I have always had a problem with the oft-used phrase, “Speak softly but carry a big stick,” but for the life of me could only point to why the “big stick” part was wrong. I oppose War preparedness, empire-building, and “pre-emptive strikes” because I believe in Jesus, and His way of nonviolence. As a child being raised in the Black Baptist and Methodist/Holiness traditions, church services were centered on the preached Word. The Word was not only the written words of the Bible, but also God’s writing onto our daily lives, and us writing back in response during worship. Dialogue with God was to be loud and joyous. Unfortunately, many Christians who claim the label Anabaptist/NeoAnabaptist from the dominant culture have rejected part of the tradition dating back to the first Anabaptists. The Radical Reformers were argumentative and persistent in their writings, probably in the views of some Emergent Church leaders, “uncivil” or “lacking grace.” J. Denny Weaver and Gerald Mast argue in the introduction of their Defenseless Christianity, “Mild speech could be a luxury for those in charge or having the most weapons”: Stay civil and grace-filled, but always find a way to remind those on the margins you got the power! You’re still in charge of the Church’s future! “Defenseless Christianity” in Mast’s and Weaver’s view was and always has been “a contentious, quarrelsome discursive community” much like ancient Israel was (as evidenced by the disagreements we see in the Hebrew Bible).
One of the risks of the Word-centered approach that I am all too familiar with is the cult of personality. I can understand the appeal of Eucharist-oriented worship services; there’s little room for one individual (the pastor usually) to get all of the glory. Yet such approaches can be just as hierarchal and authoritarian. The other risk of having a vision where contesting worldviews is the norm is that the “free” market of ideas can get co-opted, especially given the fact that what often passes as the postmodern is often a reflection of late capitalism. What winds up happening is that many religious ideas are appropriated by the nation-state at the expense of others. Holiday celebrations. Public displays of the Ten Commandments. The Bible being interpreted heretically and taught in public schools. You name it. The Anabaptist commitment to the Separation of Church and State presupposes a freedom to defend the community’s right to practice a non-competitive religion. An AnaBlacktivist and more biblical view of free speech would be one that enables communities and individuals to speak out on behalf of the defenseless and marginalized.
So, I say, in the spirit of Defenseless Christianity, preach loudly, and carry a good book!