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Jim Wallis: ‘Hard questions for peacemakers’ [via WRD on CD]
He’s not saying anything particularly profound.
Wallis grumbles about America’s past, but the core ‘Jesus idea’ that America might be called to present-day self-sacrifice (and not ‘of soldiers’, either) seems entirely missing. Instead, dressed in the language of civilian / innocents’ protection, Wallis seems to be operating with the assumption that America should be inviolate.
This is easily acceptable rhetoric, but why actually accept it? In the light of the Jesus story, why should Christians think that America is morally right to claim a basic invulnerability for its people?
Perhaps this is a particularly necessary question in the light of St Paul’s comment about not complaining if you’re treated badly for doing wrong. That’s no great virtue, he says. But to do right, then be treated badly, and to withhold complaint – for Paul, that’s virtuous. Wallis admits that America has done badly – very badly. But why not follow through with a prophetic call not only to recognise the wrongs done, but with a call to completely reorient the sense of ‘self’ and ‘virtue’ (and therefore of moral right)?
The basic American narrative of Sept 11. is of affront to something fundamentally good, which must be protected (and extended). I suggest, with Hauerwas, that basic narrative should be AD33. Under it, America’s perspective on its own domestic and messianic goodness should not only be radically reviewed, but that persepective should dare to embrace the notion of self-sacrifice as a fundamental good.
Why? Because, according to the Christian story, Jesus gathered up evil upon himself, and went to death under it. In his vindication by God, that evil was spent and defeated. And that is the story that Wallis says he believes.
I am not suggesting that America should expect to die and be resurrected. I am suggesting that Christians should expect new forms of life to emerge, surprisingly and miraculously, from the rubble of a previous life that was given up for others in the fight against evil. And what that might look like should inform the hard policy decisions that Wallis wants to answer.
The trouble is that a nation cannot act on the notion of self-sacrifice as a fundamental good until it (or its leaders) have been deeply shaped by the Jesus-story. In other words, this needs people to truly follow Jesus. And that, in turn, will only happen when spokespeople like Wallis begin to articulate a truly distinct Christian story and subsequent call to concrete policy actions.
I read George Orwell’s Reflections on Gandhi today. Here’s Gandhi’s answer to one of those hard questions:
“What about the Jews? Are you prepared to see them exterminated? If not, how do you propose to save them without resorting to war?” I must say that I [Orwell] have never heard, from any Western pacifist, an honest answer to this question, though I have heard plenty of evasions, usually of the “you’re another” type. But it so happens that Gandhi was asked a somewhat similar question in 1938 and that his answer is on record in Mr. Louis F Fischer’s Gandhi and Stalin. According to Mr. Fischer, Gandhi’s view was that the German Jews ought to commit collective suicide, which “would have aroused the world and the people of Germany to Hitler’s violence.” After the war he justified himself: the Jews had been killed anyway, and might as well have died significantly. One has the impression that this attitude staggered even so warm an admirer as Mr. Fischer, but Gandhi was merely being honest. If you are not prepared to take life, you must often be prepared for lives to be lost in some other way. When, in 1942, he urged non-violent resistance against a Japanese invasion, he was ready to admit that it might cost several million deaths.
Aaron if you had been Bush on Sept 12 what would you have done?
I don’t know.
It would have been an immensely strong statement for Bush to have refused to go to war in the months following Sept 11.
It would have been even stronger if he had led the nation to rethink the policies that make America a bad neighbour, and the object of hated, for so many people.
As a Christian leader who has shown himself capable of believing God publicly, he could have applied that same belief to the realm of war and international relations. He missed a great opportunity to speak with an authentic Christian voice.
War is not the first, second, third or even fourth option for a politician whose own King said “my kingdom is not of this world’s kind”.
I think the real question is whether Christians accept that Jesus might have real (if deeply challenging) relevance to national and international politics, or is he merely a personal and private saviour, good for individual assurance of heaven-when-you-die?
the first war was against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Bin Laden’s stronghold of Tora Bora was that not the right thing to do?
Did it reflect and help to embed the story of Jesus in international relations?
do you think the Yanks should have turned the other cheek?
Dennis, had this problem with you before. The art of conversation involves more than asking questions. Try telling us what YOU think, for a change. Preferably with reference to what I’ve already said.
I’m sorry if I’ve got up your nose I guess I was just trying to put a practicle question in response to your overblown rhetoric.
I still think the question valid, perhaps that’s why you don’t know how to answer it with in the terms of your speech at #1
Ok Dennis, which bits of my rhetoric are overblown?
The answer to your question (which is fairly simplistic, given the complex situation) is yes.
Now, would you mind answering mine? Is Jesus applicable to international affairs in any real way?
yes Jesus is applicable but I have no idea as to how though other than through no strings attached aid as per the Good Samaritan. I suspect if Bush had said OK Sept.11 wasn’t very nice of you would you mind not doing that again but if you must you can take out the Empire State in a ‘Free Hit’ because we’re Christians and that’s what Chrisitian’s do to heap burning coals on your head! He may well have had trouble with vicitim’s Next of Kin and the wider electorate.
But this isn’t a case about a nation not protecting itself (which is another matter entirely), but of carrying the fight to another nation (ie- an invasion). And there is nothing wrong with a strong outcry against such violence (indeed far from it). Which is a stronger (Christian) statement:
“We abhore the violence you used against us so much that we will not even turn it upon you/your allies in retaliation”
“We abhore what you have done so much that we will similarly use violence against you/your allies”.
Bush could also have inquired,”Now why do so many foreign nations hate us so?” and perhaps tried to use other means to resolve the conflict. If successful in this, he would make those rabid-extremists appear like insane fanatics, which would undermine their support, and therefore their capacity to really do anything hurtful (not to mention their source of recruitment).
And the worst thing is, the American administration cannot even play the “your country is ruled by an oppressive and evil regime card” with any sense of credibility. I mean, just look back in the last 50 years of history and see just how many of these regimes were funded/strongly assisted by the USA back when it was ‘convenient’ for the USA’s plans.
NZ’s own foreign policy, as defended by David Lange at the famous 1985 Oxford Union debate, took a similar line: “nuclear weapons represent such terrible force and way of looking at the world that we won’t participate in their acceptance”.
It is better, I think, to be the Christian who points toward the better way and suffers for it than to be the Christian who, for the sake of valuing something more (such as electoral power), becomes the one through whom evil comes.
Let those who disclaim God take the responsibility for godless wars.
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