Last week I posted my review of the new book on Christian pacifism, A Faith Not Worth Fighting For. Today I’m interviewing Tripp York, co-editor of this incredibly challenging collection of essays as well as another book that I also reviewed recently, The Devil Wears Nada, which you also really need to read.
Anyway, after reading his new book I had a few questions and Tripp was kind enough to answer them. Hopefully, his responses will answer some of the questions you have once you read A Faith Not Worth Fighting For. (Because you are going to read it, right? right??)
As someone who has always subscribed to the Just War Tradition, I was very anxious to read more about the case for Christian pacifism, particularly after seeing how specifically the book addressed common critiques of the position. After having read the book, I found myself in a place where I’m no longer sure I can continue to support the Just War Tradition and, worse yet, I may just be on the brink of embracing Christian pacifism. Was this your intent in putting this book together? And if so, please feel free to take this moment to apologize to all of us whose worldview has been seriously challenged by this book.
Haha, yeah, nice. All right, let me take a swing at this apology thing: “I apologize to all of those good Christians who may have to think twice about co-opting their love for Jesus with their endorsement of shoving missiles up their enemies’ asses.”
Man, that felt good. Public apologies rock!
In terms of parting ways with the Just War Tradition . . . don’t stress it. Any serious Just War advocate will, for all intents and purposes, find themselves consistent practitioners of Christian pacifism about, oh, 99.9% of the time. Since Augustine didn’t allow for self-defense, well, hey . . . you’ve been rehearsing for the real thing all this time!
The entire argument for Christian pacifism in this book seems to hinge on faith in Jesus’ resurrection and the subsequent resurrection of the faithful. In other words, the path of Christian non-violence is ultimately successful because, though the believer may die for a cause, resurrection and eternal life, rather than temporal death, is the final answer. Is that correct? And if so, is there any point to pacifism apart from resurrection?
There are, as you well know, a wide variety of pacifisms. I would say that most of the people in our book represent what is referred to as Messianic pacifism—which is a kind of pacifism that is only intelligible if Jesus has actually been raised from the dead. If that’s false, then the very basis for this species of nonviolence is undermined and should certainly be abandoned. Messianic or Christological pacifism has nothing to do with pragmatism, idealism, theories, or anything of that nature; rather, it’s simply grounded in the life and teachings of Jesus and is substantiated by his defeat of violence on both the cross and in his resurrection.
Followers of Jesus are told to pick up their cross (not a sword) and respond to violence in the manner that he responded to it so that the world can know the original and intended ontological peace that underwrites creation. Otherwise, non-Christians look at Christians and think, “Wow, there really is no difference between how we actually see and live in the world from how they see and live in the world. How terribly uninteresting.”
I’m all about interesting. Let’s be interesting, for once.
Clearly Jesus’ non-violent acceptance of his crucifixion is at the center of the book’s case for Christian pacifism. However, it would seem that in allowing and then using the violent death of Jesus as the mechanism for atonement, God (the Father) seems to be, at least complicity, participating in violence. As a Christian pacifist, how do you understand the role of God the Father in the violent, yet atoning death of Jesus?
I think some of these issues arise due to a misreading of Anselm. But, because I once lost out on a job from a theology department for defending Aquinas and Anselm (how silly of me as, obviously, John Cobb and Sallie McFague are clearly superior thinkers), I think I’ll not wig out the masses by quoting from anyone pre-21st century (it’s so not in vogue these days, is it?).
In short: the Father does not will the death of the Son (and Jesus freely gave his life, so he’s not a ‘victim’); rather, the Father wills that the Son be obedient. Jesus was obedient to the Father, and, as many Christians have discovered ever since, obedience to God will often get you killed.
As challenging as this book was, there was one area that I was left wanting, namely the specific, practical alternatives to violence, particularly in the case of Hitler. I appreciated and agreed with the explanation that not all non-violent responses will be the same, but I think where I and so many others struggle is exactly “how” we should respond non-violently to such horrendous evil. Having tried so many political and non-violent options what action could or should someone like Bonhoeffer (or Allied soldiers for that matter) have taken rather deciding to participate in an assassination plot (or in the case of Allied soldiers, violently liberating concentration camps)?
That certainly was not part of the goal of our book, as we just wanted to address common objections to Christian nonviolence (and Brimlow, I believe, does a lovely job with the Hitler question). In retrospect, however, I now wish we would have included a few chapters dealing with alternatives. Hindsight is a kicker, but we have learned our lesson and the third volume of our series explicitly attempts to provide alternatives to that which we are arguing.
In light of your question, Andre Trocme is a wonderful example of how to respond to something like the terrorism of Nazi-Christian-Germany. Research his life and how he responded if you want to see what nonviolence in the face of such brutality looks like. It certainly did not demand that one become an assassin (I love the writings of Bonhoeffer, but I always worry that in a nation of Rambo/Dirty Harry-loving Christians, Bonhoeffer is loved for all the wrong reasons).
It could have been a misreading on my part, but the word “non-violent” often, but not always, seemed to be used as an antonym for lethal force. Is it ok for Christians to support or employ non-lethal responses such as pepper spray, taser guns, etc? Or is force in general the issue?
I believe the issue ‘in general’, as you say, is not ‘How much force I can get away with?’-as that seems to be asking the wrong question-rather, the question is, ‘How do I live in such a way that if Christ isn’t who he says he is then our lives are unintelligible?’
Starting with the latter question you will find that many of the questions you thought were important are often in need of re-narration. I would ask why Christians whose love knows no fear, who have been told to pick up a cross, who have been told to not resist evil, to die to self, to turn the other cheek, to love their enemies, to pray for their enemies, to bless those who persecute them, etc., etc., etc., thank you, Jesus, I would ask, ‘What are you doing carrying pepper spray and taser guns in the first place?’
Perhaps there are good reasons for owning them, but I think asking how much force a person can get away with goes about it in the wrong way. I mean, can you see Jesus whipping out a can of pepper spray or throwing down with a taser gun? I can see Peter doing it, I guess. He would be tazing the shit out of some Roman centurions!
Ah Peter . . . he was a hoot. Apparently, at times, a satanic hoot, but a hoot, nonetheless.
Now, I’m a big fan of footnotes, I just don’t have the energy to search for endnotes, but after reading all of the footnotes I was thinking, couldn’t you have saved a lot of space by just having one footnote for the entire book: “see: John Howard Yoder”?
Definitely. I’m pretty sure he covered it all. Although, to be fair, I did footnote myself on occasion. I’m a walking, talking gratuitous plug.
As the name of my blog implies, I think much of our theology in the United States, whether intentionally or not, has a particularly American tinge to it. Almost all of the authors in this book are from and/or live in the United States. Do you think the security and safety provided to you and the authors of this book affects your/their perspective on the use of violence? In other words, had you/they grown up in a war torn, third world country, rather than the relative safety of the United States, do you think your/their perspective would be different?
I’m sure we would be or think differently in some manner. I mean, if I were born in the North as opposed to the South I would certainly be a different person, but I have no way of knowing what that difference would look like (other than I’d be a ‘Yankee’ incapable of understanding the brilliance of sweet tea).
To be fair, a number of our authors have been in very violent situations because of their commitment to nonviolence, which always makes me ask, ‘Why does everyone want to kill all of the pacifists?!’
Nevertheless, your question of how geographical location determines a person’s readind is certainly important, and I can only speculate as to how our reading of the Bible is marked by our relative safety. So, I try to learn from those Christian Peacemaking Teams who are daily caught between violence, or my friends and colleagues who do live in war-torn areas and are as committed to Christian nonviolence as anyone that I know here in the states. It’s interesting that, despite our various different starting points, we can, nevertheless, agree that when Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies’, he may have actually meant it.
In his chapter, Greg Boyd seemed to argue, via the apostle Paul, that the rules for participation in violence are different for the church and the state. While the followers of Jesus are forbidden from using violence, the state “can” since they are not part of a covenant relationship with God. If that is the case, if a Christian were also a politician with the responsibility of protecting and defending his or her country, would he or she be allowed to support the government’s use of violence or would his or her role be to offer an alternative witness to their government’s policies?
I would say that a Christian is always first and foremost a Christian. Therefore, there are certain jobs and careers that are not befitting, so to speak, of Christians. Just as a vegetarian will probably not make a good butcher, I don’t think a Christian could ever make a good politician. That does not mean a Christian cannot be one, but if they are going to be a politician then they need be one as a follower of Christ—meaning, you end up with a politician committed to turning the other cheek, sharing their goods, forgiving their trespassers, and, most importantly, eschewing public prayer.
Now who’s going to vote for that person?
A Faith Not Worth Fighting For is the first volume in a three volume The Peaceable Kingdom series. How will the Christian pacifism conversation be continued in the following volumes?
The basis for the series stems from Isaiah 11:6-9 where we have the lovely vision of peace on God’s mountain. The wolf lying down with the lamb, lions and calves chilling out, children playing with snakes (in a non-charismatic, non-snake-handling kind of way), and they “will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” So, we want to extend questions of peaceableness beyond our human neighbors and ask questions as to how we can provide a witness to the peaceable kingdom by talking about all of God’s good creation. That is, how are we violent toward animals and the earth?
We think this is an extension of nonviolence that many pacifists often ignore. I, for one, have serious doubts about my ‘pacifist’ friends who think they can successfully turn the other cheek while they are not even willing to see, or respond to, the systematic violence that made their meal a possibility.
My, oh my . . . that sounded a bit self-righteous. Allow me to apologize again. I apologize. All good.
Finally, and this may be the most serious question of them all, are your fellow Christian pacifists aware of your love of comic books? I could be wrong, but I don’t recall Professor X ever recruiting Ghandi for a spot on the X-Men. Or did Yoder have his own comic book that I’m just not aware of?
They better know it! I have a comic being published this August. It’s called Anarcrow! I’m telling you, if this comic takes off you’ll never hear from me ever again in the world of theology.
I’m sure the world of theology will be relieved.
By the way, on his forty-issue run with the X-Men, Grant Morrison played with the idea that Professor X (and his School for Gifted Children) is the embodiment of pacifism.
Morrison clearly has no understanding, whatsoever, of the term ‘pacifism’.
But man, comics are my only legitimate escape from people like you who take all of this stuff so seriously, so don’t even try to take it away from me. You don’t want to see me angry. Tripp Smash! TRIPP SMASH!!
Okay, all right, that was a bit much. Sorry.
[A big word of thanks once again to Tripp for taking the time to answer a few questions, as well as to Wipf & Stock for being kind enough to send over a copy of A Faith Not Worth Fighting For to review.]
Tripp York, PhD, teaches in the Religious Studies Department at Virginia Wesleyan College in Virginia Beach, VA. He is the author or editor of nine books including, Third Way Allegiance, The Devil Wears Nada and A Faith Not Worth Fighting For. On the weekends, he spends his time getting pooped on by squirrel monkeys, and has to, on occasion, break up fights between sloths. Those critters, apparently, need Jesus, too.