How is it that after two thousand years of meditation on Jesus Christ we’ve managed to avoid everything that he taught so unequivocally? This is true of every Christian denomination, even those who call themselves orthodox or doctrinally pure. We are all “cafeteria Christians.” All of us have evaded some major parts of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): the Beatitudes, Jesus’ warning about idolizing “mammon,” his clear directive and example of non-violence, and his command to love our enemies being the most obvious. Jesus has always been too much for us. He is the only true “orthodoxy” as far as I can see.
In fact, I have gone so far as to say, if Jesus never talked about it once, the churches will tend to be preoccupied with it (abortion, birth control, and homosexuality are current examples), and if Jesus made an unequivocal statement about it (for example, the rich, the camel, and the eye of a needle), we tend to quietly shelve it and forget it. This is not even hard to prove.
At least one reason for our failure to understand Jesus’ clear teaching on non-violence lies in the fact that the Gospel has primarily been expounded by a small elite group of educated European and North American men. The bias of white male theologians is typically power and control. From this perspective non-violence and love of enemies makes no sense.
Because most of the church has refused to take Jesus’ teaching and example seriously, now much of the world refuses to take Christians seriously…
…Like it or not, the church is finally becoming much more universal in its teaching. Marginalized and oppressed groups have a wealth of insights to offer us in reading the Gospel. The New Testament is being rediscovered by altogether different sets of eyes, raising very different questions and perspectives that we just never thought about before. We are just beginning to honour the voices of women, minorities, and many groups that have not had access to the power, privilege, and comforts of past theologians. Frankly, they represent the peoples who first heard the Gospel and allowed it to radically change their lives.
The big questions are more and more being answered at a peaceful and dialogical level, with no need to directly oppose, punish, or reject other people or religions. I sense the urgency of the Holy Spirit, with 7.5 billion humans now on the planet at the same time. Our future is either non-violent or there is no future at all. Ken Butigan writes in the foreword to John Dear’s book, The Nonviolent Life:
[This is] the urgency of the great choice we face as a species: will we choose to continue to affirm a culture of systemic violence—or will we build a culture of active, creative, and liberating non-violence so that we can not only survive but thrive?
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014) 101-103;
Near Occasions of Grace (Orbis Books: 1993), 86; and
Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2004), 161-163.