Monday, January 27, 2014

The cruelty of ideological pacifism

There's no question that war arises in us from no good place - as James 4:1-2 says, from our lusts that war in our members.  So Mennonites and others in the Anabaptist tradition have rightly opposed the love of war and rationalizations for it that generally characterize other Christians.  But the apostles and Jesus were not that categorical about it, and the prophets and Moses certainly were not.

This blog post shows how non-resistance and pacifism as generally understood in that tradition is cruel and oppressive, why the more nuanced view in the Bible makes more sense:

From the blog post:

Especially poignant are the connections Brandt draws between the teachings of our Mennonite faith and the cultivation,  protection and even encouragement of sexually predatory behavior in our communities. From the time I was small the teachings were clear:

  • immediately forgive anyone for anything no matter the cost to yourself
  • God does not want us to bring lawsuits against persons who break the law
  • disobeying our parents threatens our salvation
  • if we want to truly live as Jesus lived we must love our enemies no matter how heinous the crime against us
  • we must never, ever become angry
  • we must never, ever engage in combative behavior (including self-protection) that might fuel a conflict
  • we must always return evil with good
  • we dress modestly so as not to cause men to sin 
It's not non-violence to encourage oppression and iniquity.  Many times this means guaranteeing that they won't be reported to the civil authorities, which is to say, obstruction of justice.

Yes, the Bible teaches that we are to judge our own disputes and not have the courts of the unjust straighten out those disputes.  But it is written again that the authorities do not bear the sword for nothing, that God has ordained them to punish evil - indeed that they are the ministers of God for our good.  And Paul was talking this way about imperial Rome!

Let's take the above points one at a time:

1. We do need to forgive people promptly, but that can seldom be immediate because it often takes time even to sort out what wrong has been done.  So this is always a process and often rather lengthy if done right.  Moreover, there are different sorts of forgiveness, just as there are different levels of relationship.

There is that spoken of in Romans 12, simply recognizing that vengeance is the Lord's and that we simply lack jurisdiction.  It's the Lord's, and in stepping out of the vengeance business, we leave place for God's wrath.  This is not exactly letting them off.  From this Paul moves straight to Romans 13, where he says to be in subjection to the civil authorities, which means reporting to them criminal activity, including abuse within our ostensibly Christian communities.

Then there is the requirement that we show mercy because we too need mercy.  Here forgiveness is simply paying our insurance, forgiving because we need to be forgiven.  That doesn't mean letting people get away with doing evil, just as God may let me escape punishment, but not so I can keep it up.

And beyond this, when someone acknowledges wrongdoing and wants to make things right, this leads to a degree of forgiveness that we don't get if we say we have no sin.  That's how it works with God, and we can do no more ourselves.

2.  Actually, the Bible discourages us from bringing suit over being wronged, and forbids us to bring actions in the world and not before the saints.  But what if the "saints" decline to judge rightly?  And Paul is not talking here about lawbreaking, still less actual crimes such as sexual assault.  People who do such things are to be put out - in fact, to be judged outside.

3.  With disobeying parents, it depends what we're disobeying.  It remains that we ought to obey God and not men.  Asa went so far as to depose his mother from being queen mother, and was commended for it.  And when Mary went with the rest of the family to fetch Jesus so as to lock him up, Jesus blew them off.

4.  Anger resides in the bosom of fools.  It's not something to delight in.  But people in the Bible, including Jesus, were frequently angry, and rightly so.

5.  "There is a time for war and a time for peace."  We need to seek peace and pursue it.  However, "evil men praise the wicked, but the those who keep the law strive against them."

6.  The Bible doesn't say we must always "return evil with good," which I suppose means returning good for evil.  It says that we are not to return evil for evil but to overcome evil with good.  Overcoming evil and enabling evil - making the wicked comfortable - are very different things.  And good isn't smooth and pleasant; it's good, and the wicked don't like it.  Jesus didn't end up on a cross by making nice on the wicked.

7.  Failing to dress modestly doesn't cause men to sin.  They're drawn aside by their own lust and enticed (James 1:13).  Dressing modestly is prudent; I wear a suit when I go to hearing, which I never do otherwise.

The Bible says to speak for the mute and defend the weak.  For me that means applying legal pressure to wicked school administrators and even litigating against them.  Those who wish to act that way do not like me, and as Franklin Roosevelt said, "I welcome their hatred."  May I earn the hatred of such every day.

But at the same time, I need to seek peace and pursue it.  Fighting is right only when failing to fight is dishonorable.  God does not delight in war.  But that is not an ideology into which we jam human beings no matter the injustice.   Peace is the disposition to treat others as we want to be treated, not using unnecessary roughness.  It even means wanting others to restrain me if I need it in the same way that I should sometimes restrain others.

Jesus said that they've made the Lord's house into a den of thieves.  These people using the Bible to make God's house a refuge for abusers and even rapists are doing exactly the same thing.  They do so whenever they give refuge to the wicked, whatever the excuse.  The religious people of the gospels, who nailed Jesus to a cross, are still around, still using religion to crucify him afresh.  We need not fear them.


Anonymous Marshall said...

recalling that the ekklesia (church) is not a sect. If Mennonites (a sect) are unable to address a matter, the ekklesia may be found elsewhere. You will not find ekklesia in a world system, such as the world's systems of what they call justice. The world does not know what to do with perverse criminals; they only know experiment and brutality. God knows what is ideal, and only among His council will we be sharing in His justice.

1/30/2014 8:17 AM  
Blogger Peter Attwood said...

The author of the quoted blog post is Barbra Graber. Yo will also find Di Brandt's poem there, well worth thinking about. Love is used to mean many things, some pretty nasty - a word often taken in vain.

1/30/2014 4:19 PM  

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