Violence in Pop Culture – III
As I continue to reflect on the ethical challenges presented by the ubiquity of violence in pop culture, I have found Richard Hays a helpful exegetical and theological guide. Hays book The Moral Vision of the New Testament is top shelf applied biblical theology for Christian Ethics. He comments: “From Matthew to Revelation we find a consistent witness against violence and a calling to the community to follow the example of Jesus in accepting suffering rather than inflicting it.” Hays addresses texts that are often proof-texted for support of violence or war. I will mention a few below and then make some comments.
Matthew 10:34; Luke 12:51 -“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” A surface reading of this text would support Christian violence; however, a closer reading reveals that Jesus means quite the opposite. The word “sword” is a metaphor for division, which is actually the word Luke uses, omitting “sword” from Jesus’ saying altogether. In speaking with his disciples about the kingdom of God, Jesus explains the reason for an age of swords: “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law…” Jesus is not saying take up arms against your family if they don’t believe as you do! Rather, he is trying to prepare the disciples for the suffering they will undergo for following Christ. Far from being proponents of violence, the disciples are to be those who suffer violence for the cause of Christ: “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Far from advocating violence, Jesus promotes peace and promises suffering for all who follow him!
Luke 22:36ff – “He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.” It would appear that Jesus wants the disciples to arm up and get ready for battle. To which the disciples readily pull out two swords, brandishing them with childish glow. Jesus ambiguoulsy responds: “It is enough.” How are we to understand this passage? Is Jesus glad to see two swords instead of one? Shortly thereafter, Jesus is arrested and Peter cuts off the ear of the high priest’s slave, an apparently well-approved action. But Jesus rebukes Peter: “No more of this!” And then heals the slave’s ear. Literal armed violence is clearly not supported by Jesus. Jesus is clearly employing warfare imagery to make a spiritual point: “Prepare yourselves for battle because your enemies will try to put you to death.” But the harm and death his disciples befall is part of the cost of discipleship, something they don’t get until after the cross, until after Jesus offers peace and love to his captors and killers. Only then do they get it. The cross rearranges thier discipleship to include suffering and dismiss violence for the sake of the gospel.
As these texts show, Jesus advocates spiritual not physical war. Violence is something Christians are to dismiss or suffer, not advocate or initiate. In short, we are to love our enemies. How then should we apply these insights to violence in pop culture? Three suggestions:
- Consider whether or not your participation in “pop violence” stirs up feelings of anger or love, violence or peace? When you walk away from the show, movie, or game are you spurred to love, serve, and suffer in the name of Jesus?
- Ask yourself if your discipleship needs to be rearranged by the values of the gospel of Christ, to be someone who embraces suffering not someone who advocates violence, virtual or otherwise. Does your participation in this media encourage suffering in following Jesus?
- Open up a similar dialog with your fellow Christians, push the boundaries of accepted violence through irenic, Jesus-centered dialog.