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As Syria chaos deepens, we must beware of fruit that falls from the tree of redemptive violence

  • Author: Matt Schultz
  • Updated: June 29, 2016
  • Published November 17, 2015

Multiple U.S. governors have said they will not welcome Syrian refugees in their states. Many of these same governors have made vocal statements, and even campaign centerpieces, of their Christian faith. In turning away the refugees, they are turning away from the essential commandment of the Bible to love our neighbor, to care for those in need, to do justice and to love mercy. They have forsaken these in favor of a contradictory teaching: The Myth of Redemptive Violence.

The Myth of Redemptive Violence tells us that violence saves, and if we defeat our enemies in battle, then peace will follow. 'War Brings Peace:' It seems simple enough, but history shows us that it is not true. The bloodshed in Paris was perpetrated by ISIS. They grew from the violence of the war on terror, waged against our enemy al Qaida, which itself grew out of the violence of our Cold War, which grew out of the violence of World War II. World War II came as a natural outgrowth of the violence of World War I, which was the result of the same thinking: decades of violent imperialism and entangling alliances grown out of generations of violence and retaliation, tracing back to before many of the nations involved even existed as nations. Millions murdering millions, each time thinking they had finished the conflict, and that through their violence, they had been redeemed. They were wrong. We all were.

In the midst of it all, the refugee endures one conflict, only to be transformed into the enemy in the next. The orphan of the innocent bystander in one war becomes an easy recruit for the next.

This is the fruit born of the Myth of Redemptive Violence. It lies to us, offering false promises that if we kill enough people or drop enough bombs, we will create peace. But while wars may sometimes be necessary, they will never bring peace. We cannot force a country into friendship. We cannot bomb a nation into allegiance. Military force is often necessary, and can stop immediate danger, but in doing so it increases the likelihood of the next conflict, unless we intentionally interrupt the cycle. Peace cannot be claimed as a spoil of war. It can only be built.

Fortunately, this building of peace is within our reach. After World War II, there was a lot of success with the Marshall plan, which sought to rebuild our former enemies, rather than to punish them. This built long-term allies. After the fall of apartheid, then-President Nelson Mandela created peace by eschewing violence, and instead moving toward truth and reconciliation. Today, Malala Yousafzai responds to the violence inflicted on her with a true effort of peace-building, saying, "'I don't want revenge on the Taliban, I want education for sons and daughters of the Taliban."

We don't need to succumb to the Myth of Redemptive Violence. We can instead follow Marshall, Mandela, and Malala by having the courage to accept the refugees. Violent radicals of any ideology want the same thing: The drawing of rigid battle lines, and the provocation of war. If we turn the refugees away, we give the extremists those battle lines. If we turn the refugees away, we give the refugees more reason to come together against us. Perhaps more importantly, if we turn the refugees away, we then become the very sort of extremists that value ideology over humanity. We will have become the enemy.

Our enemy is not religion. Our enemy is not limited to ISIS, and it is not limited to terrorism. Our enemy is the ongoing cycle of violent extremism. This cycle cannot be defeated by adding more extremism. It can only be defeated by exemplifying the love, mercy, and justice the offending governors claim to believe.

The Rev. Matthew Schultz is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Anchorage.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)