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Was Jesus’ silence violence?

Was Jesus’ silence violence?

Courtesy of Robin Schumacher

If I really want to make myself ill, I imagine Jesus being alive today and think about how he’d be treated during this time of intense personal viciousness and social media insanity.

As it is now, I can barely stand reading the parts in Jesus’ biographies that chronicle how He was hounded, maligned, used and abused, conspired against, falsely accused, and murdered — and that’s just in His small geographic locale in the first century where things spread on foot and by personal word of mouth.

But today? The social media smear machines (especially most cable news networks), Twitter mobs, and the other venomous groups of our cancel culture that literally live to slander and ruin lives would make what we read in the gospels look like kid-gloves treatment.  

Given the recent “Silence is Violence” media push, I wonder what our current crop of social justice warriors would say about Jesus’ perceived silence in the gospels on the wrongs they passionately decry today?   

The violence that silences

Let me first say there certainly is something to be said for making your voice heard when you see wrongs committed. The American essayist Henry David Thoreau once spent a night in jail because he refused to pay six years of a delinquent poll tax at a time when America was involved in the Mexican war and slavery was still practiced. Ralph Waldo Emerson is said to have visited Thoreau in jail and asked, “Henry, what are you doing in there?” Thoreau replied, “Waldo, the question is what are you doing out there?”[1]

However, we’re seeing a markedly different and hostile cultural spirit at work today that refuses to let you choose when and what to speak out against. Now we have totalitarian mob-driven crusades that forcefully compel anyone and everyone to say and do things exactly as they prescribe them. Failure to comply results in immediate and ugly consequences.

Their tactics include suppression of free speech and violent intolerance to any viewpoint that is contrary to their own. Colleges and universities, seemingly devoid of all adult supervision and authority, were the first to block Christian and conservatives from speaking on their campus because the anxiety-ridden student body mob labeled it hate speech. In those and current cases, "silence is compliance."

But as novelist George R.R. Martin put it, “When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”[2]

Graduates of those institutions now hold positions in corporate America where they utilize the same tactics to prevent opinions they don’t care for from seeing the light of day. Columnist Liz Peek challenges the prevailing notion that these individuals are meek and frail when she says, “These are the same students who adore gory video games and profanity-laced music. They are the same students who hurl obscenities and insults at professors who cross them. They are not fragile, they are intolerant.”[3]     

Not only must you agree with them, but you must use the exact terms they choose for you to express yourself. Just ask talk show host Ellen DeGeneres who didn’t word her first black lives matters tweet the way the Twitter mob thought she should, and thus she was publicly excoriated for it.[4]

And now we have the Silence is Violence mindset where failure to add your voice to a particular protest equates to you siding with the enemy and being guilty of whatever charges the protest throws at you. I can only imagine what this spirit would do with Jesus’ supposed silence on first-century evils:

“Jesus silent on Roman oppression of Jewish people; He must agree with it! #freeallnow”

“Women’s inequalities mean nothing to Jesus; won’t speak up. #womenarehumanstoo”

“Jesus endorses slavery with his silence. #endslaverynow”

Better to change the law or the lawbreaker?

So why didn’t Jesus (and the disciples later on) wage public crusades against the evils of slavery, the discrimination of women, and Rome’s brutality against the Jewish people? Was His silence violence?

Not at all. His strategy was a far more effective one than publicly speaking out against the injustices of the first century and bringing down the immediate wrath of the strong-arm government.

Jesus was well aware of the evil that exists in all human beings (cf. Matt. 7:9-11, John 2:24) and how it manifests in the moral wrongdoings we see every day. He also knew that simply telling bad people to do good is an exercise in futility because, “the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so. A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (Rom. 8:6-8; 1 Cor. 2:14).

Left on our own, Jesus knew we only live out the works of our fallen nature which are listed in Gal. 5:19-21. But once a person is born again, they’re now equipped with the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), able to break free of their personal evil and instead love God and their neighbor as themselves.

Railing publicly against society’s evils and demanding governmental and personal change from people who can no more change their nature than “a leopard its spots. Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil” (Jer. 13:23), wasn’t Jesus’ plan. Not speaking publicly about many of the injustices of His day was certainly not violence.

He knew that when you change people from the inside out, pretty soon the wrongs that exist in that culture are eradicated in de facto fashion as those people live out their faith. That being true, the most important thing we can do to fight injustice and change the world as Christians is to go beyond just speaking out against evils like abortion, human trafficking, etc., and follow the same strategy as Jesus.

Nothing beats the power of the gospel.


[1] https://bookhaven.stanford.edu/tag/ralph-waldo-emerson/

[2] https://tinyurl.com/ybt8lgwb

[3] https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/intolerance-threatens-us-cancel-culture-blame-liz-peek

[4] https://www.insider.com/ellen-degeneres-twitter-backlash-black-lives-matter-2020-6

Robin Schumacher is a former software executive and Christian apologist who has written many apologetic articles, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at various apologetic events. He holds a Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament.

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