Category Archives: Nonviolence

Nonviolence is Much More Effective than Violence

We live in a violent world. The war in Ukraine is killing thousands and causes huge waves of refugees, economic instability and food shortages. The war in Syria is still going on, and the conflicts in Yemen, Afghanistan and South Sudan no longer even make headlines. During most of the last decade, the world has become less peaceful.

In response to such violence, many people think that the solution is more violence. Conventional wisdom tells us that we need to arm ourselves so we become stronger and deadlier than the “bad guys”.

Christian pacifists, who just like most Christians for the first 300 years believe that Jesus’ words about loving our enemies and turning the other cheek mean that we should not use violence, are often accused of being naive. Some have even claimed that Christian pacifism is evil! While abstaining from violence sounds loving in theory, many argue that the practical consequences of such a stance is catastrophic with countless innocent people killed as the “good guys” refused to harm or kill those who were after civilian blood.

War and violence are thus portrayed as a necessary evil, a last resort that we unfortunately have to use to stop authoritarian, mass-killing regimes.

All this is intuition. It’s what seems reasonable. But when researchers started to compare violent resistance to nonviolent resistance, they were in for a chock.

It turns out that nonviolence is at least twice as effective.

I encountered this research when I was part of a program in peace and conflict studies at Uppsala University. The findings is a real game-changer, making scholars from all around the world rethinking the need and use for military violence in the modern era.

Erica Chenoweth

An influential study by conflict researchers Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan from 2012 showed that nonviolent movements are twice as effective as violent movements in achieving their goals. They expanded upon this research in the book Why Civil Resistance Works. They collected data from over 300 protest movements between 1900 and 2016. 53 % of the nonviolent movements managed to achieve their goal, usually a change of regime, within a year, compared with 26% of the violent movements.

Of the 25 largest movements they studied, 20 were nonviolent, and 14 of them achieved their goals. Most astonishingly, if the nonviolent movements included at least 3.5% of the population, they always succeeded in meeting their goal. Always. Chenoweth calls this the “3.5 rule”.

This study was groundbreaking, as no one had compared the results of violent and nonviolent methods in such a comprehensive way before. In 2018, Chenoweth published a new study together with Evan Perkoski that examined how well nonviolence compared to violence counteracted mass killing, when regimes kill 1000 people or more. They found that nonviolent movements were five times more effective at avoiding this than violent movements.

What are the reasons for the effectiveness of nonviolence? Chenoweth points to several factors. Nonviolence is generally cheaper and can easily recruit many more, there is greater variety of nonviolent methods than violent methods, it is psychologically more difficult for loyalists to harm or kill nonviolent trainees than armed rebels, and it is easier for loyalists to change sides and unite with nonviolent protests and nonviolent sabotage.

Chenoweth’s work has made a significant impact on peace and conflict research in general. Even non-pacifists like James Pattison and Ed Cairns have gained greater respect for non-violent methods and warned against resorting to violence too quickly. Cairns wrote:

I’ve never believed that pacifism is an adequate answer to a world of atrocities that – in truly exceptional cases – call out for an armed response. But there’s an awful lot of evidence for caution – and reason to give peace a chance.

Note that Chenoweth’s research does not say that nonviolence leads to guaranteed success. Rather, nonviolence is more likely to succeed than violence. Even in countries where nonviolent campaigns have failed, people have been ten times more likely to move to democracy within a five-year period than if they protested with violence.

Even if you can not guarantee that non-violence will succeed, you can also not guarantee that violence will succeed. The “necessary” in violence as “necessary evil” is difficult to prove scientifically.

This is great news! Loving enemies, like Jesus commanded us to, is actually more beneficial than killing them. Such love does not have to be at the expense of protecting the innocent. The question now is if the leaders of the world will take this research seriously and spend time and money developing nonviolent defense systems rather than military ones?

Micael Grenholm is a Swedish theologian, author, and editor for PCPJ.

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Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!

Putin Refers to Biblical Love as He Continues to Bomb Children

On a war rally in a Moscow stadium last Friday, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin said that his “special military operation” in Ukraine, which he refuses to call a war, reminded him of the words of Jesus in John 15:13: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Alisa Perebyinis, killed at the age of 9 by Vladimir Putin

This is just a few days after a pregnant woman who was damaged by Russian bombing in the occupied city of Mariupol died along with her unborn baby. Ukrainian authorities claim that over 100 children have died in the war as of yet, and although the numbers are difficult to verify at this point there is no doubt that Putin has killed children in this conflict.

One of them was named Alisa Perebyinis. She was nine years old, and her father found out that she had died along with his wife and 18-year old son on Twitter.

To kill children in a pointless, unlawful and unrighteous war is despicable in and of itself. But Putin goes even further than that, claiming that his sinful acts are an expression of Biblical love.

He quoted someone who never used violence against anyone and who taught us to love our enemies, Jesus Christ, in order to justify slaughtering innocent people – many of which are Christians!

Putin is of course far from the only politician who has religious rhetoric in order to motivate people to war. George W. Bush claimed that God told him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq and called the war on terrorism a “crusade“.

Israel’s former corrupt prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu constantly refers to biblical texts when justifying Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and its warfare against Palestinians.

Even the Nazis during World War Two quoted passages like Romans 13 in order to make people submit to Hitler.

Jesus warned that there would be false prophets who claim to follow him but refuse to do his will (Matthew 7:21). He said that there would be those who persecute Christians who actually think that they serve God (John 16:2).

Whether Putin is deluded enough to actually think that he is loving people as he bombs children is impossible to know. Perhaps he hates God and just uses religious language to gain support.

In either case, the Bible makes it clear that all those who take the Lord’s name in vain to justify their own evil actions will stand accountable before him on the last day. God will restore all those who fell victim to injustice, and invite us to an eternal life with him without any wars, lies or oppression.

All thanks to the one who truly gave his life because of his love for us: Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

Here’s how you can donate to help the victims of war in Ukraine.

Micael Grenholm is a Swedish pastor, author, and editor for PCPJ.

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Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!

Most Swedish Pentecostals Used to be Pacifists… But Their Eschatology Was Extremely Violent

“War is not the will of God, this we know.”

– Folke Thorell, Evangelii Härold, 1967.

“God will let the satanic rearmament of nuclear weapons and biological warfare strike the godless themselves in forms of plagues that will exterminate large portions of humanity.”

– Folke Thorell, Evangelii Härold, 1968.

Pentecostals were the largest religious group among conscientious objectors in Sweden between 1967 and 1971, a time characterized by passionate debates on the ethics of war in the shadows of Vietnam and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In my master’s thesis on church history, I aimed to review and analyze how the Pentecostal periodicals Evangelii Härold and Dagen described and ethically motivated military violence and pacifism during this period.

The purpose was to identify potential motivations for pacifism and/or military support during a time when a large number of Pentecostals refused to bear arms, with a particular interest in how these motivations related to ethical evaluation on contemporary wars.

Swedish Pentecostals at a revival meeting in the 1960’s. The informal leader of the movement, Lewi Pethrus, can be seen to the right.

The findings were fascinating. Pacifism and conscientious objection were regularly promoted and seldom criticized, while most contemporary military violence was condemned with one glaring exception: Israeli warfare.

Folke Thorell, quoted above, thought that God principally is against war, but allows them to fulfill his eschatological plans and even engages himself in warfare. He envisioned two-thirds of all Jews to die in a future third world war involving nuclear bombs, a genocide so brutal it would make the Holocaust seem “minuscule” in comparison.

A Bible Study in Evangelii Härold titled “A Nuclear Physicist Interprets Revelation”, illustrated by a nuclear missile being fired from a submarine.

Unlike the American war effort in Vietnam, Israel’s wars were commonly viewed as eschatologically significant and biblically predicted holy wars, with several writers suggesting that God himself has waged and will wage war on Israel’s behalf. Pacifism was primarily motivated by obedience to the Bible rather than empathy, fitting with Lisa Cahill’s theory of obediential pacifism being distinct from empathic pacifism in the Christian tradition.

Support for Israeli warfare was also derived from biblical interpretation, primarily based on Old Testament texts. It was further motivated by ideas of Jewish suffering and death being part of God’s plan, with several Pentecostal writers speculating that an apocalyptic genocide would precede the second coming of Christ.

Many Pentecostals did not see this as standing in conflict with personal pacifism and conscientious objection, as both views were perceived as biblical.

Future research could further explore the relationship between Pentecostal eschatology and empathy, along with how mid-century Pentecostal Zionism might have been influenced by antisemitic ideas from the 1930’s.

Download the thesis here!

Micael Grenholm is a Swedish pastor, author, and editor for PCPJ.

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Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!

“Kill them all, and let God sort them out” – Why Evangelicals’ Reaction to 9/11 Went so Wrong

20 years ago, Al Qaida killed 3,000 civilians through terror and fire. That was a horrifying, indefensible act of violence.

In response, the USA started two wars that have killed 70,000 civilians in Afghanistan and 200,000 (!) in Iraq. Thousands of them were children.

That was also a horrifying, indefensible act of violence.

Shane Claiborne is an activist and theologian who had wise things to say concerning the violent aftermath of 9/11. From his book The Irresistible Revolution (2nd edition, pp. 185-187):

When Kingdoms Collide

Shortly after September 11th, I traveled to speak to a large congregation in the Midwest. (And no, it wasn’t Willow Creek.) Before I got up to preach, a military color guard presented the US flagat the altar. The choir filed in one-by-one, dressed in red white, and blue, with the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” playing in the background. I knew I was in big trouble. The congregation pledged allegiance to the flag, and I wished it were all a dream. It wasn’t. I got up to speak, thankful I was standing behind a large podium lest anyone try to pelt me with a pew Bible. I went forward to preach the truth in love with my knees knocking and managed to make it out okay with a bunch of hugs and a few feisty letters.

This is a dramatic (though painfully true) illustration of the messy collision of Christianity and patriotism that has rippled across our land. I thought this was an exceptional and dramatic example, but l’ve had same zingers since this. I spoke at a military academy where they had a full-on procession of military vehicles and weaponry. They fired cannons and saluted the flag, and then I got up to speak. I felt compelled to speak on the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control), the things Scripture says God is like and we should hope to be more like.

I talked about how the fruit of the Spirit take training and discipline and are not always cultivated by the culture around us. Afterward, one young soldier came up to me, nearly in tears, and told me that as he heard the list of the fruit of the Spirit, it became clear to him that these were not the things he was being trained to become. We prayed together, and I think of him often. I know that young man is not alone.

I saw a banner hanging next to city hall in downtown Philadelphia that read, “Kill them all, and let God sort them out.” A bumper sticker read, “God will judge evildoers, We just have to get them to him.” I saw a T-shirt on a sold’ that said, “US Air Force … we don’t die; we just go to hell to regroup.” Others were less dramatic-red, white, and blue billboards saying, “God bless our troops.” “God bless America” became a marketing strategy. One store hung an ad in their window that said, “God bless America–$1 burgers.”

Patriotism was everywhere, including in our altars and church buildings. In the aftermath of September 11th, most Christian bookstores had a section with books on the event, calendars, devotionals, buttons, all decorated in the colors of America, draped in stars and stripes, and sprinkled with golden eagles.

This burst of nationalism reveals the deep longing we all have for community, a natural thirst for intimacy that liberals and progressive Christians would have done much better to acknowledge. September 11th shattered the self-sufficient, autonomous individual, and we saw a country of broken fragile people who longed for community–for people to cry with, be angry with, to suffer with. People did not want to be alone in their sorrow, rage, and fear.

But what happened after September 11th broke my heart. Conservative Christians rallied around the drums of war. Liberal Christians took to the streets … Many Christians missed the opportunity to validate both the horror of September 11th and outrage at war as a response to September 11th.

In the aftermath of September 11th, many congregations missed the chance to bear witness of God’s concern for the victims of the attack and God’s concern for the victims of the imminent war. Many of us hunkered down into familiar camps rather than finding a more creative way of standing with all who suffer. Many of the antiwar activists would do well to visit the memorial in NYC. And many of the war hawks would do well to visit the Ameriyah shelter in West Baghdad. Every life lost is reason for grief and outrage.

The cross was smothered by the flag and trampled under the feet of angry protesters. The church community was lost, so the many hungry seekers found community in the civic religion of American patriotism. People were hurting and crying out for healing, for salvation in the best sense of the word, as in the salve with which you dress a wound.

A people longing for a savior placed their faith in the fragile hands of human logic and military strength, which have always let us down. They have always fallen short of the glory of God.

Shane Claiborne is a Red Letter Christian and a founding partner of The Simple Way community, a radical faith community that lives among and serves the homeless in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. He is the co-author, with Chris Haw, of Jesus for President. His newest book is Executing Grace: Why It is Time to Put the Death Penalty to Death.

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Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!

Will Jesus Wage a Literal War According to Revelation?

By Greg Boyd, originally published on his blog ReKnew.

In an interview several years ago for Relevant Magazine, Mark Driscoll (well known pastor of Mars Hill in Seattle) said,

“In Revelation, Jesus is a pride-fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is the guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.” (You can find the original interview here).

I frankly have trouble understanding how a follower of Jesus could find himself unable to worship a guy he could “beat up” when he already crucified him. I also fail to see what is so worshipful about someone carrying a sword with “a commitment make someone bleed.”  But this aside, I’m not at all surprised Driscoll believes the book of Revelation portrays Jesus as a “pride fighter.”  This violent picture of Jesus, rooted in a literalistic interpretation of Revelation, is very common among conservative Christians, made especially popular by the remarkably violent Left Behind series.

The most unfortunate aspect of this misreading, as Driscoll’s comment graphically reveals, is that the “pride fighter” portrait of Jesus easily subverts the Jesus of the Gospels who out of love chooses to die for enemies rather than use his power against them and who commands his followers to do the same (see e.g. Mt 5:43-45Lk 6:27-36). In fact, if you read these passages carefully you’ll notice that Jesus makes loving enemies and refusing all violence the prerequisite  for being considered a child of God! Loving enemies like Jesus commands (and like the rest of the NT teaches, e.g. Rom. 12: 1417-211 Pet 2:21-23) requires that we crucify our fallen impulse to resort to violence, while the model of Jesus as a “pride fighter” with a “commitment to make someone bleed” allows us to indulge it. If we can dismiss the peace-loving Jesus as a “hippie, diaper, halo Christ,” then we’re free to wish and even inflict vengeance on our enemies all we like — and feel righteous about it!

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How Jesus Challenged Nationalism

By Greg Boyd, originally published on his blog ReKnew.

Nationalism lies at the heart of the Old Testament narrative. This concept is intimately wrapped up with the law-oriented covenant God made with the Israelites at Mount Sinai, for at the heart of this covenant is the promise that obedience would bring national security while disobedience would bring national disaster (Deut. 27-28).

What we shall now see is that the nation-centered portrait of God in the OT is also a mask that our humble, incarnational God condescended to wear. This correlates with the Principle of Cruciform Accommodation that I introduce in Crucifixion of the Warrior God.

To grasp the nature of this concept, we first need to appreciate how intense Jewish nationalism had become around the time of Christ. Jews had been oppressively ruled by pagan nations for centuries and was at this time lorded over by the Romans. The longing to see Israel restored to the “glory days” of King David was at a fever pitch. Many believed this restoration would happen when an anointed descendent of David would lead Israel in a violent uprising to overthrow their pagan oppressors.

This was not only a yearning for political autonomy; it was, much more importantly, a yearning for theodicy. The fact that God’s chosen nation was being ruled by pagans in their own Promised Land was for many an assault on the distinctive Jewish claim that Yahweh was the one true God and the Lord of all the earth.

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The Lasting Impact of Night Raids

This article is cross-posted from Churches for Middle East Peace.

It’s midnight. There’s a knock on the door. You yell that you are coming to open it in hopes that the soldiers don’t blow it open. Moments later, dozens of soldiers invade your house. Your children wake to masked soldiers with guns pointed directly at them, yelling in a language your children don’t understand. They force your family into one room and tear your house apart without explanation. This is the reality that many families have faced across the West Bank.

Night raids are one of the most devastating acts of the Israeli military occupation in the West Bank. The violent raids occur between midnight and 5 AM, often without the families getting an explanation. According to the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, 1,360 night raids are executed every year, the majority within 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) of a settlement or near roads that settlers frequent. 

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Stop Treating the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Like a Sports Event

Once again, the Holy Land has been struck by war.

I feel compelled to write something that I wish nobody should have to write, something that should be obvious to everyone but which for some ill-conceived reason can be controversial to state in certain contexts:

War is awful.

Hamas firing on and killing the Israeli civilian population is awful.

The counterattacks by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) killing Palestinian civilians are awful.

War has no winners, there is no one to “cheer” on as if it were a sports event, there is no victory in war that does not come at the price of hating, tormenting and killing your fellow human beings.

Take a look at these pictures.

The upper image shows an apartment in Israel that was hit by one of Hamas’ rockets a few weeks ago. Five-year-old Ido Avigal, pictured to the right, lived in that apartment. He died immediately.

The picture below shows a girl being rescued by medical personnel after an Israeli attack in Gaza. The attack destroyed nine buildings and killed 43 people, including eight children.

In total, 68 children have been killed in the Holy Land these last couple of weeks. 66 of them were Palestinian.

All of this is awful. It’s sickening.

Continue reading Stop Treating the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Like a Sports Event

The Two Walls of Israel

(a thought, and a prayer, by Ramone Romero)

If only…

I was thinking

If only all the prayers in that wall

The Western Wall

Were put into the West Bank Barrier instead

If only all those prayers

At the ruins of the temple

Were put into the lives of people

Who live among ruins

In the West Bank

In Gaza

Whose homes and lives

Have been left in ruins

If only

If only the wishes that the temple still stood

Were put into seeing the temples of people

Who are standing next door

If only their temples could be rebuilt

In lives

As living stones

If only the temples where we seek God

Were the temples of our neighbors

If only we saw

That the holy temple of God

Is people

Is one another

And our prayers were changed

Into a desire to see them blessed

If only our devotion to religion

Was a devotion to one another

To loving our neighbor

Instead of putting walls between us

If only

Think of what a holy place it could be

When our neighbor is as sacred to us

As the holiest temple of God

If only

I thought, and I pray, in hope

“If only.”

Pentecostal Leaders Call on Church to Address Sexual Violence

Following the 2021 Society for Pentecostal Studies Annual Meeting, Pentecostal leaders released a statement calling on the global Pentecostal movement to denounce all forms of sexual violence, reclaim faith communities as safe places of healing, and hold perpetrators accountable. Titled Pentecostal Sisters Too, the statement references and borrows its name from the #MeToo movement. At the SPS’s 2018 meeting, in response to the hashtag #pentecostalsisterstoo, survivors, both men and women, shared their own stories of sexual abuse.

The theme of the 2021 meeting was This Is My Body: Addressing Global Violence Against Women, a topic that could not be more timely. The past two weeks have seen the exit of Beth Moore from the Southern Baptist Convention (in part due to her vocal support of sexual abuse survivors), the murder of Sarah Everard, and the murder of eight people at massage parlors in the United States—including six Asian women. The man who killed these women blamed his actions on a “sex addiction,” claiming that he committed murder to prevent temptation. An active church member, the shooter expressed “extreme self-loathing, guilt and public confession” after visiting massage parlors. He expressed his fear of “falling out of God’s grace.” In response, a statement from his home church says it will remove him from membership, since it “can no longer no longer affirm that he is truly a regenerate believer in Jesus Christ.”

Continue reading Pentecostal Leaders Call on Church to Address Sexual Violence