The Voice of The Salvation Army in Canada and BermudaView RSS Feed
Aug21WedAs Christians consider how to respond to attacks, Shane Claiborne says that grace can dull the sharpest sword. August 21, 2013 Interview by Kristin Fryer
He may be a radical, but Shane Claiborne would insist that he's just an ordinary one. A founder of The Simple Way, a Christian community in a destitute neighbourhood of Philadelphia, Claiborne is best known as the author of The Irresistible Revolution, which challenges readers to reject materialism and embrace a life of active service to Christ and others.
- Filed Under:
In addition to his ministry among the poor in Philadelphia, Claiborne has worked alongside Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India, served as a member of a Christian Peacemaker Team during the recent war in Iraq and is involved with bridge-building groups such as Friends Without Borders.
Associate editor Kristin Fryer spoke to Claiborne about terrorism, justice and what Christians can do to put an end to violence in their world.
How should Christians respond after a terrorist attack, such as the Boston Marathon bombings in April?
The question for us is how to battle evil without becoming evil. What we see after September 11 is a pattern of vengeance as one option. But I see a very different alternative in Christ: the answer to terror is grace and the answer to hatred is love. In Christ, we see a love that stares evil in the face and says, “Forgive them for they don't know what they're doing.”
While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us—no one is beyond redemption. And I think that the reality of that can seem pretty scandalous. Some might ask, “Are you saying that this guy in Boston is not beyond redemption?” And I would say, “Absolutely.” The same was true of Saul of Tarsus who killed a young kid named Stephen and went door to door trying to kill Christians. The Bible is filled with people who did really atrocious things. No one is above reproach and no one is beyond redemption and that's the truth at the heart of the Christian faith. So when Jesus said, “You've heard it said 'An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,' but I want to show you another way,” he's showing us that we don't have to mirror evil with evil; we can wear down evil with love.
And I think it's important to note that, when Jesus was giving his Sermon on the Mount, he wasn't speaking from an idealism that doesn't pertain to the world that we live in, where people fill a crockpot with explosives and blow up people. The disciples were hung upside down on crosses, they were fed to beasts and they were quartered.
What do you think that actually looks like, to extend grace and love to a terrorist?
One of the most beautiful examples is how the Amish responded after the terrible school shooting. [Ed.'s note: In 2006, Charles Carl Roberts shot 10 young girls at an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, killing five, before committing suicide.] They showered the shooter's family with love, created scholarships for his children, went to his funeral and, over the years, that's turned into an exemplary model. Now the widow of the shooter is the caretaker of some of the Amish children who were injured in the shooting. I think that rather than begin with suspicion, we begin by showing grace to the family of those who were involved. We have a responsibility to try and do what we can to interrupt the patterns of violence on all sides.
You've written about the “myth of redemptive violence.” What does that mean and why is it a myth?
It's the idea that we can kill someone to show that killing is wrong. It's like trying to teach holiness by fornication. The cure is as bad as the disease. The death penalty is an absolute horror and I think, as Christians, we should be suspicious of it because we identify daily with Christ, who was a victim of the death penalty and endured terrible torture and harm.
Let me give you a concrete example. I have a friend in prison who did something terrible and has admitted to it. When he went to trial, the victim's family were Christians and they argued that this man was better than the worst things that he had done and that God might not be done with him yet. His story was still being written and it wasn't their job to end his life, to end his story, so they argued against the death penalty. He was spared because of the victim's family, and has since said, “I wasn't a Christian then, but you better believe I am now.” It communicated that you don't have to be defined by evil or by what you've done in the past.
We see the triumph of grace over and over in Scripture. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.” So if we don't show mercy, we can expect not to be extended mercy—in as much as we forgive, we will be forgiven.
What would you say to people who would argue that, without some kind of punishment, justice isn't being served? What does justice look like?
There are different understandings of justice. There's punitive justice and restorative justice. Restorative justice is about repairing what has been broken and healing the wounds. It takes crime and evil seriously but it restores rather than retaliates. The word “penitentiary” has the same root word as “repentance”—you're meant to rethink how you think and live and be restored to society, not written off.
Rwanda was one of the most horrible atrocities of our generation, but what came after that was some of the most redemptive stories of healing and forgiveness. There are men who were responsible for the genocide who are now rebuilding that country. The truth and reconciliation commission which came out of that got victims and offenders together. So I think that there are totally new models of justice—of restorative justice—that we need to explore and experiment with.
What are some practical actions Christians can take to reduce violence in their communities and their world?
Jesus said that greater love has no person than this than to lay down their life for another. I believe that the most courageous thing that we can do is to get in the way of violence as Jesus did—with our lives, our bodies and the way we sacrifice ourselves for others. The minute that we take a life to try to save a life or we use violence to try to protect someone, we deviate from what we see in Jesus.
Think of what Peter tried to do when the soldiers came to take Jesus. He picked up the sword and cut off the servant's ear and Jesus' response was to scold Peter and heal the servant, only to be arrested and killed. The early Christians believed that when Jesus disarmed Peter, he disarmed every one of us because there was never a stronger case for the use of redemptive violence than what Peter had. The message that was communicated to the early Christians was that we can die for Christ but we cannot kill. There's something worth dying for but there's nothing worth killing for.
But I also think that means we need to be as courageous for peace as people have been for violence; we need to take evil that seriously. In Hitler's Germany, many Christians put their lives on the line and went to the concentration camps along with Jews, gay and lesbian people and others. I think we need to be willing to die in the place of those who are about to be killed. That's what Christ did and that's what many of the early Christians did. We have the power to use tools other than the sword.
You've spent time in war-torn places such as Afghanistan and Iraq, and witnessed the military bombardment of Baghdad in 2003. What did you learn from your experiences in those places?
I walked away with the deepest conviction I've ever had that there is another way forward. As Jesus said, if we pick up the sword, we die by the sword—or when we send out a drone, we die by the drone.
The kids in Afghanistan that I visited, they've grown up in war, they know war better than any of us, and their motto is, “A little bit of love is stronger than any weapon in the world.” When NATO forces killed a seven- and an eight-year-old while they were tending their cattle [in March 2013], rather than rioting in the streets, these Afghan kids took cattle into the streets and they held signs that said, “We are those two children,” to humanize what had been done.
That's exactly what we have to do. We have to expose injustice so that it becomes so uncomfortable that everybody has to do something. I think that's what the civil rights movement did. It didn't fight fire with fire. They exposed injustice by suffering in the streets, so that people would say, “This is not right—for people to be hosed down with water, to have dogs put on them, to be beaten in the street because of the colour of their skin.”
Workers from organizations like Doctors Without Borders and the Pre-emptive Love Coalition who are providing heart surgeries for Iraqi children—they're doing more to create a peaceful world than any military operation ever has.
Can Christians who are against military operations still support the troops?
I think it's important that we don't paint military folks as the enemy. As Scripture says, our battle's not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers.
Gandhi once said, “If I have to choose between a soldier and a coward, I'll choose the soldier any day because their courage can be fuelled toward love, but I can't do anything with a coward.” I think that's really important because there are a lot of people who join the military because they want to do something about injustice and evil. And that motivation is very beautiful. I think the question is not, are we going to deal with evil, but how are we going to deal with evil? And how do we do it in a way that honours Jesus and the cross and his call to love our enemies?