The following is a guest blog by Eric A. Seibert
When people look at the church, I want them to see a community that rejects violence and is committed to peace, justice, and reconciliation. Christians should be part of the solution to what ails the world, not part of the problem. In order for that to happen, the church needs to prepare its members to follow the nonviolent way of Jesus. Thankfully, there are many practical things the church can do in this regard.
Emphasize that Following Jesus Faithfully Involves Living Nonviolently
One of the most important things the church can do is to send a clear and consistent message that following Jesus involves living nonviolently. Churchgoers need to be aware of the nonviolent nature of Christian discipleship. Church leaders can help them recognize that extending hospitality, offering forgiveness, working for reconciliation, and making peace are characteristic of nonviolent living and are, therefore, essential practices for followers of Jesus. Jesus himself embodied these practices as he rejected violence and embraced a life of service.
Describe Nonviolence Holistically
The church can also help Christians live more faithfully by emphasizing that living nonviolently is a way of life. It impacts everything about us and influences how we make decisions, spend our money, exercise authority, deal with conflict, treat the environment, raise our children, relate to co-workers, interact with other religions, and so forth. No area of life is unaffected. Envisioning nonviolence holistically reminds us that a commitment to peace involves much more than a rejection of war. While that is a crucial part of it, living nonviolently cannot be reduced to this one issue alone. The church has countless opportunities to demonstrate how following the nonviolent way of Jesus influences everything we think, say, and do.
Declare the Church’s Opposition to Violence
It is helpful for the church to find ways to state clearly and unequivocally its opposition to all forms of violence. In addition to making general declarations, the church should address various types of violence such as warfare, capital punishment, gun violence, elder abuse, physician-assisted suicide, rape, racism, domestic violence, workplace violence, sexual assault, discrimination, human trafficking—the list goes on. Any type of violent behavior—behavior that harms people physically or psychologically—is at odds with the church’s cherished values and core commitments. The church needs to speak up and speak out against all forms of violence. This is especially important given the church’s terribly violent history.
Train Christians How to Live Nonviolently by Providing Practical Alternatives to Violence
For most people, living nonviolently does not come naturally. It is something that must be learned. Therefore, if the church is really serious about helping people follow the nonviolent way of Jesus, those in leadership will need to invest time and energy training people to live this way. There are many ways to go about doing this. For example, the church can discuss nonviolent strategies that can be used to confront oppression and injustice. The church can also teach basic conflict mediation skills, introduce congregants to nonviolent ways of parenting, and discuss creative ways to respond when they—or someone they love—are threatened with harm. Sunday school classes and small groups are ideal settings for this since they allow time for role plays, short instructional videos, and lots of discussion. A church might even decide to host a basic conflict mediation training event or a nonviolent training workshop in its facility.
Tell Stories of Christians (and Others) Who Model Nonviolent Living
In addition to providing practical training for living nonviolently, pastors and other church leaders can tell stories of Christians who exemplify this way of life. Telling these stories is one of the best ways to encourage others to join in. The church can introduce people to nonviolent peacemakers past and present. In addition, churches might consider providing opportunities for their own members to share publically how they are pursuing peace and living nonviolently in their daily lives. This could be part of a Sunday morning worship service or could be a special event held at the church. Having the opportunity to hear personal stories like these from people you know can be particularly powerful and persuasive. For some individuals, a commitment to peace and nonviolence is something more “caught” than taught. Hearing stories that illustrate what nonviolence looks like in real life may be precisely what it takes to convince them that living nonviolently is not only possible, but desirable. Storytelling like this goes a long way toward beating swords into plowshares.
Infuse Worship Services with Nonviolent Emphases
It is important for all churches to find ways to emphasize peace and nonviolence in their weekly worship services. This gathering is one of the most important moments in the life of the church since it represents the one time a week when the entire community comes together to worship God, receive instruction, and encourage one another. Careful planning should be done to ensure that various elements of the worship service reflect the church’s commitment to peace and nonviolence. Songs, prayers, and liturgies all provide opportunities to emphasize this commitment in subtle—and not so subtle—ways.
These six ideas represent various ways churches can help their members follow the nonviolent way of Jesus. If implemented, they would certainly help churchgoers be less violent and more faithful to the gospel. Which of these will you encourage your church to put into practice today? What others might you add to this list?
Adapted from Disarming the Church: Why Christians Must Forsake Violence to Follow Jesus and Change the World (Eugene, OR: Cascade 2018)