Thursday, 22 August 2013

War, Violence and Imagination

I once heard Stanley Hauerwas say, 'The reason I'm a pacifist is because I'm a violent son of a bitch.'

We rarely recognise within ourselves how filled with hate, resentment and violence we are.  Yet when we try and imagine alternatives to violence we struggle to move with the Wind of the Spirit in His creativity in bringing beauty out of chaos.

So as we look at the media reports of Syria, Egypt or at home we do not see any other alternative than violent ways of dealing with the oppression, injustice and murder of innocents.

The UK and USA have deep messianic complex whereby they often believe that they can ride in on their white rockets, slay the oppressor and release the prisoners leaving a trail of bloodied corpses, bullet shells and 'democracy' of freedom.

And many of us consign ourselves to
believing that, although we don't like the violence used, we cannot see any other alternative to helping real people in real danger and oppression. Yet so blunted is our imagination that any other alternative feels as impossible as cutting down a tree with butter knife.  So quenched is our creativity that another way to violence seems as vile as drinking sand.

Nonviolence has a strong and rich history within the Christian Church.  Tertullian (c. 155 - c. 225) said 'The soul cannot be beholden to two masters, God and Caeser...the Lord, by taking away Peter's sword, disarmed every solider thereafter.' (On Idolatry 19)  Origen (c. 185 - c. 253) says,

'[Jesus] considered it contrary to his divinely inspired legislation to approve of any kind of homicide whatsoever.  If Christians had started with a revolt, they would never have submitted to the kind of peaceful laws which permitted them to be slaughtered "like sheep" (Ps. 44.11) and which made the incapable of taking vengeance on their persecutors because they followed the law of gentleness and love...Jesus' commands to beat into ploughshares the rational swords of conflict and arrogance and to change into pruning hooks those spears that we used to fight with.  For no longer do we take up the sword against any nation, nor do we learn the art of war any more.' (Against Celsus 3.7, 5.33)

Indeed, throughout Church history we see disciples of Jesus committed to nonviolence and alternatives to war.

Jesus calls us to pray for those who persecute us, to pray for our enemies, to pray and not retaliate. His birth in a stable, vulnerable to death all around him calls us to imagine how we, as his disciples, might be vulnerable to the death all around us and yet not seek to falsely believe we can defeat death with our violence.
His life, his death, his resurrection calls the Church to see the violent oppressor as a 'positively privileged object of love.' (John Howard Yoder, What Would You Do If? p 99)

We often only see the violent option, yet Jesus calls us to another way, to allow our imaginations to be stretched and challenged, to see that nonviolence is a way because He is the Way and He has walked nonviolently before us and called us to follow Him.

How we release the captives, restrain the oppressor, protect the vulnerable and work for peace in nonviolent ways calls for us to listen to the Spirit, take seriously the teachings of Jesus and be brave and active in our pursuit of another way.

I'm sure some will be saying, 'yes, but what about the children being killed in...'  Firstly, we are killing our own children in the West through violence, so we need to be truthful about this.  Secondly, we need to support the church in war torn places in prayer and support to be faithful.  Thirdly, the Way of Christ does not mean security or protection.  Fourthly, we need to trust God.

I know that is not a satisfactory answer because truthfully, there is no easy answer, but we need to begin to search for other ways than violence.

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