When confronted with problems, the United States has a history of bold ideas, of path-finding people, of those willing to suffer for the sake of their children. We are “can-do” folks — and this July 4, it’s time to start another revolution.
Historians tell us that more human beings were killed by other human beings in the 20th century than in all the proceeding centuries combined. The 21st century has not changed course. Financial instability across the world paired with nationalistic and religious zealotry have given anxious men reason to kill their neighbors in gruesome, expanding patterns.
Though our country has been part of the problem, our nation has an opportunity to lead and call the use of violence in our world what it is: impotent, cyclical and foolish. In celebrating the holiday this year, those of good faith ought to commit themselves to a new course. Let’s declare our independence from the demonstrably feeble methods of violence.
Globally, we have the resources to change how wars are fought. Hundreds of billions of dollars spent on drones and bullets continues to inflame our conflicts — but when we aggressively provide shelter to refugees, when we fight malnutrition and global debt, we assault the anger that exists toward the West. American medical and educational aid continues to be the best defense we can buy. Our military does fantastic work in creating spheres of stability for the oppressed, and we should use our physical force, not to kill aggressors, but to calm them.
Locally, we have a profound heritage to elevate. The United States is a land of immigrants whose identity is summed up by our national motto: E Pluribus Unum, “Out of the many, one.” If we live up to this motto, courageously embracing and cherishing those of other faiths in our community, we will showcase a better way to those globally and to our children. We can adopt those with different heritages as our brothers and sisters, and defend them when the misguided want to throw them out.
Personally, insisting on nonviolence requires profound courage. As a Christian, God invites me to reject the knee-jerk ways of both the tyrant and the coward and to instead embrace my identity as a child of God, clothed with Christ, dwelled within by God’s spirit.
Those in my tradition have often affirmed nonviolence as the way of freedom. An early Christian named Paul wrote that those who “confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in their hearts that God has raised him from the dead will be saved.” Often this is understood as a future hope — but Paul knew this salvation was offered now. Faith in Jesus saves me from the tyranny of fear, from my need to tear others apart, from my thirst to be proven right or superior. And the Lordship of Jesus saves me from the temptation to kill my enemies instead of obediently loving them through the power of God’s spirit, who alone can transform them.
Should we all be pacifists? Should we roll over every time someone attacks us? Are we to simply kneel to aggressors? Clearly not. Christians are to follow Jesus who aggressively targeted the toxin of sin in those who crucified him. Jesus gave his blood, not to crush his enemies, but to free them and make them alive.
Jesus knew that employing violence is ultimately suicidal (“those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”) As such, Jesus taught his followers to turn the other cheek, thereby exhibiting defiance and insisting on non-escalation. As a Christian, I know that though my enemy may strike me, I have the power of the living God within. I know Jesus is Lord. As such, I need not run nor retaliate. I may stand, risen in Christ and defeat the sin within my enemy with love.
America has much it can learn from Jesus. Our world has suffered for too long from its addiction to retaliatory violence and, whatever our tradition, July 4th can be a time to declare independence from this failed method.
The last 15 years has again shown us that seeking to destroy our enemies is ineffective. In the coming years, let’s insist on creativity — on re-humanizing, aggressive, nonviolent tactics, on loving those who are different than us because it is a better way to be human.
It’s a better way to be an American.
Jeff Cook teaches philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado and pastors Atlas Church in Greeley. He affirms non-violence but still enjoys watching Gladiator and is an avid boxing fan. You can connect with him on twitter @jeffvcook.