Chapter 2 discussed the hope of the resurrection and the life of Jesus as the core of Christian nonviolence. We dealt with the question of helping a neighbor who is being attacked and how a Christian committed to nonviolence may handle such a situation and why.
Chapter 3 leaps right into a very very difficult question: “What would you do if someone were attacking a loved one?”
I have a wife and a child. I love them and want to protect them from evil. Because of this, many things in this world are unsettling to me even more than they would be were I single and childless. Whatever I believe and do, I must live like Christ.
As Hall and Slade point out, this question evokes “a visceral reaction” in us more than any other. When these hypothetical situations are brought up, the intellectual becomes the emotional. None of us wants to imagine these things occurring. Yet all hypothetical situations are problematic in that they are reductive. Real life variables and options are thrown aside. So Hall and Slade deconstruct this particular scenario for us to see what it really reveals about our world, in which “security has more to do with cultural tropes than with christological truth.”
1) What would YOU do if someone were attacking a LOVED ONE?
—We are really only asking this question of men about their wives.
2) What would you DO if someone were attacking a loved one?
—”While situations requiring instantaneous acts of daring may make for exciting cinema, they make bad cases for moral theological reasoning.”
3) What would you do if SOMEONE were attacking a loved one?
—When you imagine this situation, what color is this other person? Or what about them distinguishes them besides their presence and their attempted act? Does it affect how you would handle it?
4) What would you do if someone were ATTACKING a loved one?
—Often rape is thrown in. When Dukakis was asked if he would give the death penalty to a man who raped and murdered his wife, and he said there would be a better option, he was seen as unmanly, and therefore an unfit candidate. They said he was “dispassionate.” Which meant that he had no passion because he didn’t want the death penalty for the man. As if there is no passion in the desire to return evil with good. Would we call Jesus dispassionate because he knew he could stop Lazarus from dying and didn’t?
5) What WOULD you do if someone were attacking a loved one?
—I hope I would love and not fear. Hall and Slade challenge us to rethink what Christly love would mean in a situation. “Within the category of neighbor stands both the loved one and the attacking someone[…]God asks us to transcend our cultural and personal fears of someone else.” These hypotheticals aren’t about love, but about fear, and in these scenarios our loved ones become objects, property.
But maybe Hall and Slade, though bringing up good points, are avoiding the issue? You may think that. After all, the question is asked, and we must answer it. The scenario is not that outrageous because it happens, and it is possible we could, God forbid, confront it one day.
“Miracle and martyrdom” must always be options for us when we consider these situations. We cannot fall prey to the false dichotomy of either “allowing” a tragedy or “bravely saving the day”. We must be open to the choice of possible suffering and the choice of putting faith in God, not to mention the choice of attempting an nonviolent resolution to any aggressive move from an attacker.
How can we possibly know, given all the specific circumstances and what we will be thinking and feeling in the moment, what our action WOULD be? In the “heat of the moment,” what would we do? What would I do now? I could do nothing if the person was armed. If you have a gun, where is it? Can you get to it? If you can do so easily, how easily can your child, for example? If it’s in a safe, will you have time to get it out? Then what? How do you know it’s a criminal? How do you know he’s armed? Would Jesus want you to shoot a man trying to take your stereo? Would Jesus want you to shoot him when you can merely hold him at gunpoint and call the police? If the man is on top of your wife, how do you shoot him and not her? You will likely have to face these in a real situation before coming to that violent decision.
And by then, you may not be thinking theology and philosophy and logic anyway. In such a place, whatever I did, I hope that I would pray to God before, during, and after. And even if the man was violating a loved one and I killed him, I would still lament his death and the violence of my hands that brought him there. He is a being created in the image of God. Even if he is trying to desecrate another being made in the image of God, should I desire to desecrate him as well, or to keep anyone from being desecrated as much as possible in any way? Granted what Hell is, and that sin leads there, and that I should not want that of any soul, do I really want to kill a man who is in the act of sin and risk that hanging in his judgement, not giving him a chance at redemption?
I don’t like thinking about this stuff, and so this chapter so far is the most challenging for me. Honestly, when I think about it, I imagine I would grab the most powerful object I can get to in any such situation and do whatever I could through force to protect my wife and child. But is this a visceral reaction to imagining such a horrible thing, much like the one I could have in a real situation? Or is it a theologically proper reaction? Do I have a right to assume what I would do in such a situation, or do I have a duty to pray to God that it never happens and if it does pray that whatever course of action I take I can accomplish his will?
Hall and Slade ask, “Is it possible that Christian discipleship may indeed call me to witness in a cruciform way to my love of both the someone and the loved one?”
If we are pushed to answer this twisted scenario that’s always thrown around, we must also answer that this question that is no scenario, but a real question based on what Jesus calls us to do.
I’m not going to shy away from taking a commitment to Christ-like peacemaking seriously because of one unpredictable scenario. And if that scenario becomes real, I will refuse to rejoice in any unfortunate action I ended up taking to preserve my family. No matter what a person tries to do to you, they still bear the image of their creator, and are still a soul he yearns to have reconciled to him. Never forget that.
[In chapter 4: What About Hitler?]