Breaking Down a Seminar

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It would be quite an understatement to say the seminar in Rochester was an interesting experience. Around 190 people from 30 states & provinces and 20 or so Christian fellowships gathered together to consider the question, “Dare we live in the world imagined in the Sermon on the Mount?” The featured speaker was Stanley Hauerwas from Duke’s School of Divinity, but we were also treated to the vast intellects of Chuck Campell, professor of homiletics at Columbia Theological Seminary, and Warren Carter, professor of New Testament at the St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City. There were others, but these formed the intellectual center of the attempt to address the question.

Hauerwas was, without a doubt, his anticipated cantankerous self. He only delivered one lecture (which was hard for most of us to follow and seemed a bit scattered), but he was in top form seated on a panel discussion the first evening. At one point he laid it on Churches of Christ, though his rapid-fire academic attack was so far over everyone’s head that no one could really understand what he said (the only word I understood was Constantinian), but without a doubt, we all knew we had been given what for. After the laughter, he countered with, “Hey, I’m from Texas. I’ve seen you at your worst!”

During his solitary lecture, he shot harder. Hauerwas was raised a Methodist, and he offered that Methodists today seem to have as their maxim, “God is nice,” to which they offer a necessary corollary, “We ought to be nice, too.” Hauerwas countered that following Jesus will produce enemies, to which he added, “You Church of Christ folks have an advantage since most of you aren’t very nice people. Mean, mean, mean, mean, mean…”

It was interesting to watch many of the seminar participants squirm in their seats. It was my opinion that most of the conference participants were of the Church of Christ persuasion that like to view themselves as “progressives,” meaning primarily, “We like all those denominational people, and we have a praise team, and we want to be mega-churched evangelicals.” Still, many seemed a bit uncomfortable with the women at the microphone directing the liturgy and offering prayers. But much greater than that, I found cruel pleasure in watching the squirms while lecture after lecture railed against war & violence and American imperialism and promoted Christian pacifism time after time after time.

No, that last statement is inaccurate. It would be better to say that each lecture “assumed” (not promoted) Christian pacifism, much to the chagrin of much of the audience I’m sure.

I should start with Chuck Campbell and his lecture on the “principalities and powers” mentioned in the New Testament. He opened with a selection from chapter five of The Grapes of Wrath which refers to the “bank” as “the monster,” and from there he developed the idea that the forces that rule this world (e.g. government/politics, economies, “busy-ness” life, religious institutions), the things that are larger than people (to recall the Civil Rights Era phrase, “the man”), are powers that were created good, but have fallen and become aggressive and relentless in their selfish pursuits. Humanity is simply a pawn for these world powers, ending up helpless before the violence prompted by the powers’ thirst. His conclusion, however, was that Jesus engaged, exposed, and overcame these “powers” through his life, and that he rejected their tactic of violence for a new, creative way. He argued that the Sermon on the Mount was in essence Jesus’ way of offering an imagining of a world free from the control of the “powers” of this world, both in the present and the future. Campbell later explained his conclusion that Jesus in fact lampooned world powers in the sermon, serving as almost a court jester who saw the world from a completely different vantage point.

Warren Carter extended the argument. He effectively explained his conclusion that the Sermon on the Mount should be placed contextually into Matthew’s overall story, offering that it is a work of imagination that allows disciples to imagine life created by God’s saving presence (i.e. Jesus) and act accordingly. He described the Roman world at the time of Jesus, emphasizing the huge disparity between the powerful & wealthy 3% upper class and the poor 97% of the lower class, with nothing in between, and uses this setting to explain that Jesus offered followers an alternative vision of life, ruled not by the empire of Rome, but by God’s empire.

Tied together, all the lectures combined to offer the point that violence is the way of the “powers of this world” to get their way, whether by physical force or by coercion/manipulation, but that Jesus offers a creative path to freedom that resists the way of the world: a way that doesn’t stoop to its level. Then, as Chuck Campbell said it, “maybe even the oppressor might be redeemed – if we don’t kill him.”

This ought to be plenty to think about for now (I’ve been reading lots of Hauerwas, so I’ll throw out some fodder from him soon: let’s just say that both Campbell & Carter drink from the same fountain as he…). The “stuff” just described should lend itself to plenty for us to discuss. It, in fact, attempts to describe pacifism as something different than popularly conceived and offers a theological basis for subscribing to the idea. It offers reasons to discuss hot-button issues such as war and capital punishment and economic oppression, so I’ll just step to the side and see if anyone draws a card and opens play.

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25 Responses to “Breaking Down a Seminar”

  1. juvenal_urbino Says:

    the only word I understood was Constantinian

    Oh, yeah. Hauerwas is all up in some Constantine.

    What kind of seminar was this? You said it was mostly CsofC people. Seems like a pretty atypical lineup of speakers for a CsofC event. Who hosted it, Rochester College?

  2. Sandi Says:

    And more importantly, did the OS C of C subsidize your attendance at this event?

  3. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Yes, Rochester College. And it was a “sermon seminar,” though a preacher-friend noted that there wasn’t a ton of talk about actual sermon preparation, etc. (nuts and bolts). You can check it out on the web by doing a search for “rochester college sermon seminar.”

    Rochester has jumped way out there, which may explain why Rubel would move from Tennessee to Michigan. Last year’s seminar featured Fred Craddock (not a huge stretch there), but others have featured Will Willimon and Walter Bruegemann. They announced next year’s featured speaker yesterday, but I didn’t recognize (nor remember) the name.

    The only CofC guy in the lineup was your old buddy, Richard Hughes. He only spoke once, and he spoke of William Stringfellow, David Lipscomb, and the Anabaptists. All as pacifists of course. (In reading Hauerwas, I loved his line that the only thing Catholics and Protestants ever agreed on was killing Anabaptists!)

  4. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Simul-commenting.

    Yes, they did.

  5. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I get to attend one conference a year (budgeted), and its up to me. The proof will be in the pudding (sermon-wise) – I plan to preach through Matthew, and the Rochester seminar topic was the best to me. And it helped a LOT, mostly from Carter’s lectures.

    If Mikey’s still in Malibu next year, I will try to go to their lectures (though that depends on next year’s topic).

  6. Al Sturgeon Says:

    http://www.rc.edu/sermonseminar for anyone interested.

  7. juvenal_urbino Says:

    In reading Hauerwas, I loved his line that the only thing Catholics and Protestants ever agreed on was killing Anabaptists!

    And some of the Anabaptists gleefully retaliated (e.g., the German Peasants’ Revolt of 1525), which I’m guessing no one at the seminar mentioned, what with the emphasis on pacifism.

  8. Al Sturgeon Says:

    You’re right.
    🙂
    Al

  9. Duane McCrory Says:

    Al,

    Perhaps I’m misreading you, but it seems that you see pacificism as a central part of Jesus’ message, but I could be mistaken. This greatly concerns me because I think it distracts from Jesus’ central message.

    If Matthew is all about pacificism, why does Jesus say in Matthew 10:34, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”? Peace, pacificism, kind of the same idea and Jesus says twice in one sentence that he did not come to bring it. You can continue on contextually to see that at least part of what he means is that households will be divided in response to his message and/or rule, but why use the words “peace” and “sword,” obvious military imagery? Jesus’ central message is not pacifism.

    My greatest problem with pacifism is, once again, the distraction it gives to those who want a political cause. It distracts Christians from loving their neighbors around them and helping the poor who are right in front of them. And I still wonder how Paul could write in Romans 13:4 about “ruling authorities,” that basically the Roman state is “a minister (deacon) of God to you for the good” (my translation). While most scholars date Romans in the mid-50s, during the early part of Nero’s reign and certainly before the persecution of Christians in 64, Nero was not a great emperor from the start. Suetonius, who tries to give the praiseworthy attributes of emperors before he really slams them, says this about Nero after very briefly trying to describe good things he did, “I have separated this catalogue of Nero’s less atrocious acts-some deserving no criticism, some even praiseworthy-from the others; but I must begin to list his follies and crimes.” (Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, VI.19, p. 222.) I could list the “less atrocious acts” or even the more atrocious ones that Suetonius mentions, but suffice it to say that the Roman government was corrupt from the top down, but somehow Paul could see it as God’s minister/servant for the good of the people. Must our position be an either/or, i.e. that government or institutions are all bad or all good? Paul could clearly see some value in the Roman government despite its pitfalls and nearly-constant wars.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I think it is terribly important not to mix Christianity with the politics of the U.S. (or any other country) and suggest that without question this government is doing God’s will on earth. I would highlight the “without question” part of my last sentence. The U.S. could, in fact, be accomplishing some of what God wants to see happen on earth. From what I hear of your statements in the past and now, I don’t think you allow for that possibility. I could be mistaken. If so, please clarify for me.

    What I think is so important here is our anthropocentric (human-centered) worldview. This is going to sound cruel and you will probably see me as “mean, mean, mean, mean, mean,” (did I put enough “means”?) but how concerned is God about the individual life of an individual person? I say this as one who has seen death on a personal level for four months straight and who has also frequently dealt with the after effects of such death as a result of war, but also much more than that. I know what harm even a single death does to a family and close, personal friends.

    And yet I wonder how God could allow for things like the siege on Jerusalem back in OT times where adults were eating their children to survive. Lamentations 2:20 says in part, “Should women eat their offspring, the children they have borne?” This is horrible even to imagine, not to mention the many times that “ripping open pregnant women” is mentioned during raids and battles in the OT. How does this fit into the theology of the pacifist God? Why does Jonah end with the words “and also many beasts,” which contains a rebuke to Jonah because God cares about the 120,000 people in Nineveh, but also about the animals there? Why does Psalm 104 show God’s care over creation in feeding and giving water to animals while humans are really only a side point toward the end?

    You see, I think to begin to answer the questions like, “Why, Katrina, Rita, the tsunami,” and “why natural disasters,” and maybe even, “why, war?”, we have to enlarge our view of God, which would suggest that there are some (if not many) things that are more important than a single, human life. There has to be something about sustaining the created world that overrides the importance of an individual life. At the same time, Jesus, especially as seen in Mark, goes around helping individual people. It is hard to make the two fit. And I don’t subscribe to the platonic dualism that separates soul from body as if Jesus cared about human souls instead of human persons. Salvation does not mean saving the soul for the afterlife, but concerns a good life (intentionally ambiguous here) under God’s rule right now. Jesus was not a dualist. He was a Hebrew.

    I’ve rambled on way too long now and I don’t think it’s wrong to emphasize how Christians should not be part of oppressive power structures. But I think one has to deal with God’s use of violent means (i.e. the Assyrian and Babylonian empires) to accomplish his purposes. Does this have to be spelled out in the NT for us to think that God continues to do this? Does Jesus say, “God does not do this anymore so stop thinking like that?” What he says in John 19:11 seems to indicate another view. Can’t his statement there, “You would have no authority over me unless it had been given you from above,” suggest that he believes that God is still in control of human governments, especially considering how the gospel of John uses language, how he uses the same word “from above/again” in John 3 to talk about being born “from above/again” when speaking to Nicodemus? Here is the problem. The last part of that verse has Jesus say “therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” Execution of an innocent man, Jesus, is sinful (and I would add, oppressive), but Jesus faults the religious authorities more than the government that carries out the execution. And yet, Pilate’s authority is “from above,” i.e. from God. My point: there can be problems in governments and yet God can still use them for his purposes, even his violent purposes. There’s something more important from God’s point of view than single, individual human lives.

    Sorry, I rambled a little longer. My point is not to give answers but to suggest clarification on what I see to be a one-sided point of view, pacifism, which I think distracts us from a larger purpose of loving neighbor. I would bet that you see pacifism as part of loving one’s neighbor, but even using the language of pacifism takes this out of a Christian context and places it into a political one. Politics necessarily distracts us from Christ, from my perspective.

  10. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Hey Duane!

    I wasn’t arguing much of anything in the post, simply reporting on the argument of the seminar I attended. But I am happy to engage the discussion, though I’m mostly trying to form my own conclusions rather than argue them.

    You wrote: If Matthew is all about pacificism, why does Jesus say in Matthew 10:34, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”? Peace, pacificism, kind of the same idea and Jesus says twice in one sentence that he did not come to bring it. You can continue on contextually to see that at least part of what he means is that households will be divided in response to his message and/or rule, but why use the words “peace” and “sword,” obvious military imagery?

    Al: Two or three things here: (1) the argument runs that Matthew wrote to a world dominated by Roman power & might (and Jesus spoke to the same sort of situation), and that the military words relate to the world they lived in, yet Jesus offered a different type of “sword” to his listeners through creative, nonviolent resistance (Jesus, of course, never taught his disciples in Matthew to take up an actual sword though the topic of how to resist evil was specifically addressed); (2) Chuck Campbell argued that the word “pacifism” is corrupted to imply weakness and, if you will, passivity, so he prefers the term “nonviolent resistance” to communicate Jesus’ message as written by Matthew. Hauerwas doesn’t even like the word “nonviolent” because it gives too much credit to the worldly method of “violence” – he’d prefer violence to be called “non-peace!”; (3) Jesus did not come to bring peace to the world. He came, in a large part, to offer people held captive by the violent ways of the world a form of resistance that doesn’t resort to its level. Couldn’t Jesus have called down the standing army of heaven mobilized for battle if he wanted to? Jesus’s path did not result in a worldwide peace. In fact, it got him killed in violence. Following his path today will most likely lead to the same sort of results since it threatens the “principalities and powers” of this world, and they resist threats to their authority with violence. Yet Jesus’s path of nonviolent resistance exposes the “powers” for what they really are and allows humanity to be set free from their violent authority over their lives and achieve what might best be called an “inner peace.”

    You wrote: My greatest problem with pacifism is, once again, the distraction it gives to those who want a political cause. It distracts Christians from loving their neighbors around them and helping the poor who are right in front of them.

    Al: I would have a great problem with this, too, and I think I can safely say that the seminar presenters would as well (since they spent an inordinate amount of time speaking to how we in the wealthy 2-3% of the world should be reaching out to the world’s oppressed). The argument is not to go out and wave anti-war signs, but to hold “Church” accountable to the call of Jesus not to seek revenge (to head off the Hitler example, how would the Holocaust have turned out if German Christian soldiers would have rejected the path of violence?). I know Hauerwas to argue that the Church is to be an institution that offers the world a different path. We would not chase after warmongers wagging fingers, but (a) challenge disciples to come to terms with the way of life instructed by the Master Teacher, and (b) offer nonviolent resistance to the world as a different way. For a modern-day example, Dr. King. His “nonviolent resistance” did not distract from loving neighbors and helping the poor; it, in fact, held it at the fore.

    To your comments on Romans: Chuck Campbell once again explains that the “powers” of the world were created to be good (Colossians 1: 15-16 primarily, but also Romans 13 as a companion passage). But as you point out Rome wasn’t all good, nor is the United States (and to answer your request for clarification, I do not think that it is impossible for the U.S. govt. to be about the purposes of God. I do believe a theocracy to be both unconstitutional and not God’s idea as presented through Jesus, specifically in the final temptation Satan offered Jesus.). Yet I think you were admitting with your “without question” comments that the U.S. government is not the hope God offered the world through Jesus. Neither was Rome. All powers were created for good, but they are fallen, imperfect powers. Also, Romans 13 follows Romans 12. I think we sometimes forget Paul’s words at the end of chapter 12 that instructed imitators of Jesus not to seek revenge, and instead, to respond to their enemies with kindness (to overcome evil with good).

    I really hate to summarize the long paragraphs you wrote in regard to God’s way of working in the world through violence, much from the Old Testament, yet related to a violent world today, but I feel compelled to nonetheless. I don’t dismiss God using violence at all, and I more than allow for it – just before Romans 13 begins God says “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.” Yet the theological argument for nonviolent resistance (i.e. pacifism) is not that God is prevented from the use of physical violence or that his use of violence is inherently evil, but that those who follow Jesus are instructed to refrain from it. That may sound too simplistic, but that’s what I’m talking about. We are called to follow Jesus’s teachings (be the wise man at the end of the Sermon on the Mount who hears the words & puts them into practice) and not the people who overthrow the Roman Empire and set up God’s Kingdom through the use and practice of violence (which that way would require). Instead, the Kingdom we inhabit is “not of this world” (otherwise, we would fight) and reigns on earth around and through and in spite of the “powers” that Jesus defeated through his willingness to lay down his life for others (as opposed to calling down armies).

    Now to close by opening a huge can of worms…

    You wrote: I would bet that you see pacifism as part of loving one’s neighbor, but even using the language of pacifism takes this out of a Christian context and places it into a political one. Politics necessarily distracts us from Christ, from my perspective.

    Al: I would respond that the seminar presentations taught that Jesus/Christianity is VERY political, but Juvenal described it best in response to a recent post when he explained that his religion and his politics are inextricably linked, which makes the point better in my opinion. I would suggest that politics does not necessarily distract us from Christ, but is a part of the package deal of being made citizens in a new (political) kingdom where God reigns w/o rival.

    (Juvenal, do I sound anything like Yoder?)

  11. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Okay, how’s this for a thought?

    Jesus’ central message is neither “love your neighbor” nor “nonviolent resistance of the world’s oppressive powers” but “follow me.”

    Since following Jesus calls for love of neighbor, you discover you must serve him and cannot kill him. And in following Jesus’ call to creatively and non-violently resist the oppressors of the world, you discover yourself standing up for your poor neighbor while teaching the oppressor of love, too.

    They are two sides of the same coin, the currency of following Jesus.

    Just thinking out loud.

  12. DeJon Redd Says:

    Good things, when short, are twice as good.
    – Baltasar Gracian

  13. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Yeah, but I’m tall, so what would I know about that?
    🙂

  14. Duane McCrory Says:

    Al,

    I don’t have a lot of time to respond, but I’d like to say a few words about points 1 & 3, and maybe some other stuff too.

    (1) the argument runs that Matthew wrote to a world dominated by Roman power & might (and Jesus spoke to the same sort of situation), and that the military words relate to the world they lived in, yet Jesus offered a different type of “sword” to his listeners through creative, nonviolent resistance (Jesus, of course, never taught his disciples in Matthew to take up an actual sword though the topic of how to resist evil was specifically addressed);

    I think I understand the point being made, but I would say that this is decidedly not the macro-story in Matthew, and especially not in the Sermon on the Mount. (Take a look at The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. It is a good, enlightening read on the Sermon.) The Beatitudes in 5:1-12 are not about nonviolent resistance, nor are the verses in 5:13-16 about being salt and light. The words about the law in 5:17-20 are not. Lust (5:27-30), divorce (5:31-32), taking oaths (5:33-37), praying and fasting (6:1-18), warning against riches (6:19-24), worry (6:25-34), not judging (7:1-5), seeking the kingdom (7:7-11), and even the golden rule (7:12) are not about nonviolent protest. Nor are the passages about the narrow way (7:13-14), good and bad fruit (7:15-20), or doing what Jesus teaches (7:21-27) about this. The passages that are left are the one about hate and murder (5:21-26), an eye for an eye (7:38-42) and loving neighbor and enemies (7:43-47). One can try to read pacifism into these verses, but one would be doing just that. So if only three sections out of around 19-20 can even be thought of as relating to pacifist notions, one should not attempt to read the whole of the Sermon on the Mount in those terms and certainly not the whole gospel in those terms. I would even suggest that one is only left with the eye for an eye passage, though, because is hating/murder really about nonviolent resistance? Is loving one’s enemy about nonviolent resistance? I don’t see how that question can be answered in the affirmative. I need to hear more persuasive words from you to be convinced of that.

    (3) Jesus did not come to bring peace to the world. He came, in a large part, to offer people held captive by the violent ways of the world a form of resistance that doesn’t resort to its level. Couldn’t Jesus have called down the standing army of heaven mobilized for battle if he wanted to? Jesus’s path did not result in a worldwide peace. In fact, it got him killed in violence. Following his path today will most likely lead to the same sort of results since it threatens the “principalities and powers” of this world, and they resist threats to their authority with violence. Yet Jesus’s path of nonviolent resistance exposes the “powers” for what they really are and allows humanity to be set free from their violent authority over their lives and achieve what might best be called an “inner peace.”

    Once again, saying “Jesus’ path of nonviolent resistance” misunderstands Jesus entirely. He was not a 1st-century Gandhi. I don’t see any of the gospels painting this portrait of Jesus. A new way of living in the world and nonviolent resistance are not equivalents. One is starting from a pacifist viewpoint and the other is not. The language betrays the perspective. Had Jesus (or Matthew) wanted his hearers/readers to understand the Sermon as nonviolent protest against the world’s violent powers, certainly it seems that he would have set the stage with the first part of the Sermon so that this would be clear. An attempt to read nonviolent protest into the beatitudes would be just that–reading it into them. The beatitudes are Jesus’ way of blessing the most unlikely of people; they are not attitudes to emulate in order to nonviolently protest the powers that be (see Dallas Willard’s book for a detailed study of this).

    Your notes on Romans 12 are interesting. Since we are on Romans and context, Romans 12:1 is a key section marker for the letter as a whole. Based on everything Paul has said in chapters 1-11, 12-15 talk about how to live that out. I’m not sure how your point about the end of Romans 12 is relevant to how I understand our discussion here. Paul instructs individuals (and communities) in Rome on how to live out their faith. Not seeking revenge is part of it (what you mentioned), but so is living in a way that is subject to the authorities that exist. The argument that Carter makes, which you bring up, does not even enter into Paul’s mind though he surely knows of the problem of the Roman government at the time. Paul does not say, “a government that is not corrupt is a minister of God for your good,” but he says unqualifiedly that the current (i.e. Roman) power is God’s minister/servant. I don’t see how the idea that governments and people are never free from corruption really plays into the discussion.

    Further down in Romans 13:4 is a crux for me. Paul says that the government does not bear the sword for nothing, but that it is, once again, “the servant/minister of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.” In 12:19 Paul quotes where God says he will take vengeance, and 13:4, same context, indicates that God can and does sometimes take his vengeance by using people (governments). These people that are involved in government are God’s servants of violence. One cannot simply say that God is the one solely responsible for violent means of bringing punishment. Just as in the OT, God uses people to do this. If these people involved in governments who use violence are doing God’s will, if they are his ministers to punish the wrongdoer, are they sinning by doing this? Is God causing them to sin? How are we to view such people? Would you say, then, that Christians should not be part of any government because they should always be nonviolent protestors? Barton Stone definitley thought this as did David Lipscomb. If so, then this leaves us out of politics altogether because politics are necessarily a part of government whose violence we should not be a part of. I come back and restate that I still believe that politics distract us from Christ’s message and I strongly disagree with your statement that Christ came to make a new political kingdom. You will have to show me where you read this because I can’t think of any place where this is true.

  15. Duane McCrory Says:

    Oh, and DeJon, you’ll have a lot more reading than this when you start your Master’s Degree, so this should help you get used to that. 🙂

  16. Whitney Says:

    I dont’ have anything intelligent to add, but this is by far one of the most interesting discussions we’ve had here (at least for me.)

    Hey Dej, Don’t listen to Duane. The first two sentences of every paragraph will get you through grad school just fine, my friend. 🙂 (Hey, I told you all, nothing intelligent to add.)

    I hope you’re getting excited! And if Annie is reading this: CONGRATULATIONS Miss JAG. (E-mail us with your plans for the summer,we’d LOVE to see you.)

  17. Al Sturgeon Says:

    First, I wasn’t arguing that Matthew’s gospel and the Sermon on the Mount were completely focused on nonviolent resistance. My point #1 was simply offering a response to your question of why Jesus (Matthew) might have used military language. I’m just arguing that it very well could have been because those words made sense to a people dominated by the Roman military. I really doubt that you would go so far as to say that the fact Jesus used military language meant he was sanctioning military action by his followers. Using the language doesn’t equal sanction, does it?

    THE DIVINE CONSPIRACY is on my bookshelf – haven’t made it to it just yet… But from what I understand, I’d guess that Willard would agree that Matthew is primarily concerned with the establishment of the Kingdom of God (Empire, if you will): Jesus, as God’s saving presence in the world.

    I’m not the best to play the role of your adversary here, but since no one more knowledgeable than me is in that seat I’ll speak anyway and say that the argument is not that the crux of Matthew’s gospel is “nonviolent resistance,” but the Kingdom of God, and that creative, nonviolent resistance is part of life in God’s Empire (which stands in stark contrast to the methods of the Roman Empire by which Matthew’s readers were dominated). So I don’t feel the need to establish that the entire Sermon on the Mount is all about “non-violence” because I don’t believe that it is.

    Now, you say that you cannot imagine how loving one’s enemy can involve nonviolent resistance. So I will ask you a question: Can you love your enemy by practicing violence toward him or her? (here’s the top definitions of “violence” for consideration: “physical force for the purpose of violating, damaging, or abusing” or “abusive or unjust exercise of power”) I’m having a really hard time imagining how loving one’s enemy CANNOT involve nonviolent resistance.

    It may be that you have a hard time with the addition of the word “resistance” since your definition of pacifism may still cling to the “bend over and take it” school of thought. That is one way to “love your enemy” nonviolently, but that is sentimentality, not resistance. Jesus took the punishment dished out on him, but in such a way that shoved it back in the face of the oppressors and taught them of love. Jesus was a warrior. His cross was creative resistance with a redemptive purpose. This is what he teaches his followers to do, too (isn’t it primary to pick up your cross and follow him?).

    Hopefully, the above will satisfy your criticism involving the Beatitudes: I’m not saying that Jesus is “laying out attitudes to emulate in order to nonviolently protest the powers that be…” Who could emulate being poor anyway? Or meekness? Or being persecuted? Instead, I think we agree that Jesus is declaring honor on the most unlikely people, right? Since I’m not claiming that the entire Sermon is focused on the theme of nonviolent resistance to the powers, then I have no need to defend Jesus’ opening (shocking) declarations. I’m just suggesting that part of this new Empire, filled with the most surprising people, is a call to creative nonviolent resistance as part of the call to hear and put into practice the words of Jesus.

    Now, to Romans/politics:

    Forgive my boldness, but your argument seems a bit misguided. Being used by God (servant/minister) does not require one to be redeemed by God. The extreme example, of course, is Satan, who was used as God’s servant to bring about the very salvation of the world through the violent murder of Jesus. Habakkuk is another example – after complaining of violence, God’s answer was that he would use ruthless & violent people to punish Israel. When questioned, God’s basic response was to have faith and allow God to eventually punish the Babylonians/Chaldeans for the very violent acts that God used to bring about his purpose! Did the Babylonians “sin” by attacking Israel? He sure wasn’t happy with them. Then did he “make them” sin? That’s the age-old question, right? I don’t think so…

    Which begs your eventual question, and I quote: Would you say, then, that Christians should not be part of any government because they should always be nonviolent protestors?

    No, I wouldn’t say that. My conclusion (at this particular second) is that “powers” are redeemable in some fashion, and governments can be used to enact justice by helping the oppressed, and governments can be used to take baseball bats out of the hands of people using them to beat the snot out of helpless human beings. That’s all good. But if you are asking me if I could take a weapon and love the person in my sights and kill him anyway based completely on a verse in Romans 13 that says that governments can punish an evildoer, then my personal answer is “no.” I’m not suggesting that you have to share my conclusion, but I can’t kill someone I love.

    You wrote: I come back and restate that I still believe that politics distract us from Christ’s message and I strongly disagree with your statement that Christ came to make a new political kingdom. You will have to show me where you read this because I can’t think of any place where this is true.

    I respond: “Politics” is simply “the art or science of governing and the administration and control of the entity’s internal and external affairs.” Take a look at that definition and tell me how Jesus DIDN’T come to make a new political kingdom. He’s my king, and I will listen only to him. Our problem is that we define “politics” from the standpoint of nationalism, and my argument is that we do so because we are enmeshed in the “principalities and powers” of the world. Jesus came to “un-mesh” us, however, and once again, I offer that in large part the Sermon on the Mount is a primer on life in this new kingdom, filled with the most unlikely (honored) people, very different than the political empires of this world, including in part a call to reject violence as part of our personal tool bag.

  18. Duane McCrory Says:

    Al,

    I kind of feel like we’re going in circles, but let me add one more comment and see if it gets anywhere, and BTW, feel free to be as bold as you like. If any of my language comes off as too bold, please forgive me as well.

    Here’s where I think some miscommunication is happening. First, you say:

    Now, you say that you cannot imagine how loving one’s enemy can involve nonviolent resistance. So I will ask you a question: Can you love your enemy by practicing violence toward him or her? (here’s the top definitions of “violence” for consideration: “physical force for the purpose of violating, damaging, or abusing” or “abusive or unjust exercise of power”) I’m having a really hard time imagining how loving one’s enemy CANNOT involve nonviolent resistance.

    What I said was:
    Is loving one’s enemy about nonviolent resistance? I don’t see how that question can be answered in the affirmative.

    What I probably should have said is, “Is loving one’s enemy solely about nonviolent resistance or is it even in the purview of the passage itself?

    Matthew 5:43-47 reads:
    “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (NRSV)

    I have not seen you define nonviolent resistance and perhaps that is the problem. I think of Gandhi and MLK when I hear that. I do not see what they did in this passage. In the context of Matthew 5, what does “loving your enemies mean?” It means praying for them and treat them as well as you would treat anyone (that’s the God example—he does the same good things for both righteous and unrighteous). Love them; greet them; treat them as friends instead of enemies. There is no nonviolent resistance there. I’m not saying the two ideas are incompatible; I’m saying your reading nonviolent resistance into a passage that talks about loving enemies by praying for them and treating them well. If you are redefining nonviolent resistance in those terms, you need to be more clear about it. And here is where your redefinition of loaded terms like “politics” and “nonviolent resistance” are, in my view, causing miscommunication. These words contain too much baggage to be used fruitfully in a discussion such as this unless the one using them makes it clear he/she has redefined them. I would not disagree that using violence toward one’s enemy is unloving. You’re reading something into what I’m saying by suggesting that and it does offend me somewhat.

    One of your other comments does concern me as well.

    You said: I’m just arguing that it very well could have been because those words made sense to a people dominated by the Roman military. I really doubt that you would go so far as to say that the fact Jesus used military language meant he was sanctioning military action by his followers. Using the language doesn’t equal sanction, does it?

    My answer to your question is, of course, no, but I think it is historically inaccurate to say that the audience of Matthew was “a people dominated by the Roman military.” There was certainly a military presence in Jerusalem, a place of many violent messianic pretenders and revolts, but to suggest that the people in the villages and places where Jesus spoke felt dominated by Roman power is certainly questionable, and Matthew’s audience is difficult enough to ascertain that I would have to suggest the same thing for them as well. I doubt that the average peasant in one of these villages without a military presence needed correction from Jesus to say that he/she should be nonviolent as opposed to the Roman military. I’m not saying he/she would not have understood the language, but there were far greater concerns, like feeding his/her family which Jesus does address. See the “worry” passages for this (6:25-34).

    You say in a previous comment that Jesus “came, in a large part, to offer people held captive by the violent ways of the world a form of resistance that doesn’t resort to its level.” Where do you see people held captive to this way of living in the world? Why do you read Jesus’ teachings as ways of “resistance?” Murder is violent, and yet Jesus takes it to the nonviolent level of not even hating. Adultery is not violent (rape, which Jesus does not discuss certainly is), but Jesus takes one step further and says, “Don’t lust.” I’m not saying that Jesus’ teachings are incompatable with the teachings of pacifism and nonviolent resistance.

    I’ll just make a quick statement to say that my view of pacifism is not what you suggest that it is. I have great difficulty with you saying that the cross was Jesus’ way of shoving the punishment dished out to him back in the face of his oppressors. I realize you add the words, “and taught them of love,” but I don’t see Jesus shoving anything in anyone’s face. I don’t see him “resisting,” I see him sacrificing and calling for us to sacrifice. If by resisting you mean this resists the ways of the world which are self-centered, then, okay, I can agree with that. But it is not a form of shoving it in their face.

    On Romans, you still never answered my questions. Instead, you suggest:
    Being used by God (servant/minister) does not require one to be redeemed by God.

    I would agree with this. But I would go to the question then, can one who is redeemed by God be used by God as part of a government that sometimes carries out violent purposes? Can one participate in that? It seems like your answer would be no. So then, how can one be involved in government at all? Is not one then complicit in the acts of violence committed by that government? The writer of Revelation seems to think so when he tells those who are involved in the ways of the Roman Empire to “come out of her, my people, so that you do not take part in her sins.” (Revelation 18:4 – I can give you context if you want, but I’m trying to keep this long comment shorter than it could be.)

    I’ll have to come back to your politics discussion later, but I’ve already discussed how using a loaded term without being clear on your redefinition of it causes miscommunication. A dictionary definition does not completely define a word. Connotation is a large part of a word’s meaning, and that is not contained in the definition you give of politics.

    One more quote,

    Since following Jesus calls for love of neighbor, you discover you must serve him and cannot kill him. And in following Jesus’ call to creatively and non-violently resist the oppressors of the world, you discover yourself standing up for your poor neighbor while teaching the oppressor of love, too.

    They are two sides of the same coin, the currency of following Jesus.

    If I read you correctly, you’re saying that loving neighbor and “nonviolent resistance” are two sides of the same coin. So how does that fit in with lust, with hate, with worry, with whatever that does not include violence? I can offer nonviolent resistance to my enemy and still lust after him/her. I can’t love my neighbor and still lust after him/her. I don’t think they’re two sides of the same coin, but maybe I misunderstand your point.

  19. Al Sturgeon Says:

    First of all Duane, thank you for engaging me in this discussion. I heard a lot of stuff this past week, some I’ve heard before, and some I’ve not, and I posted this to allow myself to begin to work through it all. Thanks for helping me in this regard.

    And let me suggest to you sometime Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus,” which will explain this line of thought much better than I ever could. It sounds like it is a new type of discussion for you, and since I won’t do it justice, you ought to check it out.

    You wrote: What I probably should have said is, “Is loving one’s enemy solely about nonviolent resistance or is it even in the purview of the passage itself?”

    I respond: I’d say “no” to the former, and “seems like it” to the latter. I can’t say with all certainty that Jesus was speaking in linear fashion, but “eye for eye” is all about nonviolent resistance, and immediately following that with the shocking instruction to love your enemies seems to land it in the passage’s purview. He was, after all, just talking about how to interact with your enemies. Seems to cap off the thought nicely, but it would be quite a stretch to say that this was ALL loving enemies involved.

    You wrote: In the context of Matthew 5, what does “loving your enemies mean?” It means praying for them and treat them as well as you would treat anyone (that’s the God example—he does the same good things for both righteous and unrighteous). Love them; greet them; treat them as friends instead of enemies. There is no nonviolent resistance there. I’m not saying the two ideas are incompatible; I’m saying your reading nonviolent resistance into a passage that talks about loving enemies by praying for them and treating them well. If you are redefining nonviolent resistance in those terms, you need to be more clear about it.

    I respond: You are correct that it means praying for them and treating them well and loving them and greeting them, etc. But in the context of Matthew 5, it also means walking naked out of court to expose more than just yourself when your rich enemy sues you for even your clothes. It also means calling attention to a corrupt system that could force you to carry bags for a mile by carrying them for two miles. It also means taking the demeaning backhand slap on your “right” cheek, then exposing the jerk by offering him the opportunity to directly punch you on your left. (From what I understand Walter Wink’s “Engaging the Powers” is helpful in this area.) In other words, I’m saying that loving your enemies is larger than just being nice to everyone. If so, that’s not even very interesting, and it certainly isn’t enough to warrant a covert execution of its teacher.

    You wrote: I would not disagree that using violence toward one’s enemy is unloving. You’re reading something into what I’m saying by suggesting that and it does offend me somewhat.

    I respond: You have my apologies. I didn’t mean to imply that you did think that was true. I was trying to say that your argument’s alternative seemed to be that, which I’m sure would be untenable for both of us.

    You wrote: I think it is historically inaccurate to say that the audience of Matthew was “a people dominated by the Roman military.” …to suggest that the people in the villages and places where Jesus spoke felt dominated by Roman power is certainly questionable… I doubt that the average peasant in one of these villages without a military presence needed correction from Jesus to say that he/she should be nonviolent as opposed to the Roman military. I’m not saying he/she would not have understood the language, but there were far greater concerns, like feeding his/her family which Jesus does address.

    I respond: (a) The listeners must have needed instruction on how to react when the wealthy Romans demeaned them with a slap, sued them for their clothes, and forced them to carry their bags for a mile, and (b) It is my understanding that the average peasant worried about feeding his family because of the dominant rule of the Roman Empire (which made Jewish tax collectors traitors – and hated).

    You wrote: You say in a previous comment that Jesus “came, in a large part, to offer people held captive by the violent ways of the world a form of resistance that doesn’t resort to its level.” Where do you see people held captive to this way of living in the world? Why do you read Jesus’ teachings as ways of “resistance?” Murder is violent, and yet Jesus takes it to the nonviolent level of not even hating. Adultery is not violent (rape, which Jesus does not discuss certainly is), but Jesus takes one step further and says, “Don’t lust.”

    I respond: Ever since Eden, people have been held captive by the violent ways of the world. Beginning with Cain. I’m not claiming that this was a problem contained to Jesus’ hillside audience, but for all of us. Which is why the Gospel is universal. James 4:1-2 speaks of this way, and 1st John 3 holds up these two sides to consider: the way of Cain, and the way of Jesus. People are held captive to this way of living in the world all around us – and within us. Listen to parents tell their children what to do to a bully and we’ll see how pervasive the way of violence is in the world. Murder is violent; Jesus says to resist it by refusing to hate. Adultery is violent in that it violates a covenant. It shatters it. Resist that way that is all around us. Don’t even lust. Divorce is violent – ask my wife and stepdaughter. Resist that way. Don’t divorce. Words are used violently to deceive and get your way. Resist that way. Speak truth all the time.

    You wrote: I have great difficulty with you saying that the cross was Jesus’ way of shoving the punishment dished out to him back in the face of his oppressors. I realize you add the words, “and taught them of love,” but I don’t see Jesus shoving anything in anyone’s face.

    I respond: This is what I mean: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 1:15)

    You wrote: I would go to the question then, can one who is redeemed by God be used by God as part of a government that sometimes carries out violent purposes? Can one participate in that? It seems like your answer would be no. So then, how can one be involved in government at all? Is not one then complicit in the acts of violence committed by that government?

    I respond: Two issues here possibly: (1) If you are asking if I believe a redeemed person could perform acts of violence for a government God is using (this is a tough one of course, but as for me I would say), he’d better not. God used the Jewish leadership and Roman Empire to kill Jesus, but the killers needed to be redeemed afterwards. As I said earlier, from what I read of Jesus’ instructions on how to follow him, I could not kill someone I love; (2) If you are saying that you cannot be involved in something because it commits acts of violence, then we would have to leave the Church, too. It would be a personal decision I’m sure to detach oneself from a government because it commits acts of violence, but I don’t think it is a required one. Instead, I would encourage people to be an evangelistic voice of nonviolence from within a violent system. I think that would carry the possibility of having a redemptive effect.

    You wrote: I’ll have to come back to your politics discussion later, but I’ve already discussed how using a loaded term without being clear on your redefinition of it causes miscommunication. A dictionary definition does not completely define a word. Connotation is a large part of a word’s meaning, and that is not contained in the definition you give of politics.

    I respond: I understand (and apologize for) your frustration with my having done this. But that is in some ways exactly my point. I don’t see it as having been redefined by me, but that it has already been redefined by the world. I’m saying that Jesus is a political figure who set up a political kingdom, and the fact that we don’t recognize it in those words means more that we should recover the reality behind those words, not create a set of spiritual words that separates religion from the world we inhabit.

    You wrote: If I read you correctly, you’re saying that loving neighbor and “nonviolent resistance” are two sides of the same coin. So how does that fit in with lust, with hate, with worry, with whatever that does not include violence? I can offer nonviolent resistance to my enemy and still lust after him/her. I can’t love my neighbor and still lust after him/her. I don’t think they’re two sides of the same coin, but maybe I misunderstand your point.

    I respond: Okay, I’ll concede this one. See what happens when I try to be succinct, DeJon! The coin analogy is a bad one. I was just saying that I read Jesus to call us to both. That’s all.

  20. DeJon Redd Says:

    Bravo, Friends. Bravo!

  21. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Yeah, but I know that Juvenal is waiting quietly in the wings!

  22. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Just reading along, Al, greatly enjoying the fact that this discussion of the Sermon is happening. The CsofC historic lack of theological attention to the Sermon accounts for much of its lack of social ethics, I believe. Just the fact that you guys are having this discussion, rather than one about worship styles or some other ecclesiological esoterica, is a HUGE win for the home team.

    To briefly answer your question to me, Al, yes, I do hear much of Yoder in what you’re saying. I think I mentioned when I recommended his book to you that I didn’t quite buy his entire argument, but found it an incredibly illuminating point-of-view. The point you and Duane are discussing is apropos. I don’t buy Yoder’s withdrawal stance (though I have enormous respect for it and its history in Anabaptist theology [Yoder is a Mennonite]).

    Nor do I entirely buy Hauerwas’ take on social ethics or theological ethics or whatever he’s calling it these days. I think he starts from some useful and penetrating insights, but then goes a bit sideways.

    As for the Sermon, I think my take on it might be a bit different from all the views presented thus far — Al’s, Duane’s, Hauerwas’s, and Willard’s. Nonetheless, I do share the notion that it is fundamentally about what life looks like — or will or would look like — in the Kingdom of God. I think it’s also about establishing Jesus’ astonishing authority to speak on that subject, and about teaching us how to think like Jesus when we find ourselves in situations where doing exactly what God would ideally like is no longer possible (IOW, how to do moral reasoning in a fallen world).

    I certainly agree with this:

    The beatitudes are Jesus’ way of blessing the most unlikely of people; they are not attitudes

    Absolutely, positively, unmovably, ineradicably. They are not about attitudes, which are passive, but about lifestyle, which is active. They are Jesus’ way of blessing the unlikely, and more. They are Jesus’ way of telling his disciples what being his disciple means; what kinds of people a true disciple of his would be concerned with, and what kinds of things a true disciple would do with his/her life.

    I also think you, Al, backed off your coin analogy a little too easily. Love of neighbor and nonviolent resistance are (or can be) two sides of the same coin, the unifying substance being the core message of the Sermon: people matter more than you (Jesus’ audience and Matthew’s) have ever before imagined. How you treat people is the heart of your religion, whether you know it or not. The Sermon says: that is how things look from God’s viewpoint; that is how God sees your religious life.

    That is what ties love of neighbor together with the beatitudes and Jesus’ astonishing “you have heard, but I say” declarations about murder and anger and lust and oathtaking, and with what he says about salt and light and rain and being perfect as God is perfect (as Duane noted). All of these things have at their heart: people matter; how you treat them matters; it matters enormously; a nice, pious, scrupulously observed church (well, synagogue) life is no substitute for being a part of God’s rightwising activities in the world. If you think it is, you have missed the whole point of God’s long public engagement with [heretofore primarily Hebrew] humanity.

    That, IMO, is what the Sermon tells us.

    The question of pacifism or nonviolent resistance is, ISTM, something of a side issue. It might or might not be an appropriate way of honoring the importance of people, depending on the totality of the situation. (So it’s a good thing the Sermon also gives us some lessons on how to do moral reasoning.) IOW, to borrow one of Hauerwas’ metaphors, pacifism and nonviolent resistance are tactics, not strategies.

    As for the Romans discussion, I’m going to nonviolently resist engaging in that one.

  23. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Thanks for taking the bait and chiming in, Juvenal. You did tell me that you didn’t quite buy Yoder’s entire argument, which is why I was a bit hesitant to implicate you in my references to “The Politics of Jesus” (but I felt funny acting like I’d been there all on my own). In fact, you had recommended both Yoder & Rauschenbusch to me as two different approaches so I could come to my own conclusions, but I also remember that our subsequent discussions revealed that you felt Yoder’s conclusions were more consistent with Jesus.

    And let me reiterate to everyone reading that I’m still not sure what to believe about it all, but there seems to be a lot “right” about Yoder’s pacifistic approach, and I’ll be happy to throw the ideas around until something seems to disprove them.

    Now you brought up Yoder’s “withdrawal” stance, which begs a question from me. So far, I don’t think I’ve been advocating withdrawal, but maybe I have. I may be shortsighted, but if the options are limited to withdrawal and engagement, I’m in favor of engagement (hence, my paragraph on being an evangelistic voice of nonviolence from within a violent system). Am I seeing withdrawal/engagement correctly?

    And a big “thank you” for the clarification of nonviolent resistance as a side issue, there as a tactic as it relates to the primary concern of the importance of people. As I would expect, you explained in a couple of sentences what I haven’t been able to communicate in the few volumes I’ve written so far on this comment board.

    I’ll stop there, except to throw out another worm and ask, could it be that you are staying out of the Romans discussion because of the fundamental way you see Paul? 🙂

  24. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I dunno. I’m actually not quite sure what you’re referring to. So maybe.

    Am I seeing withdrawal/engagement correctly?

    It seems like you might be somewhat overlooking what Yoder-style pacifism implies. In Yoder’s theology, if I understand it correctly, one can’t truly be a pacifist and still be politically engaged, because any political engagement necessarily involves one in the use of force. Politics and force are inextricable.

  25. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Thanks! So I, like Duane, need some more convincing to buy Yoder’s full package (complete withdrawal).

    I’m sure you understand Yoder correctly, but withdrawal as you described it is not what I saw promoted by the seminar panel. Instead, they promoted the powers as being “redeemable” and as “created good.” So my read was that this did not require withdrawing from them (necessarily). Couldn’t have been since they flew to the seminar in this little capitalist economy of ours. 🙂

    So if anyone wants to keep discussing, I’ll be happy to keep thinking out loud. But as for me and my house, I’m not advocating withdrawal Yoder-style in my developing arguments.

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