Tag Archives: Stanley Hauerwas

The Path of Forgiveness: Inviting ISIS to the Eucharist

 

 

 Adam Schneider is a former seminarian at Seattle Pacific Seminary and is currently a graduate student at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology in Seattle, WA. He graduated with a degree in Political Science from Capital University in Columbus, OH. A hopeful Nazarene, he is passionate about naming and relating our personal stories while deconstructing social categories that prevent us from truly knowing one another.

 

ISIS recently beheaded 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya. On Monday, 150 other Assyrian Christians were kidnapped in Syria. American politicians, including the President, are still in conflict over how best to respond to the ongoing violence. There is a depressing and frustrating lack of consistency when American politicians and political commentators use Christian faith and/or scripture to justify public policy, particularly regarding military attacks in response to violence. When examined closely, I find that inconsistent application of one’s faith in the US (whether Christian, Muslim, or any other) is unfortunately similar to that of our “enemy,” the “terrorists” that we are so desperate to destroy. Violence is committed when we characterize and dehumanize. These steps are unfortunately more cyclical than linear, lending to a cycle that the more it spins, the less likely we are to stop. For Christians, our best hope for a more coherent and consistent living out of our faith is proper understanding and partaking of the Eucharist. Why the Eucharist? Pope Paul VI answers that question, writing, “If the brotherhood of man, their working together in unity, and finally peace, constitutes the supreme good in the temporal and social order, should not the world discover in the Eucharist the simplest and clearest formula to interpret, define and direct that supreme good?”

 

The impenetrable mystery present in the Eucharist prevents any legitimate violence against another. Jill Peterson Adams, quoted in Braided Selves writes, “Ideally, both ethically and politically, the realization that the other is always that which we have yet to know, is forever unknowable, stays our hand at the moment of potential violence.” At the Lord’s Table, characterization and dehumanization must end. My theology of the Eucharist, informed by Thomas Merton, John Wesley, and others across the ecclesial spectrum, teaches us that violence cannot exist at the table nor can violence be a product or consequence of the time spent there. I recognize that there are Christians who adhere to Augustine’s understanding of “just war.” There is room for this disagreement within the Church. However, my argument is that any violence, whether rhetorical or physical, whether offensive or defensive, is in contradiction to the Eucharist, the “sacrament of peace.”

 

The first step in committing violence is characterization of the person, group, religion, country, etc. against whom one wishes to commit violence. I define characterization as unknowing. Instead of exploring interest in a person in his/her particularity, we categorize. We use our social constructs (gender, sexuality, religion, behavior, etc.) to circumvent the process of coming to know the Other. In doing so we are capable of justifying the violence. At the Lord’s Table, no one is unknown. Jesus entered into the particularity of being human and was crucified because he was not known by the world, not even by his disciples. If we truly were interested in knowing the Other, we would not commit violence. The proof for this statement is the plethora of characterizations we use. One example comes to mind.

 

With immigration, President Obama is as inconsistent with living out or applying his Christian faith as his Republican critics. Immigrants, and those who are “foreign” generally, want to have hope in this President. He recently gave what is to be considered a monumental speech on immigration reform. The tagline soon became a hashtag on Twitter to summarize the reforms: “felons not families.” Illegal immigrants (another characterization) would be allowed to stay in the US to keep families together. Felons, on the other hand, are to be deported. The speech was panned for its use of scripture, or rather, its misuse. Making up a passage altogether and summarizing many others, he said, “…now is the time to reflect on those who are strangers in our midst and remember what it was like to be a stranger.” Two questions: are felons not members of families and are felons not strangers? As Moltmann asks, do we not remember posing the question “What is the truth?” and crucifying it?

 

Dehumanization is what naturally follows from the use of characterizations. We, the good team, are humans and they, the terrorists, the felons, our enemies, are inhuman. They are barbaric, they are godless, they are not worthy of love, forgiveness, or compassion. What does it mean to be human? This column is not the place to answer this enormously important question entirely, but we can start the conversation. What does it mean to be human? It means to bear the image of God. Let me be clear: Muslims, even those considered to be radical Islamists, bear the same image of God as Christians. To suggest otherwise is to question the creation myth in Genesis. The relevant question, then, is to ask a response looks like that recognizes the particular humanity of “the violent.” Bishop Angaelos, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, recently gave a statement that illustrates such a response. He said,

 

“…as a Christian and a Christian minister I have a responsibility to myself and to others to guide them down this path of forgiveness. We don’t forgive the act because the act is heinous. But we do forgive the killers from the depths of our hearts. Otherwise, we would become consumed by anger and hatred. It becomes a spiral of violence that has no place in this world.”

 

What is so confusing about some of the Christian American responses to “terrorism” is their contradiction to God’s responses to our terrorism against Him and His creation. We preach about the covenants of scripture between God and his people and ignore our own responsibility with one another. We’ll love our enemy once we’ve won.

 

Having been responsible for our creation, Jesus’ own experience of violence and death can help us figure out a Eucharistic perspective of violence. Lest we forget, he instructed us to remember this as we partake of the Eucharist. Necessary to this theology is the recognition of the real, actual presence of Christ in the bread and wine that is blessed. If the elements of communion are simply there as a memorial, if Christ is not really present, then we do not remember, we are not transformed through its consumption, and nothing in our world changes. To partake of the Eucharist is to recognize the blood on our hands. The bloodshed of Jesus is enough to bring about the reconciliation of creation in its entirety. It was the bloodshed to end all bloodshed. And because new creation has its own time, we experience the bloodshed of 2,000 years ago in our sanctuaries every time we partake. To justify the bloodshed we commit by our faith is to deny the power of Christ’s bloodshed on the cross.

 

The Christ that Christians claim to follow is not the “macho man” that America has unfortunately developed. Christ is the man who was crucified. Bonhoeffer in Christ the Center reminds us that we consume Christ in “the form of his humiliation or as a stumbling block.” Theologian Kosuke Koyama describes the “mind of Christ” in Ephesians as the “crucified mind.” This conception of Christ and of the Eucharist contradicts present Christian approach to violence. When our courts sentence a person to the death penalty, we are claiming that this person’s identity is the sum total of the crime she committed and that is all that we need to know about her to kill her. See for example, the story of Kelly Gissendaner, who is scheduled to be executed in Georgia on Monday evening. The crucified mind has overcome death, not instituted anew.

 

Do we not recognize ourselves as the perpetrators of violence? The President goes so far as to deny the amount of innocent lives killed by his drone strikes. As we approach the altar, the Lord’s Table, to receive the Eucharist, our similarities become clearer. Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Sometimes I wondered if it even mattered whether our communion cups were filled with consecrated wine or draft beer, as long as we bent over them long enough to recognize each other as kin.” We have not spent enough time bent over our cups. The one whom I want, or perhaps feel the need, to commit violence against is my brother or my sister. Even in our defense of a people or a country, we contribute to the fallacy that one is deserving of our hand and the other our sword. Rowan Williams restates this beautifully, saying, “Sometimes, after receiving Holy Communion, as I look around a congregation, large or small, I have a sensation I can only sum up as this is it – this is the moment when people see one another and the world properly…” When we spend too much time away from the Lord’s Table (that is, away from others with Christ at the center), we develop an amnesia that leads to deception of who we are in relation to others. We become “puffed up” (1 Cor 4:18) instead of poured out (Jn 3:30).

 

Speaking of pride, Merton writes in his autobiography, “In the modern world, people are always holding up their heads and marching into the future, although they haven’t the slightest idea what they think the future is or could possibly mean. The only future we seem to walk into, in actual fact, is full of bigger and more terrible wars, wars well calculated to knock our upraised heads off those squared shoulders.” We are walking around headless; no small wonder we fail to see one another properly. Instead of ingesting the peace of Christ in the Eucharist, our lungs are filled with the fumes of violent defense of self. This peace surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7), that is, the understanding of this world that says we have a right to defend freedom, whatever that is, and to attack those who wish to do us or others harm. We decorate with medals our veterans of war as heroes for the violence they committed like a king is crowned at coronation. But as Duke theologian Stanley Hauerwas reminds us, however, “Christians are not called to be heroes or shoppers. We are called to be holy.”

 

            We are called to foster peace and that is not done through violence. Violence does not lead to peace. Shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Bobby Kennedy gave a speech about violence in which he said, “…violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.” That cleansing took place on the cross. In order to realize that cleansing, in order to be ready to receive the Eucharist, however, we have to acknowledge our own complicity in death. Each act of violence we commit, individually, collectively, nationally, and/or religiously, is another refusal to acknowledge our complicity

 

Photo description (Photo credit: flickr, European Commission DG ECHO; Massive influx of Syrian Kurdish refugees into Turkey, a line of Syrian Kurdish refugees walking in a desert. Families carrying bags over their heads, etc.)

Anabaptist Theology & Black Power: An Anti-Imperial Confessing Church #Anablacktivism

The Cross, The New Creation, and Creative Discipleship

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

Anabaptist Theology & Black Power: Intro

Anabaptist Theology & Black Power: Christ The Center

In this article, I wish to turn from hermeneutical method and towards very brief sketches of Christology and ecclesiology. The second feature of historic Anabaptism, according to Tyler Tully is free church of confessing, baptized disciples. What type of Christology is inferred from the post-Christian Anabaptist approach developed from predominantly white male Christians? How faithful are these “new” Anabaptists to the Christologies of the first members of the Radical Reformation?  And lastly, how may a Black Liberationist Christology be compatible with Anabaptist studies of Christ’s personhood?

For the emergent Anabaptists of today’s post-Christendom, when it comes to approaching the Bible, the category of story is stressed above history.  The hazard in overemphasizing the mythos of the past is to make religious communities vulnerable to dreaming of an essentializing good ole days.  The good ole days in this perspective is that of the early church, united and on one front being persecuted from the margins in their witness of spreading the Good News. One possible safeguard against this hegemonic dream was the interpretation of the Tower of Babel by John Howard Yoder, and affirmed (sort of) by his student Stanley Hauerwas, where God “confusing” the languages of humanity actually liberates humanity from empire and monolingualism.  As I will attempt to demonstrate, not even the Pentecostal possibilities of this re-telling of Nimrod’s story can save White post-Christendom  Anabaptist theology from its own pitfalls.

When I was in seminary, the book that originally changed it all for me was Stanley Hauerwas’ and William Willimon’s Resident Aliens: Life In the Christian Colony.  Hauerwas, as a student of John Howard Yoder, takes his cues from his teacher in exploring three paradigms in ecclessiology: the ‘activist church,’ ‘the conversionist church,’ and the ‘confessing church.’  Taken from Yoder’s essay, “A People in the World: Theological Interpretation, Hauerwas criticizes the former two models of doing church, and praises the latter, or at least his own version of it.  The confessing church sees the local congregation as a counter-culture by first prioritizing “the congregation’s determination to worship Christ in all things” (page 45).  Confessing churches reject numbers games, filling the pulpits, and rather, they seek to make the category of faithfulness primary.  The Confessing Church is the group of visible martyrs, being salt on the earth, operating as Christ’s flashlight in a fallen, dark world.  

According to Hauerwas, the Confessing Church is the community of The Cross.  One practical example of a Confessing Church in action is a missional response to events that happen in international affairs.  Hauerwas suggested that a Christian response to the Libya crisis would be possibly for the United Methodist Church to send 1,000 missionaries to Libya  in spite of it being illegal to travel there.  Hauerwas when informed of that barrier, responded, “We can’t go there because we no longer have a church that produces people who can do something this bold. But we once did.”  Hauerwas and Willimon continue, “We would like a church that again asserts that God, not nations, rules the world, that the boundaries of God’s kingdom transcend those of Caesar, and that the main political task of the church is the formation of people who see clearly the cost of discipleship and are willing to pay the price” page 48.

For Hauerwas and Post-Christendom White Christians, the worship of Jesus and the remembrance of our story determines the Church’s task.  It is this worship that sets the boundary between Yoder’s and Hauerwas’ preferred way of seeing society, that of Church and World.  The Church’s nonviolent testimony is God’s response to a violent, fragmented world.  In The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer In Christian Ethics, Hauerwas describes this fragmentation as, “Life in a world of moral fragments is always on the edge of violence, since there are no means to ensure that moral argument in itself can resolve our moral conflicts.  No wonder we hunger for absolutes in such a world, for we rightly desire peace in ourselves and in our relations with one another.”  [Hauerwas continues,] “Moreover the fragmentation of our world is not only ‘out there,’ but it is also in our own souls.  Amid fragments it is extremely hard to maintain our moral identity.  We feel pulled in different directions by our various roles and convictions, unsure whether there is or can be any coherence to our lives.  We become divided selves, more easily tempted to violence since, being unsure of ourselves, we are easily threatened by any challenge that might rob us of what little sense of self we have achieved.”-pages 5-6

Taking some of his cues from Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, Hauerwas takes us on a journey in virtue ethics all the while providing a rebuttal to Christian realism.  Christ Jesus is the embodiment of God’s Kingdom .  Jesus performs the story of Israel in his offices of priest, king, and prophet (see Chapter 5: Jesus: The Presence of the Peaceable Kingdom).  While his discussion of Christ and discipleship originally focuses on what the Protestant Reformers call the Munus Triplex, the three offices of Christ, really what Hauerwas reduces the tradition to is actually two offices, that of Priest and King.  Christ is only prophet to the extent that he is the Chosen Servant to die ala the Servant stories in Isaiah (page 78).  This neglect of the traditional understanding of Christ as prophet  has larger implications for White Post-Christendom ecclesiology.

IMO, Stanley Hauerwas, and subsequently Anabaptist thinkers after him, have slightly modified John Howard Yoder’s notion of a Confessing Church to fit a more hierarchal, sacramental church structure.  Whether Hauerwas’ vision for THE CHURCH is eschatological in  a future sense or a present descriptor, I wish not to debate here.  What I will say is that Yoder’s ecclesiology was informed primarily by the founders of the Radical Reformation.  The earliest debates between the Anabaptists and their interlocuters, Catholics and Protestant Reformers respectively, revolved around the nature of baptism, believers’ baptism versus infant baptism.  The consequences of denying the power of original sin as a biological impediment of human nature was usually imprisonment, followed by beheading.  Claiming inspiration from the Holy Spirit, the Anabaptists ferverently spread the message against deadly opposition.  Preaching Good News inspite of the very real specter of death was seen as their participation in the Third Baptism, the Baptism of Blood/Martyrdom.

What was meant to be a mockery of Anabaptists (being re-baptized, and then finding themselves drowned to death for their beliefs), the Third Baptism became a marker of the Radical Reformers’ theology; in short, discipleship meant the re-positioning of the believer’  bodies, even to the point of death.  In Scripture, Christ’s witness is shown in water baptism, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and Blood Baptism (bodily sacrifice) ; see for example 1st John 5:6-8.  One example of this martyrdom is the story of Balthasar Hubmaier, who as he was about to be burned at the stake, reportedly said, ‘Oh salt me well, salt me well.”  This gives a new meaning to the phrase “salt of the earth” for when salt is placed on a wound of our skin, it burns.  As Jesus said according to Mark, “For everyone will be salted with fire” (9:49), or in some texts, “every sacrifice will be salted with salt.”

I don’t want to dismiss the significance of the Baptisms of Water and of Spirit, but for my purposes since I want to talk about discipleship, and what would an interdenominational Radical Reformation movement look like, I will prefer to discuss Blood Baptism.  Water baptisms are marks of what local congregations you are a part of, who will keep you accountable in your Christian walk from birth to death.  The Spirit Baptism is more about God personally interacting with you on an individual level, as a seal of salvation as well as a Guide to help you in the process of personal sanctification.  The Third Baptism is the place where we can see another intersection between Black Liberation Theology and Anabaptism.

Because Hauerwas and company neglect to see the sources of Yoder’s ecclesiology (the Radical Reformation), they have appropriated in a problematic direction.  The example Hauerwas gave of a Confessing Church in action, the UMC (a predominantly white-lead institution) invading an African country in the Two-Thirds world is a small glimpse of a colonizing ecclessiological gaze that narrative postliberal theologians could have without the aid of Liberation Theology.  As I mentioned in part one of this series, John Howard Yoder preferred the category of story over history.  Historical questions, he claimed, weren’t being dismissed, they just weren’t the focus of his work.  However, Yoder did dismiss the criticisms of The Politics of Jesus by Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza in her Bread Not Stone: The Challenge of Feminist Biblical Interpretation.  While Schussler-Fiorenza and historical critics wanted to talk about the historical context of the household codes, Yoder chose time and again to derail the discussion by claiming to be concerned for the “christological component” of the early Church’s action.  In other words, narrative and therefore, heretical Docetism prevails.  

The notion of us humans being “storytellers,” simply isn’t that innocent at all.  Narrative needs historical context, and historians need people’s stories.  There needs to be a reciprocal, dialogical approach to Christology and ecclesiology in this regard. Imagine a Confessing Church that not only praised the Living God in awe of God’s work revealed in Christ’s life, but also a church that confessed  a politics that was historically aware in the quest to practice neighborly love. In the words of Drew Hart,

The Third Baptism is not only a mark of what has historically happened to faithful Christian witnesses, but it is also something that is DONE BY persons claiming to be members of Christ’s church.  An #AnaBlacktivist ecclesiology would carry on the memories of Blood Baptisms in history, initiated by both secular agencies as well as Constantinian White Supremacist religionists.  James Cone in Black Theology and Black Power described these blood baptisms in existential terms. “absurdity arises as a man confronts the world and looks for meaning.  […] Absurdity arises as the black man seeks to understand his place in the white world.  The black man does not view himself as absurd; he views himself as human.  But he meets the white world and its values, he is confronted with an almighty NO and is defined as a thing. This produces an absurdity.”  – page 11. 

Unfortunately because emergence Christianity’s discounting of the historical Radical Reformation tradition of The Third Baptism (while appropriating the title of Anabaptist I may add), I fear that the new Anabaptists will just be repeating the same imperial Christianity they seek to both avoid as well as oppose.  As long as White Supremacy is not confronted, those Libyans [ahem, or Nigerians] overseas will be looked upon as Things to be missionally converted rather than human beings to be loved.  The message of Black Liberation is summed up in its definition of freedom: “The man of Black Power will not rest until the oppressor recognizes him for what he is– man.  He further knows that in this campaign for human dignity, freedom is not a gift but a right worth dying for” page 12.

The Anti-Imperial Confessing church then, is one that “continually to ask: ‘Who in the community does not live according to the spirit of Christ? This is the kind of question which was so important to the sixteenth century Anabaptists, and it must be vital for the Church of any age.”- page 70.  If “the true church of Christ must define clearly through its members the meaning of God’s act in Christ,” then we as believers must know who Christ is, as priest, prophet, and king. The Messiah’s reigning presence is found among the poor and imprisoned.  Christ Jesus as priest is the Suffering Servant of God, as “an oppressed being who has taken on that very form of human existence that is representation of human misery” A Black Theology of Liberation, page 129.  As prophet, Jesus stands unambiguously on the side of the oppressed as did the major and minor prophets during the rule of Israel’s monarchs. Jesus the Liberator opposes the history of Christendom itself, “at least from the time of Constantine” “a history of human enslavement” (page 123).

Black Liberation Theology provides another corrective for White postliberal Anabaptist Christology, the third office of Christ as publically confrontational prophet. The 24th Question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, How doth Christ execute the office of prophet? and the answer is Christ executeth the office of a prophet, in revealing to us, by his word and Spirit, the Will of God for our Salvation. In the Old Testament, the prophets’ words could not be separated from their deeds, because in many instances, God ordered them to provide symbolic actions like with Ezekiel.  Jesus’ prophetic office is deeply rooted in the tradition of Jeremiah, Moses, Amos, and Isaiah, opposing the rulers and kings of this age with direct action lead by the Spirit of YHWH.   If there is to be an #AnaBlacktivist ecclesiology, it must profess a Confessing Church of Creative Disciples free to remember the histories of Blood Baptisms and partake in the prophetic ministry of Christ Jesus.

This is the third 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

Anabaptist Theology & Black Power: Intro #AnaBlacktivism

In the recent decade since September 11th, 2001, there has been a surge of Christians in the church, the academy, and online the have taken up the label of “AnaBaptist.”  For many evangelicals, this moniker is a symbol to separate themselves from their parents’ version of Christianity.  The history of the Radical Reformation is an immense departure from the Protestant and Catholic Reformations.  It is one of beheadings, persecution, tears, exiles, and furious debates.  The sufferings of the early Anabaptists as well as the past and present oppression faced by African Americans (and persons of color) are bound up in the history of The Cross.  Given the fact that the historic struggle against White Supremacist Constantinian Christendom is something that Anabaptist theologians and Black Liberationists have in common, one would think that these would be natural allies.  Unfortunately, this is has not been the case.

In fact, the opposite has been true.  In texts and online, many white emergent church leaders who self-identify as Anabaptist dismiss liberation theology as “inherently violent.”  When pushed further, as I have on occasion, these leaders share documents from written by Joseph Ratzinger, when he served as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.  What is excluded from the discussion was any mention of the imperial violence that Liberation theologians and their communities experienced, particularly by way of the U.S. American military.  On the other end of the spectrum, because of the supremacist narratives guiding the contemporary appropriation of Anabaptist theology, Black liberationists have dismissed nonviolence as a theology and an ethic because of the consistent failure of  Anabaptist missional leaders to remember the suffering of the colonized appropriately.

In this series for next, I hope to articulate my view about how the values of the Radical Reformation and Black Liberationist theology are reconcilable, and more importantly, why both traditions need each other.  This would include an inclusive vision of what it means to participate in the Radical Reformation across racial, class, and denominational lines, without dropping any of the Anabaptist Distinctives that Tyler Tully identified: A) A Jesus Centered Lens in reading all of Scripture; B) A Confessing, Free Church of Baptized Jesus Followers, and C) Living Out Moral Agency as Participants in the Triune God’s Shalom, or as Tyler put it best the non-violent lifestyle that  means “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.”

I shall examine each of these three Anabaptist Distinctives as they relate to Black Liberation theology.  One may say that this series is an AnaBlacktivist Manifesto, with basic distinctives for #AnaBlacktivism.  

 

This is the first 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