Friday, February 26, 2010

Where Does The Church's Error Lie?

I've been having a fascinating correspondence with the brother of a co-worker. He is a classic evangelical in regards to his views on war and violence and the Christian's response to them. He would say that it is sometimes justified and even sometimes holy for us to kill our enemies and that sometimes violence is our only course of action. The conversations we've been having have often been focused on his use of the Old Testament to defend "just war" and how we differ in regards to our interpretation of the Christian's position in regards to the Old Testament law and way of life. I would like to post my response to his last correspondence below for the groups examination so that I can be sure that my defense is strong and not in error. The second half of the email is in response to some practical questions he had for me in regards to pacifism as a way of life. Please leave your thoughts.

++below is the email response++

I believe that your use of the Old Testament to defend your ideas of a just war and justified violence point to the root reason for our differences. This conversation stems from differences in how we understand God's response to sin and how we understand "justice" and the law of God in light of the cross.

Let me explain my understanding of our position in regards to the law in as succinct a way as possible. In the time before Christ, followers of God were instructed (by God Himself) that the proper response to sin was to remove it from their midst and to destroy it. We can't ignore that there was a time in human history when it appeared that the only way to effectively stop evil from happening in our communities was to fight it violently, and God instructed us on how to do this in the Torah laws. It's interesting to note that this idea of justice (the idea that retribution is a fair system of law) is not only how the Israelites operated judicially but also how other nations throughout history have operated. It's a common, almost natural, response within mankind to resist evil by destroying those who perpetrate it. We currently live in a governmental system where this is true. If I kill a man, I run the risk of being killed by the state as a "fair" response. God gave Israel a set of laws which they were to follow in order to effectively fight against evil, often these used "violent" means. This cannot be denied. It also can't be denied that throughout the Old Testament, God leads the Israelites to destroy evil nations around them and that God used natural events (violently) to destroy evil men (the Flood). In the Old Testament we are given a picture of what it is that makes God angry and what is against his nature. In the Old Testament we learn what sin is.

Now I would suggest that we probably agree on the above paragraph but what follows is probably where we differ. I believe, as you probably believe, that Jesus ultimately paid for the sins of the world in his death on the cross. I believe that Jesus death on the cross represents to us a new way in which God deals with sin. In Christ's sacrificial death, he shows us not only the way in which we would all be saved (by God loving his enemies and dying for them) but also the way by which his followers were to live (by loving their enemies and dying for them). This is not to say that sin is no longer sin (as it is still repugnant to God and God hates it), as Christ says "not an iota will pass away from the Law", but it is to say that our RESPONSE to sin needs to change. The cross changes everything. It's not just a spiritual truth that we believe in and which saves us, its a practical response to sin that we live out every day. Hence why Christ tells us to carry our cross and to follow Him. Following Jesus implies US dying to give THEM life, not THEM dying to give US life. Non-violence is an essential doctrine because an understanding of it is the LIFE of the Gospel and what makes Christians uniquely different than the world. To believe that we must still follow the "eye for an eye" way of dealing with sin in our world (demanding justice through the destruction of our enemies) is to live under the way of the old testament and not in the new Gospel of Jesus. When we kill our enemies and sue our oppressors in court, we are essentially denying Christ's death for them on the cross. Saying that Christians sometimes must kill their enemies and that death is still a just way for Christians to deal with their enemies is to neuter the Gospel.

I hope the above explanation gives you a more holistic understanding of why I believe what I believe. Now let me answer your questions:

You asked whether a Christian could be pleasing to God as a soldier, police officer, or a judge: No. I do not believe these professions are Christian. In the case of the soldier or the police officer, their profession would require of them to potentially kill another human being. This is not how Christ has treated us. We are now obligated to forgive as we have been forgiven. God righteously should have destroyed us for our sin. He doesn't do this because of Jesus, neither should we do this to others. In the case of the judge I would say that it probably depends on the nature of the state under which the judge was working. If the state would obligate the judge (under the rule of law) to condemn prisoners to death or to have them tortured or to have violence committed against them , then no. If a state could exist which did not obligate the judge to do these kinds of things, then perhaps Christians could be judges. Given that this kind of state is unlikely, I would say it is unlikely that Christians could ever be judges. Their administration of "justice", given their Christian propensity towards forgiveness, would probably not be looked upon favorably by the state. In the same vein, I don't believe that Christians can serve on jury's (as your religious obligation toward the love and forgiveness of your enemies would cause you to be rejected during the selection process).

You asked whether I would use violence to protect my child from physical harm: This is, undeniably, where the rubber meets the road. To answer simply: No. I would not use violence. However, this is clearly not an easy thing to do. To clarify: I don't believe that God calls us to "passivity" in how we deal with violence. There are loving ways to resist evil. Perhaps in the kind of circumstance you describe I would choose to stand in between the offender and my child. Perhaps I would be able to come up with a way to explain to this man how much God loves him and how much he has been forgiven. Perhaps in suffering the blows that would be set against me and not hitting back I would change that man's heart. There is no way for me to know the future of a man's heart and I cannot, in taking his life or hurting him in response, trump God from being the judge and protector of my family. I am called to be like Christ.

Iran and World War II make for an interesting defense of my pacifism. Iran seeks nuclear weapons as a reaction to our oppression of the Middle East. This is a long ongoing struggle where many lives have been lost and represents an unending cycle of violence. It is hard to know who started it at this point. Violence as a method of the "restraint of our enemies" has been attempted time and time again without any success: people continue to die. The only way to end this conflict is for the oppressed to choose non-violent resistance and love their enemies.

World War II is often cited in these types of discussions. I find it interesting that people think the conclusion of World War II was a success. The results of World War II and the division of Europe and the middle East generated several more wars in its wake. Without World War II we wouldn't have the Cold War, Vietnam, the war in the Pacific (nagasaki, hiroshima), and the conflict in Israel. Perhaps if men had chosen radical non-violent means of resistance to show their enemies their humanity and love, we would have been able to avoid a war of that magnitude. Unfortunately, what's been done has been done. We are given an opportunity now to offer the world something different in Jesus.

I hope this lengthy email clarifies some things. Looking back on my last email I feel that my explanation of my understanding of the Old Testament, War, and God's wrath, was weak and not very well developed. I would offer this as my more well thought out response.

seeking first His kingdom,

++ end of email correspondence ++

I was telling my father about this correspondence last night and we got around to talking about Emperor Constantine and how the Church gave in to the authority of Rome. We were talking about the early witness of the martyrs and how willing they were to go to death in order to live out and profess the good news and how the witness of the martyrs would have been completely irrelevant if they had not gone willingly (even joyfully!) to their deaths in the face of a tyrannical empire. We forget that their words were unnecessary… their willingness to die for their enemies and to die joyfully for God without hate in their hearts for their persecutors was testimony enough to the power of Christ in them.

Also… I will leave you with these somewhat unrelated but awesome words from Walter Wink:

"I submit that the ultimate religious question today is no longer the Reformation's 'How can I find a gracious God?' It is instead, 'How can I find God in my enemy?' What guilt was for Luther, the enemy has become for us: the goad that can drive us to God. What has formerly been a purely private affair—justification by faith through grace—has now, in our age, grown to embrace the world. As John Stoner comments, we can no more save ourselves from our enemies than we can save ourselves from sin, but God's amazing grace offers to save us from both. There is, in fact, no other way to God for our time but through our enemy, for loving the enemy has become the key both to human survival in the age of terror and to personal transformation. Either we find the God who causes the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, or we may have no more sunrises."

-Walter Wink, Jesus and Nonresistance

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Whence Cometh My Vindication? A Thought on Justice, Sacrifice, Church and State from I Cor. 5.1-6.11

It appears from Paul's letter, the church in Corinth was a mess. Factions had formed, sexual sin was left unchecked. At one point, Paul keys in on a particularly shameful situation: a man living in adultery with this father's wife. Some of the Paul's instructions to the church in this matter are fascinating. In particular, what I find interesting are comments Paul makes that seem more like postscript or subscript--not directly relating to the adulterous man. In the process of reminding the Corinthians that he has already instructed them not to associate with the sexually immoral, he adds, "…not at all meaning the people of this world… In that case you would have to leave this world." Paul quickly prevents any misunderstanding of this words. He does not intend to prescribe separatism from the very people Christ has called his disciples to evangelize. Paul is well aware that the unregenerate will be sinful. It is the church who Paul expects sanctification among.

That's not all! Paul's fascinating asides just get better and better. Not only does Paul have different expectations for believers and unbelievers, he says the sin of unbelievers isn't his business! "What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside." Paul expects to see sin outside the church and recognizes the Holy Spirit's role to bring conviction to hearts---to convince them of sin, judgment and the law.

Furthermore, he rebukes the Corinthians that appeal to the courts of the State saying, "If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints?"

"Ungodly"?? Paul. Hold on there brother. Who said anything about the courts of our land being ungodly? Surely this only applies to Roman courts, right? Paul's words can't have application for Christians in twenty-first century America. Our courts are godly, right?

Many modern American Christians believe that there is no fundamental distinction between Christian justice and the justice meted out by the State. For Paul, the justice system of the State was not a legitimate source of justice for Christians. For Paul, appealing to the State for justice would be absurd since true justice is found only in Christ. Does a wealthy man ask a bankrupt man for a loan? Why would the ambassadors of God's reconciliation look to the unreconciled for reconciliation? Why would those liberated by Christ look to those still in bondage for freedom from temporal constraints?

"…and this in front of unbelievers!"

Seeking justice from outside Christ is not only absurd for Paul, but also destructive to the kingdom. By our love for one another do we witness God's love to the world. How can the world see God's love reflected in Christ's church if it is obscured by the quarreling of Christians? For Paul, this is of utmost importance. Christ's love, that is supposed to be on display in his church, is the only hope for the world. There is no grievance so valuable it rivals the witness of the church's loving unity. He makes his point as sharp as possible: "Why not rather by wronged? Why not rather be cheated?"

Paul's questions hit me at a particularly sensitive place. It requires me to ask myself: Is my desire for instant retribution worth sacrificing the witness of my love for my brothers and sisters in Christ before unbelievers? Is my need for justice greater than their need for redemption? Or could I lay down my rights for their sake? Could I release my claim to embrace the cross?

I must also ask myself: Am I greater than my Master? Are my rights more worthy of claim than were his? When I committed to following Jesus, I accepted self-denial and a cross. Sacrifice hurts. I don't want to let go. I've been wronged and my soul demands vindication. But then I hear the voice of the Spirit saying, "Trust me. I am your Vindicator and your vindication."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Interview with Daniel Berrigan

I just read a great interview in Sojourners with Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan. You can read it HERE. I particularly like the last question of the interview, which I feel could be particularly relevant as we continue to gather. I will paste it below:

"What insight or experience would you share with young activists seeking to engage in today’s peace and justice initiatives?"

"I can only trust the movement that is producing art, whether it’s poetry, or visual art, or dance, or music—it doesn’t make any difference. But there has to be that overflow that says, “We are on the move. We have enough to give and we’re going to give it. We have more than enough and we can give it.” So when my turn came for me and my friends to go to jail, we still wrote poetry and recited it to one another. We would meet on Sunday morning in the yard, and we said a poem we had memorized or written that week. We had Bible study going too. I don’t know where all that came from. As I look back, it was a very important and beautiful period together. It said, in effect, “They don’t own us. We’re not here on their terms. We have enough to give this to one another.” And that’s what we did.
You can really trust the movement that is producing that kind of overflow of the vessel—it’s getting tipped and there’s enough for everybody. And we call it art. We call it joy. The joy can’t be mandated, it’s just there or it isn’t there. And if the community is growing and deepening, it will be there. I’m convinced, it will be there."

-Daniel Berrigan

Monday, February 22, 2010

New Justice

"You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers,h what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

-Matthew 5:38-48

Christians…. why don't we seem to take these words seriously? It's pretty simple stuff and it has stunning implications. If we are told not to resist one who is evil then Christians should take no part in the military. Jesus teachings about loving our neighbor, turning our cheek, or walking the extra mile, imply that Christians should have no part in a court of law which seeks recompense or even the lives of an evil person.

I'm convinced that the implications of these teachings are what should set the Christian apart from the world. Our refusal to take part in the world's "eye for an eye" mentality needs to be central to the Christian life. If Christ has died for us and has ultimately paid for us, his enemies, what part do we have in the judgement of others? Another parable gives us an example of this truth:

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. [8] 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. [9] 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant [10] fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, [11] and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, [12] until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

-Matthew 18:23-35

The Church today has become a wicked servant.

Declaration of Sentiments

Organizations and society's have traditionally adopted a declaration of sentiments or, as you may be more familiar with it, a "vision statement". These documents help to clarify the purpose and beliefs of the group of people behind it, help to maintain unity around a cause, as well as allowing the public to understand better what you are and are not endorsing.

The document we are currently reading as a group is the "vision statement" of the original New England Non-Resistance Society as it was written by William Lloyd Garrison and his collaborators in 1838. As the moderator for last week's discussion I thought it would be a good place for us to start, as it is concise and could prove helpful to us as we begin to consider what our own purpose and beliefs are.

I would like to encourage us all to consider what we would like to see in our own groups "declaration of sentiments" and have included a link below to Oberlin Non-Resistance Society's Constitution to use in the formation of our own ideas. I realize that it is probably too early for us to write and adopt a declaration anytime soon but I thought it would be good for us to begin to think about it as I think it will make us a stronger group as we push forward.

I would love all of your thoughts and comments about our own adoption of a "declaration" type document.. feel free to leave them below. What might you like to see in our statement?

Oberlin Non-Resistance Society's Constitution

Sunday, February 21, 2010

New England Society for Non-resistance - Reading

In the spirit of William Lloyd Garrison's group founded in 1838, a new group is forming in New England once again to proclaim the peace-making love of Jesus. The New England Society for Non-resistance is currently reading the Declaration of Sentiments written by Garrison and adopted by the Peace Convention. We welcome you to read along with us and post your comments here.

~T. C.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Peace-Making-Kingdom People

I'm very excited to report that earlier this evening I was privileged to meet with a group of Jesus-followers who want to seek ways together to express their faith in Jesus through nonviolence and non-resistence here in Boston. The group was gathered together by Tim and Alice Colegrove and is inspired by the "New England Non-resistance Society" founded by William Lloyd Garrison. The group has not yet chosen a name, but has already discussed expectations for the group's purpose and ways to take action on our convictions.

With Rod's blessing, I have offered as a virtual bulletin board for the posting of announcements, information, events, updates, etc. pertaining to the group. For all those interested, please check back soon as we hope to have more frequent postings.

I have attached to this post the logo of The Liberator, the newspaper William Lloyd Garrison edited here in New England because of how much it amazed me. Christ is pictured in the center between an African slave and a white soldier. Over Christ's head it reads, "I come to break the bonds of the oppressor." And the banner that stretches across and behind the title reads, "You shall love thy neighbor as thy self."

Amazing! Amen! And AMEN!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Protest of Jesus-followers

This evening I had a stimulating conversation with my friend Tim Colegrove. Of late, Tim has been reading about and reflecting on the Christian's call to nonviolence. From his reading and reflecting, Tim has been energized to action. He knows that Christian faith is not just a set of tenets we intellectually affirm, but is the life of God lived out in us. Therefore, he called to invite me to a reading/discussion group around these issues where we can encourage one another and discuss ways this subject can be brought to bear in our daily lives.

As we were talking and thinking through the planing stages of this group, the issue of protest come up. As we discussed protest, some interesting thoughts were shared which Tim admonished me to record for posterity on this neglected nonviolence blog. It was a wise and needful admonition that I appreciate.

For context's sake, the subject of protest arose in our conversation after I recounted a painful experience I had recently involving me sharing my nonviolent conviction with a respected mentor, only to be rebuffed with extreme prejudice. In this particular situation, Jesus' clearing of the temple was used to support the idea that violence isn't merely permitted for Christians, but perhaps beneficial in some cases. The person making this argument actually went so far as to say that the account clearly details that Jesus specifically whips people. (I'm still amazed by this assertion... but I digress).

Now, the unequivocal rejection and debunking of that misinterpretation would certainly make for an interesting, if a little defensive, blogpost. However, that is not my aim with this entry. Rather, what I'd like to propose instead are some thoughts that surfaced in light of this account around Christians and their relationship to protest.

Discussion of the temple-clearing brought to Tim's mind a series of articles and essays he'd recently read by a Catholic priest who protested the Vietnam War draft by breaking into draft offices and destroying draft data in dramatic fashion----pouring blood on it and burning it. While this sort of protest is certainly provocative and frankly badass, I suggested that it might from be misplaced. Jesus' tirade in the temple was definitely a dramatic and provocative protest. However, it is important to note who Jesus' audience was. Jesus did not call to account Roman officials like Caesar or even Herod Antipas. Instead, Jesus reserved his outrage and judgment solely for God's covenant people. I believe this should give pause to Christians who intend to use Jesus' example to justify protest of the State.

Nevertheless, I think Jesus' life and ministry example are instructive on this subject in at least two ways:

1) Jesus Prophetically Called God's People to Account

As followers of Jesus, we should take serious Jesus' example as a prophetic witness against corruption in God's covenant people. When we see the pure Gospel of God's love demonstrated in Christ's sacrifice desecrated by idolatrous nationalism and war-mongering, we are called to stand up and call it sin!

2) Jesus Exposed Injustice though Service

Though this episode gets a lot of attention due to its dramatic nature, Jesus' life and ministry continually protested against the demonic powers that feed corrupt cultural forces. By demonstrating extravagant love towards the outcast, alienated, dejected of society, Jesus protested the status quo set up by religious and political "authorities." Jesus' radical service of the least exposed the oppression and injustice society sought to mask and secretly support. Our call as Christians is to protest like our Master---through lives of dramatic, compassionate service to the least.

~T. C.

PS - On his page,, Mr. Glenn Miller brings up some very good points about the over-simplification and flat misinterpretation of the temple-clearing: