Andy Samberg’s impersonation of Nicholas Cage is not perfect, but it’s hysterical. I’m thinking, of course, of the Saturday Night Live Weekend Update segment “Get in the Cage,” in which Samberg, impersonating Cage, interviews other actors. At some point during the interview, after recounting the details of the guest’s recent movie, Samberg/Cage asks, “How am I not in that movie?!?”
For example, in a recent episode, Liam Neeson was the guest and he was promoting the movie “Battleship.” Samberg summarizes the movie thusly, “A movie in which robot aliens invade earth from the ocean,” and then shouts, “How am I not in that movie?!?”
Anyway, all that to say that when I received the recently released collection of essays edited by Tripp York and Justin Bronson Barringer titled A Faith Not Worth Fighting For: Addressing Commonly Asked Questions About Christian Nonviolence, I literally exclaimed in the solitude of my home office, “How am I not in this book?!?”
See, back in 2007, I wrote a piece for the Burnside Writers Collective that I called “Five Questions Your Pacifist Friends Are Tired of Answering” (pay no mind that the piece is attributed to my friend and BWC editor Jordan Green; an importing error I think). In it, I attempted to provide brief yet detailed answers to a few of the questions I heard time and again since professing to be a Christian pacifist in 2002. Among these questions were “What if your (insert loved one here) was attacked?,” “What about the Old Testament?,” and “What about Romans 13?”
In A Faith Not Worth Fighting For, each of these questions appears, but each gets the full chapter treatment. Amy Laura Hall and Kara Slade collaborate on the question of “What would you do if someone were attacking a loved one?,” Ingrid E. Lily answers “What about war and violence in the Old Testament,” and Lee C. Camp takes on “What about Romans 13.” And they, and all their coauthors in the collection, do an excellent (and much more thorough) job of addressing these challenging queries with intelligence and grace.
As I mentioned above, the collection is edited by Tripp York, who teaches religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College, and Justin Barringer, a graduate student at Asbury Theological Seminary. In their introduction, they identify the need for their book and highlight a question that has haunted me since my adoption of nonviolence, why is it that of all of Jesus’ commands, his call to nonviolence — arguably one of the more explicit — is most often ignored? Barringer and York tread lightly in an effort to not offend readers, but one can tell that they feel strongly, as I do, about this matter. Later in their introduction they plainly state, “We do not think nonviolence is a tangential matter.”
It has always struck me as odd that many of those who so forcefully insist that the Bible be read “literally,” never take literally Jesus’ statements regarding nonviolence. Barringer and York quote Ghandi on this: “The only people on earth who do not see Christ and his teachings as nonviolent are Christians.” Of course, they point out, this couldn’t have been said of the early Christians who, for the first three centuries of our common era “were known for their refusal to participate in violence.”
The ways that many of the questions in the book are phrased perfectly illustrate the view of many Christians that there must be an exception when it comes to nonviolence. For example, Gregory A. Boyd answers the question “Does God Expect Nations to Turn the Other Cheek,” illuminating the oft-issued exception that Jesus was really only talking about individuals. Or later, John Dear answers, “Didn’t Jesus Overturn Tables and Chase People Out of the Temple with a Whip.” The thought, of course, is that if Jesus became angry with the moneychangers and wielded a whip to clear the place out, certainly violence is justified sometimes.
The sum of the parts of A Faith Not Worth Fighting For aims to convince readers that Jesus’ teachings indeed call us to a life of nonviolence, and maybe it will. It’s hard for me to say because as I read through I nodded my head in agreement and uttered the occasional “Amen.” But my experience from my own attempt to answer some of these same questions is that there is something so rooted in human beings, so tied to our nature and so easily disguised as a healthy sense of self preservation, that enables us to breezily justify ignoring not only Jesus’ call to nonviolence but the way he modeled it in his own death.
I do hope they will be able to convince. I’ve long dreamt that Christians will once again be at the forefront of nonviolent advocacy. Whatever the turnout, though, it is good that this book exists and even better that it is part of a series, called “The Peaceable Kingdom Series,” that “seeks to challenge the pervasive violence assumed necessary in relation to humans, nonhumans, and the larger environment.”
I look forward to reading the next titles in the series. And I’m sure that again I’ll exlcaim, “How am I not in this book?!?”
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