Earlier today, Tim had some questions for pacifists of the Anabaptist variety, and explained why he is not, or has never been pacifist. Since one of our common starting points is the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I wish to offer a response, with Bonhoeffer, and work my way out into how and why I am a proponent of Christian nonviolence. At the conclusion, I wish not to convert Tim, but hopefully invite him to consider, as he is working out his “non-pacifism” that Tim consider the Just War Tradition within Christianity.
In Bonhoeffer’s ETHICS, his first few pages are written to convince us as Christians “invalidate the knowledge of good and evil” as those who do ethical reflection do (page 17). How do we know to behave in this world? For Bonhoeffer, it is within the very life of the Godhead (18). After making these claims, Bonhoeffer goes into the stories of creation and the traditional fall (Genesis 1-3). God alone is good, and Christ in complete union with that good, places a demand on us (30). Because of our brokenness, we cannot act as judges; for only God can judge me, as Tupac once said.
Tim’s case against the new high-church pacifisms inspired from the Duke school (if we can indeed name a place) is this; that pacifists place under judgment even the oppressed who wish to defend themselves, who care nothing for what we learn in
cemetary seminary. For Tim, it is “in talking to a refugee, a Christian man, who was part of a militia in Burma. He carried a gun to protect his village–his family–from slaughter at the hands of the military. My pacifist ideas would have seemed hollow and trite to him, and I knew that, so I kept them to myself, and realized a few hours after the conversation that I wasn’t really a pacifist–any longer, or, if you prefer, I realized I never was.”
Tim, in his post and subsequent comments, does not argue for the necessity of violence. This, I would argue, is the foundation of the Christian nonviolence ethic. Violence is a choice, and never needed per se. It is not something programmed into the male biology where, in order to perform masculinity, men have to fulfill the need to exert violence towards others. My concern for Tim’s position is that while it is neighbor-centered, the question remains, we have so many neighbors, and therefore a multiplicity of demands, and so I must ask, whose demands do we submit our duty to? As a Christian proponent of nonviolence, I do not know what good or evil is apart from the Triune God. When it comes to the bloody slave revolts of the Nat Turners of the world, I simply refuse to judge them. Turner claims, according to some accounts, that God spoke to him, using the words in Deuteronomy and Ezekiel. Who am I to judge this man? To judge his experience, is to exert violence toward his very being.
Now, the problem with the high-church pacifism of glory that Tim McGee critiques is that THE CHURCH is set up as the judge of human action, and that pacifism is seen as the only way, as counter-cultural to American nationalism. Honestly, I have serious questions for Stanley Hauerwas’ reading of Bonhoeffer, and I do not think that Bonhoeffer would ever see THE CHURCH as God’s kingdom here on earth. Sure, Bonhoeffer affirmed community, rejected the “To Each His/Her Own” libertinism of Western European culture.
Further more, anti-nationalist Anabaptist pacifism can only take us so far if stuck in upper-Middle class church circles. Perhaps I am seeking a nonviolent Christianity that not only seeks to address the national community, as such, but also the gender, race, and class violence that THE CHURCH is responsible for as well. Any talks of nonviolence abstracted from realities of racial, class and sexual oppression should be considered a pacifism for the status quo. There are forms of pacifism that are this-worldly, that seek to keep us encapsulated in the way things have always been done. The anabaptist/mennonite traditions are not the only Christian traditions that have promoted pacifism; often overlooked is the Spirit-filled pacifism of historical Pentecostalism; Bishop G.E. Patterson, of the Church of God in Christ wrote President Bush prior to the Invasion in Iraq, showing his dissent. It is exclusive forms of pacifisms (the chic & relevant white lead anabaptism) that I can agree with Tim, that they may be “part of a social power sustained through death.”
Along the lines of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and perhaps the Logos Christology of early Christianities, perhaps for those Christians who wish to engage the world nonviolently should repent, and confess of the violences we do not wish to speak of. The Other that places a demand upon our bodies is the very scarred body of the Word of YHWH. It is only in this Wisdom can we as Christians know what is evil and what is good.
It is my hope that even if Tim has chosen a different path, even though we may have a similar foundation on the non-necessity of violence as well as the invalidity of all human knowing of the good or evil, that he could perhaps take up the Just War Tradition. Last week, I did a 2 part series on Daniel M. Bell’s Just War as Christian Discipleship. In part two, I tried to re-imagine the Just War Tradition, rather as something that has a “CENTER” at all, but something from the margins. While Just Warriors claim that they are only comfortable with the idea of limited war, this ceases to be the case when they approve of colonization as a means of waging war. Empire building is actually a means of going to war perpetually, for the battle lines are drawn each day, between colonizer and the colonized.
Tim has already dismissed (and rightly so) the Natural Law tradition in agreement with Bonhoeffer; yet the Just War Tradition relies heavily on NLT. If Tim does so choose to go the JWT route, I hope that he can start with a praxis founded upon the experiences of the crucified populations of the world.
I don’t think that Tim is wrong in the way he makes his case, but his conclusions do not necessarily have to be true.
I hope we can continue this dialogue.