Archives For Christian Nonviolence

hauerwas I first heard of Stanley Hauerwas when I was in college at UVA, waiting tables at the restaurant in an upscale retirement condo complex. One of my regulars, Dr Julian Hartt, was in his 90’s. Happy to hear I was a religion major with designs on seminary, Dr Hartt made himself my fast friend. He’d been a professor of theology and philosophy at Yale for years and later began the religion department at Virginia of which I was a student.

Dr Hartt would invite me and my girlfriend, Ali, up the condo he shared with his wife Elinor, an artist. Projecting intellectual sophistication onto both of us, they’d pour us sherry and talk art, theology, culture.

8086-95369725Sipping sherry and looking at the hummingbirds gathered around his porch, Dr Hartt told me about where his former students were now and how they were ‘edifying’ the Church.

That’s when I first heard about ‘Young Stanley’ in Dr. Hartt’s bemused prodigal tone.

I didn’t really hear or think about Stanley Hauerwas until a year or two later.

I was waiting tables again.

At Princeton’s faculty lunch and I overheard some…ahem…esteemed professors talking about Stanley Hauerwas with the sort of demonstrativeness one associates with flicking a booger off their hand.

The word ‘dangerous’ was used about him. And with cursing of their own, they complained about his proclivity for a foul mouth.

Eavesdropping on them, I thought ‘I’ve got to check this guy out.’

I’ve since read nearly published word he’s written several times over. I don’t know if I would like or understand Karl Barth had I not read Hauerwas in tandem.

Monday night, I heard Stanley Hauerwas deliver a lecture in person. 1779709_649372177667_2135790934_n

I’ve read him to such an extent that I can anticipate what he’s going to say next in an essay or how he’ll answer a question from the crowd, and so on Monday night I found myself noticing not just the dots Hauerwas was connecting but the dots he left unconnected.

Namely, the atonement; that is, what Christ accomplishes through the Cross, Resurrection and Ascension.

Everything Hauerwas writes about Christian nonviolence depends upon a particular reading of the atonement. For example, the foundational statement to his view of nonviolence is this:

Nonviolence is not a strategy by which Christians attempt to rid the world of war but rather, in a world of war, as followers of Jesus Christ Christians cannot conceive of any other way to live.

That makes perfect sense to me.

I know what theological conviction produces such a statement and I can see what conclusions derive from it. But I’m not so sure it’s obvious to everyone who’s not a theology nerd or a Hauerwas fanboy.

For Hauerwas, Christian nonviolence is the clear implication of Cross and Resurrection. We’re called to nonviolence not because it’s an effective means to an end nor because Christians are utopian idealists.

In Hauerwas’ view, Christians are called to nonviolence precisely because they’re Christians.

But such a claim depends upon a particular (correct, I believe) understanding of the atonement that may not be clear to every reader or listener.

Indeed Hauerwas’ work assumes a particular understanding of the atonement that is not shared by many Christians.

In popular piety ~

The problem: Your guilt.

The solution: Jesus ‘died for you.’

The implication: Invite Jesus into your heart.

The purpose: So that you can go to heaven when you die.

What’s missing?

Easter, Ascension, Words and Work of Jesus, the Story of Israel.

Just to name a few.

Behind this popular reduction of the atonement is the understanding usually labeled ‘penal substitution.’ In this view, God became human to pay the penalty owed to God that humanity itself could not possibly pay. So Christ suffers in our place the wrath of God otherwise directed towards us. Having suffered and died the punishment deserved by us, Christ (who is 100% God and 100% human don’t forget) restores fellowship between God and humanity.

While the Church has never made any single view of the atonement the official view of the Church (there’s no mention of the atonement in the creeds), penal substitution has become one of the litmus test fundamentals in evangelical Christianity. As a consequence it’s the view that makes its way into popular piety and even the presumptions of non-Christians.

What’s important to notice is that even in its best formations, penal substitution is primarily individualistic and, in many ways, subjective in that the only thing Christ objectively changes through Cross and Resurrection is how God views us, our fellowship with God.

(But even in popular piety, God’s wrath remains against you until you accept Jesus into your heart.)

You can see why, then, saying nonviolence is the clear implication of the Cross would seem like a non sequitor to many Christians steeped in penal substitution.

But penal substitution is not the only way of reading the Gospel. Neither is it the most ancient.

There’s plenty of scripture to support a rival view to penal substitution:

John:

God’s peace (shalom) I give.

 

Acts’ Sermons:

It’s the (nonviolent) faithfulness of Jesus to God all the way to a cross that defeats the power of Sin and Death. Easter and Ascension are God’s vindication of Jesus’ nonviolent way. (Easter and Ascension are not God’s way of saying we will go to heaven when we die; they’re God’s way of saying the nonviolent, crucified Messiah is now King of the nations of the Earth.

 

Colossians:

In the cross, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the power of Sin and Death have been defeated once for all. Christ unmasked the Principalities and Powers.

 

Hebrews:

Christ’s sacrifice is the sacrifice God uses to end all sacrifices.

 

Revelation:

The lamb that appears as if slaughtered now rules the nations, as Revelation puts it.

 

There’s even a more ancient view of the atonement available: Christus Victor.

These are all latent and assumed in much of Hauerwas’ work but, to my knowledge at least, he’s never supported his central argument by leveraging a fully developed theology of the atonement which would make his conclusions clear.

I think the full force of Hauerwas’ emphasis on Christian nonviolence is lost to many readers (who assume the individualistic, transactional view of penal substitution) because he never specifies his own understanding of what Christ has accomplished.

And so, to many, his call to nonviolence seems odd, unrealistic and political rather than the most theological thing of all. And thus the most political thing of all.

 

 

hauerwasI’ve read nearly published word he’s written several times over. Indeed, as CS Lewis is for Tim Keller, Stanley Hauerwas’ work is so much a part of me that, in interviews, I often know how he’ll answer a question before he answers it.

I even know where the pregnant pun or the pretense-clearing curse word will go.

Last night, though, was the first time in 12 years I actually heard Stanley Hauerwas deliver a lecture in person, and what he said- preached is a better word for it- hit me in a way that was more personal than it may have been for others.

Hauerwas’ stated theme was ‘Why Peace Requires Conflict.’

He began, as he often does, by articulating what is the central Christian presumption for nonviolence; that is, in the cross, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the power of Sin and Death have been defeated once for all.

Christ unmasked the Principalities and Powers, as Colossians puts it.

Christ’s sacrifice is the sacrifice God uses to end all sacrifices, as Hebrews puts it.

The lamb that appears as if slaughtered now rules the nations, as Revelation puts it.

Christians are called then to live according to a reality that is more determinative- if still unseen- than what passes for reality in our world. Better yet, Christians are those people called to make visible the reality that is otherwise unseen by the world. Nonviolence, as Hauerwas likes to say, is not a strategy by which Christians attempt to rid the world of war but rather, in a world of war, as followers of Jesus Christ Christians cannot conceive of any other way to live.

Lest anyone think Hauerwas is an idealist: For Hauerwas, the Gospel contains a bitter, disarming truth:

God’s Peace took flesh among us and we killed him.

That God’s Peace lived among us only to die by us reveals both the depth and propensity to our self-deception; therefore, any commitment to Christian nonviolence requires a correlative commitment to truthfulness.

To truth-telling.

Because, according to Hauerwas, the violences in our relationships and in the world at large are aided and abetted by the half-truths we tell ourselves, by the illusions we prefer to keep and by the realities that are sometimes too painful to bear.

1779709_649372177667_2135790934_nNo where is this more clear, Hauerwas pointed out, than in the fury that erupts in a marriage when there’s no more floor space to avoid stepping on eggshells- when the truth about our spouse can no longer be ignored.

Christian nonviolence then is not merely a discrete decision followers of Jesus bring to bear at times of war.

Christian nonviolence is instead a lifelong commitment that requires the everyday habit of truth-telling.

And an everyday habit of truth-telling will inevitably no surely will provoke conflict.

Ask any married person, no spouse wants to hear the ugly truth about themselves. Often it’s simply easier to live with the illusion we hold about our spouse than to deal with the shit storm that comes with facing the truth about them. That same reluctance to hear the truth applies when extended to neighbors, communities, organizations and governments.

 

Christian pacifists aren’t people who avoid all conflicts; Christian pacifists are those people who are willing to provoke more conflicts than other people.

Accommodating lies and sleepy half-truths are just easier for us and, it seems, a better strategy for survival.

Okay, before the word count gets too high, I promised that this hit me personally and it did so in this way:

Growing up with an alcoholic father, I learned quickly how to step around eggshells with all the delicateness of a ronin. Living the lie and accepting the calm was preferable to the eruptions that any truth-telling would provoke.

Living with someone’s addiction results in everyone else being addicted to avoiding conflict. Which, as I’ve learned in my own marriage, creates habits of conflict avoidance that perpetuate themselves in the next generation.

It’s Hauerwas’ whole argument but in reverse, which surely points out that addiction is but one of the ways we’re still in possession to Sin.

So then, I’ve read and listened to Hauerwas enough to know he’d connect all these dots. He’d point out that thinking of Christian nonviolence exclusively in terms of war only reveals the extent to which we’ve ceded the breadth of the Christian faith to matters of personal piety.

He’d probably point out, as he did last night, that if you want to see Christian nonviolence in practice you should check out Jean Vanier’s L’Arche homes where those with profound disabilities are cared for with gentleness and patience.

And then, on this point at least, he’d finish by pointing out that the Church’s ministry to those in addiction is not an add-on to its Gospel mission but, when rightly done, is but a practice of our commitment to our nonviolent King. That helping people to speak the truth to their loved one and helping people hear the truth from their loved ones and accompanying them out of addiction is another way to glorify the Prince whose Peace requires truthfulness.

 

 

 

 

 

barth-and-luther-king-1962It was a wake-up call for me when, a few years ago, my sponge-of-a-student son seemed not to know that Martin Luther King was, like his Dad, a clergyman.

A preacher.

(Here he is pictured with Karl Barth, who also always thought of himself firstly as a preacher.)

Not only is Martin Luther King’s vocation largely ignored so is the message he preached at the end of his- as opposed to the one that occupied the height of his fame.

Martin Luther King Day  died preaching not simply civil rights- as we tell our children- but Christian nonviolence.

He died a martyr for the message of the non-violent love of the Cross.

It seems appropriate on Martin Luther King Day to pass this article on the persecution of Christians today around the world:

You can read the full article here.

The concept of Christian martyrdom may seem like something from a bygone, uncivilized era when believers were mercilessly thrown to the lions. Not so. This week, Open Doors, a non-denominational group supporting persecuted Christians worldwide, reported that Christian martyrdom has grown into a pervasive and horrifying human rights crisis.

In their annual report of the worst 50 countries for Christian persecution, Open Doors found that Christian martyr deaths around the globe doubled in 2013.  Their report documented 2,123 killings, compared with 1,201 in 2012. In Syria alone, there were 1,213 such deaths last year. In addition to losing their lives, Christians around the world continue to suffer discrimination, imprisonment, harassment, sexual assaults, and expulsion from countries merely for practicing their faith.

Once again, the worst persecutor of Christians is North Korea, where an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 followers of Jesus are suffering in prison camps for “crimes” such as owning a Bible, going to church, or sharing their faith.  In November 2013, it was reported that 80 prisoners were publicly executed, many for possessing Bibles. Last year, North Korea sentenced an American missionary, Kenneth Bae to 15 years of hard labor in a prison camp.  The U.S. State Department has lobbied unsuccessfully for his release.

Prisoners are packed into 40’x38’ metal shipping containers, normally used for transporting cargo.

Christians are obviously not the only North Koreans in prison camps.  But former captives have reported that they often attract the worst treatment because the regime is particularly enraged by the worship of any other being than the Supreme Leader, who forces North Koreans to treat him as a deity.

It’s chilling to imagine worse treatment than what the average North Korean prisoner has reported, including a mother forced to drown her own baby in a bucket, and tales of subsisting on nothing more than rats andinsects. According to first-hand accounts from former prisoners reported by Amnesty International, “every former inmate at one camp had witnessed a public execution, one child was held for eight months in a cube-like cell so small he couldn’t move his body and an estimated 40% of inmates die from malnutrition.

Syria, ranked as the third-worst country by Open Doors, has devolved in the last year to a horror show for Christians. The Hudson Institute’s Nina Shea noted in December 2013 a message she received from a contact in Syria who reported, “Kidnapping, killings, ransom, rape . . . 2013 is a tragedy for Christians in Syria. All Syrians have endured great suffering and distress. The Christians, however, often had to pay with their lives for their faith. Our bishops and nuns have been kidnapped, our political leader killed by torture. After our Christian villages have been occupied, our churches have been destroyed and even mass graves were found in Saddad. [T]he Islamists have put [to] the Christians the alternative: Islam or death. Why [is] the West justwatching?

Some of the most harrowing stories about how Christians are persecuted have come from the African country of Eritrea, which Open Doors lists as the twelfth worst country in the world for Christian persecution.  In his 2013 book, The Global War on Christians, reporter John L. Allen Jr., writes that in Eritrea, Christians are sent to the Me’eter military camp and prison, which he describes as a “concentration camp for Christians.” It is believed to house thousands being punished for their religious beliefs.

Prisoners are packed into 40’x38’ metal shipping containers, normally used for transporting cargo. It is so cramped that it’s impossible to lie down and difficult even to find a place to sit. “The metal exacerbates the desert temperatures, which means bone chilling cold at night and wilting heat during the day….believed to reach 115 degrees Fahrenheit or higher,” Allen writes.  One former inmate…described [it] as “giant ovens baking people alive.”  Prisoners are given next to nothing to drink so “they sometimes end up drinking their own scant sweat and urine to stay alive.”  The prisoners are tortured, sexually abused, and have no contact with the outside world.  One survivor of the prison described witnessing a fellow female inmate “who had been beaten so badly her uterus was actually hanging outside her body.  The survivor desperately tried to push the uterus back in” but couldn’t prevent the inmate’s excruciating death.

At a December 2013 speech to a conference organized by Georgetown’s Religious Freedom Project, Allen told the audience, “I always ask Christians in countries [where persecution occurs], what can we do for you?  The number one thing they say is, “Don’t forget about us.”

matthias-grunewald-947266Mark Tooley, at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, had this post recently, in which he wildly caricatures Christian pacifists, like Stanley Hauerwas.

First, Tooley lobs the, predictable, Nieburian charge that Christian pacifism is ‘unrealistic.’ (It’s appropriately ironic that Reinhold Niebuhr’s theology is passe to every one but Mark Tooley and Barack Obama.

Secondly, Tooley goes a step further and discounts Christian pacifism as even a legitimate form of Christian witness, which will come as a surprise to Mennonites who for half a millenia have seen no other conclusion to draw from the story of the Cross.

And Mennonites are not liberal.

If you make your own clothes but DON’T sell them on Etsy or post them on Pintarest– you’re not a lefty.

To the second charge, that Christian nonviolence is not a legitimate form of witness to the faith.

Pacifism refers to the rejection of all war or participation in war- by Christians.

Radical? Leftist? Utopian? Unrealistic?

Who would, in good conscience with the injustices of the world all around, support such a way of life?

The first Christians, that’s who.

Like the first 3 centuries of them.

As in, the followers of Christ most proximate to Christ himself.

Like Jesus’ brother, who like his elder, went non-violently to his death having been condemned unjustly by the Sanhedrin.

While there is evidence to suggest the early Christians recognized the legitimacy of war as an instrument of the state, they assumed their primary citizenship (the Kingdom of God) barred their own participation.

There were a variety of reasons for this pacifism.

For some, they had the expectation that Jesus would soon return and history as we know it would quickly be at an end. There is no need even to participate in attempts to preserve order and justice if a new order is about to be inaugurated.

As well, participation in the Roman Army—the primary option for early Christians—involved pledging allegiance to Caesar (a god) which Christians refused to do.

Not to mention, of course, the Roman Army was often involved in violent persecution of Christianity. Obviously, there was little incentive for participation in the Roman Army, and Christians were hardly welcome in it.

Nonetheless, above all these factors, it was the abiding sense that it was impossible to obey and follow Jesus- who’d taught his followers to love their enemies, turn the other cheek, carry their own crosses and who’d died on a cross himself rather than kill- and participate in state-sanctioned killing.

While the commitment to pacifism did not last beyond the first three of centuries (once the Empire was ‘Christian’ it was easy to baptize any cause or action taken up by the Empire) there has always been a significant minority of Christians who have regard participation in war as inappropriate.

There have always been some Christians who refuse to go to war in obedience to Jesus’ teaching and example and as a witness to Christian convictions and hopes.

Other Christians have justified pacifism by also insisting that non-violent means are effective as instruments of justice and order, more effective, indeed, than violence and war, which sow seeds of hatred and disorder that only contribute to an ongoing cycle of discord.

If that sounds unrealistic, consider how the Christian pacifist Martin Luther King, Jr. is now the only non-President on the National Mall.

That is-

Not too far from where the IRD issues its a-theological screeds against Christian non-violence is a hulking huge monument to the transformative power of exactly what the IRD asserts lacks both persuasive power and biblical warrant.

And, to make the point, MLK’s monument will presumably endure much longer than the IRD.

As will the theological legacy of Stanley Hauerwas.

As King himself taught, what Jesus taught was not passivity or acquiescence to injustice, evil, or abuse, but creative non-violent resistance that affirms and expresses the dignity of those who are oppressed.

Jesus’ third way, between violence and inaction or passivity.

Early Christian commitment to pacifism was related to the Roman imperial context in which the early church existed.

A significant body of contemporary scholarship has lifted up the way in which Christian faith and life was understood as a conscious and explicit resistance to Roman imperialism and the theological claims which were used to justify Roman authority.

For example, the earliest Christian affirmation of faith, “Jesus is Lord,” was intended as a repudiation of the claim that “Caesar is Lord.”

Now, to the first charge.

To call Hauerwas’ pacifism unrealistic is to miss (willfully I can only guess, for no one can be that philosophically dense) the radically Christocentric, and thus deeply realistic, character of Hauerwas’ vision.

As JR Daniel Kirk puts it:

The earliest Christians were not naïve about how power worked. They were not blind to the brutal realities of tyranny and the need to stand against it.

That’s precisely why the earliest followers of Jesus lived in eager anticipation of the time when Jesus would overthrow their Roman overlords. That’s precisely why they literally could not hear Jesus’ promise that he was going to die as messiah. That’s precisely why they wanted to call down fire from heaven on those who rejected them. That’s precisely why they thought Jesus a failure after he was crucified.

“But we had thought he was the one who was going to redeem Israel?”

The temptation didn’t go away. The temptation to imagine that true peace, true freedom, could only be had if someone came who acted like Rome but out Romed Rome–better deployment of troops, better handling of swords.

The next generation of Jesus followers faced it to.

That’s what Mark 13 is about: false Christs will arise saying, “I’m the guy!” What’s the context? The time when Jerusalem’s stones will be thrown down. The time when Rome executes its next devastating act of military victory over Judea in AD 70.

The time when Christians are not to get carried away, thinking that the way to the reign of God, of peace, of justice upon the earth is to be had by way of the sword.

The temptation didn’t go away.

The idea that the transformation of the economy of power in the world might happen by something other than the sword has never caught on. Rome’s been gone for over a thousand years, Jesus is still proclaimed as Lord long after such an acclamation has ever been given to a Caesar, but still we do not believe it.

The innocence of the dove alludes us, even as we call ourselves Christians.

The subversive alternative of the Dove to the Eagle alludes us, despite its descent upon Jesus at his anointing to his messianic office

While I don’t insist the witness of Mennonites is the necessary form of faith for all Christians, I do not think it legitimate.

You would be outraged, wouldn’t you, if I said you must concur with the Mennonite vision to be a true Christian, serious about both the Gospel and the world?

You should be so outraged when someone like Tooley insists on the very same thing but in the opposite direction.