Is violence against innocents in the name of faith ever justified?
Violent tendencies signal absence of God
The Rev. David Livingston, associate pastor, First United Methodist Church, 946 Vt.:
Since the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, the voices of faith most commonly heard are of those of radicals. There is always a danger in religious radicalism that the issues most important to the radical replace the God that the radical claims to worship. This appears to be the case in Islamic fundamentalism, where hatred toward the West has become more important than any other teaching. However, radicalism is not unique to Islam.
In my own faith, some Christian churches appear to have placed an issue at the center of their faith (e.g. homosexuality, abortion or inclusivity at any cost) rather than God. In most cases this happens when a good idea (e.g. morality, sanctity of life or hospitality) is taken too far. Historically, every heresy (a violation of theology so severe that a person ceases to be considered a Christian) has happened just that way.
Any person of faith who advocates for violence against an innocent person has allowed something other than God to take center stage in his or her faith.
The difficult question is not whether violence against innocents is ever justified, but whether violence against any person is ever justified. Christianity teaches that we are all created by God and therefore are people of sacred worth.
Unfortunately, Christianity has a rich tradition of violence. The Crusades may be the best known example. But Christianity has an equally rich history of pacifism, from the teachings of several early church leaders to more recent leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. Important debate has and should continue to occur about the place of Christians and other people of faith in war. The question of whether there ever is a "just" war is important to resolve in our own minds. But the question of whether violence against an innocent is ever justified should always carry an immediate answer: "No!"
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Faith does not justify hideous deeds
The Rev. Dan Nicholson, pastor, Lawrence Christian Center, 416 Lincoln:
I believe that violence against innocents is a sin.
Jesus was very clear on this in Matthew 18:6-7: "But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a milestone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offenses! For it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh!"
I believe God will severely judge those who commit acts of violence against innocents, whether they are acts of terror, acts of war or acts of sexual molestation.
In our world today, many would use their faith to try and justify their hideous deeds. But their acts of violence serve only to reveal what is truly in their hearts. Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and be kind to those who disagree with us and forgive those who offend us. Violence is simply one means of people attempting to force their views upon others, or one group trying to control another by aggression.
Sometimes war is unavoidable, but acts of violence against innocents are never justified. The world is full of hatred, poverty, intolerance and untold heartache because some believe that violence is their only recourse. As Christians, we must continue to fervently pray that the hearts of all mankind would be sensitive to the needs of others and work together for a more peaceful world in which to raise our children and live in harmony.
But I know that only God can change a human heart. I encourage you, the reader, to do all that you can through your faith and prayers and selfless acts of kindness to help create a world where violence is no longer an alternative.
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