Greg Boyd on “What if Violence is Necessary to Protect a Loved One?”

This is a tough one.

I went to a Mennonite high school in southern Manitoba.  In our grade 12 Mennonite studies class we talked about non-violence and pacifism.  At the time, I really didn’t care about anything related to school none-the-less faith, but I still remember this class.  In the midst of an over my head conversation, a student asked a pointed but hypothetical question to the teacher about using violence to protect his (the teachers) family.

The response.

“No.  I would not use violence.”

Here I am a 12+ years later wondering the same question myself.

I find that it is one of those questions that is hard to take seriously because it just seems too surreal that something so terrifying could happen.  I like to think that I am fully on board the Anabaptist, shalom, non-violent resistance train… but this kind of question seems like it changes the ball game.  Therefore, it is important.

Below is a video of Greg Boyd.  He navigates the complexity of the question well, while offering important and practical substance.  Particularly the last 30 seconds or so.  Check out his video.  It’s 4 minutes, and totally worth it.

Do you think Greg Boyd dances around the question?  Ask yourself the hypothetical question;  If necessary, would you use violence to protect a loved one? 


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  2. Robert Martin · March 12, 2013

    I think he makes the important distinction that “do not resist” does not mean do nothing… I can protect my family without “stooping to their level”.

    He doesn’t give a “this is the answer” which, in the fading modernity, rubs people the wrong way… but I think his answer is good… that when it comes to protecting our families, that resorting to violence is the cultural default and tends to over-ride the creative ways to protect the family that doesn’t “require” violence.

    • Robert Martin · March 12, 2013

      Let me add:

      I am FAR from perfect. And I think Greg has also said that it is very easy to stand back and say “I won’t do so-and-so” when we’ve never experienced things. Would I use violence to protect my family? I don’t know… I’m not in that situation so until I am, I cannot predict my actions.

      But if I “train” myself by practicing loving my enemy in the little things… perhaps it may be easier when I come up against the big things.

      • Chris Lenshyn · March 12, 2013

        For me that was the most helpful part of this engagement. Loving enemies as habit, and having it transform us through and through so that we act in love during those moments when violence is presented as a viable, or seemingly the only response.

        If it was my brother or friend coming in to do bad things, I would like to think that I would use other means to subdue the situation…

  3. Justin Hiebert · March 12, 2013

    These are good words are relate strongly to what is being discussed in my context now and our wider church family. Too many people assume that pacifist is to be passive. It isn’t. Instead it is about the creative transformation of violence into peace in the name of Jesus.

    • Chris Lenshyn · March 13, 2013

      Yes. Some even explore with vigor the distinction between non-violent resistance and pacifism for that very reason!

  4. Thrift Shopper for Peace · March 12, 2013

    i also love that distinction between being pacifist and being passive. i am an active peacemaker. it’s also interesting to come to this discussion as a woman, because, frankly, in the ‘intruder’ situation he describes, i would not likely be coming to that situation from a place of strength. i also do not have a gun (and wouldn’t use one if it was present because fire arms freak me out) and if said intruder was a man, bigger than me, i’d HAVE to use alternative means of diffusing a violent situation. i actually think more about situations where i was being attacked – what if i’m walking in a park and a rapist grabs me? would i use violence to defend myself or let myself be raped? (or is that a redundant question give that i don’t carry a weapon with me ever so what kind of violence could i inflict on someone given that i’m 5’4″ and not particularly strong?) that actually feels like a harder question to answer than the scenario Greg presents. how do you respond in love to someone who is intent on doing you intimate violence? i hope i’d find a way to talk/care/bring hope to that kind of situation too.
    tony campolo addressed this question too and answered it in much the same way – we have to find ways to change the world so that violence does not happen in the first place and when it does, we have to act out of a place of love not hatred.
    having said all that, i hope i never have to put these particular convictions into practice.

    • Chris Lenshyn · March 13, 2013

      I love your perspective on this. Thanks for sharing!!!

  5. Jan Fourowls · June 2, 2014

    Thank you for this thoughtful piece about peace. I’m really happy to see your analysis of a point that matters greatly to our lives as followers of Jesus.
    I’ve enjoyed greatly so much of Greg Boyd’s preaching journey as conveyed online, yet in the area of eschewing self-defense I find the ends of his thoughts to be unwittingly dangerous to the body of Christ, especially women and children too often unprotected by male violence of a fallen world under their own roofs. Jesus welcomed the little children, exemplars of how we best enter God’s reign. How can it possibly make sense on the gospel as a whole not to protect the children (and ourselves) from oppressive evil when it comes at us directly in a physically dangerous manner? I see no warrant for Jesus to be used as a standard bearer of neo-masochism. His was the cross. His was calvary. I am not God, I am not Jesus, and for me to eschew self-defense or defense of children would falsely elevate my ego (Edging God Out) to a belief that I can or should do what Jesus did by His unique divine love of being crucified for all of us.
    Here’s a practical example. Years ago I entered my home later after an unusually late evening’s work and after my husband had forgotten to lock the side door, only to find a huge male intruder secreted on the floor, coming up at me. At the other side of the house were my sleeping daughter and husband. Connecting instantaneously to God in silent prayer, in covenantal relationship with Jesus, the guidance was to put my car keys between the fingers, brandish my fist and yell angrily (in character with Jesus, overturning tables in the temple) that the intruder get the hell out. Terrified (and I’m not any weightlifter or imposing physical presence) the very large man raced away and out of the house with a “Lady, I’m getting out of here.”
    To slap the right cheek would mean (with right-handedness predominant), as Jesus talked about it, giving somebody the back of the hand, a major insult in that culture. Bible commentary I’ve seen identifies “turn the other cheek” as reflecting the Christian wisdom of not responding in turn to being shamed in a culturally prevalent mode of slapping, literally. If Jesus had meant for us not to defend ourselves or our children from threat of death by a violent intruder, He could easily have said: “If somebody enters your house and threatens your life, lay down your life for them.” Instead, He spoke of binding the strongman, He spoke of laying down our lives for Jesus, not evildoers.
    Even Jesus verbally objected to being struck in the face unjustly. See John 18: 23.
    I love the Bible. And yet I love Jesus much more. “Because He first loved me,” as the children’s Sunday School song states.
    Christianity may one day be liberated from those who rely more on their own interpretations by the “book” than on their ongoing living experience of knowing Jesus and being guided directly by His character through the Holy Spirit. None of us ever do this perfectly. But we really are meant to be a priesthood of believers and not blindly to follow what anyone, even the brilliant, erudite, well-educated Greg Boyd, says about Jesus or being a Christian. See 1 John 2:27. We are not Jesus Christ. Only He is. When we start believing we can actually be 100% like the crucified and resurrected Christ (according to our own limited human interpretations of the book while living in this fallen world), we start putting ourselves where only Jesus as our God belongs in the unfolding space and time of every surprising minute of our lives in Him.

  6. Pingback: Greg Boyd on “What if Violence is Necessary to Protect a Loved One?” | MennoNerds

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