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

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.


 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

Two Types of Christian Pacifism

“Pacifism” can  be defined at minimum as the view that war, even defensive war, is always wrong–or that participation in war is wrong.  Another minimal definition is that deliberately taking human life is always morally wrong. 

Minimal definitions only get one so far, of course.  Pacifists come in many different varieties.  Faith-based pacifists may be minimally defined as those who believe their religious faith forbids them to kill human beings, especially in war.  Christian pacifists are minimally those who believe that their Christian faith forbids them to kill in any war.  From there on, the differences abound:  many Christian pacifists would also be against abortion (minimally believing that Christians themselves should never obtain or facilitate abortions; maximally, attempting to outlaw all abortions), but some Christians, while always considering abortion a moral tragedy, would sometimes see them as morally permissable. (I have been on both sides of that debate and am currently “reluctantly pro-choice” for reasons I need a different blog post to delineate.) Many Christian pacifists are also against the death penalty, but some would only see Christian participation in that as sinful.  Some Christian pacifists are vegetarians, but most are not (whereas Buddhist or Hindu pacifists ARE vegetarians).  Many Christian pacifists are against the use of physical punishment in child rearing, but others are not.

Likewise,  the type of theology and spirituality which undergirds Christian pacifism come in great variety:  Franciscan pacifism is different from Benedictine or Catholic Worker pacifism, but they all bear far more resemblance to each  other than either would to Amish or Mennonite pacifism.  Anabaptist style pacifism undergirds Mennonites, the Church of the Brethren, the Amish and others (and,  itself, has variations within it), but this is different from Quaker pacifism.  And so it goes.

In Nevertheless, John Howard Yoder outlined the strengths and weaknesses of about 20 different types of religious pacifism without claiming that his taxonomy was exhaustive.  But while sometimes it is useful to multiply categories in order to see the great variety, sometimes it is helpful to boil things down to a couple of choices so that one can see broad similarities.  This is one thing that Catholic theological ethicist Lisa Sowle Cahill does in her book, Love Your Enemies:  Discipleship, Pacifism, and Just War Theory. (By the way,  this is a must read.)

Cahill notes that not only do  Christian just war theorists read the New Testament differently than do Christian pacifists,  but that Christian pacifists fall broadly into two types which also read the New Testament differently.  One kind of Christian pacifism Cahill calls the pacifism of obedience and the other as the pacifism of compassion. 

Cahill’s “obedience pacifists” include people like Tertullian, Menno Simons, John Howard Yoder.  They are nonviolent out of obedience to the commands of Jesus as they see them.  Their discipleship is one of following.  Their defenses of nonviolence focus on the authority of Jesus (or the Risen Christ) and they read the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus’ platform for his followers.  By contrast, Cahill’s “compassion pacifists” include people like St. Francis of Assissi, Dorothy Day, and (in his pacifist phase) H. Richard Niebuhr.  Their focus of discipleship is on “works of compassion and mercy” to the poor and outcasts.  They reject war and violence out of a prior spirituality that is about serving and vocation, rather than by rules about when, if ever, to use violence.

One must be clear that these are broad tendencies, not pure types. After all, Dorothy Day, for all her mercy and compassion thought  in terms of authority and obedience (and could be a tyrant in running the Worker Houses of Hospitality).  Nor would anyone who knew John Yoder want to suggest that he lacked compassion and mercy or that his view of the NT was in any way legalistic.  Still, these different orientations are helpful to note.

Some other “obedience pacifists” include Alexander Campbell, a majority of first generation Pentecostals, Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis, Culbert Rutenber, Richard Overton, Conrad Grebel, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (in his “pacifist days),etc.  Some other “compassion pacifists” would include Muriel Lester, Walter Rauschenbusch, George Fox,  Mother Teresa of Calcultta, Jean Vanier.

But where would one put Stanley Hauerwas?  He eschews rules for virtues, but clearly has an obedience-style structure.  So, the typology has its  limits even if it is helpful in broad terms.

March 31, 2009 Posted by | discipleship, love of enemies, nonviolence, pacifism, peacemaking, Sermon on the Mount | 8 Comments

MLK, Jr.: Nonviolent Radical for Our Time

mlk_gandhi.jpgToday is the official U.S. holiday for the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (15 January 1929-04 April 1968) who was assassinated 40 years ago this coming April. In the generation which has passed in the meantime, King has been tamed: turned into “the Dreamer.”  Though more biographies and studies of his life and work have been written than with any other African-American leader (itself a disservice to the hundreds of leaders and thousands of forgotten participants in the so-called “Civil Rights” movement), few Americans know anything about King other than the first 4 words of his most famous speech, “I have a dream,” delivered as the climax of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Almost no one could summarize much of the contents of that dream–beyond vagaries like “racial harmony.”  So, although its rhetoric is among the most stirring political speeches in the English language, count me among those who call for a moratorium on the Dream Speech–and, more importantly, a moratorium on the icon of “King the Dreamer.”  A part of my Ph.D. dissertation was on King and I have written one slim book on the civil rights movement, so I know what I am talking about when I say: The Real Martin Luther King, Jr. was far more radical than the icon–and it is the radical King whom we need to recover today.

King’s vision for U.S. society was always more than simply racial “integration.” He knew the system as it was then and is now was/is unjust and that Black assimilation into such a system would just make things worse.  He ALWAYS wanted to change the system beyond just ending the legal segregation–as important as that was.  But in the years following the Dream Speech, the radical dimensions of King’s vision became more pronounced:

  • The real Martin Luther King, Jr. was a class warrior against an unjust economic system. Although he rejected many of the answers of Marxism, he found much of Marx’s critique of capitalism valid. Increasingly, he called himself a democratic socialist–of the kind he had found in Scandinavia when he journeyed to Oslo, Norway in 1964 to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. (King’s Nobel Acceptance Speech should be required reading in all U.S. high schools.) He wanted American to turn from materialism (what he called a “thing oriented society”) to a person-centered society–a move that he called a “revolution of values.” During his last year of life, King was planning a different kind of March on Washington, as part of a massive “Poor People’s Campaign” that would unite African-Americans, Latino/as, Native Americans, and poor whites (especially from Appalachia and Mississippi–America’s 3rd World, then and now) and demand the kinds of changes that would abolish poverty–though he knew it would cost a huge amount of money. King himself took only $1 per year as salary for leading the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and a modest salary as a pastor. He donated most of his speaking fees to the SCLC.  He divided up his Nobel Prize money between the 4 largest civil rights organizations–and his wife, Corretta, had to demand that he set aside a small amount in a fund for his kids’ education.  He constantly linked the fortunes of African-Americans with the strength of the Labor movement. When he was assassinated in Memphis on 04 April 1968, he was helping out a campaign for the rights of city garbage workers. 
  • The real Martin Luther King, Jr. was committed to peacemaking. As his “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” essay makes clear (you can find it reprinted as a chapter in Why We Can’t Wait (1964) and in his book of sermons, Strength to Love (1965) ), he was not always a pacifist–not in his youth and early education.  And he began working with Gandhian nonviolence as a mere tactic in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, but was prepared to use violent self-defense in his personal life. But this soon changed, under the influence of reading Gandhi and from pacifist interpretations of Jesus mediated to King by members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (especially the white Methodist preacher Glenn Smiley and the African American Quaker Bayard Rustin). Most people never understood this: They expected that King, as a good American and as one who wanted the alliance of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in passing civil rights legislation, would support the U.S. war effort in Vietnam–or, at least remain silent. He tried the latter. In the early days, Corretta spoke out far more against Vietnam than Martin did. (She was a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom since her days at Antioch College, long before meeting Martin.) When he did speak out, many other civil rights leaders told him to be quiet and he tried to obey–until he could silence his conscience no longer and on 04 April 1967 (one year before his death) gave his famous “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” speech at the founding of Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam at Riverside Church in NY. In that speech King said that he could never again tell young men in gangs to stop their violence if he didn’t confront the greatest purveyor of violence in the world–“my own government.” This lost him Johnson’s friendship and support and led J. Edgar Hoover to call King “the most dangerous Negro in America.”
  • The real King, unlike one of his daughters, was not homophobic. He did not speak out on gay rights–no one did in those days–but he knew that one of his closest advisors, Bayard Rustin, was gay.  After his death and the rise of the modern gay rights movement, Corretta Scott King championed it bravely.
  • The real Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a complete contrast to Malcolm X or the later Black Power movement. Yes, King criticized the Black Power movement, but his criticism was not total and he sought to remain in dialogue with its leaders like Stokely Carmichael.  His chapter on black empowerment in his last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? criticizes the violent rhetoric and the separatism of the Black Power movement, but praises its emphasis on black self-sufficiency and Black Pride.

But the real Martin Luther King, Jr. was also no plastic saint. The icon is dangerous not only because it is tamed, but also because it makes King seem perfect–and thus an impossible standard for movement leaders. But the real King, despite his many sterling qualities, was human and flawed, as are we all.:

  • The real Martin Luther King, Jr. was a chain smoker, though he kept it mostly off camera. He tried often to quit and failed. (This is somewhat more tolerated by Black Baptists in their pastors than by white Baptists, but it was still considered a major failing in many parts of Baptist life.)
  • The real Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a faithful husband, but had several extramarital affairs–short and longterm.  We know of these mostly because the FBI bugged his hotel rooms and tried to use the tapes of him having sex to extort or scare both him and Corretta. But, sadly, friends and associates mostly tried to cover this up or apologize for it, rather than confront King as friends who were concerned about his marriage.  He needed a community of accountability and didn’t have one.
  • The real Martin Luther King, Jr. was a sexist who was always trying to keep Corretta from being an equal partner in both their marriage and in the movement. This was typical of most men of this pre-feminist era–indeed, the modern women’s movement can be traced to the dissents by the women, black and white, who were demeaned in the struggle for racial equality.
  • The real Martin Luther King, Jr. was subject to depression and to doubts about himself, about God and his faith, and about the movement and his role in it. The confident face he showed to the world did not always reflect his doubts and struggles and wrestlings with himself and God.
  • The real Martin Luther King, Jr. could be high-handed, even dictatorial, in the way he ran the SCLC.  Other organizations, especially the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Council (SNCC, pronounced “SNICK”) and their advisor, Ella Baker, dissented from this personality-driven approach to mass movements. The SNCC students often mocked King as “De Lawd,” and Baker’s slogan was “Strong People Don’t Need Strong Leaders.”

I think we need Martin Luther King, Jr. today as much or more than when he was taken from us 40 years ago. (He would have turned 79 last Tuesday.) But we don’t need King the tamed and perfect icon, King the Dreamer. We need the real, radical Martin King–both because our society needs this radical critique and much bolder vision, and because we need to develop new leaders without expecting that they will be either without flaws or always popular.  And we need to recover King in context: in the context of many others working for freedom and justice and peace–and some losing their lives for it.

We honor King’s memory not by taming it, but by letting it challenge us in all its radical fullness–and by taking up where King left off. We honor King best by rolling up our sleeves and getting into the risky work of justice and peacemaking.

January 21, 2008 Posted by | Baptists, heroes, liberation, love of enemies, MLK, nonviolence, pacifism, progressive faith, race | 5 Comments

Advent Week IV: Joy


First of all, gentle readers, I apologize for apparently getting my advent weeks out of order. There are at least 2 historic Advent calendars, but I apparently conflated them and put Hope, Joy, Peace, and Love in an order no one uses. This is what happens when a Baptist (not a tradition known for liturgical correctness) tries to reflect on the ecumenical Christian calendar. I’ll work at doing better next year. 🙂

But I am very happy to have Desmond Mpilo Tutu, retired Archbishop of Capetown in the Anglican Church of the Province of Southern Africa, as my witness to the Incarnation who represents Joy–even if I put Joy in the wrong week. 🙂 From the time I first became aware of Tutu (c. 1982), I noticed in him the great joy of Christian faith–even in the midst of nonviolent struggle against great oppression; even as the recipient of so much hate.  When the late (and, by me, unlamented) Jerry Falwell, acting at the prompting of the Reagan admin., denounced Tutu as a Communist and phony Christian, I was so horrified that I dared something I had never done: I wrote to both of them.  At the time, I was an unknown student at an unknown, small, conservative, Christian college–recently out of the U.S. Army with a conscientious objector discharge and trying to follow my calling to serve God wherever that might lead.  I didn’t know, then, that there were Baptists in South Africa and that Tutu, with his broad ecumenical experience, would know enough about Baptist polity to realize that Falwell was not–could not–speak for other Baptists. I knew that, often enough, Christians in other, more heirarchical traditions, did think that famous (or infamous) Baptist preachers could speak for other Baptists and give official pronouncements of doctrine, ethics, public policy, etc.  I could not let this brave Christian leader think that Falwell’s horrific and bigoted pronouncement represented some general feeling of Baptists. I wrote Rev. Falwell and was polite as I knew how to be, but basically called on him to repent for his obvious racism. I never received a reply.  I also wrote Tutu, then the Bishop of Johannesburg, in care of the South African Council of Churches. To my surprise, I received a personal reply–which remains one of my fondest possessions. As he thanked me for my prayers and support, joy and Christian love leaped off the handwritten pages of stationary.  That was May, 1985 and my involvement in the U.S. “Free South Africa” movement dates from that moment. I have since read most of Tutu’s writings and a few secondary sources, although I cannot be counted a Tutu scholar.  What follows is a bare bones account of his life and work–with an emphasis on how he witnesses to the joy of Incarnation.

Desmond Mpilo Tutu was born in Klersksdorp in the Republic of South Africa in 1931–a time when South Africa was ruled by whites for whites, but prior to the Nazi-like racism of the Afrikaaner policy of “apartheid.” When he was 12, the Tutu family moved to Johannesburg where he was educated in segregated schools (Bantu schools). The young Tutu wanted to become a physician, but the family could not afford the education and so he decided to follow his father in becoming a schoolteacher. He underwent teacher training at Pretoria Bantu Normal College (1951-1953) and then taught at the Johannesburg Bantu High School and then Muncieville High School (where he met his wife, Leah) until 1957 when he resigned in protest of the Bantu Education Act–an act which would consign poor South Africans (especially non-whites) to inferior education.  In 1958, he followed a vocational leading into the Anglican priesthood, studying as a candidate for ordination at St. Peter’s Theological College, Rosettenville, receiving his Licentiate in Theology in 1960 (the year of the Sharpeville Massacre–when white South African police fired live ammunition on black schoolchildren who were unarmed and nonviolently protesting the conditions of their schools!) and becoming an ordained Anglican priest in 1961.  He was chaplain at the University of Fort Hare (one of the places where Africans could get quality education in Southern Africa) which was a hotbed of dissent and anti-apartheid resistance at the time.  Tutu’s superiors thought that he was becoming “too political” in his involvement with those committed to the struggle.  They suggested he resign as chaplain and sent him to London to pursue further studies while things cooled off.

 Tutu matriculated at King’s College, University of London from 1962-1966, earning a Bachelor of Divinity degree (with highest honors) and Master of Theology degree while serving as a part-time curate or pastor. In 1967, Tutu returned to South Africa and became once more the Chaplain a the University of Fort Hare and a member of the faculty of the Federal Theological Seminary in Alice–and used his lectures to highlight the circumstances of the African population. In 1970, Tutu became Lecturer in the Department of Theology of the University of Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland, continuing his policy of relating his theological lectures to the circumstances of the South African struggle.  He wrote a letter to the Prime Minister (Voerster) and described the situation in South Africa as “a powder barrel which can explode at any time.” He was not answered.

In 1972, Tutu returned to Britain as Director of the World Council of Churches’ Education Fund, based in Bromley, Kent.  He used his position to highlight the sufferings and injustices of his homeland. (This was not an easy time to be associated with the WCC for many.  In the U.S., South Africa, and elsewhere conservative Christians denounced the WCC as “subversive” and made wild accusations that its Programme for Overcoming Racism was using money from churches to finance armed revolutions in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.  Although the WCC showed solidarity with struggles against oppression, it is a conservative myth that it ever used money to buy weapons or otherwise support armed guerillas. I can’t speak for other places in the world, but I think one can trace the decline in prestige of both the National and World Councils of Churches in the U.S. to this myth–and the corresponding campaign to defund the councils.)

Tutu returned to South Africa in 1975 and was appointed the Anglican Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral,  Johannesburg–the first African to hold such a post.  The very next year, 1976, was the year of the Soweto Uprising.  Students and others in Soweto (a segregated non-white “township” next to Johannesburg) protested the government’s rule that Afrikaans be the only language in education. The government responded with deadly force and the nonviolent protest became a riot. As a result of this,Tutu called for a worldwide boycott of South African products.  It took years and was full of holes, but international sanctions and citizen boycotts of South African goods, entertainment and sports boycotts of South African venues did slowly put increasing pressure on the white government to end apartheid. (Ronald Reagan reversed the sanctions of the Carter years, themselves incomplete, and preferred a policy of “constructive engagement” which amounted to turning a blind eye to South African injustices because South Africa claimed that all the movements for non-racial democracy in Africa were fronts for Communism! It was in this context that Falwell’s “phony” remark was made.)  In 1976, Tutu was consecrated Bishop of Lesotho.

As the South African government kept banning the political parties and organizations of protest and struggle, including the African National Congress, many unions, etc., the struggle against apartheid became more and more a struggle led by the black and “colored” or mixed-race churches (with a few valiant white Christians, too). The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) suspended two Afrikaaner Reformed denominations for the heresy of theologically justifying racial apartheid.  Other global pressures were increased, too.  Meanwhile, the vehicle for the church struggle against apartheid in South Africa was the South African Council of Churches, to which Desmond Tutu was elected General Secretary in 1978.

Tutu led nonviolent marches, gave speeches and sermons (which were collected and republished here in the U.S., where I began to read them) that related faith to the struggle against apartheid. But he also was highly critical of those who would use violence or preach hatred against whites. He was repeatedly arrested. The government blamed him for everything–such as when he risked his life to stop the “necklacing” of an informant (this was a horrible practice wherein a mob would surround someone who cooperated with the apartheid regime, stick a rubber tire filled with gasoline/petrol around said collaborator’s neck, and set it on fire) and then was blamed for the attempted murder!

In 1984, in recognition for his leadership in the nonviolent struggle (and in honor of all the thousands who participated in it), Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. (He was the 2nd leader of the anti-apartheid struggle to receive the Nobel: the first was Chief Albert Luthuli in 1960–the Zulu Chieftain who founded the African National Congress and set it on its early path of Gandhian nonviolence.  The 3rd Nobel for the anti-apartheid struggle would go to Nelson Mandela, sharing it with F.W. de Klerk, the white president, for their mutual work to end apartheid and introduce multi-racial democracy without further violence.) He has received numerous other awards and honors for his work for peace and justice.

In 1985, Tutu was elected the Bishop of Johannesburg and in 1986 became Archbishop of Capetown–each time becoming the first black African to hold the post. 

After the fall of apartheid and the institution of multi-racial democracy in 1989, Tutu began a new role–now, not as one of the leaders of nonviolent struggle for justice, but as a healer of a strife-torn nation. In 1995, Tutu was asked to head South Africa’s “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” which, in place of war crimes trials or cycles of revenge, asked oppressors and victims to tell publicly the crimes they had committed and receive pardons. The cycle of violence had to be broken, not by hiding but by telling the truth and allowing people to begin anew.  This has now become a model for similar truth and reconciliation commissions in other war torn or strife torn situations. (I often wonder if the history of my nation would have been different if we had held such commissions after the Civil War or, again, in the wake of the Civil Rights movement and the fall of legal segregation.) For this work, Tutu received the Sydney Peace Prize in 1999.

Since retiring as Archbishop, Tutu has worked with the PeaceJam movement to inspire youth around the world to work for peace and justice. He has also worked to end the plague of AIDS (and its stigma), championed the ordination of women, and called for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people in church and society, called for Middle East Peace (and worked to get Nobel Peace Laureates to mediate between Palestinians and Israelis) and much else.

Joy has permeated his entire life and work–the joy of a witness to the Word Made Flesh.

December 23, 2007 Posted by | Christian calendar, heroes, love of enemies, peacemaking | Comments Off on Advent Week IV: Joy

Outreach to Military

My post on the “military Bibles” has led to a few misunderstandings I need to clear up.  I do not object to the distribution of Bibles to members of the U.S. military or any other military.  I support every effort to distribute Bibles as widely as possible, including the sale of Bibles along with free distributions.  My only objection to a free giveaway event is if there is sponsorship or co-sponsorship by government or a government agency in violation of the First Amendment’s ban on either hindering or promoting religion.  I support evangelistic outreach to members of our military or any other military.

Even during the early centuries of the church when it was nearly universally pacifist, there was strong outreach to Roman soldiers. Many Roman soldiers converted to Christianity, often after seeing how calmly Christians were martyred.  Some of these soldier-converts quickly became martyrs themselves when they refused to fight and kill after becoming Christians.   Today’s pacifist Christians too seldom establish the kinds of relationships with military personnel and their families that would allow for conversions.  As a former soldier, I am glad that I was welcomed by the Baptist congregation in Heidelberg (uniform and all), even though the pastor was pacifist.  How else would I have converted to gospel nonviolence?  Standing up for gospel nonviolence and being convinced that God does not want Christians to serve in militaries has nothing to do with condemning those who, for now, believe differently, nor anything to do with disrespecting the courage and self-sacrifice of military personnel.

My objection is not to the Bibles, but to their “packaging” with covers that seem to support war and violence and with “extra” features described in my last post which promote violence, nationalism, militarism–the reduction of the God of the universe to a tribal god of one nation. That is idolatry, even blasphemy.

One commenter said that this was no worse than other “niche marketing” Bibles–the Serendipity Bibles, Women’s Bibles (usually anti-feminist in tone), teen adventure Bibles, etc.  To this I have two responses:  1) I oppose these kinds of “study” Bibles, too.  Now, there is nothing wrong with real study Bibles–equipped with scholarly notes that help the reader with background information, etc.  There is nothing wrong as long as these study Bibles make clear the difference between the text of Holy Scripture and the notes of human scholars.  Unfortunately, I have found that laity, especially laity with less education, often find it difficult not to treat the notes as just as inspired as the text. This is even more the case with children and teens.

 The non-scholarly theme notes of “niche market” Bibles have further problems:  They encourage an individualistic and spiritualistic reading of Scripture that fundamentally distorts the gospel. They undermine the Bible as the church’s book, to be read in community. Instead, they encourage not just personal Bible study in one’s own private life, but privatized Bible study (“Me and Jesus got our own thing going”) that remakes Christian faith into something one does with one’s spare time.  They promote passivity in the face of the gods of consumerism, materialism, and other “isms” of contemporary global imperialism.  I do not say this is the intention of the editors of these niche market Bibles, but merely that these detrimental effects undermine the health of the Church and churches, especially undercutting any sense of the People of God as a distinct community, a contrast society to the mainstream culture (what the Johannine writings call “the world”).  So, I find these niche market Bibles highly problematic.

2)  Despite my comments above, I do believe that the “military Bibles” are WORSE than other “niche market” Bibles.  Those other Bibles can create bad habits in Bible reading that have detrimental effects, but I have not seen any that are heretical in and of themselves.  That is not the case with the military Bibles.  They promote the idolatry of nationalism.  They do not simply reach out to soldiers (sailors, marines, etc.), but justify war (at least when the U.S. wages it). That is not just heresy when viewed from a pacifist viewpoint, but even from a “just war” standpoint.  Traditional just war theology says that some evils must be resisted even by violent force as a “lesser of evils,” but does NOT glorify killing or militarism. The “extra features” of these Bibles do just that–turning Jesus from the Prince of Peace to a war god. That is blasphemy–pure and simple.  It must be denounced by all Christians.

June 1, 2007 Posted by | evangelism, love of enemies, nonviolence, peacemaking | 7 Comments

Idolatrous Nationalism from SBC Publishing House

militarybible2.jpgThis is no joke. It is not satire. It is the sickening truth.  This is a picture of “The Soldier’s Bible,” part of a series of “military Bibles” being marketed by Holman Bible Outreach International, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.  Lifeway is the official publishing house of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.A.  In addition to “the Soldier’s Bible,” the CSB Military Bibles include “the Airman’s Bible,” “the Marine’s Bible,” “the Sailor’s Bible,” and “the Coast Guard Bible,” each with covers in the distinct colors and insignia of the respective branch of the U.S. military. (There is also, I kid you not, a camoflauge edition!)  According to this website, each edition includes not only the texts of the Old and New Testaments (Protestant canon), but the following features: 

  • The Star Spangled Banner
  • America the Beautiful
  • The Battle Hymn of the Republic
  • Onward Christian Soldiers (I guess they missed the “marching as to war” lyrics and failed to understand that the hymn is meant to depict spiritual warfare along the lines of Ephesians 6:10-17 and is not talking about Christian participation in physical warfare at all.)
  • The Pledge of Allegiance (to the U.S. flag and to “the Republic for which it stands”)
  • The Plan of Salvation
  • Scripture readings for all occasions (including the Sermon on the Mount, the Sermon on the Plain, Rom. 12?)
  • Prayers of General George Patton and General/President George Washington! (Wait, wasn’t Patton well-known for believing that Christianity made men[sic] too soft for war? Didn’t he believe that he was reincarnated as an eternal warrior keeping the world safe for more wars? Wasn’t George Washington a Deist??)
  • Quotes from President George W. Bush! (Is that like having a copy of the “Sayings of Chairman Mao?” Which quotes–“Mission accomplished?” “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction?””God told me to smite Saddam and I did?”)
  • Officer’s oath
  • Enlisted personnel oath (I guess they are cutting out Jesus’ ban on oaths in Matt. 5:33-37.)

There are additional features unique to each branch of the service (Shudder!).

Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics has written on these special Bibles and on Lifeway’s hosting of a special event for giving away thousands to military personnel here.  Timed to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force, the Air Force was initially listed as an official sponsor of the event, but backed out under pressure from church-state watchdog groups.  Ordinarily, I would also be concerned about the violations of the First Amendment in a government agency (the Air Force) sponsoring a religious event and favoring one religion over others, at that.  But I am so aghast at the Lifeway’s idolatrous nationalism (and marketing idolatry–worshipping Mars and Mammon while pretending to worship Jesus Christ!!) that the church-state and civil liberties violations pale and fade into the background for me!

This militaristic-nationalistic event (3-days over Memorial Day weekend 2007) features former SBC president Bobby Welch as keynote speaker. Welch, a Vietnam veteran, is the author of You, the Warrior Leader.

Where to begin? Apparently the Southern Baptist Convention’s leadership, or, at least that part of it which makes publishing decisions, has rejected Jesus as the Prince of Peace, the Lamb slain before the foundations of the world.  It has rejected the nonviolence which Jesus practiced and taught; rejected the command to be peacemakers.  This would appear to violate the SBC’s main confessional document, The Baptist Faith & Message which, on OTHER matters, the SBC leadership has increasingly used as a strict creed in recent years.  Although the article on “peace and war” has been watered down from the 1925 version through the 1963 version to the latest (2000) revision of this statement of faith, even the latest version would seem to stand in stark contrast to the militaristic nationalism promoted by these Bibles and the giveaway event.

“It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men[sic] on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.”

That statement of near pacifism is qualified, but not enough to justify the above blasphemy.

Further, the Lifeway people, with at least the tacit support of the SBC leadership at large (they have not protested these products or even raised questions about them), are clearly promoting belief in the United States as a “chosen nation.”  This denies the universality of the gospel. It denies the vision of Pentecost and the vision culminating in Rev. 7:9 in which the glorified church is called out from among all nations, tongues, cultures, ethnic groups.  After all, the message of these Bibles is not merely a denial of Christian pacifism for “just war theory.” No, this promotes holy war in the name of one nation (the U.S.A.), with blessings from past and present military heroes.  This is “throne and altar” theology–a form of thinking which led the German churches to be supine when Adolf Hitler came to power and promised to restore the state churches (Landeskirchen) to their former glory. (It is, perhaps, worth remembering that in the late ’30s, prior to the start of WWII, many Southern Baptist pastors, including an SBC president, expressed admiration for Hitler since he didn’t drink alcohol and closed Germany’s brothels!!!)

Since leaving the Southern Baptist Convention in 1992 for the Alliance of Baptists, I have tried mostly to ignore events in my former denomination. I reject their understanding of what it means to be Christian or Baptist. But this will affect the entire Body of Christ.  This is a perversion of the gospel. I cannot be silent. This blasphemy must be denounced.  Although I generally purchase books without regard to their publisher, I am making an exception here because this is so bad. I will purchase nothing from Broadman & Holman or any other division of Lifeway Resources until these “military Bibles” have been recalled and the project scrapped as the heretical, idolatrous, BLASPHEMOUS project that it is.  I urge you to join me.

Write Lifeway and express your displeasure here.

UPDATE: Other Baptist bloggers are commenting on this horror. Read Bruce Prescott of Mainstream Baptists’s assessment here.  Aaron Weaver, who blogs as Big Daddy Weave, weighs in here.  Brian Kaylor, a communication specialist for the Missouri Baptist Convention, sounds off here.  Laura Seay, political science grad student, lover of Africa, and usually humorous Baptist blogger weighs in here.

May 31, 2007 Posted by | Baptists, Bible, church-state separation, love of enemies, nonviolence, peacemaking | 35 Comments

Needed for Long-Haul Peacemaking: A Spirituality of Nonviolence

By now, many in the U.S. have read the emotional decision by “peace mom” Cindy Sheehan to “retire as the public face of the anti-war movement in the U.S.” If not, you can read it here.  For those who may not know, Cindy Sheehan is the mother of a U.S. soldier slain in Iraq whose public confrontation with Pres. George W. Bush in 2004 brought sustained mainstream media attention to the peace movement and to the failures of the occupation of Iraq for the first time.  She is one of the founders of Gold Star Families for Peace (composed of family members of those whose lives have been lost in Iraq), and a member of Military Families Speak Out (composed of U.S. military families who oppose the war). 

I do not question Ms. Sheehan’s right to “retire” from her very public role.  The poor woman has never even had the space to properly mourn her son, Casey’s, death.  Her written decision is full of frustration, the exhaustion of someone villified by the Right and, then, when she held the Democrats to the same standards as she did the Republicans, villified again by the Left.  This kind of “burn out” is common in social activism, unfortunately.  In his memoir of the Civil Rights movement, Walking with the Wind, John Lewis (then Chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee [SNCC or “Snick”], now U.S. Representative from Georgia) talks movingly about the way that many of the civil rights workers suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder like Vietnam veterans–but without any access to mental health services.  Today’s anti-war activists aren’t subject to the exact same kinds of stresses–jailed constantly and beaten (and the women activists were often raped by police officers), shot at, seeing friends and colleagues killed, on the go constantly, living on subsistence wages for years, etc.–except for those whose loved ones are in Iraq.  But the pressures are great, nonetheless.

This is a cautionary tale for the rest of us, including myself.  Outrage, righteous indignation, anger, public grief, are all valid reactions to war and human rights abuses, but they will get us only so far. They may strain marriages and family life. They may lead to speech and action that is not in the spirit of nonviolence and active peacemaking.  And, since imperialist militarism is a system (biblically speaking, a Power), it will resist change for the good.  Work for justice and peace over the long haul requires spiritual discipline, requires deep roots in a spirituality of nonviolence, including cultivating the virtue of patience.

Cindy Sheehan is stepping down from her leading role in ending the war and occupation of Iraq. The rest of us need to step up and do more–and beyond ending one war, working for a just and peaceful world on many fronts.  For those of us who are Christians, it is part of our calling as disciples.  But, in doing so, we need to guard against burn-out. We need to attend to contemplative prayer and other spiritual disciplines.

May 30, 2007 Posted by | love of enemies, nonviolence, peacemaking | 4 Comments

Peace Quote

“Twelve men went out from Jerusalem into the world, and they were unlearned men, unable to speak [i.e., unable to speak eloquently because not trained in Greek rhetoric]; but by the power of God they told every race of humanity that they were sent by Christ to teach all people the word of God.  And we who formerly slew one another not only now refuse to make war against our enemies, but for the sake of not telling lies or deceiving those who examine us [i.e., investigators charged with getting them to confess to the crime of being Christian], gladly die confessing Christ.”–Justin Martyr (c. 100-165).

In a description of the early Christian movement to the Roman Emperor about the year 150.

April 22, 2007 Posted by | evangelism, heroes, love of enemies, nonviolence, Obituaries, peace, sexism | 1 Comment

Cindy Sheehan, George Will, and Loving Your Enemies.

This article says it all.

February 25, 2007 Posted by | love of enemies | 6 Comments


Soldiers in Iraq have been giving nicknames to their tanks. This one was blasphemously called “New Testament.” Calling darkness light is a huge sign of the apostasy of modern U.S. Christianity. Posted by Picasa

October 30, 2006 Posted by | love of enemies, nonviolence, pacifism, peace | 3 Comments