Tag Archives: just peacemaking

The Liberating LORD of Peace, Part 3: the Revealer #TheNewPacifism

Reading the New Testament as a Continuation of the Hebrew Bible

Previous posts in this series-

The Liberating LORD of Peace, Part 1: Groundrules

And

The Liberating LORD of Peace, Part 2: Revelation

In order for me to argue that the New Testament is not that new in the sense of Jewish moral theology, allow me to review my counter-arguments to uninformed claims that advocates of Christian non-violence avoid the Old Testament.

On the contrary, it is several Old Testament theological claims that remain at the root of Christian pacifism and Christian peace-making efforts. 1. The Decalogue, specifically The Second and Fifth Commandments read together are calls to reject violence.  By knowing the name of God, we avoid linguistic violence towards God and are able to have inner peace that manifests itself outwardly in a peaceful relationship with our neighbors.  The negative command to avoid killing is a logical conclusion from the directive to love God. 2. The Image of God: If one understands the doctrine of being made in the image of God as where humanity’s worth is seen as immeasurable in the eyes of the Triune God, then it follows forth that all of human life is sacred because of the Creator, and second, only God has the right to take away life. 3. Blood as Sacred: Various legislation in the Torah informs readers that the blood of every creature is sacred, for the blood of the creature is its life. 4. The Wars of the Holy One: Rejecting the Holy wars in favor of the far more accurate term, Wars of the Holy One, one can see that theologically the God of Israel, the YHWH Armies is the lone sources of military victory.  Any prideful attempt on the part of the Israelites to take away God’s glory is to be rejected, as was with prophets such as Elisha’s rebuke of the king of Israel (1st Kings 6). 5. Diaspora Judaism: The Maccabee’s violent revolution was rejected, even excluded from the canon at one point.  Nehemiah and Ezra’s noble yet ethnically exclusive experiment should be viewed as a failure, and falling short of God’s command to “seek the peace of the city,” according to Jeremiah 29:5-7.

How Jesus and the Apostles Passed Down the Non-violent Jewish Ethic

Jesus embodies the entirety of the nonviolent morality as it relates to Judaism. It is in his life, death, and resurrect that he creates a new covenant, a better testament (Hebrews 8:6) through his obedience.  The New Covenant is a better one, not because of any principles are laws but simply because the Covenant has been made available to all nations for it was first to the Jew, but now to Jew and Gentile (John 4:22; Romans 1:16). The healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2) is part of the mission of God as well as the healing of the soul.  The incarnation and mission of the Logos points toward reconciliation God with humanity, as well as making possible a greater human fellowship.

1. Jesus as the Logos, or Word of God in many of the early Christians thinking was the Ten Words made Flesh or the Law Incarnate. Their understanding of John 1:1-18 was that God’s teaching had to take on a human body in order for God to teach human being holiness.  What the Patristics understood is that Jesus as revelation cannot be separated from understanding God disclosing God’s Will in the Decalogue.  When New Testament passages allude to the reality that all persons will confess Christ as Lord while every knee will bow, it does so because there is no other name by which human beings receive the gift of salvation (Philippians 2:10).  If one knows Jesus, one will know the God of peace, thus continuing the promise of the 2nd Commandment.  Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew as well as his Sermon on the Hill in Luke are the re-iteration of the Ten Commandments as well as their Jubilee interpretations in Leviticus. These laws are not for a chosen few (ala Reinhold Niebuhr) but for everyone who wishes to follow the Lord Jesus. In Liberation Theology, as I have contested a number of times this year, the Exodus narrative is absolutely essential to understanding the whole metanarrative of Scripture. Without the story of YHWH redeeming enslaved Hebrew bodies from the wrath of Egypt, one cannot grasp a proper understanding of God’s Word. Jesus as the Incarnate Son of God partakes in the prophetic tradition of which Moses was the first human participant.

2. Jesus as the Image of God is the norming norm for human behavior (Colossians 1:15). As fully God and fully human, Christ is what it means to be a person. As Yoder articulates quite well,

“When Paul spoke of Jesus as image, or when the author of Hebrews , or the signers of the hymn cited in Phillipians 2 used similar expressions, they were practicing the opposite of freewheeling image making.  They were affirming the abiding normativeness  of the work and words of the man Jesus as revelatory of God’s being and will.”

(1) That the exclusive imagery of Jesus as some Nordic looking hippie is something that ought to be destroyed. Honoring Christ as THE Image of God means the destruction of ALL idols. In A Black Theology of Liberation (chapter 2, “The Norms and Sources of Black Theology”), James Cone criticizes those who would use the image of God as love as a ground for nonviolence. Theologies that are born out of whiteness (the powerful, the dominant culture) serve the interests of the majority including disingenuous calls for Blacks protesting injustice to be “peaceful” like Governor Jay Nixon last night. An AnaBlacktivist theological ethics would call for recognizing the Just Divinity from the Hebrew Bible as the impetus for religious peacemaking with Christ Jesus being that very Deity’s enfleshed self.

3. The Sacred Blood of Jesus: The author of 2nd Peter makes the death of Christ Jesus the reason for our righteousness, and because Jesus’s blood is sacred, we are called to a new life (much like Abel’s blood cried out for justice). Note that 2nd Peter 2:24 says that the two-fold reason for the death of the God-man is for human beings to turn from sin and live in cruciform holiness– both substitutionary atonement and moral exemplar. It is not an either/or when it comes to divine reconciliation. Jesus was victorious in his obedience, representing humanity and taking the punishment what we deserve; our act of worship should be the life of sacrifice, of self-giving, of living in humility, residing in solidarity with the crucified peoples of this world. In Black Christianities, Jesus’ bloodshed connects God in se to the history of blood that has been shed on U.S. American soil: African enslavement, the genocide of First Nation peoples, lynching, the death penalty, police brutality, the poor being sent to unjust wars ordained by the wealthy. While this idea may be offensive to many persons’ sensibilities, traditional hymns spirituals such as ‘Oh, The Blood of Jesus’ and ‘Nothing But the Blood of Jesus’ or ‘Were You There When They Crucified My LORD?’were/ are still sung in Black churches do NOT point to a retributive God. Rather, Christ’s atonement is at once salvific, sanctifying, and a symbol of solidarity with the oppressed.

4. Wars of the Holy One in the New Testament, i.e., Exorcisms: When one recognizes that it is not broken human beings who we are not struggling with, but what the Pauline/pseudo-pauline letter of Ephesians calls ‘the powers of this dark world” and evil from the heavenly realm, one must understand the testimony of the Gospels as they tell us of Jesus healing persons such as Legion [Mark 5; Luke 8] as well as other daemon-possessed persons as going to war. In fact, at the cross, Christ himself alludes to YHWH his Father as the YHWH Armies (Matthew 26:53). How God reigns is on the cross, and through suffering throughout creation. Christ fights our battles for us, and he has already conquered at his death and resurrection; God does not have a social strategy outside of these two events. Yoder puts it this way, “The church does not attack the powers; this Christ has done. […] By existing, the church demonstrates that their rebellion has been vanquished.” (2) The Johannine literature, such as the Apocalypse (the revealing), purposefully depicts Jesus as a warrior king. Specifically, it is the crucified Christ whose very words function as the sword that conquers the rebellious powers (Rev 19:21. Waiting upon the Lord, trusting in Christ’s teaching (Rev 13:10) is the key to victory, and not any human tradition. A possible reframing of this notion of Christus Victor is what Joerg Reiger, in Christ & Empire: From Paul to Postcolonial Times, calls a Christus Victor from the Margins. Rather than a CV that is from above, which can give into triumphalism and nationalism, this view of Christus Victor “stands a chance to be more real and push toward resistance” against empire (page 259).

5. Diasporic Jewish Christianity: The New Testament authors understand Christian existence as one being in exile, foreign to the surrounding nations in which followers of the Way resided in. Paul places Christian citizenship in the realm of God (Phillipians 3:20). In the midst of living in the violent and oppressive “Pax” Romana, the NT writers wanted to emphasize that we are in the world, but not of it, and our actions should show likewise. As I mentioned in part 2, Black communities have faced histories of alienation and systems of death. Part of learning how to navigate being Christian and Black as a descendent of enslaved Africans as well as a U.S. citizen meant being an actual “resident alien.” Living in exile is not just some metaphor that Christians from the dominant culture can appropriate just because they have a few less votes in the U.S. Senate. The experience of exile is first and foremost a material reality, wrought with feelings of human betrayal and Godforsakeness. If God has deemed it appropriate to show God’s universal love for all through God’s own preferential option for the marginalized, then what should a Christian ethic of nonviolence look like. For part 4 of this series, that is where I will turn, looking at ideas of community, revolution, and responding to Just War theorists.

(1) 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, 168

(2) John Howard Yoder. The Politics of Jesus : Vicit Agnus Noster. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.Carlisle, U.K.: Eerdmans ; Paternoster Press, 1994, 150.

Recommendations:

James Cone. God Of The Oppressed. 1975.

John Howard Yoder. The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster. 1972.

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.

Glen Stassen has passed away

stassen2010

Image from Consistent Life News.org circa 2010

It’s with a heavy heart that I share what I learned via a friend’s facebook post.  Glen Stassen, Baptist  ethicist and scholar went to be with our LORD on Saturday. It was in 2008, at the Joint Meeting of the Society of Pentecostal Scholars and Wesleyan Theological Society on Duke University’s campus that I first met Glen.  We met in between sessions, late in the afternoon, and we talked about my interest in peacemaking, and possibly doing a PhD in the future.  It was a pleasant chat.  The second time I was able to meet Dr. Stassen was at the 2009 National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion. Stassen, as I reported back then, said that I had a good grasp of the theology of his friend, the late Stanley Grenz. We were also able to talk about the theology of the Cross in John Howard Yoder’s work.

I am grateful for the Christian witness of Staussen and was blessed to have met him.

David Gushee wrote: A Tribute to Glen Stassen

Fuller Alum JR Kirk posted: Glen Stassen Has Died

From Christianity Today: Died: Glen H. Stassen, Baptist Ethicist Who Pioneered ‘Just Peacemaking’

Stassen’s author’s page on Amazon.com, with selected titles.