Today it was announced that you and the government you lead will be sending New Zealand citizens into Iraq to train military to fight against ISIS. This announcement brings a deep sadness to me because I know there is a better way.
I am not debating the abhorrent nature of the actions of ISIS, or pointing out how deeply we have fallen into bed with America and what "the price of the club" could really cost everyday New Zealanders, and not even whether or not training troops for combat is technically New Zealand being involved in war or not.
What I want to talk about is how the world (and New Zealand now by implication) has responded to ISIS, in particular since the brutal killing of 21 Coptic Christians earlier this month.
As the video emerged, and was verified as being authentic, the cry of Egypt broke as it painfully responded to the atrocities with bombings. The response of Egypt, as expected, was swift and violent; violence was responded to with more violence, death with death, threats with threats. Likewise the voice of the West has been swift in its condemnation of what it saw.
Now I understand this response. I cannot imagine the pain of watching fellow countrymen being beheaded. I know that the deep pain of the families and extended families watching loved ones be publicly murdered must be an unbearable pain.
An eye for an eye?
But I wonder if responding with war is what these 21 followers of Christ would have advocated for? I wonder if a life for a life, brother for brother, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, is how these men would have advocated for the response to their deaths?
Revelation contains both a prophetic and poetic account of the response of the Church to evil and Christ's final defeat of evil through the blood of the Lamb. Revelation chapter 21, verse 11 says, "They triumphed over him [Evil] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death."
I believe this is the story that those martyrs were stepping into. They did not believe their lives were being taken by these men, but they did not love their lives so much as to shrink away from death, but that through the power of their testimony and the blood of Jesus they were triumphing over evil.
Now don't hear me wrong here, John. I am not saying these men would have advocated for no response – for the world to look away, dreaming about a better future, while at present so many suffered in silence.
I am not saying the West should have kept away like Pontius Pilate, disagreeing with what was happening but washing our hands clean of any liability. What I am advocating for is a response like Jesus.
What would Jesus' response have been?
I believe the answer is found within his most famous sermon, when Jesus sat on the top of a mountain and laid out his ethical code. His code or agenda is unlike any that has existed before him because it called for a radical change in behaviour that stems from a radical change of heart.
In Matthew chapter 5, verse 38 Jesus says: "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also."
When this verse was written, the Jewish people were under Roman oppression and were often beaten and disgraced by the Roman soldiers. Here Jesus implies a backhand or left-handed strike usually reserved for those of lower social standing; a slave, child or woman. This emphasises the shameful nature of the strike as opposed to the physical pain inflicted.
Jesus then explicitly condemns paying back evil with evil saying, "But I tell you, do not resist an evil person". He condemns hitting back, which, as N.T Wright says "keeps evil in circulation", but instead turns evil around.
Jesus then says "turn the other cheek also", telling his followers to step up and offer the oppressor to strike again on the other cheek, with a closed fist, as an equal.
The response of Jesus is a radical step in non-violent peace-making. If we are to follow the teachings of Jesus in this case, our response must not involve violence. Jesus calls for radical examples of non-violent peace-making in the midst of an evil and often violent world.
Sarah Thompson, a well-known Christian peacemaker, asks a question which I will now ask of you John:
What would the world look like if instead of spending money on violence and war, the same amount of money was invested into alternative ways of peace-making?
What would the conflict in the Middle East look like if instead of investing billions of dollars in weapons in war the same amount was spent on weapons of love and peace?
I know what Jesus Christ would have advocated for.
I plead for you to reconsider. Please do not send men and women to add fire to an already burning conflict in my name. I ask you to reflect briefly on the words of Jesus:
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Tim Shallard a co-director of Mosaic Workshop a shared creative space in central Auckland. He also works in a café, studies theology at Carey Baptist College, runs a poetry collective. His passions include coffee, community, and people living the dream.
Tim Shallard's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/tim-shallard.html