The Common Good

Violence in the Name of Faith?

I received a question from a reader recently that asked: You write a lot about the plight of the Palestinians. Do you have anything to say about the murder of the Fogel family in Israel this past month, and the wider terror war Israel has endured for decades?

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I am against all violence because I am a follower of Jesus. I believe Jesus was right when he said that those who live by the sword die by it -- which means, in part, that violence leads to more violence. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. echoed Jesus when he stated, "You can murder a murderer, but you can't murder murder." The act of violence as a response to violence breeds more violence and creates systems of violence. The way of Jesus is a way out of this temptation; he came to deliver us from this evil. This is in large part what these lines of the Lord's Prayer mean: Do not lead us into the time of trial/temptation; liberate us from the evil.

If we ever hope to see swords beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, we must realize that Jesus was right, beginning with his call to love our enemies instead of hating them and wiping them out. Truth, justice, and reconciliation lead to peace -- not half-truths, injustice, and cycles of domination and/or revolution.

So I believe the murder of any Israeli is evil, as is the murder of any Palestinian. I believe that expanding settlements are land theft, much like (not exactly like, since no two historical events are exactly alike) the land theft our ancestors in the U.S. perpetuated against Native Americans. I believe that violent reprisals against settlers like the Fogels are equally wrong. And I believe the ongoing occupation of Palestine is also unjust and wrong. Each represents a violation of the commandments and a breach of international law. Compounding evil with more evil -- on any side of a conflict -- is all too human and common, but that doesn't mean it's right.

Regarding Israel and Palestine, I always say the same thing: We need solutions that are pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-Jewish, pro-Muslim, pro-Christian, pro-peace, and pro-justice. These solutions aren't easy, and violence only sends us farther away from good solutions, whether that violence is done to or by Israelis or Palestinians, or anybody else.

When people use religion -- Islam, Christianity, or Judaism -- to defend violence and even to glorify it, we see the darkest side of religion. Sometimes angry religious people focus their darkest energies on members of their own religion, seeing them as traitors when they try to show the same love to a stranger and enemy as they show to their religious brothers and sisters. This was the case recently for my friend Rabbi Michael Lerner. Why should a religious leader be attacked for calling for justice for all?

With all this in mind, I was especially pleased to read Paul-Gordon Chandler's even-handed account of recent religious violence in Egypt. Thank God for people of every faith who reach out to the other in love.

Wherever you are, whatever your religion, I hope you'll open yourself towards the possibility of a deeper conversion -- a deeper conversion against violence and hate in the name of your faith, and a deeper conversion towards peace and love that extends even to those you consider your opponents and enemies. God isn't on the side of hate, so if we want a life with God, we must start by turning from hate.

Brian McLarenBrian McLaren (brianmclaren.net) is a former pastor and the author of over a dozen books, including Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in Twelve Simple Words.

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