist the patterns of earthly kingdoms, and redefine power according to God’s Kingdom. What would it look like if God’s people were so captivated by the reality that Jesus welcomed his followers to enter that it transformed our actions, words, and posture in relation to enemies, injustice, and violence? I’d like to consider three ways Jesus invited his followers to enter his Kingdom, namely through the doors of compassion, solidarity, and endurance. 

Compassion

It is interesting to notice the posture of Jesus all throughout Scripture. He sits and rests near a well while he talks to a five-time married Samaritan woman (Jn. 4:1-42); he hangs out in a temple and gently points out the widow who quietly gives her tiny offering (Mar. 12:41-44). Jesus withdraws from town to mourn the death of John the Baptist, but his mourning is interrupted by a crowd and he is moved with compassion for them (Mt. 14:14). Jesus even has compassion and heals the ear of a soldier who had come to arrest him (Lk. 22:51-53). He experienced tenderness, affection, and sorrow for the entire nation of Israel as well as particular aspects of people’s stories and pain-filled lives. Compassion allowed Jesus to move past the exterior of what was visible to the human eye and see deeply into the inner world of those around him. 

One of the great barriers to us seeing the reality of God’s kingdom is a lack of compassion. Without compassion, we cannot share the mind of Christ. We cannot interpret the events around us in the same way he would interpret them. Compassion acts like a salve that washes away the cloudiness that impedes our vision and allows us to look at people and situations through the Christ-lens of love, grace, truth, and mercy. 

Compassion doesn’t ignore the reality of the world’s brokenness or the consequence of sin. It isn’t a pass that excuses and ignores harm done by others, rather it opens us up to see the consequences of that sin on the person or people group committing it and long for them to find a restorative path of healing. Compassion interrupts patterns of violence and instead allows our judgement and self-righteousness to be transformed into a grace-filled capacity to speak truth and advocate for repair and restoration. My children and I were at a McDonalds once when a customer began yelling at a Latino cashier and then threw his french fries at him. I watched as an older woman, a stranger to the yelling man, instantly moved toward the angry man and put her hand on his arm and said, “Take a breath. Please don’t take your anger out on this young man trying to serve you.” The enraged man physically melted when the older woman placed her hand on him and he turned around and left the store. The woman then turned to the young man and began to see if he was okay and emphasized that what had happened to him was wrong. Compassion allows us to do far more than respond or react to mistreatment and violence, but also empowers us to interrupt violence and seek out those overlooked, pushed to the margins, and suffering from injustice.

Solidarity

In Luke 14, Jesus tells his disciples a parable about “the Great Dinner,” in which it is said “blessed is the one who eats at the dinner feast in the Kingdom of God.” Jesus goes on to share how a man prepared a great banquet and invited his neighbors to join, but they did not. Some had to get married, others had to tend to their ox or new field and so the man sent his servant to go to the streets and alleys to invite the poor, crippled, blind and lame. Even still there was more room at the feast and so the servant was sent to the distant roads and far out lanes to invite strangers. You are left with a picture of a man hosting a feast surrounded by a table of those who have spent their life on the margins and outside the center places of their society. 

In this parable, Jesus illustrates for the religious Israelites that they have turned their back and snubbed such a significant invitation: life with Christ in his Kingdom. This short parable is symbolic of Jesus' entire ministry. Everywhere you look in the Gospel stories Jesus is eating meals and at tables with outcasts. Others were welcome, but they could not get to Jesus without finding him surrounded by marginalized people groups.     

Those on the margins are often on the front lines of violence and injustice. If we are to live into a radical ethic of nonviolence, our tables will require the presence and friendship of those on the margins. We have been present in a neighborhood near our church for over thirteen years that has high poverty, high incarceration rates of at least one parent, and low high school graduation rates. A young man named Gabriel in his mid-20s told me once that it’s easy to tell when church folks come to the neighborhood to try to convert them. “They don’t treat us as equals. They want to teach us something. Give us stuff. Help out the poor neighborhood kids.” He went on to describe some of his best memories as a child were coming to church, and while he doesn’t remember the sermons, he remembers the meals we had after. “I just forget you guys are church people. You treat me like family. I always feel equal when we’re together.” For those who have experienced violence and injustice, a paternalistic relationship only continues to rub against their wounds, but solidarity integrates our lives as equals with those who suffer. As we organize our life to live in solidarity with those on the margins, our longing for God’s Kingdom to reign on earth as it is in heaven grows. 

Endurance

The Kingdom of God is here and yet it is not fully realized. The more we move into solidarity with those on the front lines of injustice and violence, the more we bump up against darkness and evil. The more we step into Christ’s compassion, the deeper our lament becomes for the way things are not to be. A life of nonviolence requires developing endurance by regularly anchoring our lives in Christ and all the implications of his Good News. Otherwise, over time our anxious attempts to fix what is broken through our own power will lead to cynicism, despair, and eventually inspire our own acts of violence, even if it's violent words.

My husband is African American and leads a multi-ethnic church. In the years leading up and following the 2016 election, our church experienced division surrounding the growing political and racial polarization. Throughout this time our family received multiple racially charged emails and accusations and somewhere in the midst of that intense season, we woke up to the “N” word written across our front door. We were feeling depleted from navigating on-going conflict, but prayer, walks, and council from wise friends became sustaining during that time. It reminded us that even if this season continued another year, or ten, ultimately we know how the story ends. In order to endure without becoming cynical or retaliatory, we needed the wisdom of other saints to remind us of the trajectory of God’s Kingdom. 

Endurance allows our vision of what will one day be our eternal reality to keep us patient, hopeful, and consistently moving forward even when the days, weeks, and years of resistance to violence feel long and at times unbearable. Endurance allows us to be honest about the present pain while joyfully marching forward because we know where the story is ultimately taking us.

A life of endurance is formed and sustained through prayer, Scripture and community. These are essential means to anchor our lives in God’s Kingdom. They allow us to return again and again to center ourselves in Christ every time we are prone to wander or tempted to give into retaliation, alienation, or violence. 

If we are to live nonviolent lives that are committed to repair, restoration, and peacemaking then our lives must be captivated and formed by an ever growing vision of God’s Kingdom. As the Spirit of God guides us to inhabit more and more of God’s reality we can discover more of Christ and mimic his patterns and way of life as a means of mirroring his Kingdom of peace, righteousness, and justice to the world around us. In closing, I’d like to offer a brief prayer for us to continue to be captivated by God’s Kingdom:

KINGDOM VISION

Give me a vision
Of your kingdom
I want eyes to see
Your people, glorious
Unhindered by lies
Freedom to love
Abundance flows

Ordinary people
Lonely people
Awkward people
Even grumpy people
Are redeemed
Laughing, rejoicing in love

Give me a vision of your kingdom
I want eyes to see
Where what once was treasured
Now lays at your feet
Delighting in the treasure
Given us in the holy brethren

Give me a vision of your kingdom
Tears wiped away
By tender hands
By listening ears
Of other saints
Christ’s compassion flowing

Give me a picture of your kingdom
As we remember
Abused and worn bodies
Weak, old, and young
Sick and strong
Limping done
All radiating Christ’s love

Give me a vision of your kingdom
Where no amount of
Wealth, praise, or power
Can possibly replace
The holy wonder
Of unity with God

Give me a vision of your kingdom
When secret things
Are exposed in love’s perfect light
No longer ashamed
We marvel and stand
That we've been made clean

Give me a vision of your kingdom
Delighting in you
And you in us
With each other
One with you
Sharing all things in common
Receiving from you our daily bread
Lord give me a vision of your kingdom
Words to describe
To those far off and alone
Disgusted by religion
Tired by the rules
Worn out from addictions
Burdened and weary
From the sirens’ song
They are welcome
To arrive at your shores
And delight in pure love
Greeted by our Lord


While our imaginations allow us to ruminate about the potential terror an enemy might strike, we rarely use the same imagination to envision the kingdom of God in which Christ reigns.
What would it look like if God’s people were so captivated by the reality that Jesus welcomed his followers to enter that it transformed our actions, words, and posture in relation to enemies, injustice, and violence?
Compassion interrupts patterns of violence and instead allows our judgement and self-righteousness to be transformed into a grace-filled capacity to speak truth and advocate for repair and restoration.
Those on the margins are often on the front lines of violence and injustice. If we are to live into a radical ethic of nonviolence, our tables will require the presence and friendship of those on the margins.
A life of nonviolence requires developing endurance by regularly anchoring our lives in Christ and all the implications of his Good News. Otherwise, over time our anxious attempts to fix what is broken through our own power will lead to cynicism, despair, and eventually inspire our own acts of violence, even if it's violent words.
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by Mondo Scott

A HEART FOR JUSTICE

Taylor Schumann

Taylor S. Schumann is a survivor of the April 2013 shooting at a college in Christiansburg, Virginia. She is a writer and activist whose writing has appeared in Christianity Today, Sojourners, and Fathom. She is a contributor to If I Don't Make It, I Love You: Survivors in the Aftermath of School Shootings. Taylor and her family live in Charleston, South Carolina.

I didn’t flip a switch and all of the sudden become a gun reform activist. The transition happened slowly and naturally for me. Years of internalizing the pain and suffering of the survivors community and hours of poring over gun violence statistics culminated in a base of knowledge which pushed me into working on gun reform. I began to speak out about issues of gun violence.

Years of internalizing the pain and suffering of the survivors community and hours of poring over gun violence statistics culminated in a base of knowledge which pushed me into working on gun reform.

I became diligent about educating myself about gun laws and statistics. I wanted to know what I was talking about. I wanted to be able to answer questions when people asked me about my opinions about guns. I didn’t want to rely solely on my experience as a victim from a school shooting in 2013, so I started talking to other victims of gun violence and other activists. Over time, I began to feel more comfortable speaking out in support of new gun laws and against the pro-gun rhetoric used by the Republican Party and the National Rifle Association (NRA). I was slowly finding myself in this new role of fighting for gun reform and I was navigating the emotions of it all, too. I was allowing myself to step into it slowly, figuring it out as I went. Then the next mass shooting happened. 

When I was shot, I often heard “At least it was only your hand!” It’s true. I was wounded; “only” my hand was wounded. It took the brunt of the trauma. Yet, my entire body suffered. I couldn’t pretend my hand didn’t exist and I couldn’t ignore the pain emanating from that part of my body, because it’s all part of me. When one part of the body of Christ suffers, we all should feel that suffering. When one part of the body of Christ experiences the trauma of gun violence, we should come closer—bearing the burden of it, and recognizing until that part of our body is whole, none of us will be whole. 

I confess to you, reader, I am not a theologian. But it sure seems like God is trying to tell us something, don’t you think? Throughout Scripture we are consistently told to love our neighbor, encourage them, and build them up. We are told to carry their burdens, defend them, take up their cause, and plead their case. We are even told to only seek the good of others. And above it all, we are to love them as we love ourselves. If something is our neighbor’s burden, it is our burden, too. Gun violence is your neighbor’s problem, so it is your problem, too.

Victims of gun violence who are desperate for change are forced to hold up their personal suffering like some sort of protest sign and say, “Look at my pain. Look at my experience. Look at what I’ve suffered—don’t you want to help me? Don’t you want to stop this?” And people shrug their shoulders and they say “No” or “That’s not the right way to do it” without offering a better one. They are able to turn and look away and not think another second about it. The realization of my pain not being enough for some people is one that chips away little pieces of my heart every time. I don’t know if this part will get easier, right now it mostly feels like someone is kicking me in the lungs.

Gun violence is your neighbor’s problem, so it is your problem, too.

The hurt I feel is what drives me to keep going to try to keep anyone else from having to feel it, too. The panicked feeling I get when I envision someday having to send my son into a school is what spurs me on to make schools safer for him and every other child in America. I wish I could do the work without all of these heavy things, but I truly think they are all necessary. I believe God makes beauty from ashes, so I’ve come to believe maybe the ashes are critical in the making of the beauty.

It’s hard to change your mind about something, isn’t it? To realize you might be wrong about something you’ve believed for years of your life is a disorienting experience. We find so much of our identity in our belief systems and our opinions that when one of the threads gets pulled; it begins to feel like the whole thing might unravel with it. That’s how I felt. I still feel that way sometimes. Especially when I’m talking to people I knew when I was younger who remember me a certain way with certain beliefs. I’ve been asked a few times why I changed everything I believe in. What a casual and very easy breezy question to be asked. The truth is, though, I didn’t change everything I believe in. I think I just decided what I believe in should look a different way.

At its core, the issue of gun violence is so much more than an argument over whether or not we should have stricter gun laws.

At its core, the issue of gun violence is so much more than an argument over whether or not we should have stricter gun laws. When I think about ending gun violence, I think about children being able to go to school to learn math instead of learning how to hide. I think about babies in their car seats who will live through the drive home without a bullet flying into their car. I think about neighborhoods and cities not being torn apart by gunfire whizzing across the streets and through windows. I think about teenagers who can’t see a way out of their sorrow having access to mental healthcare instead of their parents’ gun. When I think about ending gun violence, I think about women in abusive relationships that would have another day to get out before their partner used a gun to murder them. I think about a world where less people die at the hands of police officers because the fear of guns being in the hand of everyone on the street is a distant memory. I imagine Americans going to the movies and concerts and church without glancing toward the exit signs to make an escape plan. I think about bodies remaining whole, with no gunshot wounds destroying bone and tissue. I imagine myself picking up my son without struggling, because both of my hands are perfect, neither one familiar with the devastation of a bullet.

Are you picturing it with me? Don’t these images look a bit more like the abundant life Jesus speaks about than the ones we see right now?

What I know of Jesus is that he calls us to life and life abundant, and yet what we seem to have created, often invoking his name in our handy-work, is more like death and death abundant. This realization is ultimately what did it for me, what changed me. In his book Beating Guns, author Shane Claiborne writes “Some will say all we can do is pray. That is a lie.” It is a lie, because every day we are given a choice. In a choice between life and guns, I’m going to choose life. I’m going to choose even the hope for life over the current reality of lives ravaged by guns and bodies and minds torn apart by bullets. Every day we are given a choice and I’m going to choose life. I’m hoping you will, too.

I didn’t flip a switch and all of the sudden become a gun reform activist. The transition happened slowly and naturally for me. Years of internalizing the pain and suffering of the survivors community and hours of poring over gun violence statistics culminated in a base of knowledge which pushed me into working on gun reform. I began to speak out about issues of gun violence.

I became diligent about educating myself about gun laws and statistics. I wanted to know what I was talking about. I wanted to be able to answer questions when people asked me about my opinions about guns. I didn’t want to rely solely on my experience as a victim from a school shooting in 2013, so I started talking to other victims of gun violence and other activists. Over time, I began to feel more comfortable speaking out in support of new gun laws and against the pro-gun rhetoric used by the Republican Party and the National Rifle Association (NRA). I was slowly finding myself in this new role of fighting for gun reform and I was navigating the emotions of it all, too. I was allowing myself to step into it slowly, figuring it out as I went. Then the next mass shooting happened. 

When I was shot, I often heard “At least it was only your hand!” It’s true. I was wounded; “only” my hand was wounded. It took the brunt of the trauma. Yet, my entire body suffered. I couldn’t pretend my hand didn’t exist and I couldn’t ignore the pain emanating from that part of my body, because it’s all part of me. When one part of the body of Christ suffers, we all should feel that suffering. When one part of the body of Christ experiences the trauma of gun violence, we should come closer—bearing the burden of it, and recognizing until that part of our body is whole, none of us will be whole. 

I confess to you, reader, I am not a theologian. But it sure seems like God is trying to tell us something, don’t you think? Throughout Scripture we are consistently told to love our neighbor, encourage them, and build them up. We are told to carry their burdens, defend them, take up their cause, and plead their case. We are even told to only seek the good of others. And above it all, we are to love them as we love ourselves. If something is our neighbor’s burden, it is our burden, too. Gun violence is your neighbor’s problem, so it is your problem, too.

Victims of gun violence who are desperate for change are forced to hold up their personal suffering like some sort of protest sign and say, “Look at my pain. Look at my experience. Look at what I’ve suffered—don’t you want to help me? Don’t you want to stop this?” And people shrug their shoulders and they say “No” or “That’s not the right way to do it” without offering a better one. They are able to turn and look away and not think another second about it. The realization of my pain not being enough for some people is one that chips away little pieces of my heart every time. I don’t know if this part will get easier, right now it mostly feels like someone is kicking me in the lungs.

The hurt I feel is what drives me to keep going to try to keep anyone else from having to feel it, too. The panicked feeling I get when I envision someday having to send my son into a school is what spurs me on to make schools safer for him and every other child in America. I wish I could do the work without all of these heavy things, but I truly think they are all necessary. I believe God makes beauty from ashes, so I’ve come to believe maybe the ashes are critical in the making of the beauty.

It’s hard to change your mind about something, isn’t it? To realize you might be wrong about something you’ve believed for years of your life is a disorienting experience. We find so much of our identity in our belief systems and our opinions that when one of the threads gets pulled; it begins to feel like the whole thing might unravel with it. That’s how I felt. I still feel that way sometimes. Especially when I’m talking to people I knew when I was younger who remember me a certain way with certain beliefs. I’ve been asked a few times why I changed everything I believe in. What a casual and very easy breezy question to be asked. The truth is, though, I didn’t change everything I believe in. I think I just decided what I believe in should look a different way.

At its core, the issue of gun violence is so much more than an argument over whether or not we should have stricter gun laws. When I think about ending gun violence, I think about children being able to go to school to learn math instead of learning how to hide. I think about babies in their car seats who will live through the drive home without a bullet flying into their car. I think about neighborhoods and cities not being torn apart by gunfire whizzing across the streets and through windows. I think about teenagers who can’t see a way out of their sorrow having access to mental healthcare instead of their parents’ gun. When I think about ending gun violence, I think about women in abusive relationships that would have another day to get out before their partner used a gun to murder them. I think about a world where less people die at the hands of police officers because the fear of guns being in the hand of everyone on the street is a distant memory. I imagine Americans going to the movies and concerts and church without glancing toward the exit signs to make an escape plan. I think about bodies remaining whole, with no gunshot wounds destroying bone and tissue. I imagine myself picking up my son without struggling, because both of my hands are perfect, neither one familiar with the devastation of a bullet.

Are you picturing it with me? Don’t these images look a bit more like the abundant life Jesus speaks about than the ones we see right now?

What I know of Jesus is that he calls us to life and life abundant, and yet what we seem to have created, often invoking his name in our handy-work, is more like death and death abundant. This realization is ultimately what did it for me, what changed me. In his book Beating Guns, author Shane Claiborne writes “Some will say all we can do is pray. That is a lie.” It is a lie, because every day we are given a choice. In a choice between life and guns, I’m going to choose life. I’m going to choose even the hope for life over the current reality of lives ravaged by guns and bodies and minds torn apart by bullets. Every day we are given a choice and I’m going to choose life. I’m hoping you will, too.

Adapted from  by Taylor S. Schumann. Copyright (c) 2021 by Taylor Sharpe Schumann. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. When Thoughts and Prayers Aren’t Enoughwww.ivpress.com

Years of internalizing the pain and suffering of the survivors community and hours of poring over gun violence statistics culminated in a base of knowledge which pushed me into working on gun reform.
Gun violence is your neighbor’s problem, so it is your problem, too.
At its core, the issue of gun violence is so much more than an argument over whether or not we should have stricter gun laws.
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THE CROSS OF CHRIST DISRUPTS THE CYCLE OF VIOLENCE

Edward Sun

Edward is a Chinese American graphic designer, musician, and brand strategist born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. In his daily artwork on Instagram, his music as Kaptivated, and his professional work as Lead Designer at Braintrust Creative, he wields creativity as a powerful tool to manifest God's divine peace in a chaotic world. Connect with him at @edwardcreates on all social platforms.

As you end this StoryArc path point, spend some time meditating on this animated visual by Chinese Graphic Designer, Edward Sun. 

We want to encourage you to spend some time with this image and allow God to speak to you through it. We’ve included a short contemplative practice below called Visio Divina, a form of divine seeing in which you can prayerfully invite God to speak to your heart as you look at this illustration. However you choose to approach this visual, simply be present and allow God to speak through it to your heart.

As you end this StoryArc path point, spend some time meditating on this animated visual by Chinese Graphic Designer, Edward Sun. 

We want to encourage you to spend some time with this image and allow God to speak to you through it. We’ve included a short contemplative practice below called Visio Divina, a form of divine seeing in which you can prayerfully invite God to speak to your heart as you look at this illustration. However you choose to approach this visual, simply be present and allow God to speak through it to your heart.

Visio Divina

Engage in a slow, thoughtful contemplation of this animated graphic

Engage in a slow, thoughtful contemplation of this animated graphic

  • Let your eyes stay with the first thing you see. Simply be present to the image and allow it to speak to your heart, without any particular agenda. It might speak to you in words or wordlessly. 
  • Consider what thoughts come into your mind and what emotions you’re feeling. 
  • How is the motion speaking to you? 
  • Do you get a glimpse of something sacred as you gaze?
  • Are there any subtle movements that you can see now that you were not yet aware of at first glance?
  • Ask God to speak to you through what you’ve noticed and then take time to listen.
  • Afterward, write down some of your reflections. Consider the things that caught your attention. Ask yourself how the entire image makes you feel, whether it provokes any questions, or if it stirs up memories, especially as it relates to nonviolence. 
  • End  your time by reading aloud Philippians 2:1-11

Go in peace! 

  • Let your eyes stay with the first thing you see. Simply be present to the image and allow it to speak to your heart, without any particular agenda. It might speak to you in words or wordlessly. 
  • Consider what thoughts come into your mind and what emotions you’re feeling. 
  • How is the motion speaking to you? 
  • Do you get a glimpse of something sacred as you gaze?
  • Are there any subtle movements that you can see now that you were not yet aware of at first glance?
  • Ask God to speak to you through what you’ve noticed and then take time to listen.
  • Afterward, write down some of your reflections. Consider the things that caught your attention. Ask yourself how the entire image makes you feel, whether it provokes any questions, or if it stirs up memories, especially as it relates to nonviolence. 
  • End  your time by reading aloud Philippians 2:1-11

Go in peace! 

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