Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by guest author Ellen Corcella.
As I was driving home from a conference in the Chicago area, I turned on NPR as is my usual habit. The newscasters reported on President Obama’s upcoming trip to Hiroshima, Japan to lay a wreath at the Hiroshima Memorial in recognition of the extraordinary violence the U.S. wreaked upon Japan. In the next moment, there was a follow up report on the success of a drone strike in the area of Pakistan that killed the Afghanistan Taliban leader. The burning question of the day was not whether our country’s new regret for dropping the atomic bomb on Japan can be reconciled with sending drones to kill people in far away countries; rather the question was whether the new Taliban leader would meet our country at the bargaining table.
I not only recognized the disconnect intellectually, the disconnect jarred me emotionally. You see, I was returning home from a three day Theology & Peace conference. The primary mission of this group is to figure out ways to subvert the matrix of human violence and to “grow beyond our historic collusion with structures of empire and violence in the ecclesial, church and political realms.” I listened intently to Anthony W. Bartlett’s two part lecture on refashioning the Christian narrative of the Cross and Resurrection into a theology of non-violence. Bartlett, the author of Cross Purposes: The Violent Grammar of Christian Atonement and Virtually Christian: How Christ Changes Human Meaning and Makes Creation New, contends that Jesus died on the Cross in the ultimate refusal to engage in the Roman Empire’s violence, Jesus’ resurrection also transcends the world’s violence by his emerging as an intrinsically non-violent God. When Jesus entered the locked room, he did not scold his disciples for denying or abandoning him; nor did Jesus reveal his plans to revenge his death at the hands of the Roman Empire. Jesus said “Peace be with you.” In short, the risen Christ not only offered peace to his disciples, the risen Christ is peace.
The logical outgrowth of Bartlett’s theory of a non-violent God is that we, as Christians, must reject muddy theologies that have freed the “faithful” to be violent and followers of Jesus. St. Augustine gave us the “okay” to engage in just wars and we have since used this notion to support every type of violence the good Christian people can think of inflicting on others whether it be in the form of retributive justice, capital punishment, militarized policing or the accumulation of weapons under the banner of a “right to bear arms.” The risen Christ absolutely, once and for all time, rejected these postures of violent justice. We must take seriously the prophet Isaiah’s vision of God’s justice where:
God will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore (Isaiah 2:4).
The earliest followers of Jesus understood that Christ’s resurrection required them “to be” peaceable and nonviolent. As Robin Meyers recounts in The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus, “The early church was likewise an underground movement . . . where rich and poor alike chose to practice a radical form of hospitality, a generous but scandalous communalism, and to commit themselves at personal risk to non-violent resistance and the protection of the stranger and the alien (p. 48).”
Bartlett extends the practice of nonviolence by showing that we are called to do more than act non-violently, we are called “to be” in the likeness and image of a God of absolute peace.
How we do this is illustrated by another NPR news report wedged between the two NPR stories I previously recounted. Ari Beser is the grandson of the only crewman who flew on both WWII missions dropping the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After graduation from college, Beser determined to meet a bombing survivor loosely connected to his family. These survivors of this nation’s utterly horrific acts of violence did not scorn or reject Beser (as many of us might have); rather, they became his friends. These survivors convinced him to meet other survivors to record and disseminate their stories that can become a beacon of light into the world.
This is at the heart of theology and peace: that we subvert the matrix of human violence when we can truly see ourselves in the other, when we come to understand that our humanity is inextricably tied up in the humanity of the other, and when we embody the transcendent, non-violence of the Christ of Peace. There is little genuineness in an expressed regret for nuclear devastation of Japan when we, in the same week, send drones to kill people in other countries. We are either beings of violence or beings of peace. The choices are mutually exclusive. Bartlett’s good news for us at the conference is that the tide is turning and it is not too late to choose peace.
Editor’s Note: Would you like to submit an article for consideration to The Raven Foundation? Find out how in the guidelines of our new section, “Your Voice.” Articles published do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the staff at the Raven Foundation, but are selected primarily because of the way they enhance the conversation around mimetic theory.