Tag Archives: Creation

The Liberating LORD of Peace, part 2: Revelation #TheNewPacifism

Debunking The Myth that Christian Pacifists Are Allergic to the Old Testament

Ground Rules: Part 1 of The Liberating LORD of Peace.

There is a popular belief that continues to be universal, unchallengeable truth in Christian circles: Christian pacifists run and hide from the Hebrew Bible because of the Holy Wars and violence. Not only is this a fallacy in the worst, it is quite untrue of myself. In the first place, as Christians, Christian pacifists and advocates of non-violence have a love of the Christian canon; if they did not, they would cease to call themselves Christians. That is what separates Christan non-violent artists from secular as well as other religious pacifists.

For example, Lisa Sowle Cahill, in her Love Your Enemies, on more than one ocassion, takes the liberty of questioning the pacifist Christian’s loyalty to the Jewish Bible. For example, her comments on pacifist and early Christian theologian Tertullian:

“The nature of that faith and life are defined in relation to Scripture, the New Testament taking precedence over the Old” (1)

“The primacy of the teaching of Jesus in regard to killing is developed in the context of Terullian’s polemics against Judaism, and by means of a distinction between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ divine laws.” (2)

This dis-ingenuity continues in her analysis of the Alexandrian Fathers, as she typically subsumes Origen and Clement in the same boat.

“While the Alexandrian School did not deny the historical meaning of most biblical texts, it subordinated them to a high meaning. It was this freedom over against the literal sense to which the Antiochene exegetes reacted so negatively. However, the ability to transcend the literal sense without rejecting it allows interpreters such as Origen to retain the Old Testament while refuting the Jewish Tradition, which retained the Mosaic Law, and gnostic Christians who rejected the Old Testament because of its ostensible incompatibility with the New.” (3)

I reject Lisa Sowle Cahill’s view of Church history and the church in Alexandria, but if one goes along with Cahill’s particular and all too familiar narrative, it goes something like this: The strength of Augustine’s Just War theory, so it goes, is that it incorporates the story of the Hebrews into the narrative of the early Christians and thereby avoids the racial and religious violence of supercessionist Christendom.

A non-violent AnaBlacktivist theology begins with the God of Peace (Judges 6:24). Now, I object to certain Christian theologians who would call upon “The Nonviolent God” without having their foundation being the Hebrew Bible, for to address God in this manner, without doing so, is to do linguistic violence upon God’s revelation, for upon revelation in the very notion of non-violence. We cannot address God as we please. Contrary to relativism or much that gets accepted as theology today, Christians are dependent upon revelation first.  As James Cone put in his A Black Theology of Liberation, “In the Bible, revelation is inseparable from history and faith. History is the arena in which God’s revelation takes place.” The Exodus is the beginning of revelation history, or God exposing Godself to humanity; in the choosing of enslaved Hebrews under the crushing oppression of Pharaoh, God communicated to humanity what type of God YHWH was: a Deity in solidarity with the poor.  Reading the First Commandment as a call to faithfulness to YHWH alone, the second commandment initiates a non-violent religious response to the world order by teaching the Jew and the Christian how to communicate with God, for we cannot have a relationship with God on our own terms, for that would be the beginning of violence.  True peace is sustained by fellowship with the Godhead, by the Divinity’s playbook, or what we call covenant. Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon comment on the Second Commandment:

“To be able to call God’s name entails moral obligation. Because we had to be told God’s name, we cannot make God mean anything that we want. God must reveal who “I AM” is through loving actions toward Israel and by the resurrection of Christ.  Revelation is the way we name our discovery that God has discovered  us.  God has chosen to come close to us, to be intimate, to reveal the “name that is above every name” (Phillipians 2:9) in order that we might joyfully witness to the whole world that we have not been left to our own devices.” (4)

In addition to the revelation of the Creator as well as the Ten Commandments, the Hebrew Bible provides a plethora of resources that I will briefly outline, with the help of John Howard Yoder and Black theologies:

A. The Imago Dei: Revert back to Genesis 1, and then chapter 9; all of humanity is found to be in the image of God before & after the “Fall.”  To argue that the somehow that image within us is lost, I would have to disagree for the lack of sufficient evidence posed in Scripture. Murder is prohibited because all people are stamped with the divine image (Genesis 9:6), and that image no one can measure for only God has rights over human life as Creator. African American Christianities have throughout the years found new and exciting ways to uphold the doctrine of all of humanity’s sacred worth. In the mid-20th century, it was Martin Luther King Jr. who appropriated Boston Personalist philosophy to proclaim the infinite value of every human being. Today, one could argue that Womanist theologians are the bearers of this tradition.

B. The Notion of Blood as Sacred: John Howard Yoder suggests that at the most, the idea that blood is sacred was an idea prior to Israel being placed in exile. The shedding of blood is wrong; thus Leviticus is quite graphic in detail about the consequences for eating the blood in the meat from animals (check Leviticus 19:26 & 1st Samuel 14:33). Eating blood is strictly forbidden–thus uncritical Christian endorsement endorsements of the Twilight novels and movies comes into question (couldn’t help myself there). The blood is the life of the creature, and this includes humanity. (5) The power of the blood has historically been a mainstay in Black Churches, with spirituals such as “Were You There, When They Crucified My Lord” and in “secular” poetry and song such as Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” which help us to remember the bloodshed during the times of lynching & Jim/Jane Crow.

C. A Close Reading of the Wars of the Holy One: Rather than label the crusades in the Hebrew Bible the Holy Wars, I prefer the Wars of the Holy One, particularly the Holy One of Israel.  It is a far more accurate label for biblical and theological reasons. One cannot generalize that the military efforts of modern society are compatible with the Ancient Israelites. In fact far from it! One does not see today that prophets are giving military instruction or doing espionage; what we see are professionals whose lives are geared toward the MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX. The wars of the Holy One have at their core, “Yahweh himself gives the victory. […] [Victory is a miracle.]”(6).  Complete dependence upon God, the YHWH of Armies (Chad’s translation for YHWH Sabatoah) is what gives humanity the victory and not dependence upon chariots and horses (Psalm 20:7).

A concrete example from the biblical text that I ran into actually one morning during my devotional reading of Our Daily Bread was 2nd Kings 6: 8-22.  The YHWH of Armies has surrounding hosts around his prophet Elisha (verse 17), and rather than slaying his enemies the Aramean army, Elisha asks YHWH to strike them blind, as the prophet leads them into another city.  The king of Israel, being the power-monger that the monarchs tended to be, desired to kill (ahem, re: take credit away from YHWH of Armies) his enemies. Instead, Elijah advises the Israelites to feed their enemies (v 22)  The victory of fellowship is  far superior to the victory of the sword. Indeed this is exactly the reason why YHWH of Armies restricts the Israelite kings from warmongering and institutionalizing human enslavement (which, of course, YHWH’s word goes unheeded, thus, the Exile) like in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. The imagery of YHWH Sabatoah/YHWH of Armies was expressed vividly in David Walker’s “Appeal To The Color Peoples of the World.”  The theological usefulness of the YHWH of Armies  for Walker was viewed as a resource of liberation to give hope for the downtrodden in their time of despair. 

D. Diasporic Judaism: Lastly, what I find most compelling  about Yoder’s reading of the Hebrew Bible is his understanding of the Jews mission within the Exile.  Along with the rejection of the Maccabees (as well as the Zealot model) as heretics since God, in the eyes of some, had not blessed their violent revolution, God’s command to God’s people to seek the peace of the city where they are sent (Jeremiah 29:5-7) for no longer is the divine activism of YHWH found in the centralized  location of  Judah, but throughout the world.  Ezra’s and Nehemiah’s restorationism in light of the prophets should be seen as a FAILURE theologically. (7)

In a similar vein, Black Christianities’  existence as part of the African Diaspora better enables these practicioners to witness to a New Pacifism, by way their history of marginalization. It is only by learning from those who have a history of subjugation that the privileged can learn what it means to live powerless; that is, a refusal to live by Western, violent notions of “being powerful.”

For part 3, I shall look at Jesus, the apostles Paul and Peter, as well as the Johannine literature to observe their continuity with the Jewish non-violent tradition.

1.Lisa Sowle Cahill. Love Your Enemies: Discipleship, Pacifism, and Just War Theory. Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1994. Page 48

2. Ditto. Page 45

3. Ditto. Page 49

4. Stanley Hauerwas & William Willimon. The Truth About God: The Ten Commandments in the Christian Life. Nashville, Abindgon Press, 1999. Page 42

5. John Howard Yoder. The War Of The Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence And Peacemaking. Editted by Glenn Stassen, Mark Thiessen Nation, and Matt Hamsher. Brazos Press, Grand Rapids Michigan, 2009. Page 74

6. Ditto. Page  69

7. Ditto. Page  72-73

Recommendations:
Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon. The Truth About God: The Ten Commandments In The Christian Life. 1999.

Demonic Strongholds & Spiritual Warfare: Ghosts of Environmental Past Pt. 2

In today’s edition of Eco-Demonics, today’s story is a one that should be far more well known than it is. It is the story of Warren County NC. It is the story of how a predominantly black town in rural North Carolina was essentially reminded of their low-standing in society when industry sited their land as PCB dumping sites. PCB that stands for Poly-Chlorinated Bi-Phenyls and they are one of many waste products as a result of heavy industry, spelling nothing but deleterious health effects of those exposed ( mainly cancer). This story means so much to me because it represents the intersection of liberation theology and environmental justice. I could go on an on, but this recent 8-minute documentary says it all best:

Anabaptist Theology & Black Power: A Subaltern Ethics Of Peace #AnaBlacktivism

Please read the first three posts in this series before proceeding to read the following essay:

Anabaptist Theology & Black Power: Intro

Anabaptist Theology & Black Power: Christ The Center

Anbaptist Theology & Black Power: An Anti-Colonial Confessing Church

Tyler Tully’s third and final AnaBaptist distinctive is the naming of the Radical Reformation’s preferred type of moral agency: nonviolence. As Tyler so articulately put it as agents of God’s Shalom,

“More than merely being non-violent on a personal level (a measure that all Anabaptists will not flinch from) we are dedicated to producing God’s Shalom in our communities. Therefore, we stand against violence in all of its forms (Empire, oppression, poverty, war, etc.) while we live in justice as an alternative community. Shalom is more than the absence of conflict (Pax Christi), it is the peace that surpasses all understanding and the project of the Holy Spirit as God’s Reign fosters wholeness through reconciling the hierarchies of class, race, ethnicity, age, sex, gender, sexuality, and ableism.”

If historic AnaBaptist pacifism is an interpersonal practice, it cannot but be a social policy as well. For many Neo-Anabaptists who take their cues from the writings of influential theologians such as Stanley Hauerwas, the unquestionable commitment to Christian nonresistant love means that liberation theology and postliberal emerging Anabaptist theology are entirely at odds. Take for example NeoAnabaaptist author Brian Zahnd, who had a conversation with someone who had a question about liberation theology. Zahnd automatic answer, like many post-Christian Anabaptists, “Liberation theology is ultimately violent.”

zahnd libtheo

I challenged him on that talking point. I disagree that Liberation Theology is inherently violent, in fact, it’s problematic to say it is as such given the historical records. What matters more however as I have shown in the previous two posts, is that white Post-Christian theologians continue to dismiss questions of historical inquiry (Elisabeth Shussler-Fiorenza’s gender critique of The Politics of Jesus, for example) in order to put forth a Docetic hegemonic narrative. During the discussion with Zahnd, even my fellow #AnaBlacktivist Drew Hart took the time to chime in,

While Zahnd claims to be AnaBaptist, the one link he provided to support his argument was an essay supporting Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s position on liberation theology. It did little to prove that liberation theology, and conveniently excluded the imperial violence initiated by the United States against liberation theology’s communities in Latin America and Haiti. It is interactions such as these that lead me to wonder where do talking points like this come from. As a student of John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas usually remarks in the same manner as Zahnd when it comes to questions about Liberation Theology. LT is violent, not because of anything that liberation theologians have done, but because of the questions that they ask when it comes to notions of “peace” and “nonviolence.”

To use a specific example of a post-Christian white Anabaptist criticism of liberation theology, I turn to an essay by Yoder from Cross Currents in 1973/1974 entitled, “Exodus and Exile: The Two Faces of Liberation.” Yoder’s critique of Liberation Theology centers on his first accepting liberation language as an appropriate way for biblical language to make a leap from the past to the present, and secondly, his asking that there be a more honest account of Exodus, and the biblical narrative as a whole. If the Exodus story is a model for revolution, then what should the nature of that revolution look like? To this effect, Yoder makes a few observations. Number 1: The Exodus was not a program born out of human initiative, but God’s miraculous redemption of enslaved Hebrews. Number 2: The Exodus was more of a social withdrawal with the intent originally of God’s people leaving to worship the Almighty. This means that it was not a some sort of religiously sanctioned political coup. As Yoder put it, “Moses was no Bonhoeffer. The old tyranny is destroyed not by beating it at its own game of intrigue and assassination, but by the way the presence of the independent counter community (and its withdrawal) provokes Pharaoh to overreach himself.” Number 3: The Exodus is about the formation of a people group and not the the product of the event. Yoder explains, “To say it another way, to be oppressed together is not sufficient to constitute a people. Nor being a people yet sufficient to be the people of God. Exodus is not a paradigm for all kinds of groups for all kinds of salvation. Exodus is a particular form of withdrawal into insecurity.”  

Up to this point, Yoder has made points that liberationists basically agree with (with a few minor disagreements), but I now point you to the fourth observation: The community formed at Mount Sinai is the presupposition of Exodus. “The slogan ‘Exodus before Sinai’ presupposes that ‘liberation’ is a single and final event; that is the claim that justifies treating its violence as a legitimate ethical exception. Yet Sinai was to become the place of a new bondage. Exodus leads not to the promised land but to the desert, partly by loyalty to the values of Egypt.” Sinai is, according to Yoder’s narrative reading of Exodus, THE FALL of Israel. “Liberation is from bondage and for covenant, and what for matters more than what from.” So Sinai for Yoder is ambivalently both a fall and a formal, legislative event, for YHWH giving of the Ten Commandments to the judgments of Moses and his fellow judges. Aaron and his golden calf represents liberationists who want to take matters into their own hands to foster social change.

Lastly, Yoder’s fifth observation is asking of liberation theologians, why isn’t there not “some broader review of all the great events which Scripture put in the light of the Word of God at work: the taking of Canaan, the pluralism of the age of the judges, the rise and fall of the Kingdom, the dividing of the Kingdom, exile.” Israel ultimately fails in its experiment with empire according to Yoder, abandoning nationhood and returning to YHWHistic peoplehood after returning to exile. “Ezra and Nehemiah reestablish the community precisely without national sovereignty.” ” Now, in order to agree with Yoder that liberation theology is more about impatient believers who want to have their way with the nation-state, one must presume that liberation theology is nothing more than a nationalist political movement with religious language to justify it. This loyalty to the nation-state and its values, as well as an emphasis on separation on groups for the protection of minorities is probably what Yoder and his subsequent white post-Christian male disciples fear to be violent. However, this would require an anachronistic reading of the biblical text. There is no “nation-state” as we know, empire yes, oppressive institutions such as slavery, yes, but nation-state, no. If anything, Israel is more in line with the city-state structure more common in the Ancient Near East. Also, if I must add concerning Ezra and Nehemiah, while their project started out as noble, its conclusion resorts back to a reactionary exclusion of other people groups, against the prophetic, universalizing & reconciling thrust of pre- and post exilic prophets like Isaiah.

As far as the nature of the narrative that Yoder considers an alternative to the Liberationist telling of Exodus, I want to make a few points to move us into James Cone and Black Liberation theology. First of all, one must call into question the notion of “greatness” of some of the aspects of “the taking of Canaan, the pluralism of the age of the judges, the rise and fall of the Kingdom, the dividing of the Kingdom, exile.” The so-called pluralism of the age of judges is only made possible because the 12 tribes of Israel continue a cycle of remembering and forgetting YHWH who rescued them from Egypt (see Judges 6 for ex.) This forgetfulness leads to THE real FALL OF Israel, in 1st Samuel 8, where the prophet greiviously announces God’s concession of giving the people what they want: a king. But there’s a catch, there are laws the king must follow. Both empire and the exile are not first positive goods, but negative consequences of Israel’s disobedience and unfaithfulness to the Exodus God. The Exodus story of God redeeming God’s people. While Yoder is right to point out that Moses is Israel’s great teacher who was educated by the hybrid experiences as an enslaved Hebrew, an Egyptian prince, and a desert shepherd, Yoder unfortunately depoliticizes Moses in the process. Moses as a former Egyptian prince confronts Pharaoh with YHWH’s miraculous power. Moses prays as an intercessor, sparing many lives of his people. As Open Theists point out, God has a special relationship with Moses where God changes God’s mind on Moses’ behalf. In other words, both examples show that Moses really participates in the liberating mission of God. To be political from a liberationist perspective is to partake in the life of the Exodus God. God both initiates human movement freedom movements as Most Moved Mover, and works with humanity as covenant partners. Moses was a friend of God, remember? In Black Theology and Black Power, the image that Cone uses is the biblical symbol of God as like an eagle carrying Israel (and oppressed communities) on God’s wings.  This symbolic language is to express God’s liberating activity in history, and not only does God redeem us, God allows humanity to co-create with Godself.  

Liberationist ethics therefore is a departure from the virtue ethics and theories that center around social-formation.  Liberationist ethics start from God’s free grace and pathos coming to those on the lowest rung of the social latter.  In this model, God is free to work outside the Church in order to accomplish God’s mission of freeing all humanity from sin for the sake of covenant.  The Exodus God breaks down even the most faithful of dualistic categories, Church and World, to create a Church for the World.  In Cone’s BTBP, Cone recognizes that God can use persons that aren’t even in church for the purpose of liberation.  The Spirit of God inspires persons like King Cyrus (see 2nd Chronicles 6 and even Ezra) to bring about peace and communal justice for the common good. This is why in Cone’s A Black Theology of Liberation, Cone contends that God can use black culture to reveal Godself. One example of this is when Cone points out in his latest work, The Cross And The Lynching Tree, that “Blacks found hope in music itself–a collective self-transcendent meaning in the singing, dancing, loving, and laughing. They found hope in the stoic determination not to be defeated bu the pain and suffering in their lives” (page 13).

Yes it is true that James Cone would call into question pacifism and nonviolence, but the questions he were asking were not whether or not nonviolent action was legit, but who was exacting violence, and whose violence were we naming! Liberationist inquiries about cases for nonviolence, critiquing the privilege and manner in which pacifists were making their claims is grounded in a theology of the cross. “To speak of nonviolence in a Christian context was to speak of Jesus’ cross, which meant suffering without fighting back violently” (TC&TLT, page 149). But one cannot talk about the Cross without talking about the history of the Lynching Tree in the North American context. We cannot separate the Exodus God’s story of redemption from the history of Jesus suffering with crucified people. #AnaBlacktivism takes the Anabaptist concept of the Third Baptism in order to free pacifist Christians from abusing the Cross. With one of James Cone’s earliest critics from within Black Liberation theology, the late Major J. Jones, we can see nonviolence a theology that we participate in more than a social ethic. With Gustavo Gutierrez, we can affirm that God does choose the oppressed in order to liberate the oppressed and the oppressors. God freely chooses the foolish and the lowly, the persons at the margins for the service of teaching the dominant culture nonviolence as well as the history of violence done to them.  An #AnaBlacktivist theology of nonviolence would make the case for Christ’s model of peacemaking by coming from a place of particularity and the naming of particular forms of suffering. 

 

This is the fourth and final part of 4 for  my contribution to the MennoNerds Synchroblog: MennoNerds on Anabaptist Convictions. “As MennoNerds, we all have found certain distinctives of Anabaptism to be central in our expression of faith.  This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog in the month of May on Anabaptism. For the list of distinctives go here. For the list of articles, go here