Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Militant Pacificism: A brief outline

1. Violence in the Old Testament

a. Violence, I would argue, is never unequivocably good in the OT. Sometimes it's depicted neutrally, but then so is deception, polygamy, and a range of behaviours that I would also argue are not morally warranted for Christians.
b. Violence in the OT is used as a means by God to bring about good and just ends. God also uses things unequivocally considered evil to bring about good ends.
c. 'The ban' - the ultimate destruction of conquered things and people, is portrayed in both judicial and purificatory terms. The singular and unique holy war of the Jews in conquering the Land is theologically framed as after the native inhabitants have 'filled up a quota of sin' to the point of no further tolerance by a holy wrathful God.
d. God is a warrior - the war-theology of the OT is strongly, incredibly, weighted to the portrayal of God as the one who brings about and grants victory, and strongly against the self-reliance of Israel, whether in themselves or their allies.

2. Violence in the New Testament

a. Neither Jesus or his disciples are portrayed at any point as agents of violence. (Except Peter at Gethsemane, and there is a good treatment of that passage)
b. Jesus consistently speaks against violence.
c. At best, the few 'problem' verses for this reality must be fitted against that background, not vice versa.
d. The NT regularly and consistently applies military metaphor to spiritual realities. Warfare for Christians is not against flesh-and-blood, not against people.
e. The victory at the centre of the NT's theology is the cross of Jesus. It is through atoning sacrificial death that jesus "conquers".
f. This informs the whole book of Revelation, the most militant book of the NT, and the most vigorously 'pacifist'. At every point 'conquering' in the book of Revelation is linked to faithful witness and consistent endurance to the point of death - in imitating and sharing in Jesus' death.
g. The NT does deal in a form of violence - eschatological judicial violence. This is seen as Jesus judges and destroys sin, evil, death, and the unrepentant. It is not war, but judgment.

3. Violence beyond the scriptures
a. It's not until Constantine and following that there emerges a consistent alternate position on christians and violence other than pacifism, as a position of any weight in the early church.
b. It's not until the Crusades that violence is seen as not necessarily sinful. Before that, I would argue, violence was seen as sometimes necessary, but always sinful, and so needed to be repented of, confessed, and penitence done.
c. The emergence of just-war doctrines, while long established, are continually driven by abstraction and theologising, not exegesis. While I have no problem with abstraction and theology as a whole, when it goes against the grain of every reasonable exegesis of the NT, I think we have a problem.
d. Oddly enough, J.H. Yoder's "The Politics of Jesus" remains the best exposition of a Christocentric protestant pacifism that is rigorous, not liberal, exegetical, and deeply theological.

4. Conclusion
a. Though it goes against some of our deepest instincts, violence must be the terminus ante quem for Christian action.
b. This must be informed by a rigorous re-imagining of the world in which we live, such as the book of revelation holds out for us, if it is to be sustained
c. Christian pacificism must itself be 'militant' - a pro-active, engaged, committed, all-in life that never acquiesces in the face of evil for the sake of some misguided personal purity
d. Christian pacificism of this sort must consistently and vigourously hold to the reality, theology, and rhetoric of Christ's victorious-death and vindicating-resurrection

1 comment:

the_militant_pacifist said...

Wow, I must agree!

I've never been the same since I read "The Politics of Jesus (Yoder)," and "The Reformers and their Stepchildren (Verduin)."

Great Post!