When I was in high school, my mom gave me a black and white “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelet that I would wear to class everyday. She wanted me to be reminded whenever I came across an ethical dilemma (important, especially being that the campus’ population was predominantly white , and in particular, being the only African American in honors courses wasn’t the best of times, let me tell you), all I would have to do is look at my wrist and ask myself, “What would Jesus Do?” The question of “What Would Jesus Do?” would once more make itself relevant years later when I was in seminary. In our Christian ethics classes, we would explore questions of faith, weekly case studies, and various approaches to Christian ethics. As a learning community, we made our way through Thomas Aquinas, situational ethics, virtue theory, and deontology (the study of duty). What would Jesus do in a post-truth world where the Alt-Right is seeking world domination? And more importantly, what would the LORD of all creation have us to do while living in the midst of a fascist regime? The question of WWJD is not only a question of ethics but also one of theological speculation. I side with liberationist theologians: God is as God does. God is a God of freedom and justice, and leads the way for the poor to experience redemption for the sake of all peoples. A god who would do nothing to resist tyranny can be seen either as apathetic or as complicit in suffering of victims.
The question of punching Nazis is the case study of 2017. It all started during Orange Julius’ installation that a reporter from CNN gave white supremacist Richard Spencer a platform on national television to spread his hateful views; subsequently, someone from the black bloc group of resisters punched Mr. Spencer from behind. The internet was filled with think pieces after this event, everything from rejoice to remorse. So, the question I say that Christians seeking out spaces of resistance must ask today is, “Would Jesus Punch a Nazi?”
Eclectically liberal continental philosopher Slavoj Zizek answered the question in a definite, “No!”
Quartz: So, is it OK to punch a Nazi?
Žižek: No! If there is violence needed, I’m more for Gandhian, passive violence.
That was his answer from a Quartz interview on January 27th, 2017. Zizek goes on to continue to praise Gandhi’s “passive violence” as something in the abstract and to be emulated in all contexts. What Zizek neglects to do in his appropriation of Gandhi’s approach to nonviolence is that Gandhi did not believe that peace was for everyone, particularly the dark skinned Black peoples of subsaharan Africa whom he considered to be savages. And speaking as a survivor, one should definitely not overlook his views on rape victims and probable CSA.
When we talk about violence, and by extension anger, it is very important that we speak of these concepts not in the abstract and universal, but in the particular and contextual. Whenever one discusses violence as if it is without context, there is an accentuation of that violence. Whether it is philosophers like Zizek or theologians like say, a Stanley Hauerwas for instance, the central problems that human beings face are ones of violence, war, and fragmentation. The very fact that there are divisions and people choose to live within these divisions are depicted as acts of violence. If non-unity is something of a determining factor of human existence, that means that war and bloodshed has the final say over human life. This is why Zizek, who has been caught red-handed plagiarizing White Supremacist propaganda, can argue with a straight face that critical race theorists are “reverse racist” because they rely on racial violence as part of their narrative. Zizek’s argument, as Amaryah Shaye contends, enables white progressives to outright dismiss the perspectives, thoughts, and words from marginalized populations. Zizek’s proposals are part of pushback against what is oftentimes called “identity politics,” the praxis of oppressed people groups to reclaim their stories and very lives from their oppressors. Part of this reclamation project may indeed involve some anger, anger at the state of subjugation faced by Blacks, women, People of color and sexual minorities; outrage at the negative stereotypes and tropes that are repeatedly used to justify oppression; last but not least, the fury at the institutions and systems that hold us in bondage.
When one asks, “What would Jesus do?” “Would Jesus punch a Nazi?,” one is ultimately asking a question of identity. “Who is Jesus?” “Who am I?” Christians profess Jesus as King of Kings, and LORD of LORDS, and as such, Our Liberator is free to choose his own action and way. Therefore, I could not answer this question with any amount of certainty. I think the idea that we can place Jesus in any situation today, and then claim to know what he would do is the height of arrogance. The picture I shared above (Jesus walking with a Nazi and carrying his gun) is a case in point. Not only is Jesus’ commandment for his followers to go the second mile with a soldier taken out of context, it’s an embarrassing anachronism that reeks of fundamentalist emotionalism. Emergent Christians with bad histories of defending abusive members of clergy comparing modern-day Nazis to the woman at the well (a woman marginalized for her sexual history) are actually the ones who should be considered “the worst.” Steve Bannon and Richard Spencer choose to embrace an ideology of genocide and white racial supremacy. The history of White Supremacy cannot be solved by foolish comparisons and false analogies. It must be confronted with the truth.
My friend Pierre wrote an excellent piece for the Christian Century a month ago, Alternative Facts in Bonhoeffer’s Germany. In our post-truth world, as with the Third Reich it’s “not just little white lies but are constructed with the aim of shaping public opinion. It first requires an antithesis to a particular idea or person(s)” as Keys pointed out. The metanarrative of Aryan Supremacy ruled over logic and humility in post-World War I Germany. The Emergent Church in the 21st century U.S. American context, although having separated itself from White evangelicalism, still to this day centers itself on the narrative of a more liberal, passively violent White supremacy. The teachings of a blatant xenophobe and racist like Zizek or a non-violent theologian with a history of sexual assault, say John Howard Yoder, are viewed as more important and objective than the work of People of Color. It’s the little white lie that White Men’s work is more valueable and trustworthy than those from women and people from the margins that sustains white supremacy. It’s the little white lie that sexual violence, anti-Black violent rhetoric, Islamophobia, and domestic violence should be dismissed as little more than just “passive” or “symbolic” violence rather than the real violence of Ghandi’s child sexual abuse or so-called pacifists tepidly defending rape culture.
For these morally confused times with life under immoral leaders with their immoral budgets and wall building, Christians ought to opt to join with those people who are suffering, to live with those being crucified today, because that is where the Spirit of God is present. Living today under Orange Mussolini also means a more honest assessment of biblical literature. My friend Jason has already point out the reasons why Jesus would instruct his followers to go the Second Mile, the fact that Jesus lived in a more shame-based culture with the goal of shaming Roman soldiers and their commanders. The Messiah is able to inspire liberation by instructing the Church of the Poor on how to creatively resist without embracing the logic of their oppressors.
Reading Scripture in context is the best way forward for Christ followers. Conservative, mainline, and emergent Christians have a duty to preach and teach Scripture responsibly. There is desperation on the part of those persons who seek to solely make this ancient text relevant for today. It is a selfish approach, and centers us rather than Christ the Shepherd and his Sheep, the poor and marginalized. The Bible does mention people who shared the ideology of genocide, persons like the corrupt aristocrat of biblical lore, Haman the Agagite. He plotted the destruction of the Jews who were already living in exile in Persia. He is mentioned in the story of Esther, which, I have observed, is about the complete reversal of fortune through divine intervention and the power of prayer (both praying and acting on behalf of the oppressed). Esther heard the cries of the people on the margins, prayed with them, and worked with them to foil the plans Haman had for their extermination.
So the question remains, “Would Jesus punch a Nazi?” It’s a mystery, it really is. It’s beyond our comprehension because God’s ways are not our ways. I could only point to Jesus’ actions and words that are attested to in the Gospels.(1) The purpose of Jesus’ mission was summed up in John 10:10 (KJV): “I am come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” If Jesus came to earth so that we may have life abundant, then Nazism, the group of people and set of ideals which seeks to destroy and steal life is the complete anti-thesis of Christ and his mission. Nazis are “free” to express their opinions, but they are not free to their own facts, and we as resisters have been given the freedom to resist their hatred; also, Nazis are not entitled to building their platforms or enriching themselves for spreading white supremacist propaganda. The Spirit of Jesus, however, calls for us to creatively resist oppressors and to leave no room(2) for the devil (Ephesians 4:27).
(1) Just for fun, I took a poll on twitter with the question, “Would Jesus punch a Nazi?”: see the final tally: here.
(2) Editor’s note: I assume some readers will be lead (and mistaken) to believe that the author’s position is to unfriend and block friends and family members who are supporters of Orange Mussolini. This could not be further from the truth. I am just going to speak from my personal experience. Just as being a responsible Christian reader of Scripture calls for great care and nuance in understanding historical context, being a responsible person and friend calls for understanding the complexities of political choices. It would be rather unwise to label every Hillary supporter a “neoliberal” or “warhawk” because of a few choices of their own candidate ;just like it would be unwise to call every Bernie supporter a xenophobic brocialist because of the voting record of their candidate. Political allegiances fluctuate and they can change, political parties come and go. Political candidacies aren’t worth losing friends, and I speak from experience, having had folks from both sides of the spectrum turn on me because of my views. But that is my choice, others can feel free to choose differently. If you’re friends with a Nazi or want to by a book by a Nazi, I say this: drop them like yesterday’s news, and don’t buy.
(Photo Description: the scene is a dusky road in ancient Palestine, a white Nordic looking male which is the author’s vision of Jesus is clothed in a white robe and carrying a rifle. The man is turned to his left, gesturing his hands in conversation with a German soldier from the Third Reich, whose uniform is black with a red band with a swatzika on it. Image was shared on facebook , but the artist is Michael Belk whose work is found here )