July 11, 2002
Palubicki's post on Palestinian nonviolent resistance asks the fundamental question, Why hasn't a Palestinian Jesus/Gandhi/MLK arisen there? The answer turns out that such figures have; they just aren't heard.
I am nearing the end of a summer reading group with former students. Together we are reading Witness: Systematic Theology vol. 3 by a former teacher of mine, James Wm. McClendon, Jr. It is a complex, rich, subtle, mature theology of culture that navigates the conversations between the peoples of God (for example, churches) and their cultural contexts. One of Jim's metaphors for this conversation is Jesus' parable of the sower (Mark 4:2-9), in which the Word is sown on four kinds of soil, each of which responds and interacts with the good news in different ways.
This strikes me as a very helpful picture for gospel/culture and church/world questions such as the (non-)existence of Christian nonviolent resistance in Palestine, or the high incidence of AIDS in Christian Africa, or Christian American patriotism. The good news does not work identically in every one of its cultural contexts and this is not Jesus' fault. The Kingdom of God is dialogical, as the discerning reader of Jesus' parables will soon discover. It invites us into peace with God; but neither our readiness to respond, nor our capacity for transformation, nor its effect on the forms of life we bring with us is constant.
This gospel is not a spell from Harry Potter. While its power is guaranteed, its results aren't.
Read the book. Its argument is diffuse, but it is a tremendous achievement that can bring clarity to the tasks of Jesus' witnesses.
Before I get too busy doing other things especially moving to take a new position at Azusa Pacific University I will try to tie up a few loose ends in the pacifism debate.
Until then, Beers Across America (formerly Sgt. Stryker) very thoughtfully takes up the topic of Palestinian nonviolent resistance. Read it, and read the comments.
Somehow I think Paul Palubicki and Stanley Hauerwas could reach an understanding. They certainly share some of the same vocabulary.
In the spirit of that post, here is a passage from Luke's "Sermon on the Plain" (Luke 6 NRSV), a discourse parallel but not identical to Matthew's "Sermon on the Mount":
"I say to you that listen [often in this passage, 'you' is plural], Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.I would love to hear defenses of Christian militarism interpret these passages without introducing their fundamental point with the words "but," "however," "yet," or "nevertheless." These are Jesus' words to his disciples. Do we heed them, or do we not?
"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
"Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."
Jesus apparently expects objections, for he continues:
He also told them this parable: "Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye."Those who refuse to follow the example of rabbi Jesus are blind, and their advice only misleads.
"No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks."One of Hauerwas' fundamental (and perennially unpopular) points throughout his career is that Christian violence, however justified, still produces anger rather than love; vengeance rather than forgiveness, habits of vice rather than habits of virtue. Even a victory won by justly exercised violence is not an occasion for celebration, but for mourning, for the community has had to sacrifice its character. It has emptied its heart of the abundance of love on which powerful Christian witness depends.
The following passage seems to anticipate (or remember?) disciples' unwillingness truly to follow Jesus' teaching:
"Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house."A community ordered by habits of Christian love will withstand anything, for its strength is the strength of one whose love conquered sin and death. A community ordered otherwise will find in its times of emergency that its security was an illusion.
In addressing his disciples, Luke's Jesus divides his audience into two camps: Those who hear and do, and those who hear and don't. Occasionally in the responses I have seen during this discussion, I have sensed uneasiness that maybe the nation's sense of righteousness after 9/11 is distorting our disciples' vision, choking love with indignation, nurturing the evil treasure in our hearts, and causing us to hesitate before we do what our 'Lord' told us to do. But only occasionally. This is dangerous not because the American cause is wrong, but because the American cause is right (cf. Luke 6:32-36).
"Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. ... For the measure you give will be the measure you get back." The first person we see responding to this teaching is a righteous, God-fearing centurion (Luke 7:4-5) who is as convinced of his unworthiness (7:6-7) as he is confident of Jesus' divine authority (7:7-8). Do these lines scare you as much as they rattled that soldier? They sure scare me, because I desperately want America to win this war.
July 7, 2002
Porphyrogenitus the mystery man (I'm learning a few things he's not Eastern Orthodox), has an avalanche of material in response to my arguments for Christian pacifism. The volume has kept me from responding until now, but it is good reading.
A few points:
1. I am not much of a student of Melchite, Jacobite, and Coptic Christianity under Islamic rule. However, one of my concerns with the political theologies of all apostolic churches in this period is that they had absorbed Constantinianism and were still constitutionally committed to it even when it remained a political impossibility. The Copts are not Mennonites, but Constantinians on the back benches. Like the Byzantines during the Iconoclastic era or the Syrians under the Umayyads, they would have been happy to take back the reins of power should they get the opportunity.
Islam arises and meets a context where imperial politics, national identity, ecclesiology, and the sword are inseparable. Says Kallistos Ware,
After [the third Council of Constantinople of] 681 there was no further attempt within the Byzantine Empire to dilute or modify the 'two nature' teaching of Chalcedon. The reason was in part political: the newly-established power of Islam, in the decade following the death of the Prophet in 632, had seized the non-Chalcedonian centres of Syria and Egypt, which lay henceforward outside the limits of Byzantine rule. The diplomatic motive which had led the emperors to search for a doctrinal compromise now existed no longer."Porphy" is right that Copts had resisted the Chalcedonian Byzantines; and they found dhimmitude at the caliph's lower rates of taxation more agreeable than bitter persecution and reparation under Byzantine rule (Marshall G.S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam, 1.203). Muslim conquerors, who lived in garrison towns and tended to leave the Copts alone at least at first were less of a threat.
But were the emperors in fact so very wrong to look for a compromise? Perhaps the theological differences between Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians were never insuperable. Severus of Antioch and Maximus the Confessor, while using different terminologies, were substantially agreed on matters of fundamental doctrine. A solution might well have been found but for the presence of non-theological factors. ... By the end of the sixth century, the division between 'Chalcedonians' and 'non-Chalcedonians' was reinforced by increasing tension between the central authorities at Constantinople and the centrifrugal forces of Egyptian and Syrian nationalism. Part of the reason why the native Christians of Egypt and Syria rejected Chalcedon with such fierceness was that in their eyes the council constituted the symbol of a foreign Greek domination which they bitterly resented ("Christian Theology in the East 600-1453," in Hubert Cunliffe-Jones, ed., A History of Christian Doctrine, 189).
This is a far cry from my thought-experiment in which "pacifism, rather than Constantinianism, had ruled the day in the eastern empire at the time of Muhammad." The Christian east would not have been reaping the bitter harvest of three centuries of politically driven Christology. But it still supports Porphy's point that pacifism wouldn't have beaten back the Arabs.
Of course, waging a just war in which Christians participated probably wouldn't have beaten back the Arabs either. So then was the Christian community supposed to drop the Christian pretense and just fight as dirty a war as necessary to save itself? I'd love to hear a Christian warrior articulate just how much of the Church's soul it should sell in order to survive.
Incidentally, while Ware ends the 'Christological' era of the Eastern Church with the Sixth Ecumenical Council, I think an equally appropriate ending would have been the Second Council of Nicea in 787, in which Chalcedonian Christology triumphed in its application to the question of images of Christ and the saints. Studites like Theodore argued that Iconoclasts were arguing on the basis of inadequately Chalcedonian Christologies. So the Seventh Ecumenical Council is more Christological than it might at first appear. (It is also, of course, thoroughly Constantinian all seven ecumenical councils were called by Roman emperors and empresses.)
2. Porphy interprets my language in a direction I wouldn't want to take it. This isn't his fault; the terms I used were ambiguous and perhaps even misleading:
Telford speaks of a ministry of justice that interferes, apparently, with a Christian ministry of reconciliation. What about other activities ministries, if you will that are, at best, disinterested to both reconciliation and justice like farming?Good catch. Here I am relying on common connotations of "justice" and "reconciliation," but these reproduce distortions of the terms that make my case harder to make. Reconciliation is a restoration of justice to unjust relationships. Justice is right relations among persons. I am speaking of a "ministry of justice by the sword" that interferes with a Christian "ministry of justice by forgiveness." There the antinomy should be more apparent.
Furthermore, in the presentation I cited as part of that post, I myself offer farming as a practice that does not interfere with or contradict Christian ministry. Its practice is perfectly compatible with "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" and the call to baptismal entrance into the community of forgiveness. There are many other such occupations, especially in commerce (Paul was a tent-maker). In fact, even civil service is compatible so long as it does not stifle the fruit of the Spirit and the call to forgive unconditionally. Porphy is right on: "What I suppose will be critical here is not whether they can participate in civil authority and justice-seeking, but the form their behavior must take in such pursuits." As well as the outcomes of that behavior in the character of the confessing community from which that behavior is supposed to arise and in whose context it becomes intelligible.
3. I'm uneasy with resting Luther's "two kingdoms" in Christ's two wills. For Christian public theology, the decisive duality is Church and world, not human and divine. Jesus' humanity and divinity concur personally. To regard one as merely "temporal" and the other merely "spiritual" would divide the natures, positing one sphere where only one will would be involved.
Finally, just an overall comment. It's great to see someone really engaging this issue theologically. I wish I had time to respond to everything here. The fact that I don't doesn't mean that it's not worth a response.
I wanted to know how an individual Christian can justify a pacifist response to acts not directed against him personally. If some evil is perpetrated upon Christopher Johnson, my response to it must be as Christ commands. But if some evil is perpetrated upon Telford Work, then the response is up to Telford Work. I cannot march in to the situation and decide what Telford Work's response should be.You not only can, you should.
If some evil is perpetrated on a first-century Roman Christian, Paul feels not just free but obligated to march in to the situation and decide that the Roman Christian's response must be to "repay evil with good" (Rom. 12) and leave the sword's justice to civil authorities. Telford Work, as a fellow believer, also feels obligated to repeat prophetic words that the Church has always considered directed not merely at first-century Roman Christians, but to all disciples in the one holy catholic Church. Individualists might take exception to all this interference but then biblical Christianity is not individualistic, is it?
Time to catch up with the objections that have been accumulating.
Larry Anderson, a writer to the Midwest Conservative Journal, thinks I'm stuck and stuck up:
Telwork has put himself into a logical corner with his idea that a Christian can allow others to physically fight evil in a "just" war. That may work in a dictatorship or other authoritarian system, but Thoreau in his essay "On The Duty Of Civil Disobedience" took away that option for citizens of a democracy. In a democracy, we all are responsible and liable for what the government does. Thus a soldier providing ammunition, food, shelter or medical support to fighting soldiers is as responsible as they for any violence that may occur. Also, the civilian who produced the food, ammunition or shelter is as responsible.That sounds like an excellent argument for Al-Qaeda to use when it wants to justify piloting airplanes into skyscrapers.
In fact, why would democracies be uniquely liable to this analysis? In an authoritarian community, members still contribute taxes, goods, and so on to the authorities' causes. Why are they not held responsible just because they don't vote? The franchise is only one means of exercising political power. There is economic power, cultural power, rhetorical power.... So I suppose Thoreau cuts both ways. He could help America make the moral case for carpet-bombing towns whose leaders give shelter and support to Al-Qaeda. After all, those so-called "noncombatants" are equally responsible.
It seems to me that Telford Work's postition requires Christians to totally withdraw from society except for evangelism since anything you may do to further the goals of that society may contribute to the government's ability to levy violence.If citizenship (democratic or not) really is collective totalitarianism, then the choice does seem clear: "Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues" (Rev. 18:4). But then we face the question of why Christians were in Babylon (i.e., Nero's or Diocletian's Rome) in the first place, and why they remained there during seventeen chapters of horror.
This is a way of asking whether Mr. Anderson's account of political responsibility adequately describes the life of the actual biblical Church. It doesn't. Paul does not recoil in horror at Christians who buy meat sacrificed to idols, helping with their money to fund an idolatrous system. Jesus does not have his disciples withdraw even to avoid paying taxes that prop up Herod and Pilate. This is not because they are slaves to oppression or accomplishes to oppression, but because in his sonship they are free from oppression.
Mr. Anderson's reasoning would have Jesus and his followers be Essenes, hidden away while they wait for God to restore the purity of Israel. But as John Howard Yoder brilliantly shows in his essay "The Original Revolution," the Way of Jesus Christ is a political alternative to Essene isolationism, as well as Sadduccee establishmentarianism, Pharisee spiritualism, and Zealot activism.
The first task for people thinking theologically is to be faithful to the lives and teachings of Jesus and his disciples. Theorizing that can't explain Christ or the Church has gone wrong. The way to think like a Christian is not to spin abstractions after the fashion of nineteenth century transcendentalists. It is to look at how God's biblical people live and see what they do, for their witness shows us what it means to be faithul.
Here it might help to appeal to Ludwig Wittgenstein, philosopher of language, in Philosophical Investigations paragraph 66 (emphasis added):
Consider for example the proceedings we call "games". I mean board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games, and so on. What is common to them all? Don't say, "There must be something common, or they would not be called 'games'" but look and see whether there is anything common to all. For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that. To repeat: don't think, but look!A lot of theology would be a whole lot better if Christians looked and saw more and 'thought' less. (And yes, I stand under that judgment too.)
There are those who do remove themselves from society and I respect them, but Telford Work seems to be wanting to participate in society while looking down his nose at those who protect and defend it.There it is again: I am allegedly looking down my nose at those who take part in unclean things. If only it were true, then opponents could write off Christian pacifism as snobbery, or cowardice, or elitism. Let me repeat myself: Christians should not take part in the world's battles not because we are better than anyone else, for we are not, but because God has given only us the commission to bring the peace of Christ to the whole earth by offering forgiveness, not judgment, for sin.
If talk of the Church's monopoly on the gospel seems snobby or elitist, then be assured, all are invited.
July 4, 2002
The topic of "dhimmitude" came up in one of the posts below. This is the passivization of subjugated Christians and Jews under Muslim rule. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that Muslim countries are tolerant of religious minorities, the history of Christian and Jewish subjugation is not unlike the status of Jews in medieval, early modern, and twentieth century Europe. For those who want to know more about the history and theology of dhimmitude, check out the website of Bat Ye'or. It has plenty of startling and depressing reading to brighten your Fourth of July.
Studying Islamic history in my doctoral program often gave me a feeling of helplessness. Here was a culture that militarily triumphed over the eastern Roman empire, built some of the most impressive empires in world history, and gradually subdued and extinguished the Christian witness in its land with some of the most effective approaches to persecution ever devised. What could possibly change things?
For the last several centuries, it is the Muslim world that feels increasingly helpless. Even as oil money gushes into the Arab world, Islamic and especially Arab civilizations stagnate culturally, politically, and economically. I think there is a connection.
Christian anti-Judaism, then modern anti-Semitism, were more than shocking injustices; they were attempted cultural suicides. By eventually removing most of Jewry from Europe, they have put Europe at a long-term, perhaps permanent, disadvantage. (Can you imagine an intellectual history of Europe without Jewish contributions? Now you can: Just start in 1940.)
After Communist societies exiled and murdered their intellectuals and scared into submission most of their would-be successors, they rapidly found themselves in the same situation of stagnation, then decline.
Bernard Lewis, famously, is helping the West learn "what went wrong?" in the Middle East. Part of the answer is Islam's program of ethnicide, a program that finds its justification right in the Quran (especially as interpreted by triumphalist ulama). It took only a few centuries for the Muslim empires to burn through the cultural capital it inherited from late antiquity. Early Muslims relied on Jewish and Christian expertise to administer their territories (John of Damascus, for instance, worked for a while as the Christians' representative to the caliph). Early modern Muslims, unable at first to incorporate themselves into businesses, needed people free from the sharia to be engines of economic ingenuity.
These populations have largely disappeared in the twentieth centuries. Forced into exile, convicted of blasphemy when they voiced any opposition that could be construed as an insult to Islam or the Prophet, forcibly converted, or just plain murdered, the Jewish and Christian presence in much of both the Arab and non-Arab world is increasingly insignificant to its cultural life. And naturally its cultural life is much the poorer.
The irony of "ethnic cleansing" is that the very action taken to rescue a culture turns out to wound it further. Having created a world without the challenge of difference, modern Muslim societies have put themselves in positions that look like just what the Prophet ordered; but the result is the polar opposite of the original Muslim experience. The accelerating removal of dhimmis from Muslim lands has only helped speed the self-destructions of Muslim cultures.
What a contrast to the (non-Constantinian) Christian vision of a people made up of all peoples, to be a blessing first to Israel, and then to all the peoples of the earth.
What should Christians do about dhimmitude? Pray and work for it to end, of course. The biblical program is conquest by perseverence. The book of Revelation is an "unveiling" (apocalypsis) of the times facing a first-century persecuted church under a Roman emperor, perhaps Nero or Domitian. It prophesies the destruction of the persecutor without envisioning any military action on the part of Christians.
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdomof our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever." And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, "We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who are and who was, that you have taken your great power and begun to reign. The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth." Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail (Rev. 11:15-18).I am not advocating for a moment that Christians do nothing about the persecution of Christians and Jews in the Muslim world or anywhere else. There is plenty to do. We can start by teaching fellow Christians what dhimmitude is and why it has happened, in order to stop church passivity. We need to support the Christian communities and missionaries who put themselves in harm's way. We can try to get the attention of civil authorities and make it clear that we are interested in more from these countries than reliable and cheap oil.
We can also read and pray the book of Revelation together not as some dispensational map of the details of the next few years of eschatological history, but as an assurance that the powers and principalities who seek to domesticate or destroy God's people make themselves the ultimate victims.
UPDATE: This incident in Pakistan is instructive: A Christian girl was raped by her Muslim landlord and forcibly converted to Islam, and a judge in Lahore ruled against her case (via Kathy Shaidle). (Sharia privileges Muslim over non-Muslim testimony, effectively giving clever and powerful criminals a free ride against Christians, Jews, Muslim minorities, and others, so while these kinds of crimes might originate in non-Islamized Pakistani tribal beliefs and old fashioned criminal intent, Islamic law is part of the overall picture.)
July 3, 2002
I got an interesting e-mail last night from a site flogging a book (which I won't mention out of principle). Its pretext was "that TIM LAHAYE has made a striking statement regarding Calvinism. He has said that '...Calvinism is perilously close to blasphemy.' Why would Tim LaHaye go on public record to offer such a dire warning?"
Well, not to promote someone else's book, I'm sure.
Furthermore, "perilously close to blasphemy" is not the same thing as blasphemy. Calling some guy "God" is perilously close to blasphemy too, except that in Jesus' case it turns out to be true.
Stick to eschatology, Mr. LaHaye. No, wait....
Still, LaHaye is hardly alone in pointing out that many Christians find Calvinism unattractive and unworthy of God. If anyone out there is interested in something besides Christian pacifism, my own $.02 on the topic are in an article in the Scottish Journal of Theology called "Annunciation as Election."
Perhaps. But that calls for two corrections. First, you should read "anti-Americanism" as a rejection of American ideology, not of "all things American." The man is a Texan, and damned proud of it. He calls himself a "yellow dog Democrat" (which, whatever they think at NRO, is not to be identified with anti-Americanism). From this snippet, the coming First Things article sounds as if it is reading Hauerwas through the prism of left-liberalism in order to conclude that Hauerwas is left-liberal. I hope it doesn't actually do that.
Second, Hauerwas is not an evangelical (at least not the way the word is often used in the U.S.). This is a critical point. Stanley is a United Methodist. He is fighting his battles from a particular location in twentieth century establishment Protestantism. (Hauerwas and others at Duke do refer to themselves as "evangelical catholics," but this is a theological description, not an identification with American evangelicalism.)
This is some cause of difficulty when evangelicals read Hauerwas. In between the Scopes trials and the emergence of Jimmy Carter, while mainline Protestants were walking the corridors of power, evangelicals (whose roots are in fundamentalism) were politically withdrawn. When people naively impose Stanley's vision on evangelical political history before 1975, things go wrong. A call to faithfulness sounds like a call to "pious" isolationism.
Evangelicals can find it helpful to adapt Stanley's thought to our own location, especially as it increasingly parallels the path of American liberal Protestantism. But simply appropriating it by imitation reinforces some bad habits that are uniquely evangelical. Richard Mouw of Fuller Seminary worries about this kind of thing, and I think he's quite right to do so.
And hey, thanks to Kathy for posting my quip too. (She puts it better than I originally did.)
Insofar as it draws principally on Reinhold Niebuhr, I would just be repeating these criticisms of "Christian realism." For the impatient, a sentence from everyone's favorite theologian puts it well: "Though Niebuhr understood himself to be a theologian, or at least a social ethicist, his work is almost completely devoid of any account of the Church" (Stanley Hauerwas, A Better Hope, 25). B.B. Warfield once remarked that the Protestant Reformation was the triumph of Augustine's doctrine of grace over his doctrine of Church, while the Catholic Reformation was the triumph of Augustine's doctrine of the Church over his doctrine of grace. I think Reinhold Niebuhr represents the triumph of Augustine's doctrine of sin over both Church and grace. (A mistake that massive is a real achievement.)
When Sensing claims that "pacifism is conscience without power," he has forgotten that "the weakness of God is stronger" (1 Cor. 1:25). He goes on to make a claim that could never make sense of the story of Jesus:
One of the tragic aspects of this world is that when conscience without power encounters power without conscience, conscience loses. The best that people of conscience can claim before they are annihilated is a moral victory, but in the final analysis, moral victories mean exactly squat.Yet the resurrection of the crucified Jesus is a cosmic victory, not just a moral one.
It took decades for the Romans to notice that one of the Jews they had murdered hadn't been annihilated after all (e.g., Pliny the Younger, Letters 10.96, 97). Resurrection starts small. But it doesn't stay small.
However, we can make it look small by spiritualizing it, individualizing it, and privatizing it. Then we disciples will find ourselves undisciplined, unprepared, and asleep on the watch when more than spiritualized, individual, private "faith" is required of us (as of course, it always is). Then when an emergency shocks us awake, we will delegate our spiritual warfare to the armies of nation-states, and we will feel ashamed of ourselves if we don't join them. We mediocrities can't help it, you know. (And God will forgive us anyway.)
As a former military man, Sensing must have more discipline in his little finger than a civilian baby-buster like me has in my whole body. I sympathize with his despair when his congregation isn't ready to respond to his challenge to raise nonviolent missionaries to Afghanistan (a rhetorical call that matches Hauerwas' call for missionaries to Libya in Resident Aliens). There were no takers, not even among those against military action. Sensing's advice is plan B: we wipe our tears and pick up our country's guns. I felt much the same way, but advised a different strategy: training in righteousness so that we won't fail next time.
Niebuhr's vision of churches sustained by assurances of forgiveness while they remain at the mercy of sin is one of the reasons I left liberal Protestantism when I was born again, and have never looked back. The nonviolent Jesus who shows up in the power of the Holy Spirit every Sunday in my local Foursquare Pentecostal church is a conqueror, not a coward.
Hauerwas, who belongs to Sensing's own denomination of United Methodism, thinks Niebuhrian ethics will be dead and buried before long, because
the politics that made their work intelligible and important is gone. They depended on the viability of mainstream Protestantism in America as well as the generalized Christian civil religion that pervaded American life. Those politics, particularly in the American academy, simply no longer have the power to sustain Christian ethics as an intelligible enterprise (A Better Hope, 68).I have an idea: Let's all feel disgust at ourselves rather than despair. Let's develop habits of reflecting on, imitating, and learning from examples of Christian faithfulness, rather than just drawing up contingency plans for more Christian failure. These may be hard to find in contemporary America, but they fill up our sanctorals and history books, and as the church explodes in the southern hemisphere, the stories of new saints are being written every day.
Porphyrogenitus thinks my defense of Stanley Hauerwas needs further defending (and I think he's right):
Stanley Hauerwas' words have certainly stirred up a debate, which no doubt pleases him. But one of Telford Work's initial points that Hauerwas should not be lumped together with the anti-war left, is something that still remains unconvincing, because if Hauerwas doesn't deserve to be identified with them, then he should not speak in their polemical style, which it all too often seems that he does treating the anti-war left, in effect, as the audience he is reaching.Fair enough and I will remember these words next time I hear a conservative Christian adopting the rhetorical style of National Review. But remember Hauerwas' original audience for these comments. This all started with a National Catholic Reporter article reported by a reporter apparently deeply sympathetic with the left. I am sure that no one intended for those words to turn into fodder in the blogosphere's hawk sector.
To answer P., let me just reproduce a passage from Stanley's book with Will Willimon, Resident Aliens (pp. 35-37). This is perhaps Hauerwas' most widely read text.
States, particularly liberal democracies, are heavily dependent on wars for moral coherence. All societies may go to war, but war for us liberal democracies is special because it gives us a sense of worth necessary to sustain our state. (For a substantiation of this unique role of war and armies for the development of the modern nation state, see Anthony Giddens, The Nation-State and Violence [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985].) We are quite literally a people that morally live off our wars because they give us the necessary basis for self-sacrifice so that a people who have been taught to pursue only their own interest can at times be mobilized to die for one another. For example, Jean Bethke Elshtain, in her wonderful book Women and War (New York: Basic Books, 1987), quotes Randolf Bourne speaking in 1918:Stanley may be rhetorically kinder to the anti-war left much of the time (when he's not passing out Wall Street Journal articles to praise the Marines as an organization the Church should imitate), but ultimately he sees Christian assimilation into their cause just as catastrophic to Christian character.
War or at least modern war waged by a democratic republic against a powerful enemy seems to achieve for a nation almost all that the most inflamed political idealist could desire. Citizens are no longer indifferent to their Government, but each cell of the body politic is brimming with life and activity on a nation at war, every citizen identifies himself with the whole, and feels immensely strengthened in that identification (p. 119).In short, there is nothing wrong with America that a good war cannot cure. [TW: It seems that libertarians, not just leftists, should be sympathetic with this argument. Are they?]
It is against the backdrop of such social presumptions that we must see the weakness of the liberal church's flaccid calls for "peace with justice." For example, a few years ago the National Council of Churches proclaimed one week in October "Peace with Justice Week." To help celebrate our one week for peace with justice, the council sent member congregations a Peace with Justice poster of different-colored human hands. The Greeks had Atlas, the Arabs had a turtle, we more modern people have disposed of such inadequate cosmologies. We have the multicolored hands of the National Council of Churches to uphold the world for Peace with Justice. In the corner of the post of the world upheld by the hands was a dove, a dove of peace, presumably. The dove was flying away from the world.
We see this chapter as an accurate portrayal of our situation. In chapter 1 we argued that our problem is not one of unbelief. Our problem is not how to make the Christian faith credible to the modern world. Yet in a deeper sense, unbelief or atheism is a problem, not intellectually, but politically. [TW: Hauerwas and Willimon are speaking of the Church as body politic, not Christians as public interest group.] Most of our social activitism is formed on the presumption that God is superfluous to the formation of a world of peace with justice. Fortunately, we are powerful people who, because we live in a democracy, are free to use our power. It is all up to us.
The moment that life is formed on the presumption that we are not participants in God's continuing history of creation and redemption, we are acting on unbelief rather than faith. Does not the Bible teach that war and injustice arise precisely at the moment we cease testifying that our world is in God's hands and therefore set out to take matters in our hands? Why cannot the National Council of Churches proclaim that to the world? The council cannot preach that on its posters because the council, like most American Christians, assumes that the key to our political effectiveness lies in translating our political assertions into terms that can be embraced by any thinking, sensitive, modern (though disbelieving), average American. Peace with justice.
Christian politics has therefore come to mean, for both conservative and liberal Christians, Christian social activism. Of course, conservative and liberal Christians may differ on the particulars of just what a truly Christian social agenda looks like, but we are one in our agreement that we should use our democratic power in a responsible way to make the world a better place in which to live. Jerry Fallwell wants "born again" people in places of power. Prayers must be said in the public schools in order to counter secular humanism. The National Council of Churches, on the other hand, urges the President to use military power in a restrained and humane manner. Such thinking is a form of Constantinianism, which, ironically, underwrites a culture of unbelief.
So why the aggressive rhetorical tone in interviews and in the classroom? I have already offered an explanation (which is not just an unqualified defense). In my experience, Stanley's soundbites get people's attention. Those who pursue him further through books our courses are forced by his soundbites to think a lot harder. This helps him persuade them, if not of all his arguments, at least of his fundamental point that the world's fundamental political hope is for the Church to be the Church. Those who do not pursue him further, either because they find him unattractive or because they find him threatening, tend to become dismissive sometimes conveniently so.
Before you object too strenuously to this rhetorical strategy, ask yourself a question: WWJD (Mark 4:10-12)?
For those simply turned off by Stanley's style, there are more irenic voices making many of these points that they will find it harder to dismiss: John Howard Yoder, Lesslie Newbigin, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Jonathan Wilson, Rodney Clapp. Not all are pacifists. I would urge Christians to pick up a book by one of these people (and Stanley too) and engaging them on the substance. The alternative is hiding behind their offended sensibilities and avoiding the challenge (which I am sure many of Jesus' original audiences did when he said something outrageous).
Thanks for taking this stuff seriously, P.
This study from my friend and former employer George Barna finds that "A greater number of adults experience the Christian faith through Christian media, such as radio, television or books, than attend Christian churches." (Link from Kathy Shaidle.)
I am glad for these people's exposure to the message (until I think about the quality of Christian books, radio, and television).But those who stay away from Christian community aren't really experiencing the Christian faith (unless you 'experience' sex by watching "Sex in the City").
If you are a cyber-Christian, you are just like me in my college years. I too got my primary "exposure to Christian content" through books, television, and radio. I finally started mainstreaming, maturing, and becoming fruitful when my girlfriend's mom nagged me into a healthy local Church.
The Christian faith is community, not just content. Jesus didn't come so we could get an idea, but so we could get a life.
UPDATE: I should have added that George agrees.
July 2, 2002
I am late in responding to a question from Porphyrogenitus, who seems to be a mysterious Eastern Orthodox wargamer. (So we obviously have a lot in common.) Anyway, it was both complementary and challenging, and I should have answered it long ago.
(Along the way, I answer some of the problems in David Warren's January 2002 column on Christian pacifism, which Glenn Reynolds highlighted last week. Other problems have already been addressed in my previous posts. It might even satisfy Glenn Reynolds that Christian pacifism doesn't deserve the Tennessee Constitution's condemnation of "nonresistance against arbitrary power and oppression.")
P. says the Byzantines considered military service a sin, and so of course as a Constantinian regime their realm "manifestly depended for its survival upon the willingness of its members to sin." He quotes Warren Treadgold:
The reluctance of the Byzantine church to accept that ends could justify means (even to the point of insisting that killing enemy soldiers in battle was sinful) led to a feeling that no one could engage in politics, war, or commerce without some moral taint. This put the Byzantines at a certain disadvantage. But the church could forgive even the worst political sins of someone who performed services for Christianity [the concept of redemption]. While scrupulousness and forgiveness are certainly admirable things, in practice the Byzantine's combination of them decreased respect for the state and for commerce, and perversely increased amorality in public life, because emperors, officials, or merchants despaired of avoiding sin. Yet state power was so pervasive that almost everyone needed it at some time for defense or patronage, and all had to defer to it. Therefore most ordinary Byzantines felt dependent upon the government without admiring it or identifying much with it.This seems to me to run neatly parallel to Reinhold Neibuhr's ethic of "Christian realism". My turn to quote this time, from James Childress' essay on "Realism" in the Westminster Dictionary of Christian Ethics: "Niebuhr and other realists ... emphasized that it is impossible fully to realize norms and ideals because sin is present in every person and every act, particularly self-interest and the desire to dominate and control others. It is often necessary to choose 'the lesser of two evils,' and God's grace as forgiveness frees us to act responsibly in situations of conflict, for example, by using violence when necessary." (The relevant texts by Niebuhr are Moral Man and Immoral Society, The Nature and Destiny of Man, and Christian Realism and Political Problems.)
While Niebuhr's Augustinian respect for the power of sin is to be praised the limits he puts on the power of grace (personal but not social justification, for instance) are not. The moral exhaustion of Byzantium sounds like the destiny not of Christian pacifists, but of Constantinian 'realists' who believe the world still captive to original sin and the message of grace something only for "the individual soul." (That's a curious phrase; it sounds a lot more like Descartes than Jesus.)
Insofar as we accept a 'realist' narrative of the world, the pacifist seems inevitably withdrawn, passive, otherworldly, and impotent in P.'s words, "staying safe here behind the protection of others while criticizing the society whose defenses shield him, but risking nothing serious on behalf of his faith." P.'s question is whether pacifism inevitably envisions "Dhiminitude," a word for Christian passivization under Muslim regimes.
That's a recurring question, isn't it? P. himself sees the problem and foresees the solution:
IMO, and just IMO, "it's not easy being Christian" is an insufficient answer. It is true that, for humanity, sin is unavoidable (in Christian doctrine). But is that the same thing as this standard? I don't know, myself. It's something to be grappled with.Bingo. My response to P.'s worry about "Dhiminitude" starts by quoting again from the article on "Realism": "Theological movements since the late 1960s, such as the theology of hope and liberation theology, have challenged realism's concentration on limits, its ideological adjustment to existing arrangements, its emphasis on the sin of pride in transgressing limits rather than the sin of sloth in accepting limits, its focus on the cross instead of the resurrection, and its modest attention ... to the virtue of hope, and to the transformative power of grace, the Holy Spirit, and the Christian community."
In other words, 'realism' puts the doctrine of sin rather than the doctrine of grace in the controlling category. A quick rendition of the Apostles' or Nicene Creed will quickly show how foreign that is to the grammar of Christian faith.
P. characterizes Hauerwas' pacifism as Dhiminitude, but he's actually hitting a Niebuhrian caricature. Hauerwas, John Howard Yoder, Richard Hays, Jonathan Wilson, Glen Stassen all the pacifists I've been quoting this week are activist pacifists. The Church is (supposed to be, anyway) God's primary agent of peacemaking in the world. Niebuhrian pacifism is sloth that infuriates Jesus and condemns those who practice it: "'As you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.' And they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matt. 25:45-46).
But note what Childress did not say: "Theological movements since the late 1960s have challenged ... its modest attention to the power of violence." Niebuhr couldn't see past violent resistance to nonviolent resistance because he couldn't see past social sin to social reconciliation. Niebuhrians have the same blind spots to this day. But the many varieties of anti-Niebuhrian theology see the resurrection and the empowering of the Church as a powerful and radical alternative to the social relationships of 'the world.' Niebuhrians pretend that they still own the serious debate, but they don't. Not by a long shot.
Christians are only Dhiminis if we fail to do what Jesus would have us do.
If you are still interested in Christian thinking about the war on terror, check out this October 2001 discussion from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The participants are Jean Bethke Elshtain, Stanley Hauerwas, and James Turner Johnson. These are responsible people speaking responsibly. Would-be flame warriors will find inflammatory soundbites a lot harder to find, but honestly interested readers will find much wisdom. If all you have heard about Stanley Hauerwas et al comes from bloggers (including me), prepare to be surprised. (Among other things, he wants to make it possible for Christians to become police officers.)
Christopher Johnson of Midwest Conservative Journal has kindly responded to my needling. Some of his points I have already covered in the posts below. There are also new ones worth answering here:
If the state is "authorized by God to use force in the service of justice," how can Christian civil authorities avoid using violence of some kind?By staying out of offices requiring actions that contradict the Church's calls to all Christians.
Some offices legislator, perhaps do not necessarily do that, so I am not contending that Christians must withdraw entirely from government office.
If I were attacked in the street, say, I would, ideally, not fight back and would, if I lived, hopefully forgive my attacker.Ideally? Hopefully? As long as those aren't weasel words, I'm with you so far....
But I have no standing to respond to evil committed against someone else. Suppose I saw an elderly woman being attacked in the street? How should I, as a Christian, react? Should I respond as if the evil were being done to me? Should I walk over and turn the other cheek of the old woman to her attacker? Should I pronounce her attacker forgiven? This would not make me a Christian following his Lord but an accomplice in an evil act.Chris makes a very common and subtle move here that I want to point out. First, he establishes the propriety of a civil authority to engage in violence in the service of justice. (We agree.) Second, he offers a situation that does not involve a civil authority, but a civilian seemingly forced by circumstances into using force to defend another. (We disagree in tone, but perhaps not entirely in principle.) Third, on that basis, he moves back to defending the priority of Christians practicing violence as civil authorities. (We disagree.)
I don't think this logic follows. Steps one and three involve punishment and retaliation as well as "peace-making" prevention. Step two is solely preventative (unless it is sheer vigilante justice). Steps one and three are vocational. Step two is occasional (unless Christians are out on the street like comic-book characters looking for people to save).
Even if I accept the propriety of step two in extreme situations where peacemaking by any other means truly fails (not just might conceivably fail), it does not follow that Christians appropriately practice violence vocationally. Those who do are intentionally and regularly subordinating their Spirit-anointed ministries of reconciliation to Caesar's ministry of justice, at least while they are on duty. They are qualifying the command "so far as it is possible to live peaceably with all" and "not to take vengeance upon themselves" and to "overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12). They are developing and reinforcing habits that contradict the habits they need to be effective ambassadors of Christ's forgiveness.
Whoever holds the office of president of the United States has, as Telford points out, been given a sword by God. ... If the president failed to use that sword because of some allegedly "higher" principle, he would analogous to King Saul who did not follow God's command for a "religious" reason (1 Samuel 14:14-15).Or, if a Christian decided to subordinate his Christlike reign to a reign like the kings of the nations, even for a "religious" reason, perhaps he or she would be analogous to all the kings of Israel save one (1 Samuel 8:19-21, Luke 22:25).
The state's "sword" must have weapons and soldiers to fire them or it is no sword at all.
And the harvest must have workers or it is no harvest at all. Which of these two exhortations came from Jesus?
"How are people to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can people preach unless they are sent?" (Rom. 10:14-15). Maybe when Christianity is so enormously popular worldwide that the armed forces of nation-states are forced to recruit outside churches (and hold bake sales?), then the attrition of armies and police forces will cause the collapse of civilization as we know it. That's America's problem, all right. We fall for that "swords into plowshares" line every time.
if Jesus didn't approve of soldiering, He probably would have had a comment or two for the Roman centurion whose servant He healed (Matthew 8:5-13) rather than being amazed at the man's faith.Yeah like "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel!" (Matt. 15:24). During his ministry, Jesus doesn't seem overly concerned about discipling Gentiles. (John the Baptist's request in Luke 3:10-14 for centurions not to be corrupt belongs to an even earlier stage of eschatological pre-fulfillment, so it is no use either.)
Now Cornelius the centurion might be another matter (Acts 10). However, we never learn what becomes of him after the Holy Spirit falls on him and he turns into a Pentecostal (Acts 10:44-48). He drops off the radar. We'll have to wait to see whether he became a Mennonite or a Constantinian. With Pentecostals, you never can tell.
July 1, 2002
Bill thank you for your e-mail, Bill! asks:
You seem to be a left-liberal in that you denigrate military service as beneath the aspirations of Christian people. If great good arises out of this country's military operations, as seen, for example, in the Korean and Second World Wars, why is it that Christians cannot participate as their conscience allows?NOT because military service is beneath the aspirations of Christians! I see no hierarchy whereby the authorities of Romans 13 are "beneath" the nonviolent Church of Romans 12. Both are authorized by God. (Or, while there is a hierarchy of sorts between a Church participating in Christ the King of Kings and indwelt by the Holy Spirit who crowns him, and the kings themselves on the other hand, that hierarchy is anyway not the basis of Paul's instructions here.)
The reason, as I explain in the update to this post, is that the greater good that truly overcomes is won when all Christians "repay no one evil for evil," but so far as it depends on them, "live peaceably with all" (Rom. 12:17-18).
The colleague in my department who backed Ralph Nader in 2000 will be amused by your characterization of me as "left-liberal!" I think the Church needs more right-wing pacifists, don't you?
The Old Testament seems to authorize many military campaigns involving what is said to be God's own chosen people. Where, precisely, does the blessing which accrues to military aggression for a just cause or "justice" in God's eyes in the OT become in every case an impermissible venture into Constantinian Christianity in the biblical canon? How does this help us read Scripture if in some sense the NT must be qualified by the Old just as the Old must be by the New?Great question. It gets to a fundamental point in Christian theology: Jesus' person and work are the fulfillment of the Law, Prophets, and Writings of Jewish Scripture. They are the definitive shape of what, after his christological transformation of it, is the Old Testament.
I read Jesus' career as a reliving of Israel's history. His baptism by John the Baptist is a fulfillment of the original promise of Joshua's conquest of Canaan only no longer distinguished by attempted genocide. His forty days in the wilderness are Israel's forty years in the wilderness only no longer distinguished by unbelief and pining for Egypt's fleshpots. His departure at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31 calls it an "exodus") is Israel's liberation only now the lamb's blood is Israel's own. And so on.
I haven't tried, but my hunch is that it would be hard to find wars in the Old Testament that conform to Christian just-war criteria. They are specifically Christian categories, drawing not only on the Fifth Commandment as such (as in the Catholic Catechism paragraphs 2307-2317), but on the Fifth Commandment christologically transformed in Matthew 5 (as in the paragraphs 2302-2306 that precede). After Christ, "justice" cannot be informed merely by the social norms of Israel or even its Torah, but by definition accords with the definitive contours of the life of Israel's Messiah. Jesus' life is "'justice' in God's eyes." And Jesus' life and work are nonviolent.
What I believe makes Constantinianism inappropriate is the special nature of Christ's reign. It is "not from this world; if my reign were from this world, my servants would fight" (John 18:36). "Not from this world" doesn't mean of course that Jesus is some cosmic transcendental Californian, but that the disordered loyalties of the world's powers and principalities are not compatible with his servants' loyalties to his kingdom.
(Could paragraphs 2307-2317, in which Jesus' life and teaching are just one little footnote, retain their content if they respected the specific shape of Christ's reign as thoroughly as paragraphs 2302-2306 do? I sincerely doubt it, but I am open to suggestions.)
How do you read Stanley H when he writes that pacifism is somehow constitutive of orthodox Christology? Would the doctrine of the two natures be different for a nonpacifist Christian? Or is Stanley saying that he could not accept orthodox Christology, regardless of the teaching of the church, if there were not a tradition of pacifism within Christianity?I am not familiar with his claim. What's the source?
In my own mind much of the debate on the morality of Christian violence hinges on the assumptions which inform our understanding of Christ's lordship. Just as Barth and Bonhoeffer confessed Christ in a Europe under Nazi domination, so did the pacifist Bonhoeffer believe it to be God's will that he try to murder Hitler. His confrontation with the demonic evil of Hitler led him to make a unique exception to his ethic.You mean the former pacifist Bonhoeffer!
You are absolutely right to locate the debate in the lordship of Christ. Jesus is the judge of the living and the dead, and the one who authorizes the reigns of kings; yet Paul forbids the Corinthians to judge those outside the fellowship. "God judges those outside." Until he comes to judge, the scope of Christian judgment is only discipline within the fellowship (1 Cor. 5:12-13).
When he comes, "to the one who conquers, I will give power over the nations (Rev. 2:26) ... I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my father on his throne (Rev. 3:21). Future tense. (Ever notice that Revelation is a pacifist text? The Church never fights.)
I am not here to defend Bonhoeffer, but I can recommend some reading on both these men by Christian pacifists that might be helpful. On Bonhoeffer, check out James Wm. McClendon, Jr., Ethics, in which McClendon argues that Bonhoeffer failed when he was isolated from a Christian community that could have sustained his practice. Whether or not you find it persuasive, at least it refuses to reduce pacifism to individual decisionmaking. On Barth, check out Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, in which Hays argues that Barth failed to follow his own policy of putting Scripture first.
Nonpacifists, it seems to me, often follow some variant of Reinhold N's so called realism which comes to say that the confronting gross evil requires effective resistance to evil and that the world we live in is so structured or embedded with fallenness that violent force is sometimes necessary. Since Christ calls us to love our neighbor and to liberate those who are oppressed force sometimes must be used by Christians particularly when the alternative would led to gross injustice and loss of life.While elsewhere I have argued for something like the extremely occasional necessity for Christians to resort to force, I am not sympathetic to Niebuhr's "Christian realism" as its grounds. We Pentecostals are not down with putting limits on the power of the gospel! Jesus commands the unclean spirits, and they obey him (Mark 3:11).
(There's a new alternative for you: Bonhoeffer takes part in a conspiracy to exorcize Hitler's demons.)
Since participation in state sponsored armies is often the only reliable way even potentially to secure these ends, they are justified.Even if violence became necessary, why would Christians have to be able to participate? Can't we let authorities do what they do while Christians do what we do? I have said this repeatedly: No one can do what the Church alone can do. Why do we want a share of the state's monopoly on violence when we have our own monopoly?
One would think, on this view, that the oath to defend the Constitution as is required to join the Armed services in the U.S. would be a conditional one.You're right even Christian just warriors would only be able to defend the Constitution according to Christian just-war criteria. Anyone sworn to uphold the Constitution, but must do it justly. "Justice" for Christians means conformity to the ecclesial gifts and call of Jesus. So when bound to work in ways that violate Christian justice, any Christian in office must refuse on specifically Christian grounds. Even the President of the United States.
We don't see that happen much, do we?
Finally, a question. Do you ever find an air of unreality or romanticism pervading the assumptions of Christian pacifism?Sometimes and in just-war advocacy, and in theologically naive anti-pacifism as well. But I don't think Christian pacifism is intrinsically unrealistic or romantic.
Is there more than a hint of nature/grace dualism in which the politics of the church remain unwilling to countenance using force in the wars that, for better or worse, have defined the conditions of justice for hundreds of millions of people (think of the world after the allies have fallen to Hitler)? Many Christians who have seen armed evil overwhelm their country or civilization intuitively see that by using force they can help affirm what is right and just and then use the victory to help rebuild the nations of the defeated.They may indeed countenance others using force. Their own participation in defeating evil takes a different shape. Pacifism, as my colleague Jonathan Wilson just reminded me today, means "peacemaking," not "passivism." Paul saw armed, structural evil overwhelming his country too, and saw that the grace of the Church (which he distinguishes from the civil authority that is also divine grace, not just "nature") is the one thing the Christians can offer that is powerful enough to overcome it.
If that's unreality, then Christianity itself is unreality. But Christ is risen.
On a personal note, I admire your work. I myself have trouble affirming Christianity as I once did and I am afraid that I do not practice it at all. Yet reading your irenic, earnest, and often winsome posts on your blog makes me wonder where my faith went.Thanks so much!
And maybe your faith is still in Church in a practicing community of disciples waiting for you to reclaim it.
First, on the distinction between "What Would Jesus Do?" and "What Does The Church Teach?", I agree with that the head (Jesus) and the rest of the body have different functions, and are not interchangeable. So Christian discipleship does not simply reduce to imitation of Christ. It must, however, always remain consistent with the work of Christ. At the Jordan, Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit and empowered to do the work of Israel's Messiah ("Messiah" or "Christ" means "anointed one"). At Pentecost (in Acts 2) and before the disciples (in John 20:19-23 and perhaps 19:25-30), Jesus gives his Spirit to his disciples, and they become anointed workers who share in his work. The proper work of the Church is the work of the Holy Spirit, which is the work of Christ.
First Things states that
The question is not what Jesus would do but what he would have us do. Real pacifists answer that question one way. Other faithful disciples answer that, in obedience to the command to love the neighbor, it is their duty to defend the innocent by engaging in a just war against a murderous aggressor.Yes, they do. What they rarely if ever do is describe how those activities manifest the gifts of the Holy Spirit who indwells both Christ and Church, by doing the work of Christ specifically charged to his anointed disciples.
Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit as "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal. 5:22). Paul enumerates gifts of the Spirit such as prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, alms, aid, and mercy (Rom. 12:6-8) in the very same chapter that forbids Christians from taking vengeance for evil upon themselves.
While I have heard many Christians defend Christian violence, I do not remember hearing anyone explain how the specific spiritual gifts distributed in the Church are being properly used when Christians take up the sword of civil authority. The New Testament doesn't seem to offer help not just because it was written before Christians were in power, but because it describes the Church's Spirit-powered work in altogether different terms.
In fact, when 2 Peter does worry about injustice in the world, its advice is that the Church "hasten the coming of the day of God" by living "lives of holiness and godliness" and offering reconciliation "so that all should reach repentance" (2 Pet. 3:1-13). The reason God isn't torching sinners is that God wants them to come to faith, and so God is waiting ... not for Christians to torch them for him, but for Christians to take salvation to them.
Why is there so much evil in the world? How often do Christians blame it on the passivity of the Church? (More on that in this article.)
By all means, let's do what Jesus would have us do.
Second, "is pacifism analogous to celibacy? If not, why not?"
Great question. If it were, it would be a special spiritual gift distributed to some believers, but not all such as the gift of prophecy for the edification of a whole Church, all of which would not have received that gift. That would be compatible with the Roman Catholic position, which respects vocational noncombatants (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2306, 2311).
In this case, it would at least be nice to hear Christians respecting and rejoicing in Christian conscientious objectors, rather than condemning them as "free-riders."
I still want to go further. While gifts of the Spirit are distributed variously, the fruit (the word in Greek is singular, not plural) of the Spirit is common to all who share the one Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:1-11). Paul does not proclaim that one set of Christians is loving, another is joyful, a third is peaceful, a fourth is kind.... All Christians are expected to be all of these things. Likewise, Paul does not enjoin some Christians from exercising vengeance in Rom. 12, nor does Jesus command some Christians to turn the other cheek in Matthew 5. These are rules that apply to all.
I am genuinely interested in hearing the reasons Tushnet thinks celibacy and pacifism "hold strikingly similar positions in the New Testament."
Third, is the example of emancipation of black slaves an appropriate counterexample to the nonviolent Indian defeat of colonial Britain? It is certainly true that American slaves were emancipated by the sword, and not just by peaceful Christian action. But for centuries most of the American Church had been both firmly committed to participation in state violence and hypocritically racist. Blacks were conveniently (and stupidly) characterized as eternally cursed "children of Ham," when they were thought human at all. I submit that the subjugation of black America before and after the Civil War is precisely the kind of abuse that Constantinianism fails to anticipate or counter. It took the American government to emancipate slaves because Christians in the South, especially those in positions of civil authority, were oppressors.
I made a similar point earlier regarding the European Church's complicity in giving rise to the Holocaust. Christians need desperately to ask about the (unintended?) consequences of signing up to work for Caesar. Historically it has blinded us to Caesar's oppressions and made us impotent to fight them. We're always looking at the "up-side," never the down-side.
Historically, my family is Republican because of abolitionism. My middle name is "Clemons." I'm a distant relative of Samuel Clemens. My branch of the family split over slavery, changed the spelling of its name, became Republicans, and helped operate the Underground Railroad a practice which in my opinion models nonviolent resistance to tyranny.
Fourth is the "the distinction between martyrdom in which I die and pacifism in which, if it is widely accepted, I die, and you die, and Glenn Reynolds dies, etc." Well, I don't accept the premise that widely accepted Christian pacifism, practiced for appropriate theological reasons, would kill us all. An army of dedicated disciples would transform society in ways that far outweigh our not feeling free to shoot rapists in the park. I think, in Steven Den Beste's words, that Christian pacifism is "scalable and sustainable" if it is practiced discerningly.
We could, of course, construct consequentialist scenarios in which I seem to face a stark choice between violence (say, rape in the park) and terrible injustice to another. These will be all the more convincing if we neatly separate the outcome of that one scenario from its long-term effects on me and my community.
Some of these scenarios do actually happen. The most vivid example from 9/11 is, of course, the situation of doomed airline passenger Todd Beamer. If you are interested, I have developed a tentative line of thinking there in a long presentation called "Divided Loyalties? Christian Identity in Wartime America." And in that line of thinking I even allow theologically for extreme exceptions to the "no violence" rule.
However, in the discussion following that presentation, the anti-pacifists seized upon my scenario, trying to turn an exception into a new rule. (My favorite form of this technique is the evangelical appeal to the thief on the cross as proof that God doesn't think baptism is important.) Now more than ever I worry that this really is a "slippery slope." We are forbidden to travel down it because we are unable to climb back up it. Caesar's Sword is like Sauron's ring. However rarely Christians put it on, we will increasingly find ourselves unwilling and then unable to take it off.
To help stop some injustices, we will sacrifice the one thing we alone offer as the solution to all injustices. And then, in our crucial time of decision, we will be unable to do the right thing, and another will be forced to intervene. Take the ring off!
My first example of disciples doing things right in wartime concerns Christians practicing nonviolent resistance to save Jews in Vichy France. That is not exactly a perfect analogy for Christians in wartime America in 2002.
In January I preached a sermon about a man whose actions are more appropriate for our times. His name is Jonah the prophet. I offer his story as an example worthy of emulation as Americans (Christians included) face foes who want nothing less than the destruction of our faiths, our culture, and our government.
Maybe you know the story. Jonah gets a word from God: "Go at once to Ninevah, that great city, and proclaim judgment upon it; for their wickedness has come before me." Ninevah is an ancient and powerful enemy of Israel. Jonah makes a beeline in the opposite direction (the story doesn't say why yet) and sails away from the city.This is an example of Christian faithfulness? Jesus certainly thinks so.