“Something’s wrong when our pastors condemn our peacemakers to hell.” That’s what I tweeted earlier today when I re-posted an old blog I wrote on Christianity and Violence. Rev. Mark Driscoll’s “Is God a Pacifist?,” has been getting a lot of attention lately.
My problem with Pastor Driscoll’s claim isn’t primarily his defense of killing or his profession of divine judgment. I’m not particularly offended, for that matter, by his not-so-subtle mockery of men with long hair who teach humanities for community colleges either (for the record, I have long hair, but I haven’t worked at a community college for years).
The problem with Driscoll’s post is twofold: the violence that imbues his essay and the confusion of divine judgement with human vengeance.
Violence imbues Driscoll’s essay. It’s this kind of writing that has gained him such a remarkable and devoted following:
Jesus is not a pansy or a pacifist; he’s patient. He has a long wick, but the anger of his wrath is burning. Once the wick is burned up, he is saddling up on a white horse and coming to slaughter his enemies and usher in his kingdom. Blood will flow.
Driscoll glories in eschatological violence. He’s satisfied with divine patience for now . . . but he can’t wait for that horse to get moving and the blood to start gushing. He doesn’t qualify such apocalyptic language. He states it baldly, even brutishly. The casual reader is swept up in the tide of Driscoll’s evocative language. Get ready for judgment!
Talk of anger, slaughter, and flowing blood too easily slips into the everyday reality of the actual violence that pervades our culture. Too many are harmed by domestic violence and warfare in the streets to speak lightly of divine judgment. Words about divine wrath have too often been twisted in the name of individual and national vengeance. That’s what makes Pastor Driscoll’s violent rhetoric so disappointing.
In fact, the end of his post spills over with a vengeance that barely masks his contempt for those who don’t share his perspective:
Some of those whose blood will flow as high as the bit in a horse’s mouth for 184 miles will be those who did not repent of their sin but did wrongly teach that Jesus was a pacifist. Jesus is no one to mess with.
The grammar is slippery. He condemns the unrepentant, but also the pacifist who, presumably, hasn’t fully embraced biblical truth. I can’t help but wonder if a deeper message isn’t thinly concealed beneath Driscoll’s forceful words: when Christian pacifists teach active nonviolence, do they “mess” with Jesus or do they “mess” with Mark Driscoll? It’s a frightening thought.
The deeper issue is a pervasive theological error. Humans are not God and the human community does not act out vengeance on God’s behalf.
Without question, pastors have a difficult task. They preach a challenging message, face complex ethical questions, and proclaim good news that actively contends with the dominant culture of this world. But sometimes Christian leaders risk confusing humanity with God and mistakenly identify human wrath with divine judgment. In the process, earthly violence is justified on the grounds of divine righteousness. Condemned sinners, cast into rivers of flowing blood, are nothing more than our ideological enemies.
In this way, Driscoll falls under the dominant American tendency to justify violence. As I stated in my previous post, American Christians must reexamine pervasive cultural assumptions:
Let’s be clear: Violence may sometimes be deemed necessary, but it is certainly not a Christian value . . . American Christians must find the courage to reject the instinctual appeal to violence. Violence belongs to the Fall, to the curse of sin, and to a world separated from God . . . Christians are called to lead their communities in acts of reconciliation, even at the expense of self-interest and the risk of individual well-being.
Reasonable people can disagree, but something’s wrong when our pastors condemn our peacemakers to hell. We must all reject the temptation to bring redemption through violence—even the violence of words directed at our neighbors.