This is a guest blog by Allan Stuart Contreras Ríos
“We use violence to get peace and wonder why it isn’t working. That’s like sleeping with a football team to try and be a virgin.”– Tom MacDonald
Karla and I used to have a neighbor who was a drug dealer – Güero. Everybody around here knew this, although nobody talked about it, especially around him. One night, a few days after New Year’s, Karla and I were buying some tacos at a taco stand on the corner of the street we live on.
Right next to us was Güero buying tacos as well. Everybody felt nervous around him . . . but one learns how to try to ignore this and “act normal” around people like him. Suddenly his phone dinged. It was a text message. We do not know what it said, but we think we do because of what happened next. He got nervous. Yes, as nervous as we were around him. Who was he afraid of?
As fast as he could, he paid for his tacos in advance saying he would come back for them in a few minutes. He walked behind Karla, then behind me, then he turned around the corner. At the same time Karla started adding cilantro to her tacos and salsa to mine I heard gunshots. I looked to the left and there was a Jeep parked right next to me with two guys shooting Güero from the windows. It all happened in a matter of seconds. Güero was dead before he hit the ground.
Although this was a scary situation, it was also a relief for our neighborhood, the bad guy was dead. We could all feel better, safe . . . . until some people moved into Güero’s house.
It was a couple of years later, during the pandemic (July or August of 2020 I believe), that Karla and I woke up, went to the kitchen to make some breakfast, and saw that our house was surrounded by the military.
I opened the door and asked one of them, “Can I help you?”
He said, “Do you know your neighbors from that house?” and pointed toward Güero’s house.
“Then you cannot help us.”
A few days later, we heard from other neighbors that somebody snitched on those who lived in Güero’s house, and the police found drugs, guns, and several mutilated bodies. It has been almost an entire year since then and we still have cops basically living on top of our roof to keep watching Güero’s house (they actually made a little grill on our roof and have several chairs).
Day and night, Güero’s house is surrounded by cops. And, because of that, mine too. All this to say, we know the violence of our world. We have experienced it firsthand. And although this worries us, of course, this type of violence is expected from those who do not know God. You know what is troublesome? Violence also happens from those who claim to know God.
When I was a student at CCCB I was a supply preacher. One Sunday I was sent to a small church to deliver a sermon. I got there 30 min. before the church service started, but there was no parking lot. I parked at the end of the road, right next to the church. I opened my Bible and went over my notes repeatedly (I used to get more nervous preaching in English than Spanish). Suddenly I heard a metal knocking on my window. As I looked through my window, I saw the barrel of a shotgun looking back at me. I raised my hands, and the angry guy holding his gun asked me to roll my window down, slowly. I did. He asked me what I was doing parking on his lawn. I explained why I was there and asked him to allow me to park somewhere else, my intention was not to disturb him, and to stay alive, of course. Thank God, he let me go.
A few minutes later, people started walking into the church’s building, I could not get out of my car and into the church fast enough. As I walked in and started greeting my Christian siblings, I started feeling peace again. I was able to breathe a little bit better. They probably could not tell, because of my skin color, but I am sure I was pale. Unfortunately, as soon as my heart calmed down, I saw the angry man walking into the church’s building with two kids, my heart stopped.
He was a church member. Not only was he a church member, but he was also one of the church’s leaders.
You might think that this is one isolated situation. Unfortunately, this is one of several times in which I feared for my life in a church. See the incongruency?
A. W. Tozer once said that “Christianity is so entangled with the world that millions never guess how radically they have missed the New Testament pattern. Compromise is everywhere.” For example, there is a tendency within churches in the Restoration Movement to ignore Church history. It is assumed that from Constantine until the rise of the Stone-Campbell Movement the Church compromised with the world. The Church rejected the Lamb to marry the Roman Emperor. Unfortunately, they fail to see that they have made the same compromise.
Many Christians fight over the “right” side of political disputes, or which amendments or rights need protecting. As Greg Boyd asks, “Where in the New Testament are we taught to rally around anyone other than King Jesus? Where do we find any hint of a suggestion in the New Testament that part of our job as followers of Jesus is to weigh in on the political disputes of the country we happen to live in? We certainly don’t find such a hint in the ministry of Jesus, whose example we’re repeatedly commanded to follow.” When Jesus was tempted by Satan, one of the temptations had to do with political power. As Christians we are to aspire to overcoming, as Jesus did, the archetypical wilderness temptation of gaining political power.
Consider that nationalism teaches us to hate other people, even people that we have not met, and then it teaches us to feel pride in our hatred. At a Christian camp in the USA, we gathered to pledge allegiance to the American flag, and then to the “Christian” flag (which was a little below the Stars and Stripes). I did not pledge allegiance to the American flag for obvious Mexican reasons, and I did not pledge allegiance to the “Christian” flag because that was totally new to me. What was shocking was that some people were offended by my actions, or might I say inactions. But what was even more shocking was that they were offended, not by my not pledging allegiance to the “Christian” flag, but by my failure to swear allegiance to the American flag.
Tony Campolo repeats a story Philip Yancey told him concerning a friend during WWII. This friend was part of a special unit during the Battle of the Bulge that was sent out every morning to kill wounded German soldiers left on the battlefield the night before. One morning he came across a German soldier who was not wounded, he was only tired. His friend raised his gun at the German, and the German asked him to give him a moment to pray. Yancey’s friend lowered his gun and asked the German if he was a Christian, to which he replied “Yes.” “I am a Christian too,” responded Yancey’s friend.
They sat together under a tree. They prayed together. One of them had a Bible and they both shared Bible verses with each other. They showed each other their family pictures and prayed for each other’s families. After all this, Yancey’s friend stood up, looked at the German brother in Christ and said, “I guess I will see you again in Heaven one day,” and shot the man in the head.
The devotion to a nation justifies acts of violence, even against Christian siblings: something Jesus would never condone. This justification comes in all shapes and sizes: crusades, the Inquisition, witch hunts, etc. The Church has been guilty of all of these horrors. This is not simply the problem of a portion of the church, as many Christian groups have fallen into Satan’s temptation of political power.
Gandhi said, “I don’t reject your Christ, I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.” The early disciples understood Jesus was the head of the Church, but over time “the institutional church seems to have been severed from its head, and as a result became one of the most violent religions in history.” While many might point to this violence as grounds for rejecting Christianity, the violent history of the Church contradicts Jesus’ teaching. As G. K. Chesterton said, “The way of Jesus has not been tried and found unfruitful. It has been found difficult, and left untried.” In other words, the problem is not in what Jesus taught, the problem is many Christians are not doing what He said.
Jesus’ teaching to “love your enemies” is without ambiguity – it cannot involve violence. It is impossible to murder the enemy you are supposed to love without disobeying Jesus or betraying his Kingdom. No war is a just war, it is just war. To engage in violence means to reject the eschatological hope of the peaceable Kingdom – the New Creation in Christ.
It saddens me that many of my Christian brothers and sisters seem unaware of the basic teaching of Jesus. They stand by, like the unrepentant Paul at the stoning of Stephen, approving of various forms of violence. Not only that, they join in the killing by joining the military. This is no surprise, as they are heeding a violent gospel preached with a national flag as backdrop. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in war so that peace may increase?” (Rom. 6:1). Of course not! Jesus Himself taught us differently when He said, “Put your gun back into its place; for all those who take up a gun shall perish by the gun.” (Matt. 26:52). Can you imagine what the Church and its history would look like if those who claim to follow Christ actually lived like Him?
The story that sums up Jesus’ political dealings occurs when Jesus was confronted by the religious leaders and they asked Him, “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” This is not only a political but a religious question, since Caesar considered himself a god. In other words, they are asking, “Should we pledge allegiance to the Roman god or not?” If Jesus said “Yes,” He would be a traitor to the Jews and God, and if He said “No,” He would get in trouble with Rome.
Jesus asked them for a denarius. “Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” He asked them. “Caesar,” they replied. Tiberius image, the Roman Emperor during Jesus’ crucifixion, was on the coin along with the inscription, “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus, High Priest.” (Perhaps they are in danger of falling into idolatry, since they are carrying Caesar’s image in their pockets.) “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” Jesus said. Another way of saying this is “Give to Caesar what is made in the image of Caesar. Give to God what is made in God’s image.”
Many Christians live in the hypocrisy Jesus is exposing. To ask questions about how much violence we can use, which wars are justifiable, how much nationalism contradicts Christian belief, is to edge toward idolatry. It is as if the Jews were asking Jesus, “How much of this idolatrous metal can we carry around without breaking the Law?” As Greg Boyd says, “Since it all bears Caesar’s image, give it all back to him! The only important question we ought to be wrestling with is whether or not we are giving back to God all that bears his image—namely, our whole self.”
Jesus did not compromise. He did not say, “Let’s vote for Tiberius and hope for the best. Let’s Make Israel Great Again.” Like the prophets of old (who were killed for their words), Jesus exposed idolatry without compromise. His life was a witness to God’s Kingdom and in direct opposition to worldly kingdoms – an opposition for which he was killed. As Christians, participating in the world’s violent ways, in any shape or form, is to conform to the world which killed him. It is to exchange our vocation as God’s image-bearers for the world’s image. It is to give to Caesar what is God’s.
 Giles, Keith,. Jesus Untangled (p. 13). Quoir. Kindle Edition.
 Bruxy Cavey, The end of religion: encountering the subversive spirituality of Jesus (Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2020).
 Roland H. Bainton; Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace. A Historical Survey and Critical Re-Evaluation. p. 222
 I am aware Paul and Jesus did not use these exact words, I am updating them to drive the point home. Nobody goes to war with swords anymore.
 Giles, Keith,. Jesus Untangled (p. 14). Quoir. Kindle Edition