I am moved by four points in your article. I wish to quote you and share with you the following open response. How fortunate we all might be, if so-called Christian leaders like George Bush were required to consider our views of Jesus’ position on war! Might he and others like him repent? I would be very much honored Marcus, to read not only your thoughtful response, but all responses to my heartfelt response to you!
1) “Jesus taught non-violence and non-violent resistance to evil. For the next three centuries…Christians were pacifists, loyal to the message they had received from Jesus”.
Jesus’ condemnation of the money-changers was an action against the hypocrisy and cynicism of the Temple establishment and its leaders. It was a violent act! Jesus hated the scapegoat and sacrificial cultus, just as today, I believe he would dislike the bloody image of himself that adorns many places of worship in his name. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”. Though Jesus taught non-violent resistance to evil, turn the other cheek, etc., his own action and sayings against systemic injustice could sometimes be violent. His act against the money-changers is surely a true historical case in point! I believe Richard A. Horsley offers true guidance for Progressive Christians here. In the conclusion to his book, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence, (which would better be quoted and understood in full chapter/book form here), Horsley writes: “Convinced that God would put an end to the spiral of violence, however violently, Jesus preached and catalyzed a social revolution…`Love of enemies’ turns out to be NOT the apolitical pacific stance of one who stands above the turmoil of his day, nor a sober counsel of nonresistance to evil or oppression, but a revolutionary principal…when people achieve solidarity with regard to the basic values of life focused on concrete social-economic relations, it has usually been threatening to the ruling groups.” I believe the first Christians were pacifists for the first three centuries because they were passionate about Jesus’ own, social revolutionary hope for creating an end to the spiral of violence. But, in the meantime, we are to follow Jesus in his bid to try and change human nature itself. Humans are not sharing pacifists by nature. As Freud famously noted, humans tend to be aggressive and selfish. And yet, Jesus is calling us to a new way; a social revolution, where sharing and pacifism must triumph over selfishness and aggression. As E.P. Sanders pointed out in Jesus and Judaism and again in The Historical Figure of Jesus, Jesus did in fact chose symbolically twelve disciples to represent the twelve tribes of Israel, because his hope was to create a social revolutionary kingdom of God run by people. The reason Paul still refers years later to “the twelve” even after Judas’ betrayal is because that tradition goes back to the historical Jesus, as does the debate between James, John, Peter and Jesus about who would be greatest in the coming kingdom. The greatest in Jesus’ visionary kingdom would be the honest, non-hypocritical servants of all. As John Dominic Crossan once remarked, Jesus was saying, “Go and do it yourselves. Preach, heal and bring the kingdom.” But the dishonest, hypocritical servant of self was sometimes worthy of Jesus’ violent condemnation, as the Temple incident demonstrates clearly to us all. As for Jesus’ kingdom, it did not come yet. What did come was Mary Magdalene’s and the other disciple’s renewed spirit of living in his kingdom of sharing and pacifism, some time after his horrible crucifixion. They were recomitted to his nurturing alternative wisdom teaching Marcus, as you articulate so well in Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (pages 69-118). Recommended reading for all interested in Jesus!
2) “Our national mind in the wake of 9/11 has been shaped and manipulated by fear — despite the fact that one of the most common affirmations in the Bible is `Fear not’, `Do not be afraid.’”
This point cuts to the heart of the matter about faith in Jesus’ social revolutionary kingdom, which was also a politically revolutionary kingdom indirectly. Jesus was fearless! To share in Jesus’ passion for his kingdom means to risk being perceived as fearlessly insane, beside oneself, dangerous, etc. Most people are familiar with Einstein’s quote:”When we split the atom, everything changed but our way of thinking.” But fewer are aware of his follow up sentence to this quote: “We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if (hu)mankind is to survive the atomic age.” Some 2,000 years later, Jesus still beckons us with a new social program of fearless thinking. And he is right! The only hope to stop and convert a suicidal terrorist with a nuclear, biological or chemical bomb disguised as a business man’s briefcase is to proclaim and show that person the fearless love characteristic of Jesus. Jesus would never support an Augustine “just-war-theory” even in self defense. Jesus was in the radical business of cutting to the heart of the matter, which meant forsaking everything for a kingdom that converts people to a way of being which is fearless love. A seemingly insane place of fearless love within his heart and mind, where war is not welcome, or even an option. Ever! “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
3) “The solution begins by admitting what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called in his social setting `our terrible alternative’: to be humbled by our national and imperial hubris — the notion that we can shape and control the world with the power of military violence.”
Indeed, we can not shape and control the world with military violence. That game is up! History will prove, if it has not already, that the best hope is like Jesus’ hope. We can only shape and control the world with a new. radical, fearless kind of love and a calling toward a greater moral, systemic justice within all shperes of life.
4) “To continue on our present course because we want to avoid the humiliation of admitting that we made a terrible mistake (the Iraq war) is not only foolish, but decidedly unchristian.
As Progressive Christians, we are called to focus fearlessly on Jesus’ same hope for a radically new, social revolutionary kingdom and to try and bring that kingdom into reality, with all its yet unknown and unfolding implications for a new political reality and a new sense of morality and social justice world-wide. Making the world a safer and more just place is the simple goal. Genuine radical love of enemies will always be the new paradigm toward acheiving any even modest improvement toward this goal.
However dangerous loving one’s enemies may be, the alternative is proving, I believe, to be much, much more dangerous! I can say this with absolute confidence based on my faith in Jesus kingdom of sharing and pacifism. But I can also say this with absolute confidence based simply on reason. By continuing with war, we are creating more inspiration for future terrorists (mostly young and uneducated people without any hope or love) and their evil teachers, who may soon acquire WMD and the means to explode it.
John Mitrosky: firstname.lastname@example.org