Monday, September 17, 2007

Hoping for a Less Violent Christianity

“Through violence, you may 'solve' one problem, but you sow the seeds for another.” – The Dalai Lama

I am continually disturbed by the violence I find in theology. Not all theologies are violent, of course, but some are; and the violent theologies contribute to the experience of violence in the world.

If our theology states that punishment for not holding the “right” beliefs is an eternity of violent suffering, and if glorifying an act of violence against Jesus is somehow the way of being “saved” from the torment of such after-life violence, then as Christians is it possible for us to be true advocates of peace?

Presbyterian Womanist-Theologian Delores Williams has written, “There is nothing of God in the blood of the cross.” I agree. For almost the first 400 years of Christianity, the cross was not a significant universal symbol.. And even after the cross became a popular Christian symbol, the crucifix (a cross that includes the image of a wounded body) did not become a popular image until the Middle Ages.

The theologies we have that glorify suffering, torment, and violence have developed over time in patriarchal (often violent) cultures. We can certainly rethink them and choose less violent imagery for our faith development.

My Christology doesn’t glorify Jesus’ death, but it does celebrate his life. I prefer the “living Jesus,” that is, the Jesus we find in the gospels (not only those that made it into our canon but also those that didn’t) who teaches and heals and includes the marginalized and touches the untouchables and resists oppression.
This living Jesus models a God-filled life and this is the Jesus that I try to follow. This Jesus could have died peacefully in his sleep at a ripe, old age and still be worthy of my adoration. I do not believe that the brutality of crucifixion was in anyway part of a divine plan.

Jesus’ execution happened, and we can celebrate that Golgotha wasn’t the end of his story. We don’t have to deny the crucifixion, but neither must we glorify it; more than a dozen generations of the earliest Christians didn’t! In fact, as Christians, couldn’t we use the story of the enlightened Sage that we follow not to celebrate the unjust way in which he was killed but as motivation to resist such violent injustice from now on? Can’t we love and follow Jesus without loving and perpetuating violence?

A less violent Christianity may require changing some of our liturgies, abandoning some of our hymns, reinterpreting some of our sacred texts, and moving our crosses to less prominent places (if not on our altars, at least in our minds), but in a world that is so wounded by perpetual violence, it may prove to be worth the work.

If violent imagery dominates our worship, it is bound to dominate how we live. Once our theologies become less violent, I’m guessing our world will look less violent, too. That is, at least, my hope and my prayer.

(c) Durrell Watkins, 2007

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