Monday, December 27, 2010

Paul the Pacifist (?)

In the somewhat near future, I'll be leading the congregation through a study of Romans. I've started the long process of preparing however, and at the advice of the NT professor at Nazarene Theological Seminary, I'm starting my study with Reading Paul.

An early section discusses Paul's conversion. Paul was converted from the mission of violently eliminating and protecting purity of doctrine and commitment to God (by killing those wayward Jews who worshipped a cursed man, Jesus) to proclaiming the inclusive and life-changing Kingdom and gospel of Jesus through means that were nonviolent to his enemies but resulted in violence to himself. Paul had "the combination of zealous religiosity and violence that is something with which we are all too familiar today." But after Paul's conversion, he "abandoned his former, violent zeal for a zeal for the Lord defined by accepting rather than inflicting suffering."

Author Micheal Gorman goes on to pen this gem of a section:
"It is easy to think of Paul as a preacher or pastor, even as an example. It is more difficult for us to see him as a critic of empire or a peacemaker, much less a pacifist. Yet the turn to nonviolence is at the very heart of Paul's conversion, and his gospel. Paul's pacifism, as we will see further in chapter 11, was rooted in his gospel's proclamation of how God in Christ had treated enemies and insurgents against the divine order with reconciling, suffering love (Romans 3:9-26; 5:6-11; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19). This nonviolent divine love was then manifested in Paul's own practice of absorbing violence without retaliation (1 Corinthians 4:10-14) and communicated to his churches as the only appropriate lifestyle for those converted by and to the love of God (1 Thessalonians 5:15; Romans 12:9-21). We do not hear the whole gospel according to Paul - or perhaps we do not hear it at all- if we do not hear this essential dimension. Nonviolence is not negotiable for Paul the convert and apostle.

"In Paul's day, Jewish zealous nationalism that focused on Israel's internal purity was not the only temptation to violence. That nationalistic zeal was also directed outwardly, toward an oppressive, violent regime - the imperial power of Rome. Paul would become a critic (at least an implicit one) of that form of violence, too - violence in the name of justice, peace, and security. Based on a misinterpretation of Romans 13:1-7, Paul is often portrayed as a political conservative who supported Rome, and perhaps all forms of political authority, even tyranny. However, like Jesus, he was a critic of imperial values such as domination and of imperial claims like diving status for emperors and divine blessing on the empire's ambitions. Paul mocked the Roman claim of providing pax et securitas (1 Thessalonians 5:3), offered an alternative form of divine justice, and proclaimed as Lord a criminal crucified by a Roman power - rather than Roman power incarnate (the emperor). A politics of subversion, not intentional but as an inevitable consequence of the gospel, is central to Paul and to those who read his letters as Scripture. In that sense, Paul was a good, prophetic Jew."

It seems that the parts of the North American church who have been swept along by the idolatrous tide of nationalism and put their faith in the myth of redemptive violence rather than the crucified-but-now-risen Lamb desperately need to rediscover the Paul of Scripture.

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