Tag Archives: Craig Falvo

Speak up for the Poor, or Allow them to Speak for themselves?

In a conversation on Monday, Craig suggests the following,

“I think as Christians, the Biblical mandate is clear, that God’s command is to speak for the poor and oppressed regardless of whether or not they can speak for themselves.”

Certainly, Scripture does speak to what Craig calls a mandate; for example, the wisdom passed down to King Lemuel from his mother, was to

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy (Provers 31:8-9)

However, do we live in a society where those who are destitute have no voice? Secondly, what constitutes speaking? We don’t live in an Ancient Near Eastern monarchy (or city-state for that matter). While originally, only propertied white males were allowed to vote, today, all citizens of all races, classes, and genders can (ideally).

Sometimes even the most well-intentioned forms of charity can do more harm than good; for example, is a charitable act just if the recipient of such charity must convert to white, evangelical Christianity or is forced into accepting adoption as we saw in Haiti? Supposedly, these good-hearted Christians called themselves speaking for the poor.

What’s more important than giving a voice to the impoverished is making space for them to speak for themselves. Does your church have seating based on class? Does your city hold local elections on business days where the poor are at the greatest disadvantage?

This is exactly why I prefer solidarity over charity, each and every time. Charity is beholden to a false messianism, where the oppressed have to depend on the almsgiver. This “charity” rejects the Imago Dei that we as all of humanity, are made in. I don’t think there is any need for the marginalized to await a Cornel West or Tavis Smiley to tell them what they are going through.

What does it mean to speak, anyhow? Is it to make sure the big bad media machine, the 24 hour cable news cycle gives you attention? Is that not falling trapped into the same corporatist machine that is dragging our country down? That would mean giving even more power to the powers that be yes?

Just a thought.

Pacifism as Christian Discipleship part 2 of 2

A Response to Daniel M. Bell, Jr.

In part 1 of this series, I mentioned that Daniel Bell is a pacifist who wishes to see the Just War Theory recovered in Christianity, with The Church as its central axis. I will have to openly admit that while I have problems with the Just War Theory on theological grounds, I would desperately prefer it to be re-learned and re-taught in comparison to the nationalistic practices of 21st century U.S. American churches today. The question is, just exactly how and where is JWT(Christian Discipleship) to be taught.

Chapter 4 discusses the question of “Who may wage war?” and of course, the problem of revolution takes priority. A just revolution is fought by citizens fighting for the common good against tyranny, and that dictators, because of their oppressive ways, are working out of their private self-interest (106). Secular Just War Theory (or as Bell calls it, Just War Theory [Public Policy Checklist]) assumes that the right to decide to go to war belongs in the hands of the leaders of the nation-state. Just War Theory (Christian Discipleship) does submit itself to this assumption but includes The Church in the body of advisors to which politicians should turn during such a crisis. The language that Bell uses is that the church is more of an independent contractor; it is reminiscent of the Proverbs in that the king in many places relies on the wisdom of elders when it comes to decision making

On this point, I have to ask, what would be the essential difference for what churches do now? Churches overwhelmingly supported Iraq War, played the marching band to W’s football team. Individual politicians sought counsel with clergy in the lead up to Iraqi Invasion. What I believe Bell is envisioning here is an official capacity for religious traditions; perhaps rather than a Faith-based initiative where state money enters the coffers of religious institutions, more of a bureaucratic, shall I say, Cabinet position? This could only be a stretch but Bell does bring up the Vatican during the Middle Ages which hired mercenaries to protect itself (125). In this capacity, I would hope that the Church does not become vulnerable to a Blackwater scandal (if it is to be a “mercenary” of sorts).

Chapter 5 focuses on Just Cause. I think that it is in this chapter that JWT’s problems come to the surface, especially in a 21st century context. JWT(CD)’s job on the instance of Just Cause is to maintain the distinction between Military & Police Action, while rejecting arguments based off of self-defense. I think this would be quite beneficial; self-defense logic, along with individual rightism is deeply embedded in U.S. American society. JWT(PPC) relies on self-defense of the nation-state and thus limits its Just Cause to only notions of national/political sovereignty. The Western notion of the nation-state is but the collection of modern individual atoms working out of self-interest. In contrast, JWT(CD) works for a Justice for Others, a Justice for all, or, the common good. Bell invokes Dr. Reverend MLK Jr., that an injustice against anyone is an injustice done toward all of us (135). At this point, I would say using the Dr. King card to argue in favor of the Just War Tradition, even a Christian JWT, is disingenuous to King’s philosophy. Dr. King did believe that we were all interconnected, but he did so on both Christian theological and Boston Personalist grounds. It is this personalism that I will talk about a little later that remains an obstacle for Just War Theorists (both Christian and Secular).

Throughout the book, but especially this chapter, there seems to be a cynicism towards international political bodies and structures. Is Bell really in support of YHWH’s divine ordering? I hope he is not forgetting that once Congress and the President signed a treaty, we, as U.S. Americans are bound to it by law just as we are the U.S.Constitution. In other words, that treaty, like every other treaty, as part of our Constitution, is our Emperor. I would suspect that the political biases of Radical Orthodoxy are shown here, in Bell’s implicit dedication to localism. Because the United Nations charter identifies the right of every nation-state to defend itself (163), it cannot be accomodated to the Just War Tradition (CD)? Localism in RO has already been discussed at length, and so I only leave you withEugene McCarraher’s comments from a while back. Cosmopolitan citizenship is often seen as a barrier to Christians’ existence as The Body of Christ.

To further problematize Just Cause in a “post-modern” world, the idea that military action and police action are about the degrees to which the Judge and the Executor are divided is a false myth. In today’s world, as Mark Lewis Taylor and Samuel Logan have noted in their works about the Prison-Industrial Complex, police activity in “the ghetto” reflect military culture; in fact, what is left out of Just Cause (and Right Intent) in both JWTs are the interests and powers of non-state and non-religious actors, i.e., corporations.

Religion is one just cause to be practiced by the Just War church, because it is done out of neighborly love, and not merely secular causes (139). Christians who join in a Just War must be more concerned with the common good rather than just the national interest. In today’s world, the differences get blurred; perhaps because all this talk of the common good–is really a common good from above. The driving concern for a peaceful, orderly,and harmonic come from a privileged standpoint,or a creation continua. Willie Jennings, in The Christian Imagination, that the doctrine of creation ex nihilo means a necessarily instability to all things, in which essentialism and the status quo have no ground to stand on (Jennings, 28).

Just War Theory (CD), through the notion of right intent approves of foreign occupations as a form of love of neighbor. Regime change and the policing of the bodies (I would say of color, both here and abroad) is done in the name of justice (168). At this point, I should ask, “Why should motives matter?”
Not even the radical freedom that YHWH displays in the Hebrew Bible lives up to this standard. Motives? Does the Triune God acting in history really care about motives? Or is JWT more about the concerns of The Church? King Nebuchadnezzar wanted to expand and glorify himself; YHWH wanted to punish Israel, so God used the Babylonian Empire. What about Paul’s apathy to motives in his letter to the Philippians? The overwhelming concerns for right intentions are indicative of persons reliant on a creation continua, law and order at the expense of human freedom. That is why it is okay to colonize other countries in the name of God and justice, and to ignore the experience of the colonized while promoting the traditions of the majority, those who have traditionally had the power.

Bell goes on to argue that a recovery of the Just War Tradition would mean things like an end to Cost-Benefit analysis, seeing sanctions as acts of war, and a rejection of non-combatant casualties as something that is normative. JWT(CD) means an end to the nationalist triumphalism and obsession with victory that we see in both Christian and political circles. I agree with Bell (in fact, I would prefer a Just Warrior to a NeoCon crusader), a Just Warrior is a Sad Warrior, would not that call also for a critical analysis of what it means to be male, given that in many Christian communities, being violent is the definition of what it means to be a man.

On the issue of reparations, Bell suggests a Christianity faithful to the Just War tradition would work to offer enemies and just warrior alike just compensation for losses. This could be a nice start, but there needs to be some discernment in this area. Reparations can only do so much monetarily; the point of Martin Luther King Jr.’s personalism (that I brought up earlier) was that human life is sacred, and does not have a price tag on it. That’s why it’s inappropriate, in my view, to even attempt to repair damages since the very institution of slavery is based off the premise that we can buy and purchase people. Slavery, 15th century Just War Christian thinker Franscisco de Vitoria believed was okay as long as it was nonChristians we were holding in bondage (Bell, 53).

Bell’s silence on the morality of empire and human enslavement leads me to suspect that this is just not a text trying to re-assert the Just War Tradition, but to UNDERMINE it. He lets the problematic suggestions of the Just War Thinkers of Christian past stand. Much like some rabbis who interpret the dietary laws in the book of Leviticus where the burden is so enormous, some Jews give up on meat all together, becoming vegetarian; this book, Just War as Christian Discipleship, presents so many obstacles for going to war for both the Church and State, that we might as well say that Bell is making a case for his own pacifism.

Rather than just repeating my objections to Just War Theory here as a summary, instead, for the sake of imagination and creativity, I would like to offer up a Liberationist Interpretation of Just War Theory– a Just War Theory (From the Margins). Please do not think of my call for JWT (FTM) as a claim any spiritual supremacy on the part of the colonized and oppressed, but rather, to DE-center the Just War Tradition as we know it.

First, a Just War Tradition (From the Margins) must do away with three features of JWT (both CD & PPC). #1– Natural Law theory. From the outset, NLT is a result of Gentile arrogance, and that we Gentiles must humble ourselves and confess that we know nothing about the nature of the world apart from YHWH and God’s revelation. No, not sola scriptura, but Prima Scriptura + the social and “hard” sciences. #2–on a related note, Just War Christians must be willing to act as cosmopolitan citizens, people of the world, since in this post-colonial and post-modern society, we are all connected. We just can’t act like what happens in China or France does not have any impact on us. Western expansionism made this an impossibility; we are all “Westerners” now. And lastly, #3, in association with #1 & #2, in the rejection of NLT & localism/tribalism, a Just War Tradition (FTM) needs to seek a common ground not based on hegemonic visions of the world that come to us from above, but rather a common ground that starts below, taking seriously the experiences of the wretched of the earth.

What would JWT(FTM) look like?

1. Legitimate Authority– Power happens on an interpersonal level, and not centralized in a institution. Legitimacy happens at a grassroots level. Local activism for churches is needed; but I think this plays into U.S. Americans being primarily concerned with state and national politics, while disfavoring city and international politics, when actually it should be the reverse. The Christian/Church as world citizen would begin to both learn the history of missions in churches, as well as the histories of Christianities in other countries. This also means the Christian/Church as world citizen push for World History courses in public, private, and charter schools. This means active participation various “cultural” events on the part of the church, even making space for the Other inside and outside its walls. Christian World Citizenship must also work to make our international courts more viable.
2. Just Cause & right Intent– While keeping the JWT traditions of rejecting both the notions of self-defense as well as the separation of judicial and executive authority in the policing of human bodies, a JWT (FTM) must exclude any sense of justice or love as imperial occupation or human enslavement. Empire is far from the JWT’s goal of a limited war; colonialism and its new form, neocolonialism, only mean one thing: perpetual warfare. This mean a concrete re-ordering of what a common good is, one that starts as a preferential option for the poor, but for the sake of a universal love.

3. Last Resort & Reasonable Chance of Success– Not only must economic sanctions be viewed as an act of war itself, as Bell rightly argues, but that the enormous amount of Defense spending, the concept of a standing army, as well as having multiple military sites overseas must be protested. All of these are acts of war-preparedness. But in addition to these obvious military actions, to go along with our Christian existence as world citizens, the neo-colonial activities of the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund must be confronted–for these group promote corporate monopolies that go to war with other nations and creation in the name of “development.”
4. Discrimination/noncombatant immunity & Proportionality– Reparations, in the form of compensation for the enemy as well as healthcare, etc., for Just Warriors is appropriate, but beyond these, what it means to be a Sad Just Warrior needs to come with a crucial examination of masculinity. What does it mean to be a male who sees war as a tragedy rather than a victory in a culture that the myth of redemptive violence reigns supreme? The preferential option for the oppressed here may yet again be insightful, looking at the victims of war, and reading, listening, and re-living their stories, encountering their bodies in a cruciform humility.

I can hope that my constructive proposal can be taken up as a challenge to those who wish to bring the Just War tradition back to life. As for me, I will stick with Christian non-violence and pacifism.

Pacifism As Christian Discipleship part 1 of 2

A Response to Daniel M. Bell, Jr.

This post has been several months in the making. Not that it has been in my queue for a while but ever since fellow biblioblogger Craig Falvo and I have had back and forth conversations about pacifism/nonviolence and just war theory, Craig has continued to encourage to pick up Daniel M. Bell Jr.’s Just War as Christian Discipleship: Recentering the Tradition in the Church rather than the State. Yesterday, I took him up on his offer.

The objections I raise to the Just War tradition are crucial ones that I hope someday Just War theorists will address; these are questions I do not know if they have been publicly asked or not, but I shall make my inquiries known in these 2 posts. I am aware that Bell may in fact be a proponent of pacifism, but that is not the scope of this series.

Today, I will focus on his Introduction through Chapter 3.

In Christian theology and studies pertaining to ethics, it has become mildly popular (well, that’s more of an understatement) for scholars to advance concepts of community as being counter-cultural to the rugged individualism so endemic in the United States. Bell’s text is no different. Bell’s problem, and I concur with him, is that so many people just invoke the Just War tradition but they are unable to name the terms by which we are to engage in just wars (page 13). In chapters 1 & 2, Bell goes through a brief history of just war theory as it has been proposed by various Christian thinkers, from Augustine to Hugo Grotius. Bell points to Grotius as one of the culprits that leads to the loss of the Just War tradition; because of his focus on international law and relations as such, he wanted to promote the minimum amount of rules as it were that both Westerners and non-Westerners could follow (56-57). Whereas the dictates of the JWT were examined by early Christian apologists according to the Gospel, Grotius made moves that gave special preferences to notions of natural law. HG focuses mostly on the JWT’s concept of just cause, and in his arguments, he even makes room for preemptive strikes (57). Grotian JWT meant a rejection of the Just War Theories of the Middle Ages, along with chivalry and its ethos.

The 19th century sees the birth of a new kind of war: that of “total war” with generals such as Napoleon from France, and Ulysses S. Grants in the United States permitting their soldiers to live off the land, to both destroy and usurp resources of the enemy (60). War had devolved from a church-inspired kenosis to a secular hedonism.

Bell goes on to differentiate between Just War (Christian Discipleship) and Just War (Public Policy Checklist). JW(CD) is “as a form of Christian discipleship, […] connected with Christian convictions and community” (75). JW (PPC), on the other hand, relies on primarily secular sources (76). Secular JWT is more oriented towards law, and more compatible with deontological ethics. The indiviudal person, whether it be citizen or soldier or politician, both knows and does the right thing and “gathers the willpower” to accomplish the task (79). It is about knowing and obeying the rules.

On the other hand, Christian JWT is about forming virtuous persons; in this case, just warriors working for Christian justice. Failure to apply JWT(CD) is a matter of unfaithfulness to the tradition (81). The Church dedicated to JWT(CD) will discipline a people “to love and seek justice for their neighbors as if such a disposition were a second nature (83). JWT(CD), in this light, is NOT about choosing the lesser among evils, but about waging a power of love in confronting the unjust (88).

A Gentile Critique

Through the first three chapter + Introductions, my criticisms that I have held against Just War Theory for a while do not go answered. First, in the discussion of Augustine, Bell does not talk about Augustine arguing that since it was okay for the Hebrews to go to war, it’s okay for Christians. Lisa Sowle Cahill does in Love Your Enemies: Discipleship, Pacifism, and Just War Theory. I think this is a tremendous leap and quite fundamental to the problem of Augustine’s (and subsequently every Christian after that) Just War Theorizing (see Cahill, Chapter 4 & Augustine, CITY OF GOD, book 19 as well as Contra Faustus the Manichean book 22, chapter 74). The problem with Augustine’s early Christian character ethics in his reading of the Old Testament is that Christians take the place of the Israelites, and ipso facto, we can go to war at the directive of YHWH.

I do not know if anyone has objected to this hermeneutic, but from my reading of the work of Duke theologians J. Kameron Carter and Willie Jennings, I must wonder just how much supersessionism plays into theories of Just War, and for that matter, Natural Law theories, which have Christian ideals at their foundation. What Grotius is working with is a Christian concept of Natural Law. What I am objecting to is the use of NLT all together, especially as it is right now, separated from the Gentile narrative within the story of Israel. Augustine’s mistake is that Israel just not just obey any g*d in general, but YHWH in particular, for YHWH’s specific purposes. In fact, what often gets mentioned when the Hebrew Bible is given as an example of persons of faith going to war is the idea that YHWH is actively involved, here on earth, in military struggles.

YHWH gets replaced, dethroned if you will, by human agents, like the Church or the state in Just War Theory. It is the YHWH of Armies whom the Davids, the Gideons, the Elijahs etc., depend upon for their protection. I do not see any mention of Jewish prophets and judges leading the way for JWT(CD). This point leads me into the second part of my critique, of David Bell’s Radical Orthodoxy theological biases. RO, postliberals, and postconservative narrative theologians tend to over-emphasize the agency of The Church. In fact, Bell states multiple times, but especially in Chapter 3, “that our primary political idenity is root not in governments and nations but in Christ’s body, the church”(96). In fact, Bell is remorseful in the notion that “The Church” has become “apolitical” by “surrendering its moral authority” (97).

Of course this brand of mourning calls for an interpretation of history that relies on the idea that “things were much better when the Church was in charge.” That would require a birth, death, and re-birth narrative–Augustine, Grotius, and now a “recovery of the JWT(CD). But two questions within this one inquiry: 1, what if a person does not share this fall narrative of the church? and 2, what if a person realizes that there was more going on with the state than just the preachers and bishops running things prior to Grotius? Would these facts make a difference?

Honestly, I think they would. Bell suggests (a guilt by association) that the same consequentialist logic that led the Union army to wreak havoc against the South is the same logic used to atomically bomb Japan during World War II (60-61). I find this interpretation misguided. Bell is also ignoring the history of violence perpetrated against black bodies prior to the Civil War. The contexts in which both wars took play are entirely different. The Civil War in the U.S. was a battle for the rights to the bodies of people of African descent. World War I and II were caused by pissing contests among European nations which wanted to see which nation could get the most people of color under their regimes (colonialism). Bloodshed begets bloodshed.

If one looks at the history of the slave revolutions, the Hebrew Bible was quite influential for leaders like Nat Turner, who relied on passages in Ezekiel of all places. Turner claims that he had an encounter with God, and in that encounter, he was told to go to war– a prophet leading God’s people into battle, consistent with the Hebrew Bible. There was no need for a JWT (CD) or JWT (PPC) when it comes to revolution as self-defense. The problem with JWT(CD) & JWT (PPC) is that it is not Christ’s suffering body on the cross that is disciplining human communities, rather it is an arrogant Gentile legalism. Virtue ethics can become a form of legalism in itself. You depend on the stories of people, who follow the ideal rules and personify the kind of game that you would like your community to follow. Character ethics, in other words, transforms human beings into a law themselves rather than the recipients of the Law.

Lastly, just as others have asked of Hauerwas and Milbank, I must ask Bell, which church are you talking about? And when you talk about this church, what will be required for persons of different races, genders, economic backgrounds, and demoninations, to join hands?

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