In 1974 the movie Death Wish, starring Charles Bronson, was released to theaters. It wasn’t a great movie, but it did get a lot of attention. The premise is that a liberally minded architect becomes a ruthless vigilante after his wife is murdered and his daughter left in a catatonic state by muggers. Bronson’s character sets out to randomly murder muggers in an orgy of violence. The movie was considered controversial at the time because of the violence and random killing that the movie presents as justified or even righteous.
Death Wish has been remade this year starring Bruce Willis. This time around the reviews seem to be saying, “Ho hum, just another Bruce Willis shoot-em-up.” The difference between these two reactions reveals the shift in our cultural narrative. Redemptive violence, such as that glorified by these films, has been normalized, accepted, and turned into a value.
This lie of redemptive violence is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus. From the earliest days, followers of Jesus rejected violence as a value. In the year 295, Maximilian of Thavaste, the son of a Roman soldier, was required to join the army at the age of twenty-one but he refused, testifying in court, “I cannot enlist for I am a Christian. I cannot serve, I cannot do evil.” Because of this witness to the Gospel, he was beheaded.
We can resist the lie of redemptive violence. We can embrace the non-violent, peaceful way of Jesus and then share that value with others. In fact, this may be the most important thing we have to offer to our families and our society today. We won’t end gun violence without changing the fearful mindset that believes we must defend ourselves in this cycle of violence our country is suffering.
As Christians we, like Maximilian of Thavaste, must refuse to participate in the cycle of violence. This can be as simple as sharing a kind word instead of a sharp rebuke or letting another car merge in front of you, even when it seems like your turn. Or, it can be as profound as offering forgiveness.