by Jon Kauffman
“it’s a dangerous world out there, and pacifists depend for their safety and security on the generosity and good will of non-pacifists. Prior to the Christianization of the Roman empire, many Christians were not faced with the responsibility of defending the public and ensuring public order.” Were the Early Christians Pacifist, by Jimmy Akin
What if the Sermon on the mount is a sermon of subversion? What if Jesus is teaching poor people the proper way to rebel against an abusive and enslaving government and society? What if the United States is an abusive and enslaving government?
Jimmy Akin attempts to make a case that Christians began to use violence and the military to control people because they became responsible for protecting the public. When Christians obtained political power, it became their responsibility to run government using the violence of government.
Jimmy spends a great deal of time trying to defend his position of violence by demonstrating that the early Christians were not pacifist.
The real question is not whether Christians were pacifist, but is it possible for a Christian to join the military or to use violence to ensure public order while following the teachings of Jesus.
St Ambrose was Roman Governor in Milan. The people loved him, and he became Bishop of Milan by popular acclamation. St Ambrose was government man. Most likely he would agree with Jimmy Aiken that maintaining the peace and governing the people is one of the most important tasks of a Christian. As Bishop, St. Ambrose advocated killing the pagans. Jesus taught going into all the world, baptizing and teaching people to follow everything Jesus commanded.
St. Ambrose’s approval of killing pagans by Roman soldier is similar to our country using the Doctrine of Discovery. The Doctrine of Discovery stems from the papal bull which gave Europeans the right to kill and conquer. Pope Alexander VI issued the Papal Bull ‘Inter Caetera,” on May 4, 1493.
THE UNITED STATES
The United States foreign policy from the beginning has followed the Doctrine of Discovery, where a “Christian” country of greater power has the right to kill and destroy weaker peoples in order to take what belongs to the conquered for the conquerors. Using the Doctrine of Discovery, the United States stole land from the Native Americans and Mexico.
In 1899 the Philippine-American War was fought to enslave the Philippines as a United States colony. The War Prayer, By Mark Twain.
The United States has sent Marines all over the world to protect American financial interests. The Marines have been sent to protect American Banana companies and keep banana plantation worker working at a low wage.
The United States military protects American oil wells in the Middle East. Throughout its history the United States has used its military to obtain wealth and power by killing and enslaving people.
Does Jimmy really approve of Christians joining a military who upholds these values?
THE SUBVERSIVE SERMON
I think the Sermon on the Mount is a great place to start to determine if Jimmy Akin’s premise that Christians should violently defend to the public and ensure public order really follows the teachings of Jesus.
Some claim that the Sermon on the Mount only applies to our personal lives, maybe at the level of social interactions in a small village, but not on a larger scale, especially when it comes to government.
Many people in the time Jesus were enslaved and controlled by the Romans. At the same time wealthy Jews took advantage of their fellow Jews to gain great wealth.
But what if the Sermon on the Mount applies to how the poor are to treat the rich and the oppressor. What if the Sermon on the Mount is the way the poor are to deal with superpowers like Rome and Great Britain and the United States with their great militaries and great wealth?
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-42
Many feel that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is asking us to take the violence like a doormat. But Jesus is showing us how to nonviolently fight for freedom and justice for the weak, the vulnerable and the poor.
Walter Wink explains the Greek word in Matthew 5:39 and suggests a better translation “Do not retaliate against violence with violence.”
Wink says, “Jesus was no less committed to opposing evil than the anti-Roman resistance fighters. The only difference was over the means to be used: how one should fight evil.
There are three general responses to evil: 1) passivity, 2) violent opposition, and 3) the third way of militant nonviolence articulated by Jesus. Human evolution has conditioned us for only the first two of these responses: flight or fight….
Neither of these alternatives has anything to do with what Jesus is proposing. It is important that we be utterly clear about this point before going on: Jesus abhors both passivity and violence as responses to evil. His is a third alternative not even touched by these options. The Greek word “Anistenai” cannot be construed to mean submission.
Jesus clarifies his meaning by three examples. “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Why the right cheek? Try it. A blow by the right fist in the right-handed world would land on the left cheek of the opponent. To strike the right cheek with the fist would require using the left hand, but in that society the left hand was used only for unclean tasks. Even to gesture with the left hand at Qumran carried the penalty of exclusion and ten days penance (The Dead Sea Scrolls, 1QS 7) The only way one could strike the right cheek with the right hand would be with the back of the right hand. What we are dealing with his unmistakably an insult, not a fistfight. The intention is not to injure but to humiliate, to put someone in his or her “place”. One normally did not strike a peer thus, and if one did, the fine was exorbitant…. Masters backhanded slaves; husbands backhanded wives; parents backhanded children; men backhanded women; Romans backhanded Jews. The only normal response would be cowering in submission.
It is important to ask who Jesus’ audience is. In every case, Jesus’ listeners are not those who strike, initiate lawsuits, or imposed forced labor, but their victims….
Why then does he counsel these already humiliated people to turn the other cheek? Because this action robs the oppressor of the power to humiliate. The person who turns the other cheek is saying, in effect, “Try again. Your first blow failed to achieve its intended effect. I deny you the power to humiliate me. I am a human being just like you. Your status does not alter that fact. You cannot demean me.”…
The second example Jesus gives is set in a court of law. Someone is being sued for his outer garment… Only the poorest of the poor would have nothing but an outer garment to give as collateral for a loan. Jewish las strictly required its return every evening at sunset, for that is all the poor had in which to sleep…the poor debtor has sunk even deeper into poverty, the debt cannot be repaid, and his creditor has hauled him into court to try to seize his property by legal means….
Why then does Jesus counsel them to give over their inner garment as well? This would mean stripping off all their clothing and marching out of court stark naked! Put yourself in the debtor’s place and imagine the chuckles this saying must have evoked. There stands the creditor, beet-red with embarrassment, your outer garment in one hand, your underwear in the other. You have suddenly turned the tables on him….
Nakedness was taboo in Judaism, and shame fell on one causing the nakedness.
Jesus’ third example, the one about going the second mile, is drawn from the very enlightened practice of limiting the amount of forced labor that Roman soldiers could levy on subject peoples.
To this proud but subjugated people Jesus does not counsel revolt. One does not “befriend” the soldier, draw him aside, and drive a knife into his ribs. Jesus was keenly aware of the futility of armed revolt against Roman imperial might and he minced no words about it., though it must have cost him support from the revolutionary factions.
But why walk the second mile? Is this not a rebound to the opposite extreme: aiding and abetting the enemy? Not at all. The question here, as in the two previous instances, is how the oppressed can recover the initiative, how they can assert their human dignity in a situation that cannot for the time being be changed. The rules are Caesar’s, about how one responds to the rules- that is God’s, and Caesar has no power over that.
Imagine then the soldier’s surprise when, at the next mile marker, he reluctantly reaches to assume his pack, and now you do it cheerfully and will not stop! Is this a provocation? Are you insulting his strength? Being kind? Trying to get him disciplined for seeming to make you go farther than you should? Are you planning to file a complaint? Create trouble?
From a situation of servile impressments, you have once more seized the initiative. You have taken back the power of choice…
Jesus’ Third Way:
- Seize the moral initiative
- Find a creative alternative to violence
- Assert your own humanity and dignity as a person
- Meet force with ridicule or humor
- Break the cycle of humiliation
- Refuse to submit to or accept the inferior position
- Expose the injustice of the system
- Take control of the power dynamic
- Shame the oppressor into repentance
- Stand your ground
- Force the Powers to make decisions for which they are not prepared
- Recognize your own power
- Be willing to suffer rather than to retaliate
- Cause the oppressor to see you in a new light
- Deprive the oppressor of a situation where a show of force is effective
- Be willing to undergo the penalty of breaking unjust laws
- Die to fear of the old order and its rules
Quoted from “Christian Peace and Nonviolence” by Michael Long. Chapter 4. “Walter Wink”
Would Jesus want us to join a military that causes the very poverty, injustice and enslavement that he is overcoming? Does Jesus want us to join the government and become the oppressor?
Maybe we Americans don’t like the teaching of Jesus because we are the wealthy in the world, enslaving others with our military? What if we are the goats Jesus discusses in Matthew 25?
What if the whore of Babylon in Revelation 17 is any superpower who accumulates great wealth and military power through enslaving the poor and calling it self-defense and national interest?
Perhaps to be a pacifist who follows the teaching of Jesus is far more dangerous than depending on the government for our safety and security?
Perhaps Jesus would only want us to be involved in government if we refuse to do anything that is contrary to his teaching?
Perhaps if St. Ambrose had seen the Sermon on the Mount as a call to fight against the injustice of the Roman government, he would have used these principals to preach the gospel and bring justice to the pagans? Perhaps he would have refused to endorse the Roman Military?
Christian Peace and Nonviolence, A Documentary History, by Michael Long.
Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way by Walter Wink
“America’s War for the Greater Middle East.” By Retired Army Colonel Andrew J. Bacevich
Copyright © 2020 by Jon Kauffman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted when used to further the Kingdom of God. Permission is gladly given to re-blog this post.