How to hamstring a nonviolent protest…

wall
Photo from cpt.org in 2005

Israel plans violent IDF response to a non-violent Palestinian protest against Israel turning Gaza into a ghetto

Because encouraging Hamas to keep firing rockets into Israeli settlements so that you can respond with overwhelming force is working out well for both parties. I mean, really, the Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives are a small price to pay for Hamas and Israeli governmental “leaders” to play with their fun toys and continue the generational ethnic violence.

It seems that Hamas (who, like it or not [I certainly don't] is the “legitimate” Palestinian leadership right now) has chosen a different, more just way forward here in the short-term than rocket attacks of responding to Israel’s sealing off of the Gaza Strip. What Israel’s action has done is prohibit the import or export of many goods and services, including the shutting off of water and electricity into Gaza. The practical effect of this action is a splitting of many Palestinians’ land so that they can’t get from one side of their property to the other.

The fun news here is that Israelis have taken advantage of a generational land ownership system (fellahin communal ownership) that they do not recognize to seize Palestinian lands for the Israeli state.  As this website very practically describes, a law dating from the Ottoman rule of the area, I believe, declares that if a land is “unoccupied” by an owner for a certain period of time, the land then can be “owned” by the party that squats on it for a certain period of time.  It dates back to most inhabitants being Bedouin nomads, who roved the land.  What Israel has done is to seal off a certain area that is owned by Palestinians and declare it a “closed military zone,” or “security zone,” splitting farms right down the middle; thus forbidding farmers from accessing their fields.

farm
Photo from cpt.org

When the farmers try, they are often turned back or consistently beaten by soldiers and Israeli settlers.   After a period of time, the Ministry of Agriculture issues confiscation orders regarding these fields due to “neglect” by owners, thus freeing Israeli settlers to purchase the land.  Recently, some Palestinian farmers have undertaken what I would call a heroic effort to stay on their land despite beatings, blatant ethnic hatred, warning shots, harassment, and flock abuse. Here’s a link to their efforts.

The security wall, however, makes concrete (pun fully intended) the reality that farmers WILL NOT access that part of their land, thus making the land “neglected” immediately since it’s a little tough to get a herd of sheep over a 25 ft security wall.

secwall

All of that is the necessary context for the present situation, where a nonviolent protest was planned for massive numbers of Palestinian citizens to somehow scale the fence and climb over to protest the injustice of the wall and break the economic blockade of Gaza from Israel as well.  But Israel found out about this plan. Take a gander at their response (from this story by Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz)

Israel is already enforcing sterile buffer zones near the fence, especially in areas near Israeli settlements. Which is to say the IDF shoots anyone who attempts to approach the fence in those areas…the IDF has also carved up the area inside the Gaza Strip, at least on the army’s maps.

The army intends to prevent the marchers from advancing on the fence when they are still inside the Strip, using various means for crowd dispersal according to a ring system: The closer the marchers get to the fence, the harsher the response.The army plans to fire at open areas near the demonstrators with artillery that the Artillery Corps has been moving to the area over the past couple of days. If the marchers continue and cross into the next ring, they will face tear gas. If they persist, snipers could be ordered to aim for the marchers’ legs as they approach the fence.

Am I going too far to suggest that an IDF soldier could *oops* shoot a little higher than the knees ever, you know, “in error?”

In a later comment, Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said,

“We don’t plan to fool around in this regard,” he told Israel Radio. “We will use measures in the way we deem necessary to prevent people breaking into the state of Israel’s territory.” Asked if this could include using live fire against Palestinians, Vilnai said: “Anything that must be done, will be done.”

This quote came from the same man who in late February said, “The more Qassam fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they will bring upon themselves a bigger ‘shoah’ because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.” Link to story here. In case you’re not familiar with the terminology, “shoah” is a word rarely used in Israel beyond being a name for the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews. Yeah, the guy was threatening genocide; as if it hasn’t already taken place before in recent history.

It seems this threat and military buildup dampened some of the Palestinian spirits and plans for the protest, though 20,000 people showed up on February 25th and formed a human chain 25 miles long in (relatively) peaceful protest. Leader Rami Abdu of the Popular Committee Against the Siege said, “Our message to the world is that we will not be silent until the siege is lifted.” Protestors carried signs that read, “The siege will only make us stronger,” “The world has sentenced Gaza to death,” and “Save Gaza.”

In case you didn’t know about Israel has been doing recently in Gaza, you may want to look up what the Nazis did to Jews in Germany and Poland and surrounding territories in the mid-twentieth century, herding them into ghettos where they limited or shut off the inflow of supplies and prohibited commerce. I’m assuming you’ve heard of the Nazis? Now this disgusting practice is being carried out by the Israelis.

This is putrid.

But, hey, who am I to judge? Keep that cycle of violence going, Israel! Forget this change in approach by Hamas, because who wants an end to ethnic strife anyways, especially when any significant peace agreement will involve concessions on both sides that limit “sovereignty”?

Maybe the children can inject some sense into this disgusting situation. Please watch this video and pay attention to the little girl’s story and wisdom midway through.

The potential of the Internet…

convo

I’m in the midst of a good conversation about just war and pacifism and whether we should or should not resist evil and the teaching and example of Jesus and a whole host of other things over here. The post (on Josh Brown’s site) is called oh-so-gracefully Huckabee is an Idiot. Ol’ Josh, never one to pull punches. Haha.

Please hop over and read, and feel free to challenge me or my main conversation partner, Derek Mooney. Or just read and enjoy what has been a challenging conversation for me. Derek’s a firmly-rooted follower of Jesus who has forced me to think and act in different ways over the last few months that I’ve had a chance to see and interact with what he cares about. He blogs here.

p.s. It’s this level of conversation that can only benefit our society that is infected with 10-second soundbites and shallow relationships and fear of someone or something different than us. We don’t know how to live with it/them, so we remove ourselves from them (or just flat-out “remove” them) to a reality centered around ourselves and those most like us.

Here’s an excerpt from my recent post to either pique your interest or bore the stuffing out of you;

And Derek, the 20th/21st century question is far from irrelevant, because if we take the position that lethal action is somehow justified, then we have to ask some serious questions today. One might be;

“How does my conviction that war could be just in certain cases intersect with the interests of the nation I am a citizen of?” Why is that important? Because nations have a vested interest in making their action look justified and sanctified. Anyone could justify any military action if they were willing to hop through enough hoops. The U.S. is just as good or better at that propaganda as Chavez in Venezuela or Stalin in the USSR.

Another question; “If I think lethal action is justified in some cases, how does that intersect with my limited perspective on what is ‘good’ and ‘righteous’ or who is ‘evil’ and who is ‘good’?” I have been raised in certain communities to think certain ways about the world, and that’s not necessarily (and often isn’t) the “right” perspective. It’s limited and enculturated. So if I’m willing to kill another human being, I should be sure that what I’m doing is clean and tidy and within the limits of justice. The problem you run into is that you don’t know whether the person on the business end of your gun is “guilty” or not; and ultimately, given the nature of modern warfare, both you and that person are pawns used by more powerful people to achieve their ends, not the protectors of what is just and right. Are you willing to lay down your arms and face the punishment of insubordination if you believe an action is unjust, whether you’re patrolling Fallujah or Compton?

There’s a whole host of questions that should be, must be, brought to bear in this discussion. Unfortunately, this discussion is not taking place in any full sense amongst Christians in America, so people have become ok with what Dobson is spoonfeeding them. And what he’s spoonfeeding them is religious syncretism

Early rejections of slavery…

If you know me (really really know me), you’d know I tend towards cynicism with the church in general, because so often we have lost our way and done (and continue to do) some really twisted things that makes criticism and charges of hypocrisy completely legitimate. But I harbor small strands of hope that find examples of a compelling and different lifestyle from time to time, and it helps to share them.

This specific example comes from a fellow well known in Church of the Brethren circles named John Kline. This man was a powerful example of Christian discipleship whose life was lived amidst the struggles of moral ambiguity in slavery and the Civil War. Kline maintained that slavery was wholly immoral and gave his life equally for slaves and the white folk who owned them, while also rejecting the enormous pressure exerted by both the Unionists and Confederates during the Civil War to join ranks with either side. He lived in Broadway and was shaped profoundly by Linville Creek Church there to live a life of radical love and discipleship; when you consider the lives of folks who emerged as leaders from there (M.R. Zigler and others), the place was a seedbed in the 19th and early 20th centuries for revolutionary commitment to Christ.

The quote I’m about to write becomes even more deeply meaningful when the reality that John Kline was murdered by a Confederate hit squad becomes apparent. I found this quote in a history book;

It may be that the sin of holding three millions of human beings under the galling yoke of involuntary servitude has, like the bondage of Israel in Egypt, sent a cry to heaven for Vengeance, a cry that has now reached the ear of God. I bow my head in prayer…secession means war, and war means tears and ashes and blood. It means bonds and imprisonments and perhaps even death to many in our Brotherhood (Brethren church), who I have the confidence to believe will die rather than disobey God by taking arms.
– John Kline 1861

It’s encouraging to me to find lives like Kline’s. He knew slavery was a moral outrage, but that violent means to resolve that outrage was not consistent with a lifestyle of following Jesus. He was a product of a community in the Old German Baptist Brethren that drafted a statement in 1797 that “It was considered good, and also concluded unanimously, that no brother or sister should have negroes as slaves; and in case a brother or sister had such, he or she was to set them free.” Not only that, but the full proclamation was made in 1835 that African-Americans should be fully included in church membership if they so desired; as equals!

These sorts of actions were wildly unpopular and caused these folks to be boycotted and harassed by their fellow citizens, but they stood their ground and exemplified in word and deed a lifestyle radically different than those around them; including other Christians who justified holding other human beings as property. Examples like this should help us understand people like Stanley Hauerwas, who said,

“Christianity is not beliefs about God plus behavior. We are Christians not because of what we believe, but because we have been called to be disciples of Jesus. To become a disciple is not a matter of a new or changed self-understanding, but rather to become part of a different community with a different set of practices.

That quote, from a superb, convicting article called “Discipleship as Craft, Church as Disciplined Community,” illustrates that the communities we are a part of have the power to deeply shape our lifestyles, and if we are to claim to be Christians, we have two levels of submission to go through before we assert our individuality; the first, to Christ as Lord (which fundamentally dethrones any other who would claim to be Lord), and the second, to the church as the community Jesus set up. After that, and only after that, can we recognize our individual contribution as members living in submission. And even in that, we submit to those who have walked the path of discipleship longer than we, committing to sit, listen, and learn from them before we dare to even open our mouths and suggest we know a thing. This is unpopular, and it gets tricky when and if one’s primary community loses its foundation as a disciplined community of followers of Jesus, but we should err on the side of community rather than individuality.

Five Questions your Pacifist Friends are Tired of Answering

My title is the title of a good article by a fellow named Jonathan Fitzgerald at the Burnside Writer’s Collective (BWC). The BWC is a solid site started by Donald Miller (author of Blue Like Jazz) and a few of his friends that deals with social justice, sports, general rants or thoughts, and other things. The reason I like the site is because they identify themselves as “an online magazine presenting an alternative to franchise faith.” In other words, they’re not afraid of disagreeing with some “Christian” perspectives on issues that are in fact twisted and not reflective of what Jesus cared deeply about.

And so, knowing this reality, Fitzgerald explores an area (pacifism) that is often marginalized in the church (some call it the ultimate and vilest form of immorality), with five subpoints of questions he’s often asked as a pacifist:

1) What if your (insert loved one here) was attacked?
2) What about the Old Testament?
3) Didn’t Jesus mean to live non-violently in our personal lives, but not corporately
4) What about Romans 13?
5) So, you’re suggesting Christians sit back and do nothing?

Now, I don’t always toe the same line as Fitzgerald, and I don’t mind talking about these questions (I’m, in fact, deeply passionate about talking about them), but as a pacifist I often grow tired of people hauling out these questions as trump cards that trivialize and pass over central issues that drive those of us who believe Jesus called all of his followers to nonviolence.

Here’s the link to the article.

p.s. I disagree with the picture I posted above. Just posted it for the sake of kickstarting the discussion.

Memories of a life…


Today marks the 59th anniversary of the death of a great pioneer of non-violence: Mohandas K. Gandhi. And I admire him for several reasons:

1) He had the courage to stand and lay his life on the line for something he believed in. No matter what that might be in someone’s life (or how flawed what they believe in might be), investing the whole of one’s life in something is admirable in principle.

2) He recognized the use of weaponry to achieve political purposes may win a battle (or series of battles), but in choosing to extinguish other human life to protect one’s own, we have already lost the war.

3) This may be the most important to me, because like MLK in America, we have reduced Gandhi to a sugary-sweet nice guy and neglected to pay attention to the fact that both of these men endured great adversity in living for what they stood for. They didn’t just pop up and say a little something, only to shrink away or shut up when others disagreed with them. They forcefully shoved the injustice of their present situation in the faces of their societies, and simply. would. not. let. up. in their pursuit of justice. And they both paid the ultimate price for their actions through assassination. Now, I believe MLK’s definition of justice was much more far-reaching and comprehensive than Gandhi’s, which leads me to my fourth thing I admire about Gandhi.

4) This one may also be the most important to me, because I believe the vision of life given by Jesus to his followers is so comprehensive, so life-altering, so demanding in its scope that it is the highest ethical standard this world has ever seen. And the thing that much of Christianity had become in Gandhi’s day (and still is today) was disgusting to him. He famously said,

“It is a first class human tragedy that people of the earth who claim to believe in the message of Jesus, whom they describe as the Prince of Peace, show little of that belief in actual practice.”

and

“Do not flatter yourselves with the belief that a mere recital of that celebrated verse in St. John makes a man a Christian.”

Even though Gandhi is ultimately accountable for his lifestyle and who or what belief system he submitted himself to, I think his point stands as a necessary reminder. It should be appalling to Christians that one who is not a follower of Jesus could live in such a heroic fashion while we often claim to “believe” and turn around and jump with both feet into the systems of capitalism, materialism, self-preservation, and nationalism as if they were the best definition of reality offered to us…neglecting to see those the systems leave wounded and broken in their wake.

I agree with Gandhi. We’re a pretty gutless bunch, that if you scratched a little below our surface platitudes, smiles, and fun little quotes of Scripture verses; you wouldn’t find much. And I include myself in that reality too.

I’m starting to think that the life we were called to as Christians demands heroism every single day of the week in ways that our secular friends (with the exception of the Gandhis of the world) couldn’t sniff at. And if we settle for less than this full development of our character and being in the image of Christ, we are failing the world and spitting in the face of God.

God’s People Reconciling (Part 3 of 4)

Here’s Ron Sider again, in his wonderfully stylish clothes. Must be time for Part Three. Yes, yes it is.

Just as a preface, this one’s the longest. I urge you to overcome your internet-driven impulse to click away after the second paragraph and instead compel yourself to see what this guy’s got to say. :) It’s powerful.

2. Embrace The Biblical Vision Of Shalom

Acknowledging past temptations and misunderstandings is essential. But we dare not remain mired in our failures. Instead we can allow the fullness of the biblical vision of shalom to transform us into a reconciling people ready to challenge the madness of the late twentieth century.

The richness of the biblical vision of peace is conveyed in the Hebrew word “shalom”. Shalom means right relationships in every area — with God, with neighbor, and with the earth. Leviticus 26:3-6 describes the comprehensive shalom which God will give to those who walk in obedient relationship to God. The earth will yield rich harvests, wild animals will not ravage the countryside, and the sword will rest. Shalom means not only the absence of war but also a land flowing with milk and honey. It also includes just economic relationships with the neighbor. It means the fair division of land so that all families can earn their own way. It means the Jubilee and sabbatical release of debts so that great extremes of wealth and poverty do not develop among God’s people. The result of such justice, Isaiah says, is peace (32:16-17). And the psalmist reminds us that God desires that “justice and peace will kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10). If we try to separate justice and peace, we tear asunder what God has joined together.

Tragically, the people of Israel refused to walk in right relationship with God and neighbor. They ran after false gods, and they oppressed the poor. So God destroyed first Israel and then Judah. But the prophets looked beyond the tragedy of national destruction to a time when God’s Messiah, the Prince of Peace, would come to restore right relationships with God and neighbor. (e.g., Isaiah 9:2ff; 11:1ff).

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore (Isaiah 2:4). Jesus, Christians believe, was the long-expected Messiah. And just as the prophets had promised, shalom was at the heart of his messianic work and message. But Jesus’ approach to peacemaking was not to lapse into passive nonresistance; it was not to withdraw to isolated solitude; it was not to teach one ethic for the private sphere and another for public life. Jesus modeled an activist challenge to the status quo, summoning the entire Jewish people to accept his nonviolent messianic strategy instead of the Zealot’s militaristic methods.

Jesus’ approach was not one of passive nonresistance. If Jesus’ call not to resist one who is evil in Matthew 5:39 was a summons to pure nonresistance and the rejection of all forms of pressure and coercion, then Jesus regularly contradicted his own teaching. He unleashed a blistering attack on the Pharisees, denouncing them as blind guides, fools, hypocrites, and snakes — surely psychological coercion of a vigorous type as is even the most loving church discipline which Jesus prescribed (Matthew 18:15ff).

Nor was Jesus nonresistant when he cleansed the temple! He engaged in aggressive resistance against evil when he marched into the temple, drove the animals out with a whip, dumped the money tables upside down, and denounced the money changers as robbers. If Matthew 5:39 means that all forms of resistance to evil are forbidden, then Jesus disobeyed his own command. Jesus certainly did not kill the money changers. Indeed, I doubt that he even used his whip on them. But he certainly resisted their evil in a dramatic act of civil disobedience.

Or consider Jesus’ response when a soldier unjustly struck him on the cheek at his trial (John 18:19-24). Instead of turning the other cheek and meekly submitting to this injustice, he protested! “If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” Apparently Jesus thought that protesting police brutality or engaging in civil disobedience in a nonviolent fashion was entirely consistent with his command not to resist the one who is evil.

Jesus would never have ended up on the cross if he had exemplified the isolationist pacifism of withdrawal. Nor would he have offended anyone if he had simply conformed to current values as we are often tempted to do when we abandon the pattern of isolation. Rejecting both isolation and accommodation, Jesus lived at the heart of his society challenging the status quo at every point where it was wrong.

Jesus upset men happy with the easy divorce laws that permitted them to dismiss their wives on almost any pretext. He defied the social patterns of his day that treated women as inferiors. Breaking social custom, he appeared publicly with women, taught them theology, and honored them with his first resurrection appearance.

Jesus angered political rulers, smugly satisfied with domination of their subjects with his call to servant leadership.

And he terrified the economic establishment, summoning materialists like the rich young ruler to give away their wealth, denouncing those who oppressed widows, and calling the rich to loan to the poor even if they had no hope of repayment (Luke 6:30ff). Indeed, he considered concern for the poor so important that he warned that those who do not feed the hungry and clothe the naked will go to hell.

Jesus disturbed the status quo — but not for mere love of change. It was his commitment to shalom, to the right relationships promised in messianic prophecy, that make him a disturber of an unjust peace. He brought right relationships between men and women, between rich and poor by his radical challenge to the status quo.

Repeatedly in our history, the terror of persecution and the temptation of security have lured us to retreat to the safety of isolated solitude where our radical ideas threaten no one. But that was not Jesus’ way. He challenged his society so vigorously and so forcefully that the authorities had only two choices. They had to accept his call to repentance and change or they had to get rid of him. Do we have the courage to follow in his steps?

Jesus approach was activist and vigorous, but it was not violent. A costly self-giving love, even for enemies, was central to his message. He called his followers to abandon retaliation, even the accepted “eye for an eye” of the Mosaic legal system. He said that his followers would persist in costly love even for enemies, even if those enemies never reciprocated.

It is hardly surprising that Christians have been tempted to weaken Jesus’ call to costly self-sacrifice — whether by postponing its application to the millennium, labeling it an impossible ideal, or restricting its relevance to some personal private sphere. The last is perhaps the most widespread and the most tempting. Did Jesus merely mean that although the individual Christian in his personal role should respond nonviolently to enemies, that same person as public official may kill them?

In his historical context, Jesus came as the Messiah of Israel with a plan and an ethic for the entire Jewish people. He advocated love toward political enemies as his specific political response to centuries of violence. His radical nonviolence was a conscious alternative to the contemporary Zealots’ call for violent revolution to usher in the messianic kingdom. There is no hint that Jesus’ reason for objecting to the Zealots was that they were unauthorized individuals whose violent sword would have been legitimate if the Sanhedrin had only given the order. On the contrary, his point was that the Zealots’ whole approach to enemies, even unjust oppressive imperialists, was fundamentally wrong. The Zealots offered one political approach; Jesus offered another. But both appealed to the entire Jewish nation.

The many premonitions of national disaster in the Gospels indicate that Jesus realized that the only way to avoid destruction and attain messianic shalom was through a forthright rejection of the Zealots’ call to arms. In fact, Luke places the moving passage about Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem immediately after the triumphal entry — just after Jesus had disappointed popular hopes with his insistence on a peaceful messianic strategy. “And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace!’” (Luke 19:4ff).

Zealot violence, Jesus knew, would lead to national destruction. It was an illusion to look for peace through violence. The way of the Suffering Servant was the only way to messianic shalom. Jesus’ invitation to the entire Jewish people was to believe that the messianic kingdom was already breaking into the present. Therefore, if they would accept God’s forgiveness and follow his Messiah, they could begin now to live according to the peaceful values of the messianic age. Understood in this historical setting, Jesus’ call to love enemies can hardly be limited to the personal sphere of private life.

Furthermore, the personal-public distinction also seems to go against the most natural, literal meaning of the text. There is no hint whatsoever in the text of such a distinction. In fact, Jesus’ words are full of references to public life. “Resist not evil” applies, Jesus says, when people take you to court (Matthew 5:40) and when foreign rulers legally demand forced labor (v. 41). Indeed, the basic norm Jesus transcends (an eye for an eye) was a fundamental principle of the Mosaic legal system. We can safely assume that members of the Sanhedrin and other officials heard Jesus words. The most natural conclusion is that Jesus intended his words to be normative not just in private but also in public life.

We have examined the horizontal shalom with the neighbor which Jesus brought. But Jesus also announced and accomplished a new peace with God. Constantly he proclaimed God’s astonishing forgiveness to all who repent. And then he obeyed the Father’s command to die as the atonement for God’s sinful enemies.

God’s attitude toward sinful enemies revealed at the cross is the foundation of nonviolence. Let us never ground our pacifism in sentimental imitation of the gentle Nazarene or in romantic notions of heroic martyrdom. Our commitment to nonviolence is rooted in the heart of historic Christian faith. It is grounded in the incarnation of the eternal Son of God and in his substitutionary atonement at the cross.

Jesus said that God’s way of dealing with enemies was to persist in loving them. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Why? “So that you may be sons and daughters of your Creator in heaven.” In fact, Jesus went even further. Jesus said that God’s way of dealing with enemies was to take their evil upon himself. The crucified criminal hanging limp on the middle cross is the eternal Word who in the beginning was with God and indeed was God, but for our sake became flesh and dwelt among us. Only when we grasp that that is who the crucified one was, do we begin to fathom the depth of Jesus’ teaching that God’s way of dealing with enemies is the way of suffering love. By powerful parable and dramatic demonstration, Jesus had taught that God forgives sinners again and again. Then he died on the cross to accomplish that reconciliation. The cross is the most powerful statement about God’s way of dealing with enemies. Jesus made it very clear that he intended to die and that he understood that death as a ransom for others.

That the cross is the ultimate demonstration that God deals with enemies through suffering love receives its clearest theological expression in St. Paul. Listen to Romans 5:8-10: “God shows love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. . . While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of God’s Son.” Jesus’ vicarious death for sinners is the foundation of, and the deepest expression of, Jesus command to love our enemies. We are enemies of God in a double sense. For one thing because sinful persons are hostile to God and for another because the just, holy Creator cannot tolerate sin. For those who know the law, failure to obey it results in a divine curse. But Christ redeemed us from that curse by becoming a curse for us. Jesus’ blood on the cross was an expiation for us sinful enemies of God. He who knew no sin was made sin for you and me.

Jesus vicarious death for sinful enemies of God is the foundation of our commitment to nonviolence. The incarnate one knew that God was loving and merciful even toward sinful enemies. That’s why he associated with sinners, forgave their sins, and completed his mission by dying for them on the cross. And it was precisely the same understanding of God that prompted him to command his followers to love their enemies. We as God’s children are to imitate the loving characteristics of our heavenly God who rains mercifully on the just and the unjust. That’s why we should love our enemies. The vicarious cross of Christ is the fullest expression of the character of God. At the cross God suffered for sinners in the person of the incarnate Son. We will never understand all the mystery there. But it’s precisely because the one hanging limp on the middle cross was the word who became flesh that we know two interrelated things. First, that a just God mercifully accepts us sinful enemies just as we are. And second, that God wants us to go and treat our enemies exactly the same way. What a fantastic fulfillment of the messianic promise of shalom. Jesus did bring right relationships — both with God and with neighbor. In fact, he created a new community of shalom, a reconciled and reconciling people. As Ephesians 2 shows, peace with God through the cross demolishes hostile divisions among all those who stand together under God’s unmerited forgiveness. Women and slaves became persons. Jews accepted Gentiles. Rich and poor shared their economic abundance. So visibly different was this new community of shalom that onlookers could only exclaim: “Behold how they love one another”. Their common life validated their gospel of peace.

And so it must always be. Only if people see a reconciled people in our homes and our congregations will they be able to hear our invitation to forsake the way of retaliation and violence. If I am not allowing the Holy Spirit to heal the brokenness in my relationship with my spouse, I have little right to speak to my president about international reconciliation. If our Mennonite and Brethren in Christ congregations are not becoming truly reconciled communities, it is a tragic hypocrisy for us to try to tell secular governments how to overcome international hostility. It is a farce for the church to try to legislate what our congregations will not live.

On the other hand, living models impact history. Even small groups of people practicing what they preach, laying down their lives for what they believe, influence society all out of proportion to their numbers. I believe the Lord of history wants to use the small family of Anabaptists scattered across the globe to help shape history in the next two decades.

p.s. Of all the points Sider attempts to make here, I think his ihighlighting of Jesus non-violence as NOT passivity and standing by in the face of evil is the most striking. Many people when confronted with a tough situation think they can react only either/or…Jesus refused to buy into this false dichotomy and instead showed a tremendous capability to respond to various situations with various responses. All, it should be noted, revealed his overarching commitment to non-violence as an example to his followers.

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” -john 18:36