Tripp York and Justin Bronson Barringer, eds.
A Faith Not Worth Fighting For: Addressing Commonly Asked Questions About Christian Nonviolence
Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2012
I sat here writing and rewriting a disclaimer for this book for thirty minutes before I came to the realization that if I have to write a disclaimer I’m probably just trying to hide my convictions to save myself some trouble. Lets be frank. I think there’s something convincing about Christian nonviolence. It’s hard to deny the force and centrality of Jesus’ teachings about nonresistance and love of one’s neighbors and enemies. That being said, I particularly liked what D. Stephen Long writes at the beginning of his chapter in this book:
In one sense I am uninterested in being a pacifist at all because I find so many kinds of pacifism unconvincing, if not silly. (18)
THANK YOU! Anyone who enlists pacifism as a badge of honor in some pollyannaish sentiment of good will is an idiot. (Full disclosure: I had to look the proper way to spell pollyannaish.) At the same time, the caricature of Christian “pacifism” as weak-willed, emasculated hippy-religion is equally false. Anyone sincerely interested in investigating the various ways in which Christians conceive, argue for, and practice non-violence would do well to start here. I hope that people read this book (or my representation of it) with an open, generous, but critical eye.
The editors, York and Barringer, want this book to blend academic rigor with accessible language and thought to provide a balanced response to the common, constant questions posed about/against Christian nonviolence. The format of the book is what I thought was brilliant about it before I even read it. Each of the chapter titles (and content) are just basic questions that come up in discussions of Christian nonviolence.
What about protecting innocents? There’s a chapter for that. What about honoring those in the military? There’s a chapter for that. What about Hitler? There’s a chapter for that. Didn’t Jesus overturn the tables and hit people with a whip? There’s a chapter for that. What about fighting wild animals? There’s not a chapter on that—there’s got to be a page limit eventually I suppose.
One thing worth noting, as Stanley Hauerwas does in his preface, is that all of the perspectives here have been shaped powerfully by the theology of the late Anabaptist theologian John Howard Yoder. In many ways Yoder is the grandfather of Christian nonviolent thought in America. Anyone who is intrigued by these essays (positively or negatively) should go read some Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus and some of his lesser-known essays to get a fuller sense of the meaning, rationale, and practical implications of Christian nonviolence.
There are several qualities of the essays in this book worth commending. The biggest thread that seemed to continue throughout all the essays is that Christian nonviolence issues out of a faith that takes serious the claim that Jesus rose from the dead and conquered death. In that sense Christian faith, as it did in powerful ways in the first few centuries of its existence, must take seriously the fact that suffering and death are not horrific evils to be avoided at all costs, but rather effective ways to witness to the world the power of Christ that has overcome death and removed its suffocating sting.
Christian nonviolence is not the equivalent of becoming a doormat for all the vicious evils in the world. It is, in reality, an alternative and more powerful way of taking a stand against evil—indeed it is perhaps the only viable way in the long run, as Martin Luther King Jr. is famously quoted:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that
Too often, past discussions of Christian alternatives for justifying Christian participation or nonparticipation in war or other forms of violence address their interlocutor as if he or she is tone deaf. By contrast, the authors of the essays in this book take seriously objections to their commitment to nonviolence. (Hauerwas, ix)
Nonviolence is not a stance that is to be limited to being against war, but rather nonviolence requires that every aspect of our lives be open to listening to those who differ from us. (Hauerwas, x)
The Christians of the first three centuries are known for their refusal to participate in violence, and the history of the church is replete with numerous examples of theologians, bishops, saints, mystics, monastic groups, historic peace churches, and all sorts of Christians committed to the practice of nonviolence. (York & Barringer, 3)
We may not have a faith worth killing for, we do have one worth dying for. (York & Barringer, 7)
I am a reluctant pacifist. In one sense I am uninterested in being a pacifist at all because I find so many kinds of pacifism unconvincing, if not silly. I once worked and lived in a seminary community where nearly everyone was a pacifist of some sort. Yet people would drive luxury vehicles and SUVs with bumper stickers that read “no war for oil,” and no one laughed. (Long, 18)
It was blithely assumed that war was perpetrated by vicious men who took delight in violence and destruction, and who had no ability to imagine any alternatives. I found this to be an inadequate analysis then as I do now. (Long, 18)
I wondered how Christian participation in war, for all its moral and intellectual seriousness, fit with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. That question still troubles me, and despite all the attempts, ancient and modern, to make it fit, Jesus’ words will always haunt the Christian church with the specter of pacifism. (Long, 20)
So the question put to pacifists at its boldest is, Are you willing to let your neighbors or other innocents die for the sake of your dogmatic theological convictions? And the first answer that must be given, before it then gets qualified, is yes. . . . If it makes pacifism immoral, the same must apply to the just war. For just war also recognizes that in any military action, “collateral damage” occurs. The innocent will be killed along with the aggressor. There is no way to wage war without this taking place. (Long, 28)
What disarms the aggressor is not our better ability to use and implement violence, but to be freed from the grip of fear it has over us. Life belongs to God. Its unjust ending cries out for justification, and we cannot but believe that God will somehow justify those who suffer such a fate. “We believe in the resurrection of the body.” (Long, 21)
Thus trapped between the “either” of ethical abstraction and the “or” of the desire for a poetically satisfying witness to love, the reader looking for answers in terms of a path to faithful action may have found far more frustration than moral clarity in these pages. In the end, to encourage persistence in that frustration is the clearest guide we can give. (Hall & Slade, 43)
So for all of you who have given up their lives in on my behalf, I say thank you for your courage and sacrifice, but to those of you willing to kill-for my freedom or any other reason—I simply ask that you please not kill for me. (Barringer, 106)
But the Good News is that the new aeon, the Kingdom of God, has broken into the midst of human history. The “present aeon” has not yet passed away, and it is as if the two are now overlapping. But the call of discipleship is to live according to the New, even while the old is yet languishing but sure to be defeated. (Camp, 141)
There is something that we must yield to “Caesar,” but only when whatever Caesar demands has not been previously demanded by the Creator. (Camp, 149)
To understand how God destroys evil, we must rely on the governing imagery that john of Patmos uses for Jesus—and that is the image of Jesus as the Lamb. . . . . when John looks up, he sees not a ferocious predator but a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered (5:6). This verse more than any other is the hermeneutical key to understanding violence in Revelation: admidst the chaos and war and destruction of our world, God has chosen to intervene in the form of a vulnerable Lamb. (Kraybill, 196-97).
As stated earlier, our witness is our best argument for ht existence of God. We must live in such away that if Christ were not resurrected from the dead then our manner of life would be unintelligible. We can see then how refusing to return violence for violence is, ultimately, evangelical. It is missional. It is, in the lives of those who do it, a reflection of Christ’s lordship. It is a per formative moment in truth. (York, 224).
This is a simple, straightforward, and helpful book. Its accessibility does not diminish its profundity. Many of its authors are well-respected ministers and theologians (sometimes both!) and regardless of reputation, all of them express a deep thought and deeper commitment to Christ—deep enough to struggle with themselves in front of the reader about the difficulties but necessities of Christian nonviolence.
If this book is not convincing to some, that’s okay. But maybe it makes violence of all kinds a little less easy to tolerate or engage in. That’s okay too. If anything I think this book does a great job at complicating violence and showing that it is not the obvious answer that many of us raised in American culture assume it to be. My hope is that everyone who reads this book will take seriously its arguments and challenges even if they remain unconvinced.