*The following post is written by my friend Sgt. Dean Meadows (USMCR). Dean served several years in the Marine Corps, but after coming to Christ and wrestling with what the Bible says about violence, he became a zealous advocate for nonviolence. Here’s his story.
What is a former Marine doing writing about non-violence? I know it may seem strange or maybe even a little radical. For most Christians I talk to these days, it is. But my question is why? Why is Christian non-violence a “radical” idea? I passionately believe it shouldn’t be, yet it is a teaching, which is widely neglected from our pulpits on Sunday mornings. I also believe the reason why most Christians in America don’t
embrace Christian non-violence is their allegiances are mixed between State and Savior. However, as I unpack my journey, I hope we will all revisit scripture and what it says about violence.
“The Few. The Proud. The Marines.” No other branch of the military attracted me like the Marine Corps. The idea of changing myself into a valiant warrior to serve my country was something I had always thought about growing up. However, that all changed on 9/11. As I watched the Twin Towers crumble to the ground in science class, shock, anger, and revenge permeated my body. No longer was joining the Marine Corps a thought; it was my mission. I was determined to fight America’s enemies. Thus, I signed up to do a six-year reserve contract with the plan of going to college and becoming an officer in the Marine Corps. At that point, I was determined to “kill em’ all and let Allah sort them out.”
On March 19, 2006 I found myself in Fallujah, Iraq doing convoy security. I essentially saw just about every part (or at least it seemed that way) of the Al-Anbar Province. I rode to the Syrian boarder, Jordanian boarder, and even passed through Saddam Hessian’s hometown of Tikrit. During that time (when I wasn’t exactly practicing my faith) I rediscovered Jesus. Here I thought the 120 degree temperature, sand, grit, long days, and short rests would forge me into a new person; yet, it was in the midst of the longest eight months of my life, I discovered God had already changed me—from sinner to saint.
As I returned home, I focused more on my relationship with God and took on the role of youth intern for the Piedmont church of Christ in 2007. I found myself teaching classes, preaching, and trying to answer questions I had never considered, coming from teens. It is here where my journey to non-violence really begins.
I had my first encounter with a gentleman who, at the time, I believed to be crazy, and perhaps the biggest loon I’d ever come across. His name was Justin Bronson Barringer. I met him during week six of Carolina Bible Camp. As we talked that week there were many things we had in common; he loved to camp, Duke basketball, and enjoyed substantive Bible conversations. However, we were diametrically opposed on the issue of violence. Justin believed that Jesus taught a non-violent gospel and I didn’t. Leaving those conversations I simply chalked everything up to Justin being crazy and me being right. But something about those conversations made me go back and look at the words of Jesus. After much proof texting and focusing on what Jesus didn’t say, I found myself to be “right.”
Even after two years of Bible College and four years in ministry, I still ignored and suppressed the words of Jesus regarding violence. I would read statements like, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” or “He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword,” and they made me uncomfortable. After all, there are bad people in the world who wanted to hurt America and it was ok if Christians (especially if they’re Marines) serve out the pain, torture, and death. There was just one problem: I wasn’t being honest with the text or myself. It gnawed and gnawed at my conscience, “Am I being honest with the text?” So I began to think harder about Christianity and non-violence.
During this period of intense study I picked up Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence by Preston Sprinkle. As I navigated the book with lawyer-like precision, I looked for holes in the book. The first hole was with Preston himself, not because of anything he had done to me personally, but because he was challenging my view on Old Testament violence. The Marine in me thought, “Who is this guy? Who is this softy, tree hugging, anti-American, communist, Francis Chan look alike, telling me, even in the Old Testament God restricted Israel when it came to war?” So I went back and looked at the passages mentioned in his book, and came to the conclusion: the text of scripture was correct. God actually did restrict Israel mightily in regards to war. At the end of the book and studying the passages mentioned by Preston, I couldn’t relent anymore. It was time to submit my will to God’s will.
I noticed in Acts there are at least 13 instances where Christians are persecuted. The most famous of all is the persecution in Acts 8 by Saul of Tarsus. What was the Church’s reaction? Did they rise up and fight? Did they send in the F-16’s? Surely, they didn’t “take that lying down!” They “went about preaching the word (Acts 8:4).” That was their mighty weapon against persecution…the preaching of Jesus the Christ. They didn’t use violence, but preached the peace of Jesus.
I’m convinced the church in America can look like the church of the first century. But in order for this to be accomplished, in part, the church must give up the sword wielding allegiance to the state which so many embrace. If we are serious about Jesus, we should be serious about non-violence. The world is violent and brutal; Jesus has called us out of the world, to be different, to be light in a dark world where we are merely sojourners.