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Gospel Nonviolence

Gospel Nonviolence

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Published by John Sobert Sylvest

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Published by: John Sobert Sylvest on Jan 21, 2012
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03/03/2015

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17 JohnboyMost accept that it is not helpful to call those who disagree with us on matters of orthodoxy – heretics; neither should we call those who disagree with us on widely disputed matters of orthopraxy – “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”In the faith development trajectory of most traditions, belonging (orthocommunio) willenjoy a primacy over desiring (orthopathy) which will precede behaving (orthopraxy), allbefore believing (orthodoxy). Therefore, it is best that we first model hospitality that theyknow they belong and next invite them to our worship where our own holy desires werefirst formed. If the right-behaving doesn’t ensue, it might be better to introspectivelydiscern where we, ourselves, may have gone wrong in our community and liturgical lifebefore reflexively laying off the blame on our poor proselytees.1) Some view a just war as a probable good to be achieved by political statecraft and theGospel ethic of nonviolence as an invitation to an extraordinary virtue (praiseworthy andexceeding the demands of justice) to be realized in the here and now by individual vocation,both aspirations grounded in a presumption for peace.2) Others view a just war as a necessary evil and the Gospel ethic as ultimately and finally –not immediately – normative, both grounded in a presumption against violence.3) And there are a few who take the Gospel ethic of nonviolence as absolutely andimmediately normative for both individuals and states.One might find merit in each of these approaches if each is placed in the proper context. Arewe dealing with ontic (pre-moral) or moral evils? moral or practical realities? now oreschatologically? individually or politically? necessary evils vs lesser & higher goods? apresumption for peace (and justice) or against violence? I resonate more with #1 than either#2 or #3 above. But they also deserve serious consideration.The elements of these different stances are often combined in other ways, too. Even thosewho hold to the very same principles may differ in their moral judgments because they may
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otherwise reasonably disagree regarding empirical and prudential matters in evaluatingwhat may also be a legitimate plurality of solutions. In the writings of John CourtneyMurray, Reinhold Niebuhr, Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder, many of these thingsare given thoughtful consideration and from significantly divergent perspectives. Do checkthem out.My own thoughts?I am least sympathetic to Niebuhr’s realism, which has found its way piecemeal into thewritings of Obama, McCain and Clinton even if not systematically (which would be hard todo for all sorts of reasons). Consistent with his catholic stance, Murray’s approach is not atall dialectical or over against “the world.” I very heartily resonate with the Anabaptist andMennonite sensibilities, perhaps more so from a vocational and prophetic witnessperspective, but no so much from the belief that they would have any broader normativeimpetus, especially for political statecraft.Too many critiques engage caricatures. This may be especially true of pacifism, which hasabout twenty distinct forms per Yoder. Even buying into Murray’s distinction betweenstatecraft and vocation, wouldn’t our politics change drastically if more of us embracednonviolence? Even if we reject Niebuhr’s realism, which colors the Gospel ethic as toootherworldly, couldn’t we accept his practical accommodations to human weakness on thebasis of a compassionate pastoral sensitivity (even as we would reject any theoreticalcapitulations — i.e. watered-down Gospel — based on disingenuous theologicalreinterpretations)?As for normative impetus, it includes not only moral force but practical considerations andthe normative significance of religion has always been much less about morality, which istransparent to human reason without the benefit of special revelation (although not insome grand Kantian way but an approach that is much more contritely fallible than that),and much more about an invitation into worshipful, loving relationship.On the occasion of Yoder’s passing, Hauerwas wrote: “Reading Yoder made me a pacifist. Itdid so because John taught me that nonviolence was not just another ‘moral issue’ butconstitutes the heart of our worship of a crucified messiah.”Indeed, the response our crucified messiah invites is not only ultimate but immediate. Still,
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it would be wrong to characterize aspirations that clearly exceed the demands of justice asgenerally morally binding.19 Johnboy1) Governments aren’t subject to the ethics of Jesus? Really? <<<To the extent state secularization has (properly and thankfully) taken hold in our pluralisticsociety, no, the government does not need the ethics of Jesus per se or what are ostensiblyChristian norms in particular. But precisely because, as you suggest, such moral truth isneither private nor available only to Christians but, as I said, is otherwise alreadytransparent to human reason (albeit fallibly so) without the benefit of special revelation, notto worry, n'est pas?In the USA, state secularization, fostered by the nonestablishment and free exercise clausesof the 1st Amendment, has enhanced religion's influence in the public square rather thanmarginalizing it (as happened on the Continent post-Enlightenment), but, in order toprofitably exercise that influence, any specifically moral teachings must be translated intothe lingua franca (common parlance), philosophically and/or common sensically, withoutauthoritarian appeals to such as Scripture, a Magisterium, a Tradition or private experiences(revelations).2) So does that mean that governments should not be just, serve the common good, or seekpeace? This sounds like recycled dualism. While the government is not the church, themission of God working through the church is to transform ALL life, including governments,into new birth. The truth of Christ is not a private truth, available only to Christians, but isthe very logos that grounds all creation and calls all governments into true vocation. <<<Of course we are to permeate and improve the temporal order!Secularization is a strategy for affairs of the state (not for society or culture) and, with anamplified rather than marginalized voice in the public square, religions have the opportunityto influence the government politically, again, translating their moral stances into
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