Archive for September 14th, 2006

Vibrating for Jesus (or, How the Virgin Mary Got Her Groove Back)

September 14, 2006

Now here’s an interesting article, recently called to my attention. Joe Beam, for those who don’t know, is a Church of Christ preacher. He’s been a regular on the workshop/lectureship circuit for years and years and years. His focus on sexuality, however, is a relatively recent development.

I’ll be interested to hear what people think of his approach. I have some thoughts of my own, but don’t have time to post them just now. I’ll share them later, perhaps in a second post.

Beyond Pacifism and Just War (Chapter 7)

September 14, 2006

“The new reality Jesus proclaimed was nonviolent. That much is clear, not just from the Sermon on the Mount, but from his entire life and teaching and, above all, the way he faced his death at the hands of the Powers. His was not merely a tactical or pragmatic nonviolence seized upon because nothing else would have worked against the Roman Empire’s virtual monopoly on power. Rather, he saw nonviolence as a direct expression of the nature of God and of the new reality breaking into the world from God.” (Wink, “The Powers That Be,” p 128)

Summarizing the first six chapters of Walter Wink’s “The Powers That Be”:
* God wars against the unseen forces that govern the world (“principalities and powers”) both through the life of Jesus and the lives of the Spirit-filled followers that come behind.
* A close look at Jesus reveals that he rejected violence as his modus operandi and that his followers are compelled to do likewise. Jesus also rejects pacifism (i.e. meekly “taking it”). Instead, Jesus proposed war against the “powers that be” by what one might call, “creative nonviolence” – resistance without resorting to violence.
* Practically, this resistance doesn’t seek to seize power or disrespect the rule of law; instead, it seeks to transform both people and society through peaceful means. This, however, is neither simply for the able-bodied (on one hand) or the faint of heart (on the other); instead, this type of fight will take great courage and require great sacrifice.

And now, in chapter seven, we turn to the idea of war.

Cicero originated the idea of a “just war,” but it was Augustine that articulated the idea for Christians. And although most Christians would advocate “just war” in conversation, Wink argues that most Christians confuse the concept with one (or more) of three types of war:
(1) the HOLY WAR or CRUSADE (e.g. Hebrew conquest of Canaan, medieval crusades, the Ayatollah vs. Iraq);
(2) a POLITICAL WAR or WAR OF NATIONAL INTERESTS (e.g. Iraq invading Kuwait, U.S. in Vietnam, Soviets in Afghanistan);
(3) MACHISMO or EGOCENTRICITY (e.g. Thatcher and the Falklands, Saddam’s refusal to withdraw from Kuwait, GWB’s personalization of the war in Iraq).

Wink claims that most wars in world history (that Christians have been involved in) fall into one of these three categories. No Christian body has (before fighting begins) debated and decided whether a war meets just-war criteria. “Instead, the sorry record reveals that Christian churches have usually simply endorsed the side on which they happened to find themselves.”

Wink continues, “Many Christians assume that any war they feel is just is just… The just-war criteria, however are actually very demanding. They presuppose that no Christian should be involved in a war unless it meets all or at least most of the criteria. The burden of proof is always on those who resort to violence.”

Here are the criteria:
* The war must have a just cause.
* It must be waged by a legitimate authority.
* It must be formally declared.
* It must be fought with a peaceful intention.
* It must be a last resort.
* There must be a reasonable hope for success.
* The means used must possess proportionality to the end sought.

* Noncombatants must be given immunity.
* Prisoners must be treated humanely.
* International treaties and conventions must be honored.

Wink argues: “It is not the criteria themselves that are problematic but the fact that they have been subordinated to the myth of redemptive violence.” He argues that just-war criteria may be useful in preventing wars as well as reducing violence within wars, but in the end, the very foundation of the concept is suspect.

He writes, “Violence can never stop violence because its very success leads others to imitate it. Ironically, violence is most dangerous when it succeeds… Christians do not live nonviolently in order to be saved, or in order to live up to an absolute ethical norm, but because we want to end the Domination System. We eschew violence because we do not wish to extend by even one day the reign of violence in the world. Nonviolence is not a matter of legalism but of discipleship. It is the way God has chosen to overthrow evil in the world. And the same God who calls us to nonviolence gives us the power to carry it out.”

In addition, the very precepts of just-war are problematic in their interpretation. Wink writes, “…take the criterion of ‘last resort.’ Theoretically, just-war theorists are committed to the use of every feasible nonviolent alternative before turning to war. In fact, I know of only one just-war theorist – James F. Childress – who devotes any space at all to nonviolent alternatives. The rest focus on what constitutes last resort. This focus has the effect, however, of shrinking the ethical field. ‘Last resort’ becomes ‘timely resort,’ as in the writings of Ramsey; we soon find ourselves discussing ‘preemptive strikes,’ the assassination of heads of state, and even Pentagon doublespeak like ‘anticipatory retaliation.’ In our war with Iraq, did we allow sanctions and diplomacy to work? Was that war truly a ‘last resort’?”


In Wink’s words…

“Jesus’ third way is coercive insofar as it forces oppressors to make choices they would rather not make. But it is nonlethal, the great advantage of which is that if we have chosen a mistaken course, our opponents are still alive to benefit from our apologies… Jesus’ teaching carries us beyond just war and pacifism, to a militant nonviolence that actualizes in the present the ethos of God’s domination-free future…

“Just-war theory has not been so much mistaken as mismarried to the ideology of redemptive violence. Its pagan roots were never sufficiently purged of their origin in the Domination System…

“Governments will still wrestle with the option of war, and ethicists can perhaps assist them with their decisions. But the church’s own witness should be understandable by the smallest child: we oppose violence in all its forms. And we do so because we reject domination. That means, the child will recognize, no abuse or beatings. That means, women will hear, no rape or violation or battering. That means, men will come to understand, nor more male supremacy or war. That means, everyone will realize, no more degradation of the environment. We can affirm nonviolence, without reservation, because nonviolence is the way God’s domination-free order is coming.”

(Next: “But What If…” – chapter 8)