Sunday, August 10, 2014

Christ and Violence by Ronald J Sider

I just finished a short but powerful book by Ronald Sider, Christ and Violence.
Here are some of the better quotes from this book.

Pg. 24
[Jesus] informed Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world in one specific regard – namely that His followers did not use violence (John 18:36).  Obviously He did not mean that the messianic kingdom He had inaugurated had nothing to do with the earth.  That would have contradicted His central announcement of the eschatological Jubilee which He expected His followers to begin living.  But He did mean that He would not establish His kingdom by the sword.
To a people so oppressed by foreign conquerors that repeatedly over the previous two centuries they had resorted to violent rebellion, Jesus gave the unprecedented command: “Love your enemies.” 

Pg. 25
Jesus’ way is entirely different.  For the members of Jesus’ beginning messianic kingdom, neighbor love must extend beyond the limited circle of the people of Israel, beyond the limited circle of the new people of God!  All people everywhere are neighbors to Jesus’ followers and therefore are to be actively loved.  And that even extends to enemies – even violent oppressive foreign conquerors!
It is exegetically impossible to follow [Martin] Luther’s two kingdom analysis and restrict the application of these verses on love of enemies to some personal sphere and deny their application to violence in the public sphere.
As Eduard Schweitzer says in his commentary on Matthew, “There is not the slightest hint of any realm where the disciple is not bound by the words of Jesus.”
Pg. 27
The radical, costly character of Jesus’ call for love toward enemies certainly tempts us to decisively weaken Jesus’ message by labeling it an impossible ideal, relegating it to the millennium, or limiting its application of personal relationships.  But that is to misread both the text and the concrete historical context in which Jesus lived and spoke.  In his original setting, Jesus advocated love toward enemies as His specific political response to centuries of violence and to the contemporary Zealot’s call for violent revolution.  And He spoke as one who claimed to be the Messiah of Israel.  His messianic kingdom was already breaking into the present, and therefore His disciples should and could live out the values of the New Age.
To be sure, He did not say that one should practice loving nonviolence because it would always instantly transform enemies into bosom friends.  The cross stands as a harsh reminder that love for enemies does not always work – at least in the short run. 
Pg. 30
It was the resurrection which convinced the discouraged disciples that in spite of the cross, Jesus’ claims and His announcement of the messianic kingdom were still valid.

Pg. 34
Because Jesus commanded His followers to love their enemies and then died as the incarnate Son to demonstrate that God reconciles His enemies by suffering love, any rejection of the nonviolent way in human relations involves a heretical doctrine of the atonement.  If God in Christ reconciled His enemies by suffering servanthood, then those who want to follow Christ faithfully, dare not treat their enemies in any other way.
It is a tragedy of our time that many of those who appropriate the biblical understanding of Christ’s vicarious cross fail to see its direct implications for the problem of war and violence.  And it is equally tragic that some of those who most emphasize pacifism and nonviolence fail to ground it in Christ’s vicarious atonement…
Certainly the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the world was a unique element of His cross that could never be repeated. But that fact never prevented the New Testament authors from discerning in the cross a decisive ethical clue for the Christian’s approach to opponents and enemies, indeed even friends, spouses, and fellow members of Christ’s body.

Pg. 38
In every strand of New Testament literature and with reference to every kind of situation (whether family, church, state, or employment), the way of the cross applies.  Jesus’ cross, where He practiced what He had preached about love for one’s enemies, becomes the Christian norm for every area of life.  Only if one holds biblical authority to irrelevant that one can ignore explicit, regularly repeated scriptural teaching; only if one so disregards Christ’s atonement that one rejects God’s way of dealing with enemies; only then can one forsake the cross for the sword.
To be sure, church history is a sad story of Christians doing precisely that.  After the first three centuries when almost all Christians refused to participate in warfare, Christians repeatedly invented ways to justify violence.
And each of us if we think honestly about the costly implications of suffering servanthood, will understand within ourselves how temptingly plausible it is to consider Jesus’ nonviolent way in an impossible ideal, a utopian vision practiced only in the millennium, or some idealistic teaching intended only for personal relationships. But if one recalls Jesus’ historical context, one simply cannot assert that this is what Jesus Himself meant.  Claiming to be their Messiah, He came to an oppressed people ready to use violence to drive out their oppressors.  But He advocated love for enemies as God’s method for ushering in the coming Kingdom.  And He submitted to Roman crucifixion to reconcile His enemies.

Pg. 44
I think activist nonviolence rather than nonresistance is the more faithful application of the New Testament teaching.

Pg. 45
Lethal violence is different.  When one kills another person, one treats him as a thing, not a person.  Hence Jesus’ teaching excludes lethal violence as an acceptable option for Christians.

Pg. 47
Indeed, one should love one’s enemies, even at great personal cost.  The good of the other person, not one’s own needs or rights, are decisive.

Pg. 48
Thus Jesus’ saying is compatible with the use of economic, legal, or political power to oppose evil as long as love for the oppressor as well as the oppressed is both the means and the end.

Pg. 55
This eschatological hope for the restoration of the whole of creation including the principalities and powers underlines the fact that the Christian dare not choose between a creation ethic and a kingdom ethic.

Pg. 57
To announce Christ’s lordship to the principalities and powers is to tell governments that they are not sovereign…
Again, it is clear that merely to witness in a biblical way to the principalities and powers is to engage in dangerous, subversive political activity.
But is that all we are to do? Is it correct to say that we should witness to the state and other principalities and powers but not take the offensive against them?  I think not.  I doubt that the absence of offensive weapons in Ephesians 6:10-20 means that we are merely to defend ourselves against the powers.  Everyone agrees that we are to witness boldly to the powers.  But surely that is an offensive act, not a defensive one.  One can take the offensive with words just as much as with actions.  Ephesians 6 calls us to arm ourselves with the truth, with the gospel, and with the Word of God.  The kind of words we are summoned to speak to the powers surely involves taking the offensive unless one wrongly supposes that bold proclamation is merely a defensive approach.

Pg. 59
In reference to Romans 13
Neither Jesus nor the early church ever supposed that to be subject to government meant to obey its every command.  Jesus and the apostles knew that whenever government commanded what was contrary to God’s command, it must be disobeyed.  “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29) was their working principle.  But even in their refusal to obey, even in their civil disobedience, they continued to be subject to government.  They did not rebel.  They did not take up the sword to overthrow government.  On the other hand, when government commanded things contrary to God’s will they regularly refused to obey, and then accepted the penalty for their disobedience.

Pg. 60
We should resist the evils promoted or perpetuated by governments.  We dare not rebel against government and cast off its authority.  We can and should try to make our government – no matter how good or bad it is – more just.  We dare not – however unjust it may be – try to destroy it.  We can engage in political lobbying, voter power, economic boycott, political demonstration, civil disobedience, tax refusal, even total noncooperation and still be subject to our government.  As long as the methods are those of loving nonviolence, as long as we refuse to consider the oppressor an enemy, as long as we submissively reject rebellion and instead respectfully accept the penalties that are imposed, we remain subject to government.  Scripture commands us always to be subject to government.  It does not command us to obey without condition.  And wholehearted subjection to government is fully compatible with the most vigorous nonviolent resistance to governmental injustice because the goal is not rebellion but improvement of the government to which was are subject precisely as we resist.

Pg. 63
Precisely as we plunge deeper into the centers of power of secular society, we will need even more urgently to strengthen the church as a counterculture of Christians whose visible commitment to the radical values of Jesus’ new kingdom is so uncompromising that the church’s very existence represents a fundamental challenge to surrounding society.  Unless we are based in that kind of kingdom counterculture, our movement into society will be useless because we will merely become one more empty echo of an unjust status quo. But that need not happen if we maintain the sharp biblical distinction between the church and the world and if our primary identity and allegiance remains with Jesus’ new community of believers.
Pg. 67
Probably few people reading this book will have killed another person.  Many would choose going to jail rather than going to war.  But joining the army is not the only way to participate in murder.  Established economic structures can destroy people by the millions.  Slavery did that.  Child labor did that.  Both were as legal as they were lethal.  Legal structures can be violent.  Therefore we must face a very painful question: Do we participate in economic structures that help destroy millions of people each year?

Pg. 68
Not even the Dominicans who work on the sugar plantations have profited.  The sugar plantation workers earned less in real wages in 1978 than they did in 1968 – in part because the Dominican government installed by U.S. marines have destroyed the cane cutters’ labor union.  The U.S. has invested more money per capita for police training in the Dominican Republic than in any other Latin American country.  And those police have made widespread use of torture to suppress any opposition to the dictatorship which ruled for over a decade.  Fortunately that government was replaced in 1978, thanks in part to President Carter’s vigorous support of the results of an election which the armed forces wanted to annul.  But that former government has made it possible for Gulf and Western to use a vast part of the country’s best land to grow sugar for you and me at a handsome profit to the company.
Now who is responsible for the thousands of Dominican children who die each year of malnutrition?  Just the top leaders at Gulf and Western?  Just the Dominican Republic’s elite who profit by cooperatin with Gulf and Western?  Or are you and I also implicated?
Jacques Ellul has pointed out that unjust economic systems can be as violent as rampaging armies:  “I maintain that all kinds of violence are the same... the violence of the soldier who kills, the revolutionary who assassinates; it is true also of economic violence – the violence of the privileged proprietor against his workers, of the ‘haves’ against the ‘have-nots;’ the violence done in international and economic relations between our societies and those of the third world; the violence done through powerful coporations which exploit the resources of a country that is unable to defend itself.”  One can only agree with James Douglass:
“In the contemporary world of affluence and poverty, where man’s major crime is murder by privilege, revolution against the established order is the criterion of a living faith.  ‘Truly I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me’ (Matt. 25:45).  The murder of Christ continues.  Great societies build on dying men.”

Unfortunately it is not true that our society’s wealth is simply the result of God’s blessing and hard work.  To a significant extent, our affluence depends on unjust economic structures that make us rich and Latin Americans hungry.  Fully one half of all the cultivable land in Central America is used to grow export crops (sugar, coffee, bananas, flowers, and the like) to sell to the U.S., Canada, and other rich nations.  That land ought to be used to grow food for the masses in Central America where 60 percent of the children die of malnutrition before they are five years old.  But it is used to grow sugar and coffee and bananas for North Americans because we can pay for it and the starving children’s parents cannot.

Pg. 70
There is an important difference between consciously willed, individual acts (like lying to a friend or committing an act of adultery) and participation in evil social structures.  Slavery is an example of the later.  So is the Victorian factory system where ten-year-old children worked twelve to sixteen hours a day.  Although both slavery and child labor were legal, they destroyed people by the millions.  They represent institutionalized violence or structural evil.  Tragically, most Christians seem to be more concerned with individual sinful acts than with participation in violent social structures.
But the Bible condemns both.  Speaking through His prophet Amos in Amos Chapter 2, the Lord declared,
This is what the Lord says:
“For three sins of Israel,
    even for four, I will not relent.
They sell the innocent for silver,
    and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor
    as on the dust of the ground
    and deny justice to the oppressed.
Father and son use the same girl
    and so profane my holy name.
Biblical scholars have shown that some kind of legal fiction underlies the phrase “selling the needy for a pair of sandals.”  This mistreatment of the poor was legal!  In one breath God condemns both adultery and legalized oppression of the poor.  Sexual sins and economic injustice are equally displeasing to God.
Some young activists have supposed that as long as they were fighting for the rights of minorities and opposing militarism, they were morally righteous regardless of how often they shacked up for the night with a guy or a girl in the movement.  Some of their elders, on the other hand have supposed that because they did not lie, steal, and fornicate, they were morally upright even though they lived in segregated communities and owned stock in companies that exploit the poor of the earth. God however, has shown that robbing one’s workers of a fair wage is just as sinful as robbing a bank. 
God clearly revealed that laws themselves are sometimes an abomination to him.
Psalm 94
20 Can a corrupt throne be allied with you—
    a throne that brings on misery by its decrees?
21 The wicked band together against the righteous
    and condemn the innocent to death.
22 But the Lord has become my fortress,
    and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.
23 He will repay them for their sins
    and destroy them for their wickedness;
    the Lord our God will destroy them.

pg. 72
God proclaims the same word through the prophet Isaiah:
Isaiah 10:1-4
Woe to those who make unjust laws,
    to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
    and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
    and robbing the fatherless.
What will you do on the day of reckoning,
    when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
    Where will you leave your riches?
Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives
    or fall among the slain.
Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
    his hand is still upraised.

There is one other aspect to institutionalized violence or structural evil which makes it especially pernicious.  It is so subtle that one can be ensnared almost without realizing it.
God inspired His prophet Amos to utter some of the harshest words in Scripture against the cultured, kind, upper-class women of his day:
Amos 4:1-2
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria,
    you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy
    and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”
The Sovereign Lord has sworn by his holiness:
    “The time will surely come
when you will be taken away with hooks,
    the last of you with fishhooks.
The women involved probably had no contact with the impoverished peasants. They may never have realized clearly that their gorgeous clothes and spirited parties were possible only  because of the seat and tears of toiling peasants.  In fact, they may even have been kind to individual peasants they met.  (Perhaps they gave them “Christmas baskets” – once  year).  But God called these privileged women cows because they profited from structural evil.  Hence they were personally and individually guilty before God.
We must conclude, I think, that if we are members of a privileged class that profits from structural violence and if we do nothing to try to change things, then we stand guilty before God.  Structural evil is just as sinful as personal evil.  And it hurts more people and is more subtle.

Pg. 76
We are all implicated in structural evil.  The patterns of international trade are unjust.  An affluent minority devours most of the earth’s nonrenewable natural resources.  And the food consumption patterns in the world are grossly lopsided.  Every North American benefits from these structural injustices.  Unless you have retreated to some isolated valley and grow or make everything you use, you participate in unjust structures which contribute directly to the hunger of a billion unhappy neighbors.
But that is not God’s last word to us. If there were no hope of forgiveness, admission of our complicity in guilt of this magnitude would be an act of despair.  But there is hope – if we repent. 

Pg. 77
We need change at three levels: 1) our personal lifestyles, 2) the church, and 3) secular society.  In each case, the goal is peacemaking… First we need to pursue simpler personal lifestyles.  As the Catholic saint, Elizabeth Seton, has said, “The rich must live more simply that the poor may simply life.”

Pg. 79
It is a farce to ask Washington to legislate what the church refuses to live.
The church should consist of communities of loving defiance.  Instead it consists largely of comfortable clubs of conformity.  A far-reaching reformation of the church is a prerequisite if the church today is to commit itself to Jesus’ mission of liberating the oppressed.
The God of the Bible is calling Christians today to live in fundamental nonconformity to contemporary society.  Affluent North American society is obsessed with materialism, sex, economic success and military might.  Things are more important than persons.  Job security and an annual salary increase matter more than starving children and oppressed peasants.  Paul’s warning to the Romans is especially pertinent today: “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its own mold” (Romans 12:2; Phillips).  Biblical revelation summons us to defy many of the basic values of our materialistic adulterous society.

Pg. 89
It is in that kind of [small group] setting – and perhaps only in that kind of setting – that the church today will be able to forge a faithful lifestyle for Christians in an Age of Hunger.  In small house-church settings, brothers and sisters can challenge each other’s affluent lifestyles.  They can discuss family finances and evaluate each others’ annual budgets.  Larger purchases (like houses, cars, and long vacations) can be evaluated honestly in terms of the needs of both the individuals involved and God’s poor around the world.  Tips for simple living can be shared.  Voting patterns that liberate the poor, jobs that are ecologically responsible, charitable donations that build self-reliance among the oppressed and direct actions campaigns that successfully challenge unjust multinational corporations – these and many other issues can be discuppes openly and honestly by persons who have pledged themselves to be brothers and sisters in Christ to each other.
My second proposal on the church begins with the assumption that it is a tragic farce for the church to ask Washington to legislate what it cannot persuade Christians to live.

Pg. 83
The United States has trained large numbers of police who have tortured thousands of people working for social justice in countries like Chile and Brazil.  Multinational corporations in the United States work very closely with the repressive governments.  Events in Brazil and Chile demonstrate that the United States will support dictatorships that use torture and do little for the poorest one half as long as those regimes are friendly to U.S. investments.

Pg. 85
Our most fundamental Christian confession is that Jesus is Lord.  But He won’t be Lord of our family life and allow radio and TV commercials to be Lord of our family budget and multinational corporations to be Lord of our business practices.  If Jesus is our Lord, then He must be Lord of our business practices, our economic lifestyle, Lord of our entire life.
The Historical Peace Churches are a biblical people who have opposed theological liberalism.  But still I’m afraid that we are in danger of falling into theological liberalism today.  We usually think of theological liberalism in connection with issues like the bodily resurrection and the deity of Jesus Christ.  And that is correct.  Theological liberals have fallen into terrible heresy in recent times by rejecting those basic doctrines of historic Christianity.  But notice why that happened.  Modern people became so iof impressed with modern science that they thought they could no longer believe in the miraculous.  So they discarded the supernatural aspects of Christianity and abandoned the resurrection and the divinity of Christ.  They allowed the values of surrounding society rather than biblical truth to shape their thinking and acting.  That is the essence of theological liberalism.  In our time, we are in desperate danger of repeating exactly the same mistake in the whole area of justice and the poor.  We are allowing surrounding society rather than Scripture to shape our values and life.  Have not our economic lifestyles and our attitudes toward the poor been shaped more by our affluent materialistic society than by Scripture – even though the Bible says as much about this set of issues as it does about the atonement or Christology?
If we want to escape theological liberalism, if our confession that Jesus is Lord is genuine, then we must cast aside the secular economic values of our materialistic society.  Now I know many of the people in our churches don’t want to do that.  They don’t want to hear the Bible’s radical call to costly discipleship.  But that simply raises in a more painful way for every church leader the basic question: Is Jesus really our Lord?
Many pastors, Sunday school superintendents, and other church leaders agree that we should be concerned with the poor and work for peace via justice.  They are willing to talk carefully about these things as long as the message is not too upsetting to the congregation, as long as it does not offend potential new members and hinder church growth.  But they don’t make it clear, as Jesus did, that we really have to choose between Jesus and Mammon.  They are afraid to teach and preach the clear biblical word that economic systems perpetrate instutionalized violence and murder because that would offend business people.  One wonders whether it is Jesus or church growth, whether it is Jesus or vocational security, whether it is Jesus or social acceptance who finally is our Lord.

Pg. 87
Is Jesus or surrounding society our Lord?  If we intend to follow the risen One, then I think we will discover that He calls us to be peacemakers through economic change – through more simple personal economic lifestyles, through more simple church lifestyles, and through action designed to change economic systems that produce violence by statute.

Pg. 99
I dream of a time when it will be the norm rather than the exception for our people to authenticate our word about peace with lives of costly, nonviolent identification with the oppressed.  For tens of thousands that will mean leaving comfortable rural or suburban surroundings to join the poor of the earth in their struggle for justice – by making our homes in the black or Spanish speaking inner cities, in the Appalachian Highlands, in unjust third word settings.  When tens of thousands of our people have done their homework so they are competent to discuss pending legislation with Senators, when tens of thousands of our people are going to jail, when we are being tortured and getting martyred in a nonviolent struggle for justice in the inner cities and the third world, then we will have the right to talk about nonviolence.
Of course, not all of us should move.  For others, identifying with the oppressed will mean talking and working against unjust structures here and abroad so persistently and single-mindedly that our scholarly societies, our professional colleagues, our business associates and political friends will discover that we worship the God of the poor not success, that we will accept social disgrace, professional failure, unemployment, even imprisonment for civil disobedience rather than forsake our identification with the oppressed.

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