Tag Archives: discipleship

What Zambia And Russia Can't Teach Us About Discipleship

Flag-map of Zambia

Flag-map of Zambia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On More Christian Politics Without Jesus

The last time I responded to the TGC on “natural law” and the “yuck factor,” I do so only through the blog comment section and a post about Paul Over Jesus.  Unlike Thabiti, I do consider myself a “culture warrior,” just a different kind, I like to call it a “multiculture warfare.”  What is particularly bothersome about Thabiti Anyabwile’s latest post on homosexuality, What Zambia and Russia Can Teach Us About Homosexuality and Gay Rights Debate is the lack of criticism geared toward hegemonic violence.  Anyabwile continues to insist that a return to natural-law arguments would be Christians most effective weapon to win back the culture. In his response to my criticism of such an approach, Thabiti said that if Christians were to bring up Jesus, we would be ridiculed.  What? Christians aren’t part of punch-lines right now? What this reasoning boils down to is more Christian politics without Jesus; Jesus’ life, teaching, and Resurrection are stripped of their meaning as church members trust more in themselves, their “man-power” [Republican leadership, control of the policing forces/military] to hold the culture hostage, to restore a 1950’s Utopia that never was.

Christian politics without Jesus the Messiah is andro-centric hegemony.  Apart from the consequence of backlash (when our “enemies” come to power to exact revenge), the idea that the law ever has to be on “OUR” side is a gross misrepresentation of the traditional Christian sex ethic and those who have pronounced it in prior generations.  The Law is unable to teach self-control, and it definitely not able to compel persons to gain will-power.  The Law is violence, both rhetorical and physical violence, it is an unnecessary evil that can never replace the witness of Jesus’ Priestly Office as our Excellent Teacher and Rabbi or the Christian practices of celibacy and sacrament of marriage between one man and one woman. This witness is a nonviolent witness because it seeks to lead by persuasion and not coercion.  It is a Christ-centered approach, the way of being a disciple of Christ Jesus.

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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.