Sunday, August 15, 2010

Christianity And Non-Violence: Several Views

Several thoughts on Christian non-violence and pacifism:

Complete non-violence is a religious teaching, not a political one. I am not a pacifist. But a Christian grappling with politics will nonetheless, I think, seek a system where violence is minimized, and a free space is given for faithful non-violence to flourish. That's why the civil rights movement was, in my view, a religious movement at its core, and was never better illustrated than by the choice of its participants to submit non-violently to the hatred and fear directed toward them, to resist it but not to counter it with more of the same.

For me, Christianity can lead to a certain form of political conservatism, one dedicated to law and tradition and civility and conversation, not tyranny and ideology and warfare and violence. This conservatism is just as accessible to atheists as well - and was perhaps best expressed by Hobbes. It will require an effective monopoly of violence by the state, but will henceforth do everything to restrain its manifestation in the civil and international sphere. (Source)

Do not be deceived. The Pope's recent words of truth concerning how violence is not pleasing to God apply also to so called "Christian civilization" as well as Islam. Both our scriptures and our history books depict the widespread prevalence of sin, injustice, abuse, and domination which are deeply woven into the social fabric of not only the world at large, but America throughout its entire narrative. Though the twentieth century began with waves of unbounded hope- the trust in "progress” soon gave way to disbelief and despair. Technology has allowed us to build bigger and better weapon systems to kill more people, industrialization allowed us to mass produce those weapons as well as the material trappings of the "market driven economy"; mass media allowed the propaganda- driven mobilization and indoctrination of entire populations to both use and defend that technology and industrialization in service of killing their contravention of the biblical edict to love enemies and never return evil for evil because vengeance belongs to God.

Hitler's anti-Semitic Holocaust remains an indescribable horror of our age. But, Paul reminded his Roman readers that they ought not judge others when they thereby condemn themselves: in response to the injustice of others, and in the name of utilitarianism, United States forces likewise decimated Japanese men, women and children in our firebombing of Tokyo and our nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki...We did likewise in Dresden and Hamburg Germany. In our Cold War wake and mindless rush toward mastery and domination we created a world where total destruction by nuclear conflagration is a constant and impending threat right up until this very moment. We napalmed children and innocent adults in Viet Nam to "make the world safe for democracy". We have created a world in which MAD- mutually assured destruction- is no sci-fi acronym but stated government policy in response to any threatened attack or affront to our idol, democracy. We have held policies toward the Middle East for decades that oscillate between neglect and reactionary bombing... we have exploited the poor and pumped wealth and weaponry into the hands of tyrants and the men we now call enemies throughout the Mediterranean basin...including poison gas, bombs of every sort and all other sorts implements of death and destruction...We have backed Israel unfailingly even when they have also been outside of God's plan for mankind. In the last decade, according to U.N. estimates, we have contributed to the deaths of at least half a million children in Iraq through sanctions and shock and awe tactics...before "Operation Iraqi Freedom" commenced....and then wax innocent and pious when we recieve blowback in the form of "terrorism". "Terrorism" being noted as what one does with carbombs as opposed to laser guided bombs and televised "shock and awe" glory.

Someone will undoubtedly tag these assertions as "liberal-America- hating -blasphemy and pie- in -the-sky- touchy-feely- lovey-dovey- denial of realities.... an assertion that I will openly challenge. In the light of the sobering reality of ongoing rebellion to God's purposes, Christians cannot naively assume that "niceness" will necessarily entail "niceness" in others. The political "realists" are quite right on that score: pacifism is naive if it assumes that it will bring about easy victory over one's enemies. Christians must realize that walking in the Way of the Cross, may indeed lead to a cross. If you are "nice to people", the possibility exists that one may be killed. The Way of the Cross is indeed a costly way of dealing with injustice, conflict, and rebellion against the ways of God. It is certainly NOT for the weak of heart. To be a disciple that follows in the non- violent- way- of- Christ that harbors no fear of death in the midst of a culture that thrives on fear and worships domination is no easy work... in the Middle East or the West.
BUT, it is not the true Disciples who naively believe they can cure the world of war. Very often, it is the purveyors of warfare and "peace through superior firepower" who exhibit a utopian trust in the power of violence! Thus, World War 1 was called "the war to end all wars", wars are always characterized as good versus evil, and America's most recent campaign has been too often suffused with the rhetoric of "ridding the world of evil," of "getting rid of terror," and other such utopian dreams. This is of course nonsense. War IS terror after all.
SOOO, Disciples of Christ, actual followers, refuse to fight wars not because they naively believe they will thus rid the world of war, instead we do not fight because the Kingdom of God HAS come, in which war is banished, in which it is possible to order our lives according to the justice, peace and assurance of the primacy of God. (Source)
The Kingdom Alternative

But there is an alternative to this ceaseless, bloody, merry-go-round: it is the kingdom of God. To belong to this kingdom is to crucify the fleshly desire to live out of self-interest and tribal interest and to thus crucify the fallen impulse to protect these interests through violence. To belong to this revolutionary kingdom is to purge your heart of “all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice” (Eph 4:31)—however “justified” and understandable these sentiments might be. To belong to this counter-kingdom is to “live in love, as Christ loved you and gave his life for you” (Eph 5:1-2). It is to live the life of Jesus Christ, the life that manifests the truth that it is better to serve than to be served, and better to die than to kill. It is, therefore, to opt out of the kingdom-of-the-world war machine and manifest a radically different, beautiful, loving way of life. To refuse to kill for patriotic reasons is to show “we actually take our identity in Christ more seriously than our identity with the empire, the nation-state, or the ethnic terror cell whence we come,” as Lee Camp says.

Hence, while I respect the sincerity and courage of Christians who may disagree with me and feel it their duty to defend their country with violence, I myself honestly see no way to condone a Christian’s decision to kill on behalf of any country.(Source)
Nazism could not have flourished if the German churches had been peace churches. The movements of Gandhi and King and Jesus, as well as a multitude of other examples of successful nonviolent resistances throughout history, are proof that nonviolence can work, but it is only for the faithful and the courageous. Far more courage is needed by unarmed nonviolent resisters who may be forced to jail or to their deaths, than is asked of modern patriotic warriors who do battle using high-tech weaponry that almost guarantees their safety.

Is post-Auschwitz Christianity still ignoring Christ's teachings on nonviolence? Knowing that essentially no mainstream seminaries teach courses on Christian nonviolence, the Just War Theory or the morality of war, I would have to say yes. Seeing the silence of the churches in the face of massive Iraqi civilian suffering since the Gulf War, I would have to say yes. The nonviolent gospel message of Jesus was again not preached, and the blood of the 1,000,000 Iraqi dead are on our hands. The killing was at the hands of Christians and the vast majority of victims were innocent civilians -- mostly children. Numerous American war crime atrocities against Iraqis occurred in that war, but none were prosecuted.

Are we, like the church after Constantine, so entwined in the power, wealth, prestige and privilege granted by our secular rulers that we don't even recognize the betrayal of Jesus? Are we so frightened of losing the good graces (e.g. tax-free status) of our secular rulers that we are willing to participate in, or bless, the homicide? Are we so afraid of losing church members that we cannot proclaim the radical Gospel that sometimes asks sacrifice and suffering? Are we so certain of our own righteousness that we are unwilling to leave judgment up to God? Is our violent hatred of "the other" so ingrained that we don't recognize it as un-Christ-like -- or even demonic?

When will American Christianity recognize and repent of the immorality of militarism, racism, and excess luxury wealth in the face of grinding poverty all around it? When will we start believing that mercy is what Christians are supposed to be all about? When will we start reversing injustice nonviolently -- what Jesus taught and what the world must do for real peace? The churches must be the ones to start, for we can hardly expect the world to do justice if we in the churches do not.

The implications for the Christianity are complex, and solutions won't come easily. Leadership on nonviolence issues will apparently have to come from the laity. But if we stop the betrayal and begin again to teach what Jesus taught -- and live that way -- unexpected things will happen. People who have given up on a "hypocritical" church rejoin. Some of the answers for our violent times may suddenly come clear. Apathetic church members may be re-energized by this forgotten message of peace. And the unchurched will eventually notice.

Christian nonviolence seems to not interest those whose faith systems are based mainly on personal salvation, "believing in" (as opposed to "imitating") Christ, and "glory to God" religiosity, all of which are valid practices. But the modern "non-peace" churches obviously don't trust the Sermon on the Mount either. Most don't know that Jesus commanded the love of friends and enemies. Most churches even seem agnostic about the Last Judgement passage in Mt. 25: that mercy offered (or not) to the least of God's children is mercy offered (or not) to Jesus, with radical consequences for the unmerciful. When we are apathetic about human suffering, we fail Christ.

The Gospel is supposed to be good news to the poor, the children of God who are the most oppressed and who suffer the most in wartime and in peace. But before peace can come, the oppressed need to see real justice from their rulers and Christ-like love from the churches; otherwise there will be no peace.

The earliest Christians who knew Jesus and the apostles understood nonviolent love, lived it, and Christianity thrived. How a message of such clarity in the New Testament could be a nonissue in the modern churches is a wonder, but it has indeed been ignored for 1700 years.

Do we have the courage to confess and repent of our faithlessness to the clear nonviolent teachings of Jesus? Do we have the courage to start anew and live and love the way Christ and his earliest disciples lived and loved? Can we adopt the Peace Plan of God as revealed in the Sermon on the Mount? Can we start living lives of Christ-like/Agape love -- the love that is unconditional, merciful, forgiving, nonjudgmental, non-retaliatory, sacrificial and nonviolent?

The survival of an errant church demands it. (Source)
A common misunderstanding of Christian pacifism is that its goal is to provide an alternative solution to physical violence. Stanley Hauerwas, following the tradition of Mennonite John Howard Yoder and Reformed theologian Karl Barth, believes Christian pacifism is not to be understood as a ’solution,’ but as the only response appropriate for those attempting to follow the life of Christ. Consider this quote from his interview with Sojourners:

The sacrifice to end sacrifices was made by God through the sacrifice of his son, and the ending of sacrifice means that we don’t continue to sacrifice other people to make the world come out all right. Justice has been done. We’ve been given all the time in the world to announce that God would not have God’s kingdom wrought through violence. That’s good news. It’s hard news, but it’s good news.
Interview with Stanley Hauerwas. (Source)

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