Saturday, March 22, 2008

WRONGS, RITES, BITS AND PEACES

Goodness, a flurry of posts. These are arising from the work I'm throwing myself into at the moment, in anticipation of a holiday coming up soon! Anyway, a friend of mine who has been very supportive of Ekklesia, and valuably involved with us, has just dropped a note to draw attention to the fact that The Anglican Examiner ‘Seeing Christ in Human Rights’ forum is now up and running. She writes: "I hope it will assist in exploring ‘an alternative social ethic as followers of Jesus, those who trust in his cross and risen life’ (to use your phrase)."

My friend (whose name I am only not mentioning because I haven't checked if it is OK to do so) adds: "I read with interest your articles on the resurrection and on [the church's] foreign policy. While I am not (yet?) a complete pacifist, valuable points are made, and Peter Selby’s piece is clear and timely."

Of course Peter wouldn't necessarily go where I do with this issue either. But I responded as follows, and offer this here as a clarification of were I'm coming from, as I do recognise that it is worrying for some people, and also a little contrary, I hope, to the way the 'war and peace' debate is conducted in mainstream Christian circles:

"My aim is not to persuade Christians to adopt an ideology called ‘pacifism’, but to recognise that ultimately the way of Jesus and the way of violence point in opposite directions. We, of course, are located in the mess produced by various attempts to prove things to be otherwise, and I recognise that this is dangerous moral, theological and political territory to occupy. I do think that the refusal of violence as far as is humanly possible (and certainly as a strategy, or as a means of securing the interests of the church) ought to become a key identity marker for followers of Christ in the modern era.

"However, in seeking that path, I want to face the real limitations and contradictions of peacemaking, and not to adopt either a morally superior attitude, a selective approach to reading the world’s conflicts, or a seductive idealism or romanticism. Or to despise those who think and act differently. That is what my forthcoming book is all about - the threat of resurrection and the difficulty of Christ’s peace, not a rosy piety about it all.

"Bonhoeffer is a great encouragement in all this. He very clearly saw the way of Jesus Christ leading away from trust in the power of the sword, yet he ended up embroiled in a plot to kill Hitler. He never sought to justify this theologically, or as a matter of church policy, but only said that we must do all we can to thwart evil and throw ourselves on the mercy of God. In a not dissimilar way, Gandhi (in spite of his limitations, well recognised by the Dalits) was surely right to say that it is more moral to fight against injustice than to refuse to do so, but that we are constantly invited to a better path. This is one that Christians would have to finally recognise as gift rather than something we can achieve within our own means and strength.

"Anyway, I do think we need a different register of conversation between those who have previously pigeonholed themselves as ‘pacifists’ or ‘just war advocates’. And my active Christian non-violence does have a role for just war theory as a way of advocating limits on political formations that are not Christian. That does not mean the Body of Christ should be in the business of killing, however. Our call is to witness to an alternative form and source of power, and to lose sight of that is to risk losing sight of the Gospel. That, in essence, is where I am at."

5 comments:

Projetor said...

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Tom Allen said...

Bohoeffer is the ultimate frustration because actually he was never really required to offer any theological thinking: as one young German theologian said to me if the plot had succeeded, or he had survived the war then it would be interesting to speculate how he would have been regarded now. In the end there is the fundamental question about whether his current "sainthood" which is particularly prevalent in theological college circles is due to his "martyrdom".

Simon Barrow said...

Thanks, Peter. I'll add you to my blogroll too :)

Hi Tom. Well, I'm not trying to canonise Bonhoeffer, and I am well aware of the fallibilities of his thinking (on Judaism, for instance). I think he's helpful because he's not a saint, or easy, rather than because he is. You are right that the incomplete and truncated nature f his thought can lead to its over-reification, but I think in Ten Years After and elsewhere he did have some open up astute theological trajectories.

Simon Barrow said...

Oh dear, the first post is a spam. Sorry for letting that through. The name is similar to that of a blog by a friend. Ne'er mind.

Doug said...

Bonhoeffer is particularly helpful if we read his theology and life together and you pick up the tensions, the strains of thought and practice being never quite resolved in his life.

James McClendon in his chapter on Bonhoeffer in volume of his Systematc Theology: Ethics argues that the tragedy of Bonhoeffer was the lack of skills, practices and structures of political life in the church that were capable of Christianly resisting the emergence of totalitarianism.

the lack of these skills and practices in the church McClendon argues led Bonhoeffer back to the skills and practices of his family as the only community where he could find support and engagement.

The example of Bonhoeffer and the failure of the church in Germany provides an even strong case for the sorts of policy and politics that Simon is arguing for.