I wanted to take a moment to express my gratitude to the GPNW Mission Center for tackling a very complex topic at its conference on November 6—Non-Violence. For those of you who may not have been there, the conversation revolved around a resolution brought to the conference by Scott Amos, a member of the Portland, OR congregation. The text of that resolution can be found HERE. Ultimately the resolution did not pass. It failed by a margin (I think) of 58% to 42%. But I wish to lift up Scott and the rest of the Mission Center because of what I considered to be a real engagement on the topic.
Indeed, the topic of non-violence is a complicated one. I’ve wrestled with it a lot, and I don’t think I have ever found a complete and satisfying solution. The topic is so complicated that the world conference of 2018 chose to highlight it by offering world-wide perspectives. That world conference referred a similar resolution to the first presidency for guidance to the church, and the church is still awaiting a response from the presidency. I, for one, am anxious to hear that response. I expect it to answer for us some (but probably not all) of the questions we wrestled with ourselves earlier this month:
- Are there situations when violence is not objectional? Like self defense or bringing a population to order or capital punishment?
- Who can appropriately judge the difference between police violence and the necessary use of force?
- Does violence done by the state look different between ethnic, social, or cultural groups? It certainly looks different to members of different countries with different histories of state-sponsored terror. We heard that at the 2018 World Conference.
- At what point does a demonstration turn to a riot? Is there such a thing as a justified riot?
- Is there such a thing as a justified war?
- And ultimately (at least for me), can there be peace without justice; and can there be justice without violence?
I am humbled in the face of these questions. I try to use Jesus as a model to write my moral code, but it’s hard. He’s such a dynamic figure. I can’t imagine Jesus participating in a criminal execution. He actively discourages such an act in John, chapter 8. Yet he goes into the temple and drives out the merchants with a whip in John chapter 2. Was that a riot? Jesus repeatedly refuses to be the military Messiah the people expected him to be, yet he takes mercy on the Centurion in Matthew, chapter 5 (and Luke, chapter 7).
In other words, I am proud of our church for having this discussion. And Scott Amos, I think we should keep talking about this. We may not yet all agree, but I believe the strength of a community rests in the ability to ask hard questions and stay united . . . not in its ability to avoid, deflect, or otherwise disengage from the things that really matter. Let us be grateful we have a community that continues to ask difficult and meaningful questions and rest that we sometimes leave the difficult answers in the hands of God.