Battered Jesus: Violence doesn’t redeem, it betrays

The Passion of the Christ, the violent movie about the last days of Jesus by filmmaker Mel Gibson, is now a Holy Week “classic.” It plays over and over on cable.  Day after day, and night after night, Jesus can be viewed beaten to a bloody pulp and dying in agony, ‘for your sins.’

The Beaten, Crucified Jesus of the Passion of the Christ

This glorification of violence is a betrayal of everything Jesus of Nazareth lived and died for.

The kind of conservative Christianity represented in this film glorifies violence as God’s way of “saving” us. This theology makes God into a batterer, and Jesus into the battered.

Battered woman

My friend and co-author for Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside, Mary Potter Engel, called this theology, as applied to battered women, the “Just Battering” tradition, mirroring the justification of the violence in war.  Augustine did believe that war could be justified as punishment for the sin of the enemy.

For its first three centuries, however, Christianity was pacifist and salvation was the way we grew in grace; Jesus became like us so we could become like him.   Christians refused to serve the “divine Caesar” and his military might, preferring to die before betraying the person and work of Jesus.

But after the “Peace” of Constantine, Christianity is tempted by power and falls for it.  The “Holy Roman Empire” is born.  Violence becomes punishment for sin, and obedience to tyrannical authority becomes the route to salvation.

 Violence doesn’t save, it is sin.

Salvation is the Jesus program of feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, making peace instead of war, and we eat and drink together in just communities of sharing and equality.

“When did we see you hungry, Lord?” Matthew 25:37

About Susan Thistlethwaite

I am President Emerita and Professor Emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary; I write for the public here and in local papers. I am interested in what I call "public theology," or how deeper meaning is made and contested in the public square.
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2 Responses to Battered Jesus: Violence doesn’t redeem, it betrays

  1. “The kind of conservative Christianity represented in this film glorifies violence as God’s way of “saving” us. This theology makes God into a batterer, and Jesus into the battered.”

    Very well put, Prof. Thistlethwaite. I’ve had a hard time understanding why the violence in Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” took such a front seat to everything else in that movie. Throughout the film, I kept thinking, “How much worse can it get?”, and then it did.

    Now, I understand that Jesus suffered greatly from the beating and mutilation of the crucifixion, and I am not trying to discount what happened, however, the sprayed blood and the chunks of skin flying into the camera definitely put the focus on the sensationalism of the violence and not on the message of Christ’s Passion.

    I have only watched this film once, and I can tell you that once, was definitely enough.

    JB Richards, Author

    To learn more about the “Yeshua and Miri Novel Series” and the upcoming publication of “Miriamne the Magdala”, the first book in this series, please click on the above link to my Author’s Page.

  2. bkswrites says:

    Thank you so much, Susan, for saying this so clearly and succinctly. This is the great sin of Christendom.

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