Fight or Die: How to Lose Friends and Irritate People

By Jarrod McKenna 4-21-2010

This video clip by The Work of The People is going to upset a lot of people.

I know Bonhoeffer said "Christians should give more offense," but honestly, to quote Desmond Tutu, "I too suffer from wanting people to like me." And I've met so many Christians who are offensive for all the wrong reasons. People who aren't known for the way they love, but the way they hate. People who are not known for their compassion but their hardness of heart. People who aren't known for their grace but their punitiveness. And I've heard this ugly behaviour justified by people quoting Christ, saying, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first." (John 15:18)

But what's the context of Bonhoeffer's quote? What's the context of this quote from our Lord?

I say nearly every time I preach, "A text, without a context, is a sure sign you are being conned." We can turn on the telly and watch any number televangelists quote verses from the Bible... and often it doesn't take the gift of discernment to know that what the preacher is saying has little to do with the passage. In the gospels even Satan is seen quoting scripture (against Jesus!). So if we are going to let the Bible be authoritative in our communities we have to ask the critical questions that help us live the grace God has shown us grace; to live more compassionate Christ-like lives not fearing the consequences .

The text in John 15:18 comes in the context of Jesus having just told the disciples to love like he loves. To let our definitions of "love" not be found in abstract theories, philosophies, or feeling, but to let love be defined by what Jesus embodies. In John's gospel and epistles, when we read "love" we are to read: "what you see in Jesus."

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. (John 15:12-14)

Now we can hear the context of Bonhoeffer's quote:

Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favour of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.

Unquestionably there is a place for Christians to cause offense, but only if our offense is to live the kind of love Christ did, in the power of the Spirit. Our offense must only be the grace of the cross of the New Testament's nonviolent Messiah. In a world at war, our offense is what my friend Greg Boyd would call "Calvary-shaped love." Humbly, with hearts filled with love, and often with eyes filled with tears in the face of the pain of the world, we must declare the scandal of Christ crucified as how God has saved all of creation.

To this we will hear many "amens" until we start to let the rubber hit the road (or until our faith hits the fan). This weekend in Australia we will hear John 15 quoted out of context in every major city of Australia and many Christians will not bat an eyelid. ANZAC weekend in Australia is treated as the most 'holy' holiday on our calendar. It is common place for Australians to talk of taking "pilgrimages" to where the battle took place. No one has a problem if you don't celebrate Christmas or Easter, but if you vocalise that you do not, celebrating ANAZC day is considered "blasphemous." Despite historians raising serious concerns about how we are [not] remembering the ANZAC tradition (and instead celebrating war as a national creation story), most Christians remain silent in letting Christ's cross critique how we remember the tragic deaths of these young people. I have family that have bravely fought for Australia. I love the land. But I have been baptised into a new identity. I've been immersed into another story that means I must love neighbours and even enemies like Christ has loved me. Knowing this, to let ANZAC day be turned into a sacralised support of war -- and not remember the "Diggers" who asked we never forget the horrors of war -- is not only to be a bad Australian, it would be unfaithful to Christ who shows us what love is, the costly nonviolent way of overcoming evil with good. (Rom. 12:21)

If we say fighting is wrong, we spit in the face of all those soldiers who have bravely served their countries. But if we say the way to fight is with violence, then like those in Matthew's passion account, we spit in the face of Christ. Do not judge those who did not know there was a better way. But it is a judgment of our Christianity if we remain silent as our governments sacrifice trillions of dollars and the precious lives of young people on the altar of unwinnable wars.

To proclaim the scandalous nonviolence of the cross is not a good way to win friends and influence people. It's not a way to get more friends on facebook, followers on twitter, or invites to speak. My words may inflict more hate mail on my community. But this is to take the passage of John 15 in context. To let the scriptures be authoritative. To witness to Christ as Lord. This is to understand why our Lord would move from saying "Love each other as I have loved you" to say "if the Domination System hates you, keep in mind it first hated me."

Lord, give us the courage to live your offensive grace, your Calvary-shaped love, in a world at war. Amen.

portrait-jarrod-mckennaJarrod McKenna is seeking to live God's love in a world where business as usual is costing us the earth (at the expense of the poor). He is a co-founder of the Peace Tree Community serving with the marginalised in one of the poorest of areas in his city, heads up Together for Humanity in Western Australia (an inter-faith youth initiative working for the common good), and is the founder and creative director of Empowering Peacemakers (EPYC), for which he has received an Australian peace award in his work for in empowering a generation of "eco-evangelists" and "peace prophets."

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