When Christians accuse other religious traditions of being violent we conveniently overlook our own long history of violence. We dare not forget the violence and oppression that many experienced from so-called Christian people through the centuries. It includes my own Anabaptist spiritual ancestors who were brutally tortured and killed by other Christians.
When the Anabaptist leader Michael Sattler was put on trial for his faith in Rotenburg, Germany in 1527, one of the charges brought against him was that he “had taken the side of the Muslim Turks who were the greatest enemies of the holy Christian faith.” He responded to that charge with these words, “As to me saying that if waging war were proper I would rather take the field against the so-called Christians who persecute, take captive, and kill true Christians, than against the Turks, this was for the following reason: the Turk is a genuine Turk who knows nothing of the Christian faith” (The Legacy of Michael Sattler, 72).
Several days later, Sattler was found guilty, brutally tortured by having his tongue cut out, branded with hot irons, and dragged through the streets behind a cart. He was then burned at the stake. One could hardly device more violent torture. And this atrocity was committed by people who thought they were pious Christians. One caveat we need to add is that Sattler appears to have been unaware of longstanding Muslim Turk resources for peace that also too often were not honored or followed in this historic struggle.
This is becoming grim but there’s one more troubling thing I need to bring to our attention before looking to the example of Jesus in my next blog post. Our Bible includes horrific examples of genocide carried out in the name of God. The Christian lectionary rightly skips over these passages but an unfortunate result is that we tend to forget that these things are actually in our Bible.
We love the inspiring story of Moses delivering the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt but there’s a much uglier part to this story that we ignore or tell in ways that cover up the atrocities involved. These former slaves themselves become horrific oppressors. The conquest of Canaan by the Israelites, as it’s depicted in the Bible, was nothing less than genocide.
In Deuteronomy 7:1-2 they’re instructed, “When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations . . . seven nations more numerous and mightier than yourselves, and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.”
All the human suffering, displacement, and death that we see in the Middle East today hardly sinks to the level of totally annihilating whole nations in the name of God as depicted in Deuteronomy. As a people of peace, how do we respond to such violence in our own history and in our Bible? Jesus gives us an example of how to do that.