I have never really doubted that Christians should be nonresistant. Though there are some difficult texts to deal with, the balance of the Scriptural data–especially when viewed through the lens of Jesus–seems to my Mennonite-raised eyes as comfortably on the side of nonviolence*.
But it always seemed to be an auxiliary doctrine, important in its own right but certainly a secondary issue about which Christians could disagree.
It’s only recently that I’ve begun to understand just how inextricably linked Christian nonviolence is to Jesus and the kingdom He proclaims. When I interact with strong proponents of this peaceful lifestyle, inevitably it includes a declaration and delineation of the kingdom.
The character of this kingdom, this nation, is fundamentally different from all the nations of the world. Their currency, at bottom, is coercion; but His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Most modern Christians–though perhaps not many of the Reformers nor even some reformed Christian theocrats today–would agree with this idea in theory. Of course Christianity should be advanced noncoercively. Of course the world’s nations will use force.
But if, as NT Wright argues, the crucifixion of Christ launched a revolution, it matters how the revolution on behalf of this kingdom should be fought. And how it should be fought is made clear when you look at the narrative arc of Scripture and in particular the teachings of Jesus: with love and peace and forgiveness, conquering through suffering instead of force.
But then if Jesus is our king, how can his ethos not permeate the entirety of our lives? How is it that we can carve out areas and exceptions that allow us to employ coercive methods in service to worldly systems? If He is our King mustn’t he be King over all of us?
Christian nonviolence is close to the heart of the Gospel because it is so bound up in the good news Christ proclaims. Jesus’ atoning death on the cross provides the impulse, but His radical, upside-down, non-coercive ethic is the means through which the Kingdom is implemented.
If you are a Christian and not given to nonviolence, you may be thinking of objections. Preston Sprinkle, in his book Fight, lays out a case for Christian nonviolence and addresses many possible arguments. It’s worth a read. Many Christians, I’m afraid, have been shaped more by American nationalism than Jesus on this issue.
* Preston Sprinkle defines violence as “a physical act that is intended to destroy (i.e. injure) a victim by means that overpower the victim’s consent”, so nonviolence would be not doing those kinds of acts.