Levellers

Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

A Brief History of the Fellowship of Reconciliation

In between my posts on a biblical case for Christian pacifism, I am going to write some brief historical sketches of the major grassroots, contemporary peace organizations–with special concentration on religious, especially Christian, organizations and especially those in North America (because I know them best).  The “modern” peace movement began in Europe and North America in the 19th C.  In North America, a major root was the largely Christian movement to abolish slavery with its stronghold in the Northern United States, but also with Canadian participants, especially after the Fugitive Slave Act meant that runaway slaves were not safe until the reached Canada.  Although 19th  C. North America  had a Christian peace witness from Mennonites, Dunkers (now called the Church of the Brethren) and some smaller sects such as the Universalists, and the Shakers, the major Christian peace witness to the larger, ecumenical church at this time was by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) who made up a disproportionate amount of the leadership of the Abolitionist movement.

Because of the Quaker peace witness, many non-Quaker abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison (a white newspaper editor raised as a New England Baptist) and Frederick Douglass (a former slave, editor of The North Star, and lay-preacher for the African Methodist Episcopal Church) and Sojourner Truth (former slave and traveling preacher) were pacifists who hoped that slavery could be abolished without war–though some later, reluctantly endorsed the Civil War after Lincoln added the abolition of slavery to his war aims.  The evangelical preachers of the Second Great Awakening, including Charles Finney, Timothy Dwight Weld, Jonathan Blanchard, Alexander Campbell (one of the founders of the Stone-Campbell movement that today is divided into the Churches of Christ, (Independent) Christian Churches, and the Disciples of Christ) and others were also pacifists and crusaders against slavery, child labor, and for the rights of women.

Opposition to Pres. James Polk’s War on Mexico (1845-1848), which was a thinly disguised ploy to gain territory and to break the Missouri Compromise and spread slave states all the way to the West Coast, was found across the religious and political spectrum–not until the Vietnam War would an American War have such widespread opposition from the American people themselves.  That opposition produced the first U.S. peace societies, the beginnings of a widespread anti-war movement–one that grew again following the U.S. Civil War and which united political conservatives and liberals at the end of the 19th C. in opposition to the Spanish-American War (in which the U.S. took over the Spanish colonies of Cuba and Puerto Rico) and the Philippine-American War (in which the U.S. gained colonies in the Philippines, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and Samoa).

In Europe, similar movements were growing in response to numerous 19th C. wars, including the British war in Burma, the revolutions against the Spanish throughout Latin America,  the Crimean War, the Savoy Revolt in India, the Boer War in South Africa, the British War in Afghanistan.  The beginnings of discontent with these long series of wars probably began with the 18th C. Napoleanic conquests.   In addition to Christian influences, the European peace movement drew from the growing body of international law in the 19th C. (with more institutions for international arbitration and law), and from two rival economic philosophies–the global free trade movement (wars disrupt business) and the various labor and socialist movements–both Marxist and non-Marxist versions (labor was likely to see most wars as exploitations of the poor by international capital).

Alfred Nobel, capitalist with a guilty conscience after inventing dynamite and making his fortune on munitions, was convinced at the turn of the century by his secretary Bertha Suttner (an author and activist in the peace movement) to make one of his Nobel Prizes in his will dedicated to peacemakers, bringing new prestige to the movement. 

The Fellowship of Reconciliation (F.O.R.) was birthed with the First World War.   In the aftermath of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Serbia, and the quick choosing of sides by the European alliances, peace activists, especially Christian peace activists realized that a pan-European (and beyond that to Europe’s colonies around the world) could erupt.  In August of 1914 an international group of church leaders, clergy and laity, gathered in Switzerland to make a last ditch attempt to stop the war.  The conference had barely begun when word came that the fighting had begun–they were too late.  Conference attendants raced to rail stations to return to their home countries before the borders would be closed.  At a railway station in Germany, two of the conferees, a British Quaker named Henry Hodgkins (who taught philosophy at Queens College, Cambridge University) and a Lutheran minister named Friedrich Sigmund-Schulz (who was, astonishingly, chaplain to the Kaiser!) clasped hands and pledged that because they were Christian brothers they, personally, could never be at war and they would seek to work for peace between their nations, regardless of the policies of their respective governments!

Back in the U. K., Hodgkins quickly acted on his promise. He convened an ecumenical Christian conference at Queens College from which about 20 individuals declared that they could not conceive of God as a nationalist and that they would not agree to a moratorium on the Sermon on the Mount for the length of the war. From this meeting the British chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation was born. 

Travel during wartime is uncertain, but a year later Hodgkins came to New York City and convened a meeting of interested pacifists at Union Theological Seminary in NYC that included some of the most influential theologians and ministers and laypeople of the day including Reinhold Niebuhr (who would, in the ’30s, break with the F.O.R. and forever after be a severely harsh critic of Christian pacifism), Ernest Lefevre (who followed Niebuhr’s break and then went further and became a neoconservative!), John Haynes Holmes (prominent Unitarian minister), Jesse Wallace Hughes (prominent labor leader who would later found the more secular War Resisters’ League), and others. 

In Germany, Rev. Sigmund-Schultz’s opposition to war and the Kaiser’s war aims quickly led to loss of his position as the Kaiser’s personal chaplain.  He was soon imprisoned until 1917.  Upon release from prison, Rev. Sigmund-Schultz founded the German chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Internationaler Versöhnungsbund, which is a thriving branch of the F.O.R. today.  After Hitler’s rise to power in the ’30s, Sigmund-Schultz was an early outspoken critic and died in a concentration camp.

In 1919, after the war ended, the F.O.R. created an International branch (IFOR), headquartered first in Switzerland and today in Alkmaar, the Netherlands.  There are today 85 national branches of IFOR, on every continent on the globe.  The International Fellowship of Reconciliation and some of its national member branches (including the U.S. branch) have broadened from being ecumenical Christian organizations to interfaith pacifist organizations (but still religiously based).  Other branches, such as the Fellowship of Reconciliation in England (F.o.R. E.) are still specifically Christian, perhaps in reaction to the strong secularization of that nation.

The F.O.R. and its various branches have been involved in nonviolent struggles for justice and peace throughout the twentieth century until today.  They were early supporters of Gandhi’s work in South Africa and then India and helped to plant FOR branches among the Gandhians while learning Gandhian nonviolence theory and adding it to their religiously based pacifism.  Six (6) prominent members of the IFOR have won the Nobel Peace Prize (Jane Addams, USA, 1931; Emily Green Balch, USA, 1946; Chief Albert Luthuli, South Africa, 1960; Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., USA, 1964; Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Northern Ireland, 1976; Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Argentina, 1980) and literally hundreds of others have been nominated for it and hundreds of its members have won other peace and human rights prizes.  IFOR has nongovernmental status at the United Nations as it works to create a culture of nonviolence, peace, and justice.

In the U.S. branch of IFOR, as well as in the British branch and, perhaps others, many members also belong to religious peace fellowships specific to their faith or denomination, some more organically connected to the F.O.R. than others (e.g., the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, the Jewish Peace Fellowship, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, the Muslim Peace Fellowship, the Lutheran Peace Fellowship, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, the Disciples Peace Fellowship, the Catholic Peace Fellowship, etc.)  There are also regional branches of the U.S. F.O.R.–I have served on the board of the Louisville Chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation which meets monthly on the campus of the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

The U.S. branch of the F.O.R. has often spun-off other organizations during its various campaigns.  For instance, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) began when F.O.R. board member Roger Baldwin sought to protect civil liberties guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution that were being trampled during World War I–especially the rights of conscientious objectors to war.  Likewise, the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) was founded by staff members of the F.O.R. during the 1940s, especially James Farmer, Bayard Rustin, and George Houser–beginning with students at the University of Chicago Divinity School.  The F.O.R. was involved in the Civil Rights movment, the movement against nuclear weapons, to stop the Vietnam War (and every war thereafter), work to end the death penalty and work for prison reform, to end apartheid in South Africa, to free Burma from military rule, to end U.S. support of dictatorships, to work for women’s rights, labor rights, and, since the 1990s, the rights and equality of LGBT persons.  F.O.R. workshops on nonviolence in the Philippines laid the groundwork for the nonviolent people power revolution in the ’80s–and similar stories can be repeated around the world.

The F.O.R.’s role in various nonviolent campaigns and peace efforts has not usually been widely noted.  For instance, the role in the Civil Rights movment is mentioned in most history books, but seldom in any public celebrations of the achievements of that struggle.  But the FOR and its members have never been about getting “credit,” but about experimenting with the power of love and nonviolence and forgiveness as a force for personal and social change.

I have been a member since 1983.  Only recently returned from the U.S. army as a conscientious objector, I went twice to Nicaragua with the movement Witness for Peace, which aimed to stop the civil war and the Reagan-backed terrorists known as the Contras.  On my second trip unarmed into this war zone, most of the delegation happened to be members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, of which I had never heard. Upon my return to the states, I joined up and have counted my membership to be one of my deepest commitments.

The F.O.R. is not perfect and has made mistakes.  A major mistake, in my view, happened just after its birth.  As Paul Alexander shows in his Peace to War:  Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God, the early Pentecostals, especially the AoG, were pacifist and strongly opposed WWI. (They did not officially abandon pacifism until 1967.) But there was little contact with Pentecostals or other conservative Christian groups by the members of the F.O.R. at that time, who were mostly liberal, mainline Christians who looked askance at conservative groups.  That view has changed, but a major opportunity that would have strengthened both groups was lost.

Nevertheless, some of the strongest activists and theologians for peace have come from the ranks of the Fellowship of Reconciliation–and do so still.

Here is a partial list of famous members of IFOR or one of its branches:

  • Rev.  Paul Jones, Episcopal bishop removed from his diocese in Utah because of his pacifism and opposition to WWI.
  • Norman Thomas, Presbyterian minister turned union organizer and leader of the Socialist Party, USA.  Ran for U.S. president on a Socialist and  pacifist platform 5 times.
  • John Haynes Holmes, Unitarian minister.
  • Jane Addams.
  • Alfred Hassler, American Baptist leader.
  • Bayard Rustin, African-American Quaker, labor and civil rights leader–not as well known as others because he was gay in a time when that was literally illegal in most of the U.S.
  • James Farmer, Jr., African-American Methodist minister and founder of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).
  • Glenn Smiley, Methodist pastor and advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • A. J. Muste, Congregationalist minister turned Quaker who led the F.O.R. through the middle of the 20th C.
  • Lillian Smith, Southern novelist.
  • G. H. C. MacGregor, Scottish New Testament scholar.
  • Andre Trocme, French Reformed pastor-theologian who led the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon to hide 5,000 Jews from the Nazis, thus saving them from the Holocaust.
  • Dorothy Day, co-founder and motivating spirit of the Catholic Worker movement.
  • Clarence Jordan, radical white Baptist New Testament scholar who founded the interracial farming community known as Koinonia in South Georgia in 1942.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King.
  • John M. Swomley, Jr., Methodist theologian and ethicist.
  • Thomas Merton, Trappist monk.
  • Fr. Daniel Berrigan, S.J., Catholic priest, poet, biblical scholar, and radical anti-war activist.
  • Martin Niemöller, German Lutheran pastor who was held as Hitler’s personal prisoner during WWII.
  • Martin Buber, Jewish philosopher.
  • Maurice Friedman, Jewish philosopher, Buber scholar, and one of the founders of the Jewish Peace Fellowship.
  • Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Argentine sculpter, writer, and nonviolent activist who won the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Hildegard Goss-Mayer, German peace activist whose workshops on nonviolence in the Philippines sowed the seeds for its 1986 nonviolent revolution.
  • Elise Boulding, Quaker sociologist.
  • Howard Thurman, African-American mystical theologian.
  • Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Catholic laywoman and co-founder of the Irish peace movement and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
  • Cesar Chavez, Mexican-American labor and civil rights leader; co-founder of the United Farmworkers of America.
  • Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist priest, leader of the Buddhist nonviolent protest against the Vietnama war; nominated for the Nobel Peace prize by Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Joseph Lowry, African American Methodist pastor and civil rights leader.
  • John Dear, S.J., Catholic priest, pastor, author, and nonviolent activist.
  • Rabia Terri Harris, founder of the Muslim Peace Fellowship.
  • Walter Wink, United Methodist New Testament scholar.
  • John Howard Yoder, Mennonite theologian.
  • Vincent Harding, African American Mennonite historian.
  • Edwin Dahlberg, former president of the Northern Baptist Convention (now American Baptist Churches, USA) and the National Council of Churches, USA.
  • Walter Rauschenbusch, theologian of the Social Gospel (for the last year of his life).
  • Glen H. Stassen, Baptist ethicist.
  • George Edwards, Presbyterian New Testament scholar.
  • Jim Forest, founder of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.
  • Barbra Deming, Quaker, feminist.
  • Albert Einstein, ‘Nuff said.
  • Rabbi Leo Beerman, rabbi of Temple Leo Baeck, Los Angeles.
  • Sami Awad, founder of Holy Land Trust and the Palestinian News Network
  • Rev. Rick Ufford-Chaise, Presbyterian minister, founder of BorderLinks, past-presiding officer of the Presbyterian Church, USA.
  • Rev. Glen Gersmehl, Executive Director of the Lutheran Peace Fellowship
  • Rev. Susan Mark Landis, Executive Director of the Mennonite Peace and Justice Support Network
  • Rev. Mel White, co-founder of Soulforce–using Gandhian and Kingian nonviolence to combat the spiritual oppression of LGBT folk in the church and society.
  • Charles Raven, Anglican theologian
  • H. H. Farmer, British NT scholar
  • Jean Lassere, French Reformed pastor and theologian and friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
  • Danilo Dolci, the “Sicilian Gandhi” who faced Sicili’s Mafia with Gospel nonviolence.
  • Ibrahim Rainey, Imam and co-founder of the Muslim Peace Fellowship
  • Joan Chittister, OSB, a Benedictine prioress.
  • Gene Sharp, Quaker and historian who has done more to analyze the “nuts and bolts” of nonviolence than anyone.

Far too many more to count.

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November 8, 2009 Posted by | church history, ethics, heroes, human rights., pacifism, peace, peacemaking | 6 Comments

A Biblical Case for Christian Pacifism: The Sermon on the Mount II

Sorry it took so long to get to this entry, Gentle Readers.  I was interrupted by the move.. 

I argued that Jesus does not teach impossibly hard ideals in the Sermon on the Mount. Despite the New Moses typology in Matthew’s Gospel (Jesus goes up on a high mountain to deliver the new teachings), this is not “new law” in the sense of new burdens, harder rules to keep.  It is, as I argued in the section on the Beatitudes, grace–the delivering love and empowering grace which enables faithful discipleship.  The Beatitudes describe the virtues, the character traits, of disciples living into the Kingdom/Rule of God which Jesus brings.  We aren’t burdened with this “hard teaching” as a way to earn divine favor, but are invited into the adventure and joy of the in-breaking Rule of God.

After the Beatitudes, the Sermon can be diagrammed as 14 (twice the holy number 7) triadic statements in which the first part of the statement gives a traditional moral rule or principle (all but one of them drawn from the First Testament), the second part describes the “cycles of bondage” or “mechanisms of enslaving sin” that keep us from following that moral rule or principle, and the third part (Jesus’ commands) shows the process of deliverance out of those sinful cycles of bondage.  In this exposition, I am closely following my teacher, Glen H. Stassen and will also draw from the work of NT theologian Walter Wink.  (See Stassen’s full exegesis of the Sermon on the Mount here which reproduces an article he first published in the Journal of Biblical Literature.)

Now, scholars have often been misled at this point.  They haven’t seen 14 Triads, but 7 antisthenes or contrast statements (“You have heard it said of old/But I say unto you.”) But this view sets Jesus in opposition to the First Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures that were his own Bible and the Bible of the earliest Christians.  But that cannot be right because Jesus constantly affirms the Hebrew Scriptures, indeed, in the very Sermon on the Mount, he rebukes those who would claim that he comes to replace the Torah or Law instead of fulfilling it (Matt. 5:17-19).  Also, in the phrases following Jesus’ “but I say to you” refrain there are no commands–no imperatives.  What follows instead are participles and gerunds–i.e., forms of speech showing continuous or ongoing action (the cycles of bondage).  The commands, the Greek imperatives, come later–showing the way of deliverance.  So, we have a three part structure in which Jesus does not contrast the traditional Jewish teaching, but rather affirms it, shows why it is often hard to keep, and then shows a way of deliverance than goes beyond the older teaching but does not contradict it.  The following chart shows the entire pattern from Matt. 5:21-7:12.

THE FOURTEEN TRIADS OF THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT 

 TRADITIONAL               RIGHTEOUSNESS              VICIOUS     CYCLE                  TRANSFORMING                    INITIATIVE  
         
1. You shall not kill   Being angry,or saying, You fool!   Go, be reconciled
              
2.  You shall not commit adultery    Looking with lust   Remove the cause of temptation (cf. Mk 9:43ff.)
         
3. Whoever divorces,give a certificate   Divorcing involves you in adultery   (Be reconciled: I Cor 7:11)
         
4. You shall not swear falsely   Swearing by anything involves you in a false claim   Let your yes be yes, andyour no be no
         
5. Eye for eye,tooth for tooth   Violently/revengefully resisting by evil means   Turn the other cheek; Give your tunic and cloak; Go the Second mile; Give to beggar & borrower
         
6. Love neighbor & hate enemy   If you love those who love you, what more is that than the Gentiles do?   Love enemies, pray for your persecutors; be all-inclusive as your Father in heaven is
              
7. When you give alms,   blowing a trumpet like hypocrites   but give in secret, and your Father will reward you
         
8. When you pray,   making a show like the hypocrites   but pray in secret, and your Father will reward you
         
9. When you pray,   babbling like Gentiles, thinking the wordiness will be heard   Therefore pray like this: Our Father….
         
10. When you fast,   appearing gloomy to others,like the hypocrites   but dress with joy, and your Father will reward you
         
11. Do not pile up treasures on earth (cf. Luke 12:16-31)     Where moth & rust destroy, and thieves enter & steal    But pile up treasuresin heaven
             
12. No one can serve two masters   Serving God & wealth, worrying about food & clothes   But seek first God’s reign and God’s justice/righteousness
         
13. Do not judge, lest you be judged   By the measure with which you judge, you’ll be judged   First take the log out of your own eye
         
14. Do not give holy things to dogs, nor pearls to pigs   They will trample themand tear you to pieces   Give your trust in prayer to your Father in Heaven

The items in bold show places where Jesus’ teaching is paralleled elsewhere–in the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6, in Luke 12, in Mark. There are also partial echoes in Paul’s writings, in the Epistle to James, and even in Revelation.  These echoes are seldom in the sections describing the cycles of bondage (which some have viewed as impossible teachings or new rules) but either in the first section (reaffirming the Hebrew Scriptures) or in the third section (describing the way of deliverance and new life)–thus showing where Jesus was heard to place his emphasis.  

In other words, Jesus doesn’t say, “You have heard of old “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” but I say to you “Don’t be angry.”  Who could never be angry?  Jesus was moved with anger (at the way that ritual rules harmed the sick) when he healed a man with a withered hand (Mark 1:41) and he demonstrated anger at the moneychangers in the Temple (an incident we will revisit later in this series).  Nor does Jesus say, “You have heard it said of old, “Thou Shalt not Commit Adultery,” but I say to you, “Don’t ever lust.”  Nor does Jesus say, “You have heard it said of old, “Whoever divorces must give a certificate,” but I say to you, “Never divorce.” 

Instead, Jesus says, “You have heard it said of old, “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” but I say to you that nursing anger (the Greek is the verb for holding onto –the way some people treasure grudges) and calling people “Fool!” leads to judgment. ” So, how to get out of this bondage to anger than leads to various forms of judgment and sin–including, often enough, killing? Here comes Jesus’ gracious command! “If your brother has something against you GO TO HIM and seek to be reconciled.”  This is so important it must take precedence even over worshipping God (leave your sacrifice and go).  Now, THAT we can do!  We cannot guarantee that the brother will want to make peace (Jesus’ audience would surely have remembered Cain and Abel).  But we don’t have to wait for him to come to us.  We can take the initiative, no matter who was at fault. We can seek to repair the breach in fellowship (“brother” was probably also heard by Matthew’s readers as referring to “fellow church members”) instead of nursing our anger or calling names or congratulating ourselves on our self-righteousness.

And nations can do this, too.  One government offends another.  Can we ask that a government not be angry? No, but we can ask that it not nurse that anger or refuse to speak to the enemy nation or congratulate itself on its own righteousness.  We can ask that one government go to the other and seek to make peace.  After all, when you speak of the grievance between you it may include hard words of truth that the other might not want to hear–so we should be prepared to hear such ourselves.  Will this guarantee peace? Of course, not! But REFUSING to speak almost always guarantees strife and war–vicious cycles of violence and judgment.

Likewise, we avoid committing adultery by removing the causes of temptation that lead us to lust.  Here, Jesus uses typical Hebrew hyperbole.  We should not literally pluck out our eyes (I can lust with both eyes closed) or cut off our hands (I can lust without any hands!).  But we should remove ourselves from temptation.  If working late nights with a beautiful colleague alone is tempting you to break your wedding vows, then don’t work with that one alone–always meet where there is plenty of light and crowds.  If you have to, get another job.  Don’t troll the internet for pornographic sites.  Don’t do things which are likely to lead to your lusting (“committing adultery in your heart”) which will all too often lead to actual adultery.  Walk away from the conditions or people or contexts which tempt you.

In order to keep this post brief enough, we will skip several of these to go to another that bears directly on our topic of Christian pacifism.  The 5th Triad (5:38-42) gives the traditional teaching, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Even in the First Testament, the intent of this rule was to limit revenge.  The common pattern in the ancient world, and today, is for unlimited revenge.  You take my eye, I take both your eyes. You take my tooth, I just may take your life. You take my life, my brother wipes out your family.  This is the “morality” of the Mafia or the Japanese Yakuza. It is the “morality” of street gangs–and of most nations during wartime.  To this, the Hebrew Scriptures tried to place a break:  All you may take in revenge for a lost eye is the enemy’s eye.  All you may take for a tooth is the enemy’s tooth.  But Jesus knows this is not sufficient.  If we seek revenge, we get caught in escalating cycles of vengeance and violence.

Now, most English Bibles are not helpful here.  Verse 39 is usually translated as “Do not resist evil” (KJV) or “Do not resist an evildoer” (NIV).  The first is ridiculous. Jesus resisted evil every time he cast out demons or confronted the Scribes and Pharisees.  “Resist the Devil,” we are told, “and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7).  The NIV translation is grammatically possible, (taking ponero as a substantitive dative) but it doesn’t fit much with Jesus’ own actions, either.  As Clarence Jordan and others have noticed, ponero is most likely an instrumental and so should be translated as either with evil or by evil means.  Further, as Walter Wink’s exhaustive search of secular Greek shows, antistemai doesn’t mean any kind of resistance, but VIOLENT resistance–it is the term used for rebellions and armed insurrections.  So, 5:39 should be translated something like, “You have heard it said of old, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” but I say to you “Do not resist violently or by evil means.”  Rather, if someone strikes you on your right cheek. . .

Now, many people read the Sermon at this point to be teaching a “doormat” approach to life.  In fact, in popular speech, “turn the other cheek,” is code for “let people abuse you–even invite their abuse.”  Even many who see a positive dimension to these teachings often view them as “surrending one’s rights” for the sake of God’s Rule.  Instead, I follow the work of New Testament theologian Walter Wink in seeing Jesus’ transforming initiatives here as teaching nonviolent resistance to evil, a “third way,” other than surrender or violence.  Wink urges the reader to pay close attention both to the language of the text and to the historical and cultural background in first-century Palestine.  “If someone strikes you on the right cheek. . .”  In Jesus’ culture the left hand was reserved for “unclean” acts (it was an age before toilet paper) and the cultural taboo against touching someone with the left hand was very strong.  In fact, one could be fined heavily for touching someone with the left hand.  So, we are to imagine that the striker used his right hand.  But the only way to strike the right cheek with the right hand is to use the back of the hand.  So,  this is not a punch, but a backhanded slap across the face.  But this immediately tells the audience that this is not a fight between equals, but the abuse of a social inferior by a social superior.  One does not backhand someone except to humiliate him or her, to publicly put the inferior in his or her “place.”  Equals do not backhand each other.  Masters backhand slaves or servants; the rich backhand the poor; abusive husbands backhand wives; tyrannical fathers backhand children (maybe even an adult or nearly adult son who is being deeply humiliated).  In such a situation, the social inferior usually does not dare to strike back. The rich man who backhands his servant has guards or can get them.  The wife, in a culture where divorce can only be initiated by the husband and where restraining orders for domestic abusers are unheard of, must live in the home.  Does the inferior nurse resentment and plot revenge in the night? Does s/he instead simply “take it” and cooperate with her or his own oppression and self destruction? No, Jesus says, “turn to him the left cheek also!”  But the social superior cannot backhand the left cheek without using the taboo left hand–which would humiliate the oppressor and leave him open to court action!  If he strikes with the right hand, he has to punch the inferior, which involves treating him as an equal!”  In “turning the other cheek,” the abused person refuses to be a victim, but also refuses violence and revenge. Instead, the “victim” confronts the abuser with her or his full humanity and demands to be treated as an equal–inviting repentance from the abuser.  If the humiliating slap was public, the tables have been turned.  Like the nonviolent activists of the civil rights movement, the abused one is told by Jesus to refuse to cooperate with evil or to respond with violence–a way of deliverance from the cycle of abuse–culturally specific–is demonstrated.

Jesus’ next example of this “third way” involves corrupt law courts.  “If anyone would sue you for your coat. . .”  The basic attire in the Palestine of Jesus’ day, as it had been for centuries, was two long robe-like garments, a lightweight inner robe and a thicker, heavier, outer robe.  If someone was so poor (homeless) that they needed a loan and had no other collateral, the Law of Moses, allowed the lender to take the outer garment in pledge.  But, the outer garment or cloak had to be given back at every sundown because, of course, the poor man would need to sleep in it. Without it, he could die of exposure in the desert air.  But courts can become corrupt and side with the rich against the poor.  Centuries before Jesus, the prophet Amos had condemned those whose corruption was so great they were copulating on “garments taken in pledge,” (Amos 2:8). This may have been hyperbole, but it shows the prophet’s anger at the abuse of the poor and the rejection of the protections for the poor in the Law of Moses.

Jesus shows similar anger at the courts of his day who were letting lenders actually sue homeless people for their outer garments–in effect condemning them to death by exposure!  So, Jesus says, “give to him your tunic also.” In other words, strip butt naked in the courtroom!  Now, remember, that while Jewish society had strong nudity taboos, the shame fell mostly on those VIEWING the nudity rather than on the nude person.  Thus, drunken Noah’s curse on son Ham and grandson Canaan for laughing at his drunken, naked old body. And thus, the faithful sons walk backward to cover Noah. (Gen. 9:20-27).  So, Jesus is again advocating a nonviolent protest that could shame the court (literally EXPOSING its lack of justice) and of the lender! (Jesus’ original hearers were probably dying of laughter at the imagined scene.) Of course, this move probably would result in getting the nude protester thrown in jail, but he would at least not die of exposure.  And it probably would result in some new rule against nudity in court or something. Jesus is not giving hard and fast rules, but trying to teach a METHOD of confronting evil and oppression without violence.  Thus, he is also inviting his hearers to use their own liberated, sanctified, imaginations to think of continuous similar examples in ever-knew situations as one lives the Third Way of the in-breaking Kingdom in the midst of this still-Fallen, often oppressive, world order.

Jesus’ third example comes from the Roman occupation of Palestine–which, like all occupying armies, was hated by the locals.  But Rome was a smart empire that liked to limit the times it needed to use the Legions to suppress local uprisings.  So, Roman law had limits placed on the oppressive actions of the occupying troops and strict penalties (usually death) for breaking them.  One of those rules allowed for any Roman soldier to grab any local in a conquered territory and force him to carry a burden, such as the soldier’s pack, for the soldier.  (When Jesus is crucified, this is what happens to Simon the Cyrene, who is forced to carry Jesus’ cross.  See Mark 15:21) But the local could be forced to carry such a burden only one mile.  After that, the soldier had to take back the burden or get another carrier.  The Roman roads were marked throughout the empire with mile markers for many reasons, but they made it easy to check that this rule was carried out.

Now, even though this was limited, naturally locals hated ANY forced labor by occupying troops. It reminded them that they were not free. Specifically in Palestine, it reminded faithful Jews that the Holy Land was occupied by godless, pagan, Gentiles who could, like Egypt of old, treat God’s people as slaves any time they felt like it.  Imagine the anger, the resentment that could build up, the cycles of bondage to violence that could result. (Note to American readers: Then imagine how the local Iraqi or Afghan people, EVEN IF THEY FIRST WELCOMED THE U.S. TROOPS as an alternative to Saddam or to the Taliban, respectively, feel about the occupying troops. The longer those troops stay, no matter how noble they believe their mission, the more hated they will be.  Think how the average American would feel if foreign occupying troops paraded down our cities and towns!  Back to Scripture.)

In that situation, many Jews associated with the resistance movement (later called Zealots) advocated assassination of Roman soldiers.  By contrast, the Herodian puppet government and the Sadducees and Temple elites, urged cooperating with the Romans no matter what they did.  Jesus does neither. Instead, he says, go a second mile.  The enemy soldier wonders what’s going on. Is this Jew trying to get him in trouble with his commander? Is he leading him into an ambush? Is he insulting his strength, saying that the mighty soldier is too weak to carry his own pack?  Imagine him begging to get his pack back or ridiculously knocking down the pack carrier to take it back! On the other hand, the second mile, provides the pack carrier time to confront the soldier with the injustice of forced labor and of the occupation at all. It gives time to sow seeds of repentance and peacemaking. At any rate, the pack carrier is transformed from a forced laborer–an object–into a volunteer–a free moral agent.  Here is the pattern. Jesus teaches not nonresistance to evil, but nonviolent, creative, transforming, resistance to evil that can deliver both oppressors and oppressed from cycles of destructive anger and revenge.

 The 6th triadic statement reinforces our theme.  The traditional teaching is to love one’s neighbor (Lev. 19:9) and, in Jesus’ day, many interpreted that to mean also “hate your enemy.”  There is no command to hate enemies in the First Testament.  But that is how the command to neighbor love was understood in Jesus’ day–Love your fellow Israelite.  Much as contemporary Americans seem to think they are to love only other Americans (or only “REAL” Americans) and hate people in other countries–a view surprisingly found in many U.S. churches!  The second section, the mechanism of bondage, is given as a rhetorical question, “If you love only those who love you, what more are you doing than the Gentiles?” Even the pagans have THAT much morality! By giving this as a rhetorical question, Jesus calls into question the supposed moral superiority of God’s people and reminds them of how often they have failed to be a “light for the nations,” and fell under God’s judgment. He invites them to remember the destructive cycles just described as the results of just loving those who love you.

The way of deliverance is to love your enemies. (This command of Jesus, to love enemies, is quoted throughout the New Testament and throughout early Christian literature. Nothing else Jesus said was remembered by the early church as being so central as this command.) And Jesus tells how one is to love enemies: praying for them.  This will show that one is “perfect” (i.e., perfect in compassion) as God is–giving rain and sun to both the just and unjust. 

Here is the heart of Christian pacifism because one cannot love an enemy by killing him or her.  Notice how practical Jesus is–he assumes his hearers, including his disciples, will have enemies.  This is not pie in the sky naivete.  Too many Christians think they are too “nice” to have enemies.  Jesus is more hard-headed and practical.  He often is matter of fact about how following him will give one enemies.  But the key to Christian living is how one deals with enemies–loving them and praying for them.  Working to make peace.  One may have to confront their evil actions as the previous triadic teaching showed.  One may need to confront massive evil with massive nonviolent direct action. But one must hold out hope for the repentance of the enemy, for their conversion.  One must not respond with violence that continues the cycle of revenge.

We’ll stop here for this post.  The biblical case for Christian pacifism, for gospel nonviolence, is much broader, but nowhere is it clearer.  This is the heart of God’s call in Jesus to a new life, a new way of life, which shows a new pattern to the world.  The church, as the disciple community of Jesus, is to be the first fruits of the in-breaking Rule of God–and this is what that fruit looks like.  The heart of Christian living is love of enemies.

November 6, 2009 Posted by | Biblical exegesis, discipleship, ethics, Jesus, love of enemies, New Testament, nonviolence, pacifism, peacemaking, Sermon on the Mount | 17 Comments

A Biblical Case for Christian Pacifism: The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), Pt. 1

 The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) is the largest block of Jesus’ teaching we have recorded.  For our purposes, it does not matter whether or not Jesus gave the Sermon at one point or whether Matthew has arranged various of Jesus’ teachings into this current form, as many scholars believe. (A wandering preacher would most likely repeat many teachings in different forms before different audiences.) Many have believed that Jesus’ here gives incredibly hard teachings–counsels of perfection–that only saints can live (the Medieval Catholic view) or that no one can fulfill and which drive us to the sheer grace of God (Reformer Martin Luther’s view).  I contend (with others) to the contrary that the Sermon is full of grace and shows us the God’s gracious way of deliverance from bondage to mechanisms of sin.  (I will give a small bibliography on the Sermon on the Mount in a separate blog posting, but I will say that I am drawing strongly from the work of Walter Wink and Glen H. Stassen for much of what follows.)

First, to help us see the empowering joy of the Sermon on the Mount, we need a better definition of grace.  Too often we understand grace only in terms of forgiveness, of “God’s unmerited favor on sinners.” But grace is not only forgiveness, but empowerment to follow God. Grace enables our faith to be lived out in faithfulness.  Of course, we are never perfectly faithful. We fail and need forgiveness.  But to use that as an excuse for continuing in disobedience is simply wrong–and leads us back into the bondage from which Jesus delivers us.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), the German Lutheran pastor who defied Hitler, ran an underground seminary for anti-Nazi pastors, was marginally involved in a plot to overthrow Hitler, and whose work to smuggle some Jews out of Germany led to his arrest and execution, called this kind of thinking “cheap grace.”  He contrasted that with the costly grace of the gospel.  Likewise Miraslov Volf, a theologian from war torn Croatia, says that to accept the comfort of the Crucified One while rejecting his Way to advocate not only cheap grace but a deceitful ideology in place of the gospel.  So, let us approach the Sermon on the Mount prepared to hear it as a Word of empowering grace, delivering us from the mechanisms of bondage to various patterns of sin, enabling us as Christ followers to live by a new pattern, a way of life profoundly different from the world-system we know.

The Beatitudes (Matt. 5: 3-12).  The Sermon is given to Jesus’ disciples/followers and to crowds who are potential followers.  The crowds are not just any non-believers, but are those who have heard of Jesus (maybe even heard him directly) and are interested. They may even be half convinced that he is the Messiah, God’s agent for the redemption of Israel.  In presenting it in his Gospel, Matthew is saying that the Sermon is to be of continuing guidance for his Christian community–and the Church’s decision to include it in the New Testament is their recognition that Jesus continues to intend this Sermon to guide disciples and potential disciples, now.

The Sermon begins with words of grace, of blessing for those who are citizens of the Kingdom or Rule that Jesus brings.  Building on themes from Isaiah 61, these “beatitudes” are not commands or rules.  They proclaim God’s blessing or joy on those who display the grace filled virtues of the inbreaking Rule of God.  Because the characteristic of joy is so strong, Glen Stassen translates the beatitudes this way:

Joyful are the humble poor who know their need of God, for theirs is the very Reign of God.

Joyful are those who are deeply saddened to the point of action, for they will be comforted.

Joyful are those whose wills are surrended to God, for they will inherit the earth.

Joyful are those who hunger and thirst for restorative justice, for they will be filled.

Joyful are those who practice compassion in action, for they will receive God’s compassion.

Joyful are those who seek God’s will in all that they are and do, for they will see God.

Joyful are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.

Joyful are those who suffer because of working for restorative justice, for theirs is the reign of God.

Joyful are you when they criticize, persecute, and slander you, because of me.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in God.  For in the same way they persecuted the prophets before you.

 

The “poor in Spirit,” are called simply the physical poor in Luke 6:20 (which we’ll examine more fully in our chapter on Luke) and are contrasted with those who are “rich now.”  So, who does Jesus bless, the poor or the poor in spirit?  The problem disappears when we realize that Jesus is referring to Isa. 61.  The anawim in Hebrew are traditionally the “humble poor.”  They are economically poor but they also, perhaps because of their poverty, realize their need of God. The rich often believe they have no need of help from God or anyone.  They trust in their riches.  But if you are poor, one lost paycheck can lead to hunger; one serious illness can lead to foreclosure and homelessness. One divorce (perhaps even against one will), one catastrophe, is enough to turn their lives from barely liveable to disastrous.  So, many poor more naturally turn to God.  Luke emphasizes the Old Testament theme of God’s care and protection for the economically poor (e.g., Ex. 22:25-27; 23:10-11; Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22; Deut. 15:7-11; 2 Sam. 22:28; Ps. 72:2, 4, 12; Isa. 26:6, 49:13, 66:2; Zeph. 3:12).  Matthew does not exclude this, but he puts the emphasis on their empty hand of faith before God.

The 3rd Beatitude is usually translated “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness sake,” but the same Greek word (dikaiosune) means both righteousness and justice.  And today’s English tends to mean by “righteousness” what the Bible means by “self-righteousness.” They make it about ourselves, about a personal quality of righteousness.  But Jesus wants disciples to be other directed, to seek to set right what is wrong.  He wants us to hunger and thirst for the kind of healing  justice that tends the wounds of individuals and societies. 

I skip the details of the other Beatitudes for brevity’s sake.  I note that they all fit together.  Life in the Jesus Way is characterized by poverty of spirit (knowing one’s need of God), by mourning/grieving the things that grieve the heart of God–so much that we are moved to action; by  wills completely surrendered to God.  The Jesus Way people hunger and thirst for justice, who are merciful (practicing compassion in action), by purity of heart, by suffering for the sake of justice, by being persecuted for the sake of Jesus (just as the prophets were persecuted).  In this pattern are the peacemakers–not the warmakers–who are called the children of God.  Again, at this point, there are no commands.  The Beatitude does not command us to be peacemakers in order to earn status as God’s children.  Rather, Jesus’ followers are God’s children and joyfully make peace because they are God’s children.  In describing this vision in the Beatitudes, Jesus is not heaping burdens upon his listeners and potential followers, but describing a vision of JOY and INVITING us to participate.  This is the pattern of participation–a pattern that includes joyful peacemaking. 

Of course, while all of us disciples and would-be disciples want to live a pattern of life like this, full of joy displaying the joyous virtues of the Way of Jesus, but we also know that we often find ourselves trapped in other, more destructive patterns.  In our next installment we will see how the main body of the Sermon address these forms of bondage in 14 Triads that present a traditional moral teaching, describes the mechanism of bondage that make holding to that teaching nearly impossible, and then presents transforming initiatives–Jesus’ new commands that show us the way out of the destructive cycles that bind us–empowering grace, indeed.

October 21, 2009 Posted by | Biblical exegesis, discipleship, ethics, Jesus, peacemaking, Sermon on the Mount | 12 Comments

A Biblical Case for Christian Pacifism II: Why Start with Jesus?

In beginning our examination of Holy Scripture on the questions of war, violence, nonviolence, and peacemaking, we will begin with Jesus, as presented in the 4 canonical Gospels, then turn to the rest of the New Testament before examining large sections of the Hebrew Scriptures or “Old” Testament.  Why are we taking this approach?  Why begin with Jesus?

We begin with Jesus (and, in a different sense, end with Jesus) because, for Christians, Jesus is the ultimate authority on matters of faith and practice, of doctrinal and ethical convictions and living.  The earliest Christian confession, found repeatedly in the New Testament, is “Jesus is Lord!”  That is the ultimate title of authority in the first century Roman empire in which the NT was written.  The Romans proclaimed that Caesar was lord–was supremely sovereign.  For the early Christians to proclaim, “Jesus is Lord!” was to say “Caesar is NOT lord! NOT supreme! NOT our ultimate authority!”  It should carry the same political weight today.  No Christian can give ultimate authority to anything or anyone else than Jesus.  There have been many attempts at political or religious or other Powers and Authorities to try to usurp that authority.  In the days of the Third Reich, the Nazi ideology claimed by the “German Christian” movement argued for “Christ for the Church, Hitler for the Fatherland!”  They proclaimed that considerations of “Blood” (racial-ethnic identity), “Soil,” (national land ownership, but also implying cultural superiority), and “Volk” (Peoplehood, a term having far more racist overtones in German than the English equivalent of “Folk” carries) could be valid revelations of God alongside biblical revelation.  This is what led the Swiss theologian Karl Barth to reject the ancient tradition of “general revelation” of God through nature and reason, along with the particular revelation of God in and through the unfolding history of Israel and the Church recorded in Holy Scripture.  The Barmen Declaration of the Confessing Church (which arose to combat the heresy of the German Christian movement), written by Barth declares in Article I, “Jesus Christ, as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we must trust and obey in life and in death.”  Then along with this affirmation, it gave a denial, “We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and and truths, as God’s revelation.”  

In considering a biblical case for Christian pacifism, we do well to heed the lessons of Barmen. I am not claiming that any particular government is “another Hitler,” (a charge that is flung about by both Right and Left far too quickly). I am saying that governments make idolatrous claims and they want obedient subjects whenever they want to wage war.  Even liberal democracies like the U.S., which allow for conscientious objection to military service, prefer that the numbers of conscientious objectors remain small.  They give out propaganda campaigns through military recruitment commercials and military recruitment in public school classrooms and this seeps into the minds of churchmembers almost by osmosis.

 In the 1990s, I was slightly irritated with the U.S. evangelical fad of wearing “WWJD?” (for “What Would Jesus Do?”) on bracelets and T-shirts and other paraphanelia because I didn’t think that this was accompanied by any serious examination of the Gospels to see what Jesus did in his time and place as any kind of guide to what the Risen Christ would have his disciples do here and now.  The question WWJD? was not, it seemed to me, being answered by serious Bible study, but by mere guesswork–informed no doubt by sermons and praise songs, etc., but not tested by serious NT study.  Yet, immature as that fad was, it was onto something.  It could have led to a great reformation of the Church in these United States.  It at least understood that Jesus’ life, teachings, and death are a model for Christian discipleship (1 Peter 2:20-22).  But since the attacks on the U.S. on 11 Sept. 2001, these have all but disappeared.  Most ordinary American Christians are not asking themselves anymore “What Would Jesus Do?” certainly not in responding to terrorists (or suspected terrorists), to Muslims, to immigrants, to treatment of “detainees.”  These ordinary Christians are not asking, “Who Would Jesus Bomb?” or “Who Would Jesus Torture?” but are taking the name of Christ as a totem in all out war against declared national and religious enemies. (I remember how shocked I was when newspapers ran a picture of a tank in Iraq with the words “New Testament” painted on it.  See below.)

tank

 See also my previous post on the “Military Bibles” with accompanying quotes by George Washington, George W. Bush, General Patton, etc. designed to remake Christianity into a religion of war and conquest. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beginning with Jesus, and reminding ourselves via Barmen, of how crucial it is to begin with Jesus, and to expect that the gospel message of Jesus will be one that other Powers and Authorities don’t quickly welcome, is a helpful corrective to the many insidious ways that rival messages try to pour Jesus into their preexisting molds:  Jesus as CEO of a Fortune 500 company preaching a gospel of capitalism; Jesus as Therapist, preaching a gospel of self-actualization; Jesus as Self-Help Guru; Jesus as Super-Patriot (forgetting that Christians are a global community, called out “from every tribe and tongue and  people and nation” (Rev. 5:9); Jesus as Warrior and not the Prince of Peace.

This brings us to another problem:  If we “begin with Jesus,” whose Jesus?  That is, what view of Jesus guides our interpretation?  The “politically correct” Jesus of the so-called Jesus Seminar is very different from that planned by the folks at “Conservapedia.”  The Jesus of Rod Parsley stands in great contrast to the Jesus of Jeremiah Wright; the Jesus of Rick Warren is vastly different from the Jesus of Tony Campolo or Jim Wallis.  Whose Jesus?  How do we keep from making Jesus over into our own image?  Well, as the late theologian H.Richard Niebuhr said, we have the “Rosetta Stone” of the original Gospel portraits.  There are no absolute guarantees against misinterpretation, but we will consult a range of contemporary New Testament scholarship, and the Gospel portraits resist attempts to fully distort Jesus into an idol of our own making–as often as that has been tried. 

An objection to this method of beginning with Jesus is that God’s revelation begins with the First or “Old” Testament–with Abraham and Sarah and Moses, with the faith and history of Israel, and the critique of the prophets.  This is true.  One does not fully understand Jesus apart from his context and heritage–his teaching in parables paralleled the teaching style of the sages of the Wisdom tradition (as found in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Job ) and he stood deeply rooted in the tradition of the prophets of Israel/Judah.  Those not familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures miss all the “Old” Testament quotations, paraphrases, themes, and allusions throughout the New Testament and especially in the Gospels and on the lips of Jesus.  We also misunderstand Jesus by not understanding the rival factions within first century (i.e., Second Temple era) Judaism–rivalries so sharp that some scholars speak of the rival Judaisms of the Second Temple era–prior to the “normative” rabbinic Judaism of the 2nd C.  We will have to situate Jesus (and the Jesus movement that became the early Church) within the rivalries of the Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots (or proto-Zealot revolutionaries and social bandits), Essenes, or Hellenized philosophical Judaism like that of Philo of Alexandria (20 BCE-50 CE).  And it is important to note that what we call the “Old” Testament was the Bible of Jesus and the early church.

But we must still learn to read the Hebrew Scriptures as Jesus did.  For us, all these centuries later, there is often a tendency to develop our theology from a particular reading of the Old Testament and then decide to fit Jesus in and be sure he says or does nothing to disturb our view of biblical revelation.  Yet Jesus was constantly surprising both his rivals and his disciples–who read the same Scriptures.  Flat Bible approaches end up subordinating Jesus to a doctrine of biblical authority or a reading of Scripture derived apart from Jesus. They end up becoming religions “about” Jesus that stand in contrast to the faith of Jesus.  The NT writers resist this tendency.  “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is they that speak of me.” John 5:39.  Or, as the writer of Hebrews put it, “Long ago at many times and in various ways God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets, but in these final days God has spoken to us supremely by a Son.” Heb. 1:1. 

Christians throughout history have reacted to previous moldings of Jesus into mistaken shapes by affirming the supremacy of Jesus himself as revelation.  Thus the Southern Baptist Convention, for instance, in 1925 and 1963 said, “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.”

So, we will begin with Jesus, with the portraits of Jesus and his teachings found in the 4 canonical Gospels. In our next installment, we will consider ways in which people try to avoid or water down Jesus–often without realizing that’s what they are doing.  And we will argue for reading the “Old” Testament as Christian Scripture, as the Bible of Jesus and the earliest Christians.

Note:  My approach is not the only way to present a biblical case for pacifism.  One could read the entire Scripture through lenses shaped by Jesus but present such a reading in a “Genesis through Revelation” canonical order.  That is the approach taken by Church of the Brethren scholar Vernard Eller in his classic, War and Peace from Genesis to Revelation (Repr. Wipf and Stock, 2004).  It’s also the route chosen by Mennonite theologian Ted Grimsrud on his website, PeaceTheology.net in a blog series that will become a book, The Bible on Peace.  I recommend both works strongly.   But I have seen so many recent attempts to remake Jesus and distort Jesus’ message (see the picture above for an extreme example) that I am taking extra precautions that, in the words of the late Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, “We Do See Jesus.” (The phrase comes from the essay, “But We Do See Jesus”: The Particularity of Incarnation and the Universality of Truth” reprinted as chapter two in Yoder’s The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel (University of Notre Dame Press, 1985). )

October 11, 2009 Posted by | Bible, discipleship, ethics, Jesus, New Testament, nonviolence, pacifism, peacemaking, theology, violence, war | 13 Comments

A Biblical Case for Christian Pacifism I: Getting Started

   We are exploring a biblical case for or defense of Christian pacifism.  To get started, we need to define our terms and approach to the problem.  First, this is a biblical case for Christian pacifism, not the only way the case can be made from Scripture.  There are a variety of interpretations and approaches to Scripture held by Christian pacifists–and a number of legitimate ways of laying out the case.  This is simply the case I am making and the approach I, as a Christian pacifist who has long studied these matters, have chosen to proceeed.

Second, this is a biblical case.  Although bypassing debates over terms like “inerrancy” or ‘infallibility,’ I will be writing with the assumption that most readers are Christians who hold that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are uniquely authoritative for both the doctrinal convictions and also for the ethics or moral practices of the Church, both collectively in its gathered life together and individually as members.  Protestant Christians generally belong to Reformation or post-Reformation groups which confess the Scriptures as the supreme authority, sometimes even saying the ONLY authority, in these matters.  Eastern Orthodox Christians place the Scriptures within the interpretive framework of the early ecumenical councils of the undivided Church, especially the Apostolic and Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creeds, and the Definition of Chalcedon.  Roman Catholic Christians hold that Scriptural authority is part of the twofold teaching authority of the Church Magisterium, the Teaching Church, along with ongoing church tradition as embedded in councils and papal pronouncements. (Under certain very limited circumstances, Catholics hold that the pope can and does teach ‘infallibly.’) Some Quakers and some Pentecostals view the authority of the Scriptures through the authority of the living voice of the Holy Spirit discerned within the local church.  But all Christians have the Scriptures in common and I will appeal to those books which all consider canonical or forming the teaching norm of the Church universal.

For this reason, though some references to historical scholarship will be made from time to time, I will not here be trying to reconstruct “the historical Jesus” behind the four canonical Gospels, nor engaging in a “quest for the historical Israel” different from that presented in the historical accounts of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament.  This study is not aimed at scholars, but at ordinary Christian laity.  I assume that if I cannot show that the Bibles they actually read point to pacifism and nonviolence as a Christian norm, it won’t matter what case could be made to academics. I may from time to time alert readers to matters they may want to pursue in-depth in other works, but I have to keep my attention on the goal:  understanding the Biblical message as calling for nonviolence and pacifism on the part of all Christians.

Defining some key terms in this study: 

  • Christian: refers here to all who make the earliest Christian confession, “Jesus is Lord,” whose faith in God is mediated by Jesus, and who seek to follow Christ.  “Christian,” means “Christ-follower,” and before the earliest believers were called “Christians” at Antioch (Acts 13:1) they were simply called “Followers of the Way [of Jesus–as opposed to the Way of the Pharisees, Zealots, one of the Greco-Roman mystery cults, etc.].  So, in this study I am not writing to those who, as Clarence Jordan used to mock, simply want to admire Jesus, but to those who sincerely want to follow in the Way that he opened up.  “Christian” in this study does not mean someone who had a certain religious experience (whether they call it being “born again,” or by another name), but then live just like their non-Christian neighbors, but those who realize that being Christian involves addressing claims  that Jesus Christ makes on their lives.  It will be the burden of this study to show that living without violence or revenge or waging war is one of those claims on the lives of Christians. Engaging in the pursuit of justice and peace is another strong claim Jesus makes on our lives. So, negatively, we avoid killing or violence, and positively we work for justice and peace.
  • Violence is defined in this study as “using force or the threat of force to overwhelm the will or violate the rights or bodily integrity of another human being.”  Questions of violence to property or to animals or other living things will be bypassed in this study.  But mental or psychological violence is covered in our definition by means of the threat of physical violence.  For more on this definition see, Glen H. Stassen and Michael L. Westmoreland-White, “Defining Violence and Nonviolence” in Teaching Peace: Nonviolence and the Liberal Artsed., J. Denny Weaver and Gerald Biesecker-Mast (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003).  Update:  Mark Congdon thinks this definition needs to change “or” to “and.” I’ll think about that. He may be right.  But we need to separate the definition of violence from arguments about whether or not it is right or wrong. After all, Just War Theorists will agree that war is violent; it involves shooting, bombing, stabbing with bayonets, etc.  Nevertheless, they would argue that, under precise conditions and terms spelled about by JWT (many of which are now codified in both U.S. and international law), these would be justifiable (they claim) to prevent conditions they would think of as even more evil.  Likewise, there may be some things that would not technically count as violence under the definition given–such as assisted suicide, perhaps, that one would still want to argue are morally (and maybe legally) wrong.  We need to define violence correctly, but then also argue for it being wrong.  The article cited goes into far more detail and is more philosophically precise. Here, we are just getting our bearings for a biblical argument on pacifism.  There will be many “borderline” discussions and “grey areas,” but the main argument against war or terrorism, violent coups, spouse or child abuse, etc. will be clear.  Once we have moral clarity about the general direction of the life of discipleship as Christians, we can worry about “grey areas.”  But we don’t want special pleading–to say that “I don’t believe in violence but I do believe in X, therefore X is not really violent.” We need to separate the definition of violence (whether or not that definition needs refining) from the argument about an action’s morality so as not to hide some types of violence behind definitions.
  • As such violence is distinguishable from two related terms force and coercion.  Force refers to any power to set an object or a course of events in motion.  Coercion refers to all practices that pressure others to take actions or refrain from actions against their own desires.  Violence always involves coercion and usually involves force, but not all force or coercion is a form of violence.  If I swing a baseball bat, it always involves force, but it is only violent if my intended target is my neighbor’s head rather than the spheroid thrown by my neighbor called a “baseball.”  However, if I poison someone without her knowledge, I have not used force, but my action was still violent.  Similarly, if I insist that my children do their homework when they would rather not, I am being coercive, but I am not being violent just by using my moral authority as their father (nor is Kate when using her authority as mother to achieve the same end). If I threaten to lock them in a closet otherwise, or beat them into submission, my coercion has been violent.
  • These distinctions may seem petty, but they are important.  Many have objected to Christian pacifism by claiming that it does away with authority (and thus is always anarchistic) and that Christian pacifists are hypocrites if they discipline their children.  That is not so.  Some pacifists are against spanking, but not all. (My own objections to spanking do not involve the claim that spanking is always wrong or always child abuse–but that the difference in adult strength is so great, and adults are usually angry when they employ spanking, that abuse is always a strong potential outcome.  Once I grabbed one of my daughters by the arm to prevent her from running into an oncoming car.  I did the right thing. My action, though forceful and coercive, was hardly violent. But I still accidentally bruised her arm.  So, I refrain from spanking because I do not trust my own strength when angry. I do think that parents for whom spanking is the USUAL form of punishment are failing as parents, even if they manage to spank in such a way as to not be abusive.)
  • Consider other examples: If someone is attempting suicide by jumping off a bridge and another prevents this by tackling the jumper, the rescuer is being forceful and coercive, but not violent–not even if they injure the jumper in the rescue.  Workers in a mental hospital who practice safe methods of restraint against a violent patient are not being violent, but if they fight the patient they are being violent–defensively violent, but still violent.  Nor are intentions everything:  If a pilot accidentally releases his bombs over a wedding, we still call the resulting carnage violence.  The argument being made in this study is that Christians are forbidden violence (and commanded to engage in practices of justice seeking and peacemaking), NOT they are forbidden to ever use force or coercion.
  • Nonviolence is a term that has evolved in meaning. It once meant only refraining from violence.  It has evolved to mean, and I use the term here, to refer to active practices against injustice and war that are not themselves violent.  Examples of such practices include:  strikes (if the strikers remain disciplined and nonviolent), boycotts, demonstrations, walkouts, nonviolent protests, symbolic actions, work slowdowns, general strikes throughout a nation, fasting (under certain conditions), etc.  We will see numerous such examples in Scripture and history throughout this study. Nonviolent direct action is a form of conflict, of struggle against injustice. It is not passive or submissive or cowardly. It is an alternative to flight or fight, to submission or armed, violent, resistance.
  • Conflict resolution or conflict transformation refers to a series of evolving practices for peacemaking in the midst of conflict, including in the midst of war or armed violence.  These practices are distinct from the practices of nonviolent direct action, but they are not in tension with them. The practices include negotiation, cooling off periods, etc.
  • Pacifism refers to the ideological conviction, often religiously rooted, that all war and violence is morally wrong and may not be used even as a “lesser evil.”  In this study, I refer to Christian pacifism, the claim that Christians (Christ-f0llowers) must attempt to live without violence, especially without lethal violence, and, positively, to engage in practices of nonviolent struggle for justice and peacemaking.  For this reason, at a minimum, Christians must refuse to go to war or to prepare for war by serving in national militaries (or by serving in armed militias or guerilla groups, for that matter).  (The question of police work is more complex than can be addressed here, but it cries out for more attention.  See further Tobias Winright, “From Police Officers to Peace Officers,” in The Wisdom of the Cross:  Essays in Honor of John Howard Yoder, ed. Stanley Hauerwas, Harry J. Huebner, and Chris Huebner (Eerdmans, 1999, repr. Wipf and Stock, 2005).  This is based on Winrights unpublished Ph.D. dissertation in Christian ethics from Notre Dame, which I hope will be published in full in the near future.)
  • Nevertheless, as we will see, the major thrust of the biblical message is not on what we should refrain from doing (violence, making war), but on what we should be doing (working for peace and justice).  This point has come to have wide agreement beyond Christian pacifist circles.  Christian pacifists and those from the “Justifiable War Tradition,” are beginning to agree on a set of normative practices in Just Peacemaking.  I have discussed those in depth elsewhere on this blog. I may refer to them again at the end of this study, but not in detail.

I think we will end this first installment here so as to refrain from making these too long for busy readers to follow.  The next installment, then, will deal with two more “getting started” questions:  “Why Does This Study Begin with Jesus and the New Testament?” and “How Ought Christians to Read the Old Testament?” From there we will begin our biblical studies.

October 3, 2009 Posted by | Bible, Biblical exegesis, convictions, death penalty, discipleship, ethics, Hebrew Bible/O.T., Jesus, just peacemaking, just war theory, New Testament, nonviolence, pacifism, peacemaking, theology, violence, war | 20 Comments

David Fillingim: A New Voice in baptist Theology

david_fillingimMy friend, David Fillingim, currently Associate Professor of Philosophy, Shorter College, Rome, GA, will be annoyed to find himself listed as a “new voice” in baptist theology because he has always insisted that he “doesn’t believe in theology.” If you press him hard, he’ll break down and admit that what he really means is that he doesn’t believe in systematic theology. A native born Georgian (with a soft drawl that was pleasantly out of place amidst the twangier sounds of Kentucky when I knew David as a fellow Ph.D. student of Glen Stassen at SBTS in the early ’90s) with a Southerner’s Faulknerian sense of narrative, and tragedy, and the giveness of place and people, David knows that theology, like life, is too messy to come in neat systems–and so is God.  To me, that makes him a perfect candidate for this series of brief profiles of “not-yet-famous” voices in baptist/Believers’ Church life.

First, the bare facts. Born and raised in the absolutely beautiful seaside city of Savannah, GA, the son of a family physician, Fillingim grew up in the same kind of conservative-but-non-fundamentalist Baptist life that produced former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. He was cross-pollinated by  the more radical stream represented by Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Partners (Americus, GA) and Black Baptist life–during a childhood that saw segregation end, and teen years and adult life that never quite saw racism healed. (Glimpses of healing occur across the South, and across the nation, daily, but there are always setbacks.) He was educated at Mercer University (Macon, GA),  Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, NC), finishing his Master of Divinity there just as the fundamentalists took over that institution. He pursued his Ph.D. in Christian Ethics (under my own Doktorvater, Glen H. Stassen) at SBTS in Louisville, KY–even as the fundamentalists closed in on it. (David said he felt like Jonah, bringing darkness whereever he went!) His major influence include Clarence Jordan, Will D. Campbell, Morris Ashcraft, Elizabeth Barnes, Glen H. Stassen, Paul D. Simmons, Henlee H. Barnette, H. Richard Niebuhr, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Of Bonhoeffer, Fillingim has said that he finds it impossible just to relate to him on an intellectual level, always responding to Bonhoeffer as a novice contemplative responds to a spiritual guide. (There is another set of influences to which we’ll attend in a moment.)

After finishing his academic work, Fillingim taught for several years at Chowan College in North Carolina before coming to Shorter College. He has returned  to his home state of GA, but lives now at the opposite end (NW instead of SE) from his childhood home.

Fillingim has written or edited 3 books.  Extreme Virtues:  Living at the Prophetic Edge with a foreword by Glen H. Stassen  (Herald Press, 2003) is a contribution to “virtue ethics” or the “ethics of character” rooted in a study of the biblical prophets.  Too much of the literature of virtue ethics, even when written by Christians, is more indebted to the writings of Aristotle (and modern Aristotelians like Alisdair McIntyre) than  to the biblical literature, but Fillingim’s contribution is a welcome exception.  According to Fillingim, the virtues extolled by the biblical prophets are:  self-sacrifice, personal responsibility, justice, steadfast love, hope, courage, and peace.  I expect more in this line to come, perhapps from the Gospels, which, following Jesus himself, were deeply informed by the prophets.

Fillingim’s other two books show a second side to his scholarship:  the relation of Southern religion to aspects of Southern popular culture,  especially musical culture.  A guitarist himself, Fillingim wrote Redneck Liberation:  Country Music as Theology, Music and the American South series (Mercer University Press, 2003).  Here Fillingim stands in company with Methodist theologian Tex Sample in studying blue-collar culture for clues to its religious life. (See Tex Sample, White Soul:  Country Music, the Church, and Working Americans [Abingdon Press, 1996], and Tex Sample, Blue Collar Resistance and the Politics of Jesus:  Doing Ministry with Working Class Whites [Abingdon Press, 2006].) But Fillingim’s initial inspiration, other than the music itself, and the love of Country music by his icon, the maverick Baptist minister,  Will D. Campbell,  was Black Liberation theologian James H. Cone’s The Spirituals and the Blues (Orbis Books, 1972, rev. ed., 1992).  Fillingim centers on the “hillbilly humanism” of Hank Williams (Sr.), the eschatological hope portrayed in strands of Country music, and the tension between subordinationist and feminist strands among female Country artists.  I would like to have seen a chapter on the tension between strands of Country which glorify nationalism, militarism and violence (e.g., Toby Keith or Lee Greenwood) and those which resist these features of Southern  culture (e.g, John Denver, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson).

Finally, to this point in the witness of this “new voice,” is More Than Precious Memories:  The Rhetoric of Southern Gospel Music, ed. Michael  P. Graves and David Fillingim (Mercer University Press, 2004).  This edited work is similar in genre to Redneck Liberation but concentrates on Southern Gospel– church approved Southern white music which stands in the same kind of tension with Country music as the Spirituals do with the Blues.  Graves and Fillingim co-wrote the introduction “More Than Precious Memories” and Fillingim’s chapters include “Oft Made to Wonder: Southern Gospel as Theodicy,” and Appendix: “Flight from Liminality: “Home” in Country and Gospel Music.”  In all these cases we see the recurring Fillingim theme that the distinctive music of Southern culture reflects and illuminates the best and worst of real lives of faith and doubt and brokeness and hope among working class white Southerners.

Fillingim clearly has a strong sense of place: These are my people, no matter what.  It is not uncritical and seeks change–away from the historic racism, sexism, heterosexism, militaristic nationalism, and violence of Southern culture.  But Fillingim’s loyalties to the South also lead him to see its best features and to feel that they are threatened by globalized mass market “culture” and the acids of both modernity and post-modernity.  His is a theology of resistance and hope–that speaks and sings with a soft patrician Georgian drawl. Like Hank Williams, sometimes Fillingim doubtless is “so lonesome [he] could cry,” but is sustained because he “saw the Light.”

Here is a baptist theological voice from the South to watch closely for more to come.

August 29, 2009 Posted by | anabaptists, Baptists, ethics, theology | 17 Comments

Gospel Nonviolence in Various Christian Traditions

  • Alexander, Paul.  Peace to War: Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God. Foreword by Glen H. Stassen.  Cascadia, 2009.  I have this on order. It’s a revision of the author’s Ph.D. dissertation (which convinced him that his early Pentecostal forebears were right about pacifism) and I have seen excerpts published as articles in journals. The author is one of the founders of the Pentecostal and Charismatic Peace Fellowship.
  • Bainton, Roland.  Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace:  A Historical Survey and Critical Re-Evaluation.  Reprint.  Wipf and Stock, 2008. Originally published in the 1960s, this is a classic study of the three major forms of Christian thought about war and peace: pacifism, just war theory, and crusade or holy war theology.
  • Beaman, Jay.  Pentecostal Pacifism.  Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies, 1989.
  • Butigan, Ken. Franciscan Nonviolence:  Stories, Reflections, Principles, Practices,  and Resources.  Pace e Bene, 2004.
  • Bush, Perry.  Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties:  Mennonite Pacifism in Modern America.  Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.
  • Cahill,  Lisa Sowle.  Love Your Enemies:  Discipleship, Pacifism,  and Just War Theory.  Fortress Press, 1994.  This historical survey shows that Christian pacifism and Just War Theory are rooted in two very different concepts of Christian discipleship (the Christian life) and that each of them comes is two main forms as well.
  • Carpenter, Alvin Leon.  From Missionary to Mercenary:  How the Church Went from Pacifism to Militancy and Why it Should Return.  iUniverse,  Inc., 2005. Haven’t read this yet.
  • Dekar, Paul R.  Creating the Beloved Community:  A Journey with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Cascadia,  2003.
  • Dekar, Paul R.  For the Healing of the Nations:  Baptist Peacemakers.  Preface by Nancy Hastings Sehested. Foreword by Martin E. Marty.  Smyth and Helwys Press, 1993.
  • Gros, Geoffrey and John D. Rempel, eds.  The Fragmentation of the Church and its Unity in Peacemaking.  Eerdmans, 2001.  Sadly, this peaceful ecumenism was fragile and shattered by 9/11.
  • Hill, Johnny Bernard.  The Theology of Martin Luther King,  Jr. and Desmond Mpilo Tutu.  Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
  • Hornus, Jean-Michel.  It is Not Lawful for Me to Fight:  Early Christian Attitudes Toward War, Violence, and the State. Eerdmans, 1980.
  • Johnson, Nicole L.  Practicing Discipleship:  Lived Theologies of Nonviolence in Conversation with the Doctrine of the United Methodist Church.  Pickwick Publications, 2009.
  • Kleiment, Anne and Dorothy Roberts, eds., American Catholic Pacifism:  The Influence of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement.  Praeger, 1996.
  • K’Meyer, Tracy Elaine.  Interracialism and Christian Community in the Postwar South:  The Story of Koinonia Farm.  University of Virginia Press, 2000.
  • D. Stephen Long.  Living the Discipline;  United Methodist Theological Reflections on War, Civilization, and Holiness.  Eerdmans, 1992.
  • Musto, G. Stephen.  The Catholic Peace Tradition.  Peace Books, 2008.
  • Nolt, Stephen.  A History of the Amish.  Rev. and Exp. Good Books, 1969.
  • Nuttall, Geoffrey.  Christian Pacifism in History.  World Without War Publications, 1971. Out of print. This is a classic that reprint publishers like Wipf and Stock need to re-publish.
  • Ross, Thomas Bender and Alan P.F. Sell.  Baptism, Peace, and the State in Reformed and Mennonite Traditions.  Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1991.
  • Sampson, Cynthia and John Paul Lederach.  From the Ground Up:  Mennonite Contributions to International Peacebuilding.  Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Schlabach, Theron F. and Richard T. Hughes, eds.  Proclaim Peace: Christian Pacifism from Unexpected Quarters.  University of Illinois Press, 1997. Hidden histories.  Chapters include pacifism as a minority strand of U.S. patriotism, 3 chapters on different strands of pacifism in the early years of Pentecostalism, Churches of Christ (one strand of the Stone-Campbell tradition), the (non-Pentecostal) Church of God, pacifism among Seventh-Day Adventists and early Mormons, Liberal Methodist pacifism between the World Wars and during the Vietnam era, the minority strand of American Catholic pacifism, and the tension between Just War thinking, active peacemaking, and blind nationalism in the Christian Reformed Church.
  • Stein, Stephen J.  The Shaker Experience in America:  A History of the United Society of Believers. Yale University Press, 1994.
  • Watt, Craig M.  Disciple of Peace:  Alexander Campbell on Pacifism, Violence, and the State.  Doulos Kristou, 2005.
  • Weddle, Meredith Baldwin.  Walking in the Way of Peace:  Quaker Pacifism in the Seventeenth Century.  Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • White, C. Dale.  Making a Just Peace:  Human Rights and Domination Systems.  Abingdon Press, 1989. The author is a retired United Methodist bishop.
  • Yoder, John Howard.  Christian Attitudes Toward War, Peace, and Revolution.  Ed. Theodore J. Koontz and Andy Alexis-Baker.  Brazos Press, 2009.  Published posthumously, this “companion to Bainton” was compiled by Yoder for his course by the same title and circulated informally for many years.
  • Yoder, John Howard.  Nevertheless:  The Varieties of Religious Pacifism.  Rev. and Exp. Ed.  Herald Press, 1992. Originally published, 1971.
  • August 21, 2009 Posted by | books, church history, discipleship, ethics, nonviolence, pacifism, peacemaking | 1 Comment

    Biblical Perspectives on Nonviolence and Peacemaking

    Biblical Studies on Nonviolence and Peacemaking

    • Berrigan, Daniel, s.j. Daniel: Under the Siege of the Divine. Plough Publishing House, 1997.
    • Berrigan, Daniel, s.j.  Exodus:  Let My People Go.  Cascade Books, 2008.
    • Berrigan, Daniel, s.j.  Ezekiel:  Vision in the Dust.  Orbis Books, 1997.
    • Berrigan, Daniel, s.j.  Isaiah:  Spirit of Courage, Gift of Tears. Augsburg-Fortress, 1996.
    • Berrigan, Daniel, s.j.  Jeremiah:  The World, the Wound of God.  Fortress Press, 1999.
    • Berrigan, Daniel, s.j.  Job: And Death, No Dominion.  Sheed and Ward, 2000.
    • Berrigan, Daniel, s.j.  The Kings and their Gods:  The Pathology of Power.  Eerdmans, 2008.  (On 1 & 2 Kings.)  People are familiar with Berrigan as a nonviolent activist.  Some others know him as a poet. But this radical Jesuit priest is also a very powerful biblical scholar.  Yet these works are not technical, historical-critical, biblical commentaries (though Berrigan’s work shows how intimately familiar he is with biblical scholarship), but spiritual readings of biblical texts through the eyes of his radical, nonviolent faith and activism.
    • Bonhoeffer, Dietrich.  The Cost of Discipleship.  Fortress Press, 1940.
    • Borg, Marcus.  Jesus: A New Vision.  Fortress Press, 1994.
    • Borg, Marcus.  Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary.  HarperOne, 2008.
    • Borg, Marcus and N. T. Wright.  The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions.  HarperSanFrancisco, 2000.
    • Brown, Dale W. Biblical Pacifism.  Evangel Publishing House,  2003.
    • Brueggemann, Walter.  Peace. Chalice Press, 2001.  This is a revised edition of Brueggemann’s much earlier work, Living Toward a Vision: Biblical Reflections on Shalom.
    • Cassidy, Richard J.  Jesus, Politics, and Society:  A Study of Luke’s Gospel.  Orbis Books, 1978.
    • Cassidy, Richard J. John’s Gospel in New Perspective:  Christology and the Realities of Roman Power.  Orbis Books, 1992. 
    • Cassidy, Richard J.  Society and Politics in the Acts of the Apostles.  Orbis Books, 1987.
    • Chilton, Bruce.  Rabbi Jesus;  An Intimate Portrait.  HarperOne, 2008.
    • Chilton, Bruce.  Rabbi Paul: An Intellectual Biography.  Image, 2005.
    • Chilton, Bruce and R. Jacob Neusner, eds.  The Brother of Jesus:  James the Just and His Mission.  Westminster/John Knox, 2004.
    • Crosby, Michael H.  House of Disciples:  Church, Economics, and Justice in Matthew.  Wipf and Stock, 2004.
    • Crosby, Michael H.  Spirituality of the Beatitudes:  Matthew’s Vision for the Church in an Unjust World.  Orbis Books, 2005.
    • Dear, John, s.j.  Jesus the Rebel: Bearer of God’s Peace and Justice.  Sheed and Ward, 2000.
    • Dear, John, s.j.  Mary of Nazareth: Prophet of Peace.  Ave Maria Press, 2003.
    • Hays, Richard B.  The Moral Vision of the New Testament:  Community, Cross, and New Creation–A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics.  HarperOne, 1996. I don’t agree with Hays everywhere, but he does an excellent job of showing how nonviolence and peacemaking are in every strand of the New Testament.
    • Herzog, William II.  Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God.  Westminster/John Knox, 2000.
    • Howard-Brook, Wes.  Becoming Children of God:  John’s Gospel and Radical Discipleship.  Orbis Books, 2004.
    • Howard-Brook, Wes and Anthony Gwyer.  Unveiling Empire:  Reading Revelation, Then and Now.  Orbis Books, 1999.
    • Howard-Brook, Wes and Sharon Ringe, eds.  The New Testament: Introducing the Way of Discipleship.  Orbis Books, 2002.  If you want a 1 volume introduction to the New Testament that focuses on radical discipleship, sharing possessions, peacemaking and resistance to the violent Powers and Authorities, Howard-Brook and Ringe have edited that book here.  Perfect for beginning scholars or for adult Bible studies in churches.
    • Horsley, Richard A.  Jesus and the Spiral of Violence.  Fortress, 1993.
    • Horsley, Richard A.  Jesus and Empire:  The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder.  Fortress Press, 2002.
    • Horsley, Richard A.  In the Shadow of Empire:  Reclaiming the Bible as a History of Faithful Resistance.  Westminster/John Knox Press, 2008.
    • Jordan, Clarence.  The Substance of Faith and Other Sermons, ed. Dallas Lee. New York: Association Press, 1972.
    • Jordan, Clarence.  The Sermon on the Mount. Rev. Ed. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1974.
    • Lapide, Pinchas.  The Sermon on the Mount:  Utopia or Program for Action?  Orbis Books, 1986.  The late R. Lapide was Jewish, of course, but this work belongs in the biblical studies on nonviolence.
    • Myers, Ched.  Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus.  Orbis Books, 1988.
    • Myers, Ched and Elaine Enns. Ambassadors of Reconciliation, Vol. 1: New Testament Perspectives on Restorative Justice and Peacemaking. Orbis Books, 2009. (Vol. 2 focuses on contemporary practices rather than biblical study.)
    • Rensberger, David.  Johannine Faith and Liberating Community.  Westminster/John Knox Press, 1988.
    • Richard, Pablo.  Apocalypse:  A People’s Commentary on the Book of Revelation.  Orbis Books, 1995.
    • Schussler-Fiorenza, Elizabeth.  Revelation:  Vision of a Just World.  Fortress Press, 1998.
    • Stassen, Glen H.  Living the Sermon on the Mount:  A Practical Hope for Grace and Deliverance.  Jossey-Bass, 2006.
    • Swartley, Willard M.  Mark: The Way for All Nations.  Wipf and Stock, 1999.
    • Swartley, Willard M.  Covenant of Peace:  The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics.  Eerdmans, 2006.  This is Swartley’s masterpiece.  Most New Testament scholars finish their active careers by writing a New Testament theology that is the culmination of their scholarship.  Instead, Swartley wrote what they often leave out: the centrality of peace to  both NT theology and ethics.
    • Swartley, Willard M. Israel’s Scripture Traditions and the Synoptic Gospels: Story Shaping Story. Hendrickson Publishers, 1993.
    • Swartley, Willard M. , ed. The Love of Enemies and Nonretaliation in the New Testament.  Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992.
    • Swartley, Willard M.  Slavery, Sabbath, War and Women:  Case Issues in Biblical Interpretation.  Herald Press, 1983.
    • Swartley, Willard M., ed.  Violence Renounced:  Rene Girard, Biblical Studies and Peacemaking.  Pandora Press, 2000.
    • Trocme, Andre.  Jesus and the Nonviolent Revolution.  Rev. & Exp. Ed. Orbis Books, 2003.
    • Wink, Walter.  Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Discernment.  Fortress,  1992.
    •  Wink, Walter.  Jesus and Nonviolence:  A Third Way.  Fortress Press, 2003.
    • Wink, Walter.  The Human Being:  Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of Man.  Fortress Press, 2002.
    • Wright, N. T. Jesus and the Victory of God.  Augsburg Fortress, 1997.
    • Wright, N. T. Following Jesus:  Biblical Reflections on Discipleship.  Eerdmans, 1997.
    • Yoder, John Howard.  He Came Preaching Peace.  Herald Press, 1985.
    • Yoder, John Howard.  The Original Revolution.  Herald Press, 2003.
    • Yoder, John Howard.  The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster.  2nd ed.  Eerdmans, 1994. Original edition, 1972.

    August 19, 2009 Posted by | Bible, books, discipleship, ethics, nonviolence, pacifism, peacemaking | 5 Comments

    Philosophers for Peace

    Coming soon:  A series in which I profile major philosophers whose work has impacted struggles for peace and justice.  Pacifists and those whose work has contributed to the development of nonviolence theory will be given special attention.  As a Christian, I naturally focus most on Christian philosophers, but other persons of faith and non-religious thinkers will not be ignored or ruled out.

    July 9, 2009 Posted by | ethics, nonviolence, pacifism, peace, philosophy | 2 Comments

    Gov. Charlie Crist (R-FL) Does the Right Thing

    Since I am critical of the Republican Party on most issues, and of the conservative base of the GOP even more, I have made it a policy on this blog to note and praise every time I see something done by a Republican politician of which I approve. I have been accused of “knee jerk GOP hatred” which is not true. 

    Today, Gov. Charlie Crist (R-FL) signed legislation increasing FL’s tobacco taxes by $1 per package of cigarettes.  Excellent!  It will help curb teen smoking and addiction and it will add $900 million per year to FL state revenues–which will offset the state’s Medicare costs and will help fund research into cancer cures!  Well done, Gov. Crist!

    I especially highlight Crist’s actions here because they take some political courage (a virtue always in short supply in either major party).  You see,  Gov. Crist is running for the U.S. Senate in 2010 and this action is bound to be used against him–not by his Democratic opponent in the general election (which increasingly looks to be Rep. Kendrick Meeks (D-FL) ), but by his Republican primary challenger, Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is more conservative than Crist.  The rightwing of the GOP hates any and all taxes.  Crist is very popular in FL and will probably win the primary, but he is not all that popular with the conservative GOP base.  Rubio has been endorsed by national conservative Republican Mike Huckabee (formerly Gov. of Arkansas and former presidential candidate who is now a Fox News pundit) and by Jeb Bush, Jr., son of the former FL Gov. and nephew of George W. Bush.  There is no doubt that the GOP right will use today’s signing to brand Crist as a terrible tax hiker!  He had to know it, too.

    So, here’s my hat tip to Gov. Crist for doing the right thing REGARDLESS of the risk.  Politicians of all parties take notice: This is what a spine looks like!

    Update:  Of course, Crist had to follow this good deed with a kick in the teeth to injured workers!  Nice, Governor Suntan. I sure hope that your Democratic opponent for the U.S. Senate (probably Rep. Kendrick Meeks) highlights this nastiness in the general election!

    May 29, 2009 Posted by | ethics, politics, taxes | 6 Comments