Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Statement from the Mennonite Brethren

In my quest for a US denomination which claims to be both "evangelical" and "pacifist" I've spent the last two days reading up on the Anabaptist (particularly Mennonite) movement. Churches with origins in the Anabaptist tradition seem to be among the few Christian movements today that still hold on to non-violence as a key value of the Christian life. I would encourage you all to go do some reading up on the history of the Mennonites. I think many of us would find that we hold many values in common with church denominations such as the Mennonite Church USA and the Mennonite Brethren. In particular I find myself drawn to the Mennonite Brethren church in the US, which seems to have a strong evangelical understanding of salvation while also maintaining a statement in their confession for non-violence as a central teaching of Christ's. You can read more about them HERE. Perhaps most interesting is article 13 in their detailed confession of faith which I took the liberty of posting below. Enjoy!:

"Article 13: Love and Nonresistance

God’s Community of Peace
— Believers believe that God in Christ reconciles people to himself and to one another, making peace through the cross. The
church is a fellowship of redeemed people living by love. Our bond with other believers of Jesus transcends all racial, social and national barriers.

Christian Peacemaking
— We seek to be agents of reconciliation in all relationships, to practice love of enemies as taught by Christ, to be
peacemakers in all situations. We view violence in its many different forms as contradictory to the new nature of the
Christian. We believe that the evil and inhumane nature of violence is contrary to the gospel of love and peace. In times of
national conscription or war, we believe we are called to give alternative service where possible. Alleviating suffering, reducing strife, and promoting justice are ways of demonstrating Christ’s love.

Exodus 20:1-17; Matthew 5:17-28, 38-48; Romans 12:9-21; Romans 13:8-10; I Peter 2:19-23."

I thought it would be good also to post the documentary we watched last week, "Prince of Peace, God of War" for those who were unable to join us last Saturday. It's a pretty good documentary, although we all agreed that it would have been made better by a more diverse collection of interviewees. I think it does a great job at explaining the historical basis for the churches rejection of Christ's teachings on peace as well as doing a great job at respectfully explaining arguments from both sides of this discussion.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Evidence of the Transformational Power of Peace: A Bishop Who Stood in the Way

Last night, the Tanks to Tractors Christian peace group met for the third time. Tim and Alice Colegrove were wonderful enough to allow our motley crew to converge on their beautiful home. THANK YOU TIM AND ALICE!!!

For the first time in our extremely brief history, we implemented a very important part of our reason for existence: Prayer. We all agreed that prayer must play a central role in how and why we gather. In particular, I was moved by Libby's prayer for the group that we be protected from self-righteousness and continue to 'walk humbly with our God.' This is certainly a real danger for Christians who hold the Peace position. We can easily give way to judgement of others who do not share our convictions. I am thankful that our group is already cognizant of this potential source of sin and is taking preemptive steps of resistance.

We also viewed a documentary film entitled "Prince of Peace, God of War" (which can be downloaded for free) by director John Campea. The film is made up mostly of short clips from interviews the director conducted with Christian scholars, that unfortunately did not represent the diverse Body of Christ, but hold to either the Peace position or Just War theory. Among the scholars interviewed was Dr. Tony Campolo. In his interview, he recounts a moving story of the power of peace. He tells of an Orthodox priest (Metropolitan Kirill) in Bulgaria during WWII who so identified with the Jews Nazi soldiers were rounding up to be transported to concentration camps, that he joined them in their confinement and proclaimed the words of Ruth, "Wherever you go, I will go. Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God." When the SS saw that this demonstration was attracting a crowd too formidable to fend off, they abandoned the mission and none of the Jews in that Bulgarian town were killed.

I was so moved by this story, I wanted to seek out confirmation of its historicity. A few quick web searches returned overwhelming support. It seems this small town in Bulgarian was not alone. The Orthodox church in Bulgaria seems to have unanimously opposed cooperation with the Nazis and refused to hand over Bulgarians that happened to be Jewish. It also appears the Jewish community remembers this event well and has honored Bishop Kirill for it. I found an account of this story that is nearly identical to the one Campolo tells on the website of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.

A detail they include that Campolo omits is even additionally inspirational. It is said in multiple locations I found, that Bishop Kirill and his followers threatened to lay down on the train tracks should the Nazi attempt to transport their Jewish neighbors out of the town.

This is truly the Christian witness that we are called to be.

Grace and peace

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Power of the Curse

Alice and I watched "Penelope" last night and although I didn't think it was an amazing movie, the moral of the story and the conclusion of the film was provocative to me. The film is about a rich girl (Penelope) who is born with a pig's nose because of a fairy tale curse on her family. Her mother spends the majority of the film trying to break the curse by finding her a rich young man to marry her in the hopes that the marriage would break the curse. The conclusion of the film is that she finds out that the only way to break the curse is for her to come to terms with herself and like herself for who she is, and at that point in the film her pig nose magically disappears. The film ends with her telling her fairy tale to a crowd of children who she then asks what the moral of the story is and the last child to answer her question says, "It's not the power of the curse, it's the power you give the curse." This line really stood out to me and I think captures well the churches condition here in America when it comes to our views of pacifism and social justice. The church in America has been lied to and told that "good theology" confesses that we are too weak to "fight the curse" of social injustice, sin, death, and war. This lie gives the enemy far too much power and in saying that we believe that we are helpless, we give power to the curse! What we need to do is to realize that where we were once helpless we are now strong enough in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to fight the curse and win. Not on our own, but as a part of His body. I have heard too many Christians, when presented with the pacifist stance that Jesus Christ teaches, tell me that my understanding of Christ's teachings is impractical and impossible to actually live out. They believe that we are unable to "love our enemies" and that therefore we can only do what we know how to do: fight evil through war. Again, I think in saying this these individuals are granting power to the curse: the curse that Jesus Christ broke at the cross and which we are not supposed to live under anymore. The Church today is like Penelope: It has an ugly pig nose and is only going to be able to rid itself of it when it stops giving power to the curse and starts to live out the gospel of the peaceable kingdom.

I had a dream several years ago that I think is relevant: In the dream I am worshipping with a small group of Christians in a small congregational church building. As we finish our liturgy and wait for the pastor to stand up and deliver the sermon, the side door to the front of the church opens and a man walks in and walks up to the front of the church. The man is extremely deformed and has no face, no arms, and is extremely overweight. He is covered in writing (tattoos?) and I can sense that his presence disgusts us and that we feel uncomfortable that he has taken the pulpit. He walks to the center of the front of the church and begins to make noises as if preaching, but we can't understand him and are revolted by him. We want to tell him to leave but don't know how. Thus the dream ends.

For the longest time I was convinced that the meaning of the dream had something to do with our judgement of the deformed man; that perhaps the dream was about how exclusive the church had become and how we needed to begin to accept people as they were. This interpretation however, had seemed unsatisfactory to me as it didn't quite capture the emotions I felt in the dream. So for the past several years I had been unaware of its real meaning until I recently narrated it to my wife and she wisely and tearfully pointed out to me what it meant: The deformed man in the dream IS the Church; we're supposed to be the beautiful body of Christ to the world but instead we are ugly, hypocritical, and deformed by hatred and sin: no face for people to recognize Jesus in, no arms to serve the poor, no voice to preach the gospel of peace with. We have become fat, ugly, and revolting to the world we were told to love and serve in Christ's name. The Christ we show people today is nothing like the loving, healing, and self sacrificing Christ of the gospels.

So friends, stop giving power to the curse of sin and death! Start looking and acting like Christ who is the head of the church. If we have a beautiful head to follow, we can and will have a beautiful body.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

God's Battles

Another thing I have learned these past few days: We serve the same God who caused the armies of Israel to win in battle and therefore any peace we are able to win here on this side of the cross will be won because of our reliance on God bringing about the victory. The minute we start thinking that it is US and OUR EFFORTS that bring about peace in the face of seemingly unstoppable violence it will mean that we have stopped pursuing the kingdom of God and that we are simply pursuing peace on our own terms, on the terms of the kingdom of men. If God is King then it will be Him bringing about the peace we so need. Not us.

A quote from Vernard Eller's "King Jesus' Arms for the Armless that I think drives home this point:

"If the war to establish the peaceable kingdom (the kingdom of God, which is the only truly peaceable kingdom) is fought on the basis of our numbers, our resources, our wisdom, our strategies, our good intentions, our peacemaking abilities, then it will fail; is is as simple as that. If, however, it is fought by God himself and by people who have put themselves totally under his command, then it does not make a great deal of difference what are our numbers, resources, etc.; there is no possible way the war can fail. The issue is not our ability but our obedience. Our success depends not upon the vision of what we can or will do but upon our faith that there is a God who already has given the victory into our hands if we are willing to accept it on his terms. Joshua's statement of the matter cannot be improved: 'Take very good care to love Yahweh your God.'"

Last night I had an intense exchange with a friend about the practicality of Jesus teachings (a topic which I have already written about) and something I need to continue to address is that Christ offers us a difficult task when he tells us to love our enemies, not because he knows we will fail, but because he knows we will need Him to lead the way and win this battle for us and alongside us. Are Christ's teachings practical? No. Are they possible without Him leading us in our doing it? No! Love is never easy and we cannot do it alone. God must be within it or our strivings for redemption and reconciliation with each other will fail.

Christianity and Practicality

These last few days I have had several eye-opening discussions with other Christians about war and peace. These conversations have left me for the most part discouraged… although they have certainly given me a greater sense of the scope of the task at hand. It has come to my attention that one of the most widespread objections to pacifism as a obligatory way of life for the Christ-follower is often the sense that pacifism is "unreasonable" or "impractical" in dealing with evil in our world. To this objection I offer two thoughts.

To start, I would suggest that the Christian is not called to a "reasonable" or "practical" life. Jesus never suggested that following Him would be easy or painless. The Christ-like life entails the carrying of our crosses and the sharing of each-others burdens. The Christ-like life entails dying for our enemies and asking that God would bless and forgive them (as Jesus did when he was put to death). The Christ-like life entails the giving away of possessions and a deep sacrificial love. The Christ-like life requires that we do not judge "lest we be judged". The Christ-like life requires of us that we seek "first the Kingdom of God" and not the kingdom of the world. Jesus does not offer us "practical" wisdom where "practical" is defined as "easy" and "common sense", he offers us Truth which when practiced, yields the good fruits of the kingdom. I have heard some say that pacifism is a "cop-out" and that pacifism is cowardly. To those that offer this view I would humbly suggest that in doing so they are calling Jesus a coward. Choosing to love our enemies though they spit on us, insult us, and nail us to a cross is not the way of the coward. It is the way of Godlike love.

The second thing I feel the need to point out is that "pacifism" does not imply "passive-ism". We are not simply called to a life of peacemaking but also to a life of love. Love is not passive. Love does not simply stand by while evil is done. Love does not take the side of the oppressor by staying silent while harm is done to the innocent. This is not the God that we follow either. If Jesus were teaching "passive"-ness he would have finished his teachings and died an old man, having neglected to save us from our sins. What Jesus teaches us is that "love" instead of violence is what puts an end to evil in our world. Those who say that the life of radical non-violence is an ineffective way of fighting evil have simply to look to the power of the cross to be proved wrong. History has shown that violence begets more violence and that killing our enemies only brings about further death.

On the 6th we will be meeting in the Cesar Chavez room at the Democracy Center. I would encourage you all to examine the life and actions of Chavez in order to see a good example of how non-violence can accomplish great good under great adversity. I will leave you with the following quote from him:

“Non-violence is not inaction. It is not discussion. It is not for the timid or weak... Non-violence is hard work. It is the willingness to sacrifice. It is the patience to win.”

seeking the kingdom of God,

Monday, March 1, 2010

guns and God

check out this article, written by shane claiborne, that i found on sojourners. no commentary is necessary...