“Some of the most important moments in your ministry will happen in the interruptions,” a professor told me while I was in my first week of seminary. As I walked down Michigan Ave, speeding to keep up with the 15-year-old from my church, I wished I could say this to the shoppers around me.
Today, let yourself be interrupted. By God, let yourself be interrupted. I understand white Christians who are reluctant to take to the streets in protest–but I do not understand white Christians who justify the police’s murder of Laquan McDonald and find black anger “disruptive.” Injustice should be disruptive. Continue reading
What’s a pacifist Christian to do, the world being what it is? The question has rolled around in my mind all week. In the meantime, while I’ve tried to answer it, I’ve mostly done ordinary pastoral things: played soccer with my churchmates; baked zwiebach; prayed.
Baked more zwiebach. I baked a lot of zwiebach this week, in preparation for a complicated and opulent worship service we call Heavenly Banquet. The cooking left me with a lot of time for thinking, and when that got too exhausting, a lot of time for listening to the news. As if the most important thing I could do was know what’s happening. To think about Paris all the time. To know each day in the city. To collect quotes from politicians around the world. To know, to know, to know. As if in the knowing I’d know what to do.
One of the newscasters this week offered this analysis: the mission of terrorism is radicalize everyone. By committing terrible and unrepentant acts of violence in the name of a Muslim God, ISIS pushes everyone to the extreme. Each new explosion drives a deeper wedge between the Christian and Muslim world, so that Christians become more afraid of Muslims; so that moderate Muslims have less ground to stand on; so that moderate Muslims either assimilate or radicalize, until to be Muslim means to be a terrorist. And at the same time Christianity radicalizes, until to be Christian means to be anti-Muslim, by definition. The objective of terrorism is to radicalize everyone. Continue reading
Last week, while wandering through Exodus 15 debating whether or not the death of Pharaoh’s soldiers was justified, the teenagers (I would call them my teenagers, but they are uncomfortable with possessive pronouns, so these particular teenagers shall remain ambivalently “the” teenagers) stumbled into the age-old pacifist dilemma:
If given the opportunity to kill Hitler, would you, and would you still call yourself a pacifist?
Much to their frustration, at the time, I didn’t answer the question. The answer is, of course, no. The answer is always “no,” because this question is first of all a word-trap designed to catch pacifist inconsistencies. Its phrasing, almost always spoken by pro-war voices looking to poke holes in the pacifist stance, is based on flawed logic.
Die, fascist scum?
You can’t kill Hitler because you can’t kill Hitler. The whole premise of the question assumes (1) that there is such a thing as moral murder and (2) that it is possible for a human to, factoring all information, come to the utilitarian conclusion and carry out the ethical action that results in death. The question is, “Knowing what we know now, assuming you could apparate to a point in time in which all confluence of factors aligned to allow for the murder of a despot that is guaranteed to result in a net loss of fewer lives, would you align yourself to be the arbiter of death and justice?” Continue reading
When it comes right down to it, Anabaptist Christians can never justify siding with the police over a civilian. We are pacifist. It is a fundamental tenet of our faith that there is always an alternative to violence and that, as people of faith, we ought to seek it. When it comes to police ethics, we begin with a hermeneutic of suspicion. That is, theologically–as pacifists–it is in our outlook to approach every officer-involved shooting with a healthy skepticism to doubt whether the officer was justified. If what we know of the situation is that the officer used a gun, it is morally consistent for us to assume the officer should not have.
If, in reading a media report, we ever find ourselves sympathizing with a shooter–whether it is a documented fanatic or an officer of the state–at that point, we ought to reexamine our assumptions. If you find yourself wanting to sympathize with law enforcement consistently, you ought to consider retiring your pacifist card and joining a different tradition. Continue reading
“The black experience is the feeling one has when attacking the enemy of black humanity by throwing a Molotov cocktail into a white-owned building and watching it go up in flames. We know, of course, that getting rid of evil takes something more than burning down buildings, but one must start somewhere.”
-James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation
When I saw the images of violence in Ferguson, especially the photo from August of black men gathering to light a Molotov cocktail, I thought of James Cone’s quote above (note: I couldn’t find a photo credit for the image; if you can source it, let me know). I read James Cone as a 17-year-old, in a Liberation Theology course taught by a pacifist professor at a pacifist college. I remember the quote now because we were shocked as students–who the hell says “burning buildings feels good, but let’s do more”? I believe in nonviolence, still. I pastor at a Mennonite Church, a historic peace tradition that has always claimed pacifism. But I wondered, as I turned over the image and the quote in my mind: What can I, as a pacifist, say about violence in Ferguson? Continue reading