Friday, October 25, 2013

No, Mark Driscoll, God is Not a Pacifist – That’s Our Job

In his article (sermon) titled Is God a Pacifist?, Mark Driscoll rhetorically asks whether God should be considered a deity of peace.  My own, equally rhetorical, response:  of course God is not a pacifist - God is peace itself.  We, as the followers of, the practitioners, if you will of God and God's ways, are the pacifists – or not.

Driscoll bases his conclusion that God is not a pacifist (implying that nor should we be) on the commandment regarding killing or murder in what he calls the Old Testament and the book of Revelation.  Driscoll says, “In effect, the sixth commandment should be understood to prohibit murder, manslaughter, violent and unauthorized killing, and killing for personal vengeance”, going on to assert that all other forms of killing are apparently all right with God.

The question begs to be asked – unauthorized (as in ‘unauthorized killing) by whom?  Since this is the 10 Commandments we’re speaking of, isn’t it at least inferred that the ‘authority’ for killing (of any kind) is God?

And since the 10 Commandments were given at the time when God spoke rather more directly to God’s people than is most often the case today, might we not surmise that killing, always the exception rather than the rule, is to happen when and if and only if God so ordains?

Driscoll references wars as justified or permissible in God’s eyes using the Augustinian language of ‘just war’ as if it were biblical.  It is not.  Look high and low and you will not find the phrase there.  I’m not a literalist, but Mr. Driscoll seem to be.

So if just war is biblical, where do we find the warrant for that?  None of the wars of invasion for the taking of the Promised Land were based upon just war theory.  They were based on direct divine command.  So, to be quite literal about it, when and if God directs us with a clear voice from the sky, with a pillar of fire and a cloud of smoke to lead us, then might we go into battle assured of the justness of our cause from the divine perspective – or so the stories of our faith, if taken literally, would tell us.

But that really isn’t the point, is it?  It’s not Driscoll’s point to ‘prove’ that violence is biblically motivated or sanctioned.  Rather, his point seems to be to prove that Jesus is an Bruce-Willis-Die-Hard kind of guy, as evidenced by his claim in all caps:   “JESUS IS NOT A PANSY OR A PACIFIST”

Wow.  Really?  Really?  To be a pacifist is, in Driscoll’s eyes, to be a ‘pansy’?  Really?  And what does he mean by that, exactly?  That Jesus wasn’t a purple flower?  That Jesus wasn’t gay?  Wasn’t a ‘girlie boy’?  Was a real man’s man, whatever that may mean for him?  Or just that pacifists are cowardly, cry-baby scaredy cats?  Yeah – that one, I’m betting.

News flash, Mr. Driscoll: if you think pacifism is the same as being a pansy, however you may interpret that particular epithet, I suggest you give it a try.  Try standing before someone who means you harm and refuse to return hurt for hurt, jab for jab.  Try stepping into a violent situation in order to change or turn the course of events.  Go and live where the violence is and try to model a different way.  Think about whether you’re as willing to take a bullet as to give one.  Then you might have something to tell me about pacifists and pansies.

You actually gave me hope – for just a second there – when you referenced God’s coming kingdom:  “One of the defining attributes of God’s coming kingdom is shalom—perfect peace untainted by sin, violence, or bloodshed of any sort.”

But then you went on, “Such a kingdom is only possible if an all-powerful, benevolent Authority vanquishes his enemies. In other words, the Prince of Peace is not a pacifist.”

Really?  Why?  Because you say so?

“Such a kingdom is only possible if an all-powerful, benevolent Authority vanquishes his enemies.”  Well, let’s take that on at face value (I don’t agree, but let’s just take you at your word, for now).  The problem is that your next statement: “In other words, the Prince of Peace is not a pacifist” does not flow from the preceding statement.  It doesn’t flow logically, spiritually, biblically.  It doesn’t flow simply because you assert that it does.

Let’s simply review Jesus – I presume we would agree that Jesus actually is “the Authority” since he is the “Prince of Peace” to whom you refer.

What did Jesus do when it came to enemy vanquishing?  He did nothing.  Not in the terms you mean, anyhow.  For what he ‘did’ is actually what was done to him: he died.  Check the Greek in your gospels: the cross event was not something Jesus did, it was something that was done to Jesus [Then they led him away to crucify him.  Matthew 27.31.  And they crucified him . . . Mark 15.24. . . . they crucified him.  Luke 23.33.  There they crucified him . . . John 19.18].

Even the resurrection is something done to rather than by Jesus – the direct references to resurrection biblically are in the passive voice (as in Jesus was raised, rather than that Jesus raised [himself] – see, e.g., Acts 4.10, 5.30, 10.40, Matthew 20.19, 17.23).

Jesus is murdered (killed, by your reckoning – after all, he has been found guilty by the appropriate authority of his day) by humanity and resurrected by divinity.  He shares in both, yet when it comes to the dividing moment in history as understood by Christians, he is acted upon rather than acting.

It’s the jujitsu moment of Christianity and I can’t believe you missed it: Jesus took what was done to him (both humanly and divinely) and turned it into a gift he bestowed upon the world.  Jesus “vanquished his enemies” by turning them from enemies to beloved friends.  You read Jesus and hear a vanquishing general.  I read Jesus and experience a converting friend, a saver, a savior.

Peace does not come by force.  It’s a simple concept, really.  Chickens give birth to chickens, not to cows.  So peace gives birth to peace and war to war.

Peace comes by conversion, change.  After all, that’s the inherent meaning of ‘repent’ – the turning back to what we once knew (even if only from before the womb) and have forgotten – the peaceable kingdom is not pie in the sky – the peaceable kingdom is now because Jesus is now.

I’m very clear that God does not wish me to kill anyone.  I don’t know what God has in store for you.  Maybe my understanding is a universal truth; maybe it’s just my own calling.

But we must not put our human misbehavior on the back of God.  It just won’t do.  Recall that God has also said that God’s ways are not ours.  I take from that that we are not to presume to be gods.

As, perhaps, a side note, an anecdote about your exegesis of the words ‘kill’ and ‘murder’:  Dr. Bruce Metzger (considered by some to be one of the most influential New Testament scholars of the 20th century), who chaired the work that resulted in the NRSV, professor emeritus of Princeton Theological Seminary (now deceased) was once sitting at table in the dining hall and I was privileged to join the group listening to him.  He mentioned the murder/kill commandment and this is what I remember him saying: there were two working groups – one for the Old Testament and one for the New.  The Old Testament scholars translated the phrase as “do not murder” and the New Testament scholars translated it (for as you note, the command is quoted and referenced in the New) as “do not kill” and Dr. Metzger as the chair had to settle on a choice.  Dr. Metzger chose “murder”.* After lunch, I was sharing the story with a friend while standing on the porch outside the dining hall, when a rabbi (whose name I cannot recall), scheduled to speak to a class later, joined us, having heard what we were talking about.  The rabbi agreed with Dr. Metzger, believing the best translation to be “murder” and gave us a short treatise on why this should be so.

In the space of an hour on a sunny day in Princeton, New Jersey, I was privileged to hear the thinking of some of the greatest minds of the time dive into this translation question.  It didn’t make the issue clear or settled for me; what it made me was humble.  And that’s what I remember most about what Dr. Metzger had to say: he himself was not absolutist.  He allowed for the reality that reasonable and intelligent minds could and did differ.  He was simply the one at the time who had to choose and choose he did, based on his own best understandings at the time, while acknowledging that it was a close call and not at all clear cut.

In that same spirit, I allow that you may be right: the best translation for the commandment in question may be “murder” rather than “kill”.  There are sound reasons for that understanding.

But I am left wondering whether you personally know any Christian pacifists or have read any seminal Christian works on pacifism by pacifists.  Because here’s the thing: Walter Wink doesn’t base his theology on the 10 Commandments.  Nor does Dr. King.  Nor do any other scholars with whom I am familiar.  The commandment, however it is translated, is not the bedrock for my own tending-to-pacifism theological understandings.  (I would self-describe as a pacifist in progress – it’s what I believe, but my practice, my actual living out my faith in this regard has a long way to go).

I note with regret that in your exegesis, which takes you from Exodus straight to Revelation, that you do not stop for at least a pause in the gospels.  Matthew’s recounting of the Sermon on the Mount, at the least, warrants a glance.

But I digress.

If you want to engage in a meaningful discussion about the call (or its lack) to pacifism, you have to engage pacifists and you have to engage us not based on the 10 Commandments, or not them alone.  You have to engage us with the Jesus event – his life, his death, his resurrection.  You have to engage us with the practices of the early church.  You have to engage us with the entirety of scripture in the realities we are living today.  Or not.

The same is true for me in engaging you.  I have said what is not true, from my point of view.  And here, in a nut shell, is what I understand to be true: Jesus Incarnate is God embodied, fully divine and fully human. . . fully human.  Thus does Jesus Incarnate show me what a full human being is to be like and act like.  Thus violence in my understanding is not merely being human; it is actually being something other than human, for the Prince of Peace engages in physical violence only once, in the money changer episode, which is told with wildly varying levels of violence in the gospel accounts.  And that violence involved no killing, if we’re going to be quite literal about it.

More importantly, Jesus encounters his enemies with truth, not strategies . . . with creativity, not the same old stuff . . . and thus does he take a self-described murderer like Paul and make a new man, really human for the first time, who surrenders everything of himself to follow The One in The Way.

Thus does Jesus take a betrayer like Judas and hold him close . . . thus does he take a thug like Peter and change him into the father of churches . . .

We may give up on him, but he never gives up on us.  Doubt it?  Recall the story of the (alleged) adulteress in John 8.1ff?  In bringing her to Jesus, the Pharisees actually name her outcome: if guilty, she is to be stoned (capital punishment).  What does Jesus do?  You know what he does:  he ‘buys’ her life with his wisdom.  But what was his motivation?  The story does not explicitly say.  Could it have been mercy?  Or was this just a vehicle for Jesus to show his smarty-pantedness to those tricky Pharisees?

And when you speak of the divine wrath promised in Revelation, did it never occur to ask what occasioned the predicted wrath?  Did it never occur to ponder whether it is our own failure to act our Jesus’ own peace that invites the divine winnowing?

Did it never occur that when it comes to separating sheep and goats, pulp and pith (pick your pairing), that the process won’t be separating one person from another, but rather one aspect from within each person from the other aspect?  In other words, did it never occur to think that the Revelation promise of destruction of all that is evil is the same process as the refiner’s fire (removing the dross and leaving the gold) as described in Malachi 3?

Or perhaps most important of all, how do you claim the divine prerogative of wrath (even if it be as you describe) as the prerogative of humanity?

On the particulars: implicit in the command’s permissive killing (as you view it) via capital punishment are the (unnamed by you) aspects of: (1) justice; and (2) mercy – hence the numerous biblical references, Old and New, to God’s justice (Amos’ promise of justice rolling down like a flood is but one example).  When it comes to capital punishment, it must be presupposed that it be done justly.  The most basic component of justice when it comes to capital (or any) punishment is that we got the right guy.  And too often, as the Innocence Project has demonstrated, we have in fact not gotten the right guy, nor have we administered the punishment justly by any measure – for surely it cannot be just as God would have us understand the word to have one standard for one group of folks and another for another, and yet we do – thus it is that a disproportionate number of people of color end up sentenced to death for offenses that get life sentences for the white folk.

It just won’t do to say that the Bible requires/authorizes/mandates capital punishment as a warrant to disregard a call for peaceful alternatives because ‘the commandment says so’.

And then there’s mercy – God also established cities of refuge for those actually guilty of capital offenses.  Where are our modern equivalents?  We don’t have any.  The issue with the cities doesn’t seem to be guilt or innocence – the cities are safe havens for the guilty.  The issue actually seems to be mercy – the allowance for a second chance to get it right.

You see, mercy in the eyes of the pacifist reading of scripture is not the opposite or negation of justice; rather, mercy is the fulfillment of justice.

You see pacifists and think of cowardice and weakness and refuse to have your Jesus associated with such.  But here’s the thing: Paul writes about Jesus as the one who counted his reputation as nothing, even to the point of a death on the cross.  Paul goes on to compare himself to that Jesus – the one who cares not what the likes of you and me think of him – and calls everything but his faithful following shit.

What I would hope and pray you might come to know about we pacifists is that it is neither cowardly nor weak to take the beating and not return it in kind.  But even more importantly, I would have you know that, if scripture is to be believed, Jesus cares not one whit whether you or I or anyone else think he’s a pansy . . . or not.

Finally, I agree with you: God is not a pacifist.  God does not practice peace.  God is peace.

*In the NRSV, “murder” is used with a footnote that reads, “or kill”, reflecting the division among scholars reflected in Dr. Metzger’s story.

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