Does belief in God cause violence? A surprising number of people think so. Here’s a short video from Square One Media (featuring Steve) addressing that question.
Why should we pray for the Police? This is not an abstract question. For the second year in a row, my city’s Police Service have asked for 52 congregations to pray for them. Each congregation signs up for a week and has assigned prayers for each day. The idea is that every day of the year there are intentional intercessors praying for the Police, the communities they serve in, and the city at large.
So why should we participate? And why should we participate with an abundance of glad enthusiasm? I’ll offer four thoughts:
We were asked to pray. Praying for the police is not an idea cooked up by religious leaders of our city. Chief Devon Clunis has put out the request himself. A Christian man himself, and one who sees faith and work necessarily related, he has risked ridicule and criticism in order to put out this plea. He says he believes in prayer. He also says he believes in action. He is wise enough to know that to pray does not mean to abscond from other ways of participating. But prayer is key. Prayer empowers work and it is in itself a work. According to Chief Clunis, Winnipeg has had a 14% drop in crime overall. But there is more to do. So we’ve been asked. If we had a friend who made themselves vulnerable enough to ask for our prayers, we’d be remiss if we didn’t. Our Police Chief has asked us.
We’ve been commanded to pray. As Christians, we are commanded to honour and respect our civic leaders. Both the Apostles Peter and Paul make this abundantly clear. The New Testament also commands us to pray for all people, specially mentioned are those in a position to affect the civic life of others. This means more than just the police certainly not less than them. So this is not new. To pray for those in authority, those who make concrete difference in our public life, is to by extension pray for the good of everyone. We are praying for the good of our entire city when we pray for Winnipeg Police. A command like this is general but we in this city have been given a specific call to obey it. Christians can often forget about the wider world around us. We can fall into the trap of praying only for our own concerns or maybe even our own lives. We have to listen to God’s commands to cast our vision further than our own problems and situations.
There is great need for prayer. Every large city has its issues. Our city has its problems and recently attention has been given to this. There is poverty, crime, violence, distrust between communities and the list goes on. We don’t need to have all the answers in order to ask God to heal, bless, and restore Winnipeg. Chief Clunis has made clear that he believes in crime reduction through community development. When specific prayer requests are given to the churches from the Police Service, much of them are along the lines of prayer for troubled communities and the root causes of crime. There is also the need to pray for police officers themselves. They put themselves in danger often and need safety. Police are also sinners and far from perfect. There is need for greater justice in how they police this city. There is great need for prayer.
This is why we’re here. Winnipeg is a city with troubles. Winnipeg is also a city with things going for it. It is a difficult place to live for some. We should want it to become a better place to live for all. There is no better parallel then when Jeremiah wrote instructions to God’s People while they were in exile in Babylon. Living in troubled times, on the margins of their culture, they were tempted to withdraw into their own religious bubble. Perhaps they felt tempted to throw their hands up and see the world around them in a “hell-in-a-handbasket” way. No! said God through Jeremiah. They were to get involved, make their lives there, and work to the betterment of all their neighbours. Seek the welfare of the city, they were told, which meant working for the prosperity, safety, and flourishing of the wider community. And pray to the LORD on its behalf they were commanded (hear this echoing in Peter & Paul?). As God’s People in Winnipeg in 2015, we are to participate and pray as well. The city (through the Police Chief’s leadership) is even asking us to. Why should we pray for the Police? Because they are an instrument of God for social betterment. Why should we pray for the communities served by them? Because we are a part of those communities. Why should we pray for the Police and the good of the entire city? Because, like the Babylonian Exiles, we have been placed by God here in Winnipeg for HIs purposes. It is the reason we’re here.
Above is a submachine gun with the French words – Ceci n’est pas une religion. It’s a play on Magritte’s famous The Treachery of Images – but that is an art history lesson for another day.
The image (which I wish I could cite the artists for) is undoubtably circulated as comment on recent attacks in Paris by extremists. It is meant to sever the link between an ideal of religion and violence in the name of that religion. But is it true? Does violence really have nothing to do with religion?
I think we are deceiving ourselves if we say it doesn’t. Religion can fuel violence. Whether it is a primary cause of violence is another matter. We can not, however, say that it has nothing to do with violence. Religious people have caused violence. Sometimes, their religion serves as an inspiration for their violence even if it is not the only one.
As a Christian it would be silly for me to say one belief system has a monopoly on violent acts. But what I can say, humbly but confidently, is that Christian faith makes no room for violence in the name of God.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written,“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Romans 12:9
Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 1 Peter 3:9
True Christianity, does not, can not endorse violence in the name of itself. Other religions may, however, and it is folly to assert that they don’t. History is filled with religious violence. History is filled with religious violence wearing a Christian gloss.
This is not to say there is not place for defensive violence. Christianity has a rich history of pacifism – of which I am not a part. There may be, and I would argue that there is, a place for Christians to serve the common good by being a police officer, let’s say. But one does not need to be a strict pacifist to hold to the truth that authentic, apostolic, Jesus Christianity leaves no room for retaliation, vengeance, aggression, or defence of our God’s honour.
But it is possible that many religions do. We must be even more careful then, to flee from false religion and embrace the Gospel.