Tag Archives: The Confessing Church

Would Jesus punch a Nazi?

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 )

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