Thursday, November 10, 2016
For the last few days I've been pondering the ideas of nonviolence as taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere. As a result of this recollection of what I knew once I've been looking online at some websites of the traditional "Peace Churches." These are the Mennonites, the Brethren and the Quakers, among others. I looked at them because of my dissatisfaction with the teachings of the more mainstream denominations, especially the two that I have most recently worshiped with, the Lutherans and the Catholics. These groups use something called "Just War Theory" to identify which wars are "Just" and which ones are not justified. Supposedly this puts some major restrictions on when nations could go to war and have it be considered OK for a Christian to participate. The problem with Just War Theory, as far as I am concerned, is that it can be, and has been, used to justify virtually every war ever fought. Pretty much the only "unjust" wars are those that are waged against your country, but be assured your enemy will be able to explain why, using "Just War Theory" his attack against you is "just."
Of course nonviolence is not the only thing to consider is it? There is also the question of authority, or to put it another way, why should I "follow" this particular religion or denomination in the first place? As everyone who knows me is well aware, I take these thing very seriously, maybe too seriously but hey, I can't help that, it's how my brain works. I'm always trying to figure out both what is true and how to do what is right. Many years ago I realized that Jesus taught nonviolence and I tried to fit that understanding of his teaching into my own Christian faith. What I encountered from church teachers, pastors, priests and one rabbi, was a lot of hand waving and ripping things out of context and trying to make war a good thing, at least when our country does it, instead of the horrible evil that it obviously is.
Lutherans, it seems to me, and to a lesser extent Catholics, are far too eager to go along with obvious evils perpetrated by their own governments. I suppose they don't want to be seen as "disloyal" or something, I don't know. The Peace Churches on the other hand are vanishingly few in numbers and dwindling rapidly these days. That alone would not keep me away from them, but there are other things about them that make me hesitate to embrace them. For example, the Quakers are no longer even remotely Christian in many meetings. I understand there are some "evangelical Quakers" but the ones that I've been able to find on the West Coast are not evangelical at all. Even that is not a total deal breaker necessarily but when I looked into them almost all were advocating government programs for the poor and oppressed, looking to convince governments to "do things" to help people. It's possible I've misunderstood them but they really sound like plain old socialists with a dislike of of war. For me nonviolence implies and demands purely voluntary interactions, government is nothing but violence and coercion, a Christian ought not to be involved in such things. I've found similar issues with the Mennonites and Brethren as well. Not only that but they tend all to be very accommodating to the larger culture, accepting many things I have doubts about such as LGBT (and whatever additional letters they've added on to the thing this month) "rights." I'm sort of open to being convinced on those things but so far I've found the arguments and reasons to be unconvincing.
All of which brings me to the actual point of this blog post, bet you thought I'd never get there didn't you?
As I was searching the peace churches I decided to look once more for a Catholic group that was seriously working for nonviolence and peace. That was when I came upon the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative. This is something sponsored by Pax Christi that is far closer to my understanding of what Jesus taught than any previous group I've found, even older Pax Christi writings. I was actually pretty thrilled to see it. Best of all they are working to have the Roman Catholic Church repudiate the horrible "Just War Theory!"
Especially exciting to me is the wording of An Appeal to the Catholic Church to re-commit to the centrality of Gospel nonviolence.
Some excerpts from the appeal:
"The time has come for our Church to be a living witness and to invest far greater human and financial resources in promoting a spirituality and practice of active nonviolence and in forming and training our Catholic communities in effective nonviolent practices. In all of this, Jesus is our inspiration and model."
"In his own times, rife with structural violence, Jesus proclaimed a new, nonviolent order rooted in the unconditional love of God. Jesus called his disciples to love their enemies (Matthew 5: 44), which includes respecting the image of God in all persons; to offer no violent resistance to one who does evil (Matthew 5: 39); to become peacemakers; to forgive and repent; and to be abundantly merciful (Matthew 5-7). Jesus embodied nonviolence by actively resisting systemic dehumanization, as when he defied the Sabbath laws to heal the man with the withered hand (Mark 3: 1-6); when he confronted the powerful at the Temple and purified it (John 2: 13-22); when he peacefully but determinedly challenged the men accusing a woman of adultery (John 8: 1-11); when on the night before he died he asked Peter to put down his sword (Matthew 26: 52)."
Best of all is this:
"Clearly, the Word of God, the witness of Jesus, should never be used to justify violence, injustice or war. We confess that the people of God have betrayed this central message of the Gospel many times, participating in wars, persecution, oppression, exploitation, and discrimination.
We believe that there is no “just war”. Too often the “just war theory” has been used to endorse rather than prevent or limit war. Suggesting that a “just war” is possible also undermines the moral imperative to develop tools and capacities for nonviolent transformation of conflict."
I urge you to read the whole thing and explore the main web page as well. For the moment I remain open to such things as Quaker meetings, I may try one in Livermore that is an "unprogrammed" meeting, but I may well simply get involved with the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative to satisfy my need to spread that badly neglected part of the gospel message of Jesus. I am not sure where I'll go from here but I'll probably post about when I know :-)