The comments on my blog post at Neobaptist ran for a while before I replied to some of them. The result is below. Unfortunately the original discussion doesn’t exist anymore, so you’ll have to imagine the questions that inspired these responses. But here it is anyway:
Hey Gordon! Thanks for engaging with this. I’ll respond as best I can. You said:
“Therefore, is it not true that he [Bonhoeffer] was flexible in his application of his pacifist stance. In other words, he saw a set of circumstances where he felt a violent intervention was justifiable?”
I don’t think it means he was flexible in the application of his pacifist stance, I think he believed he was betraying his pacifist stance. That’s a significant difference. And I think he did it because the church failed to support one another in their call to follow the nonviolence of Christ. Certainly he must’ve thought it was the best option at the time, but I think he recognised that it might well be wrong in the sight of God (hence throwing himself on the mercy of God).
I think your question is a good one – what if the plot to kill Hitler had been successful? The idea that you kill the leader and the whole thing collapses is fairly naive. How tall was Hitler? What superpowers did he have? It’s preposterous to suggest that Hitler acted alone, did the horrendous acts of the Nazi system alone, or could be held personally responsible for them all. Hitler alone could do little. It was people like us – ordinary citizens – who did not say ‘no’ when the atrocities were being committed, or who buried their heads in the sand or worse, who actively supported the regime were just as responsible as Hitler. It’s far too easy to have one person to demonise.
I think some great examples of Nazi resistance are people like Hans and Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, or Franz Jaegerstaetter, or Andre Trocme, or Bishop Kiril of Sophia Bulgaria. These are courageous Christians who refused to cooperate either with the violence of the Nazi regime or the violence of the Allies. Some of them were hugely successful – Andre Trocme’s town saved almost 9,000 Jews, while Bishop Kiril and the people of Sophia saved something like 48,000, demonstrating the lie that nonviolently resisting the Nazis was impossible. Some of them were killed for it, and in so doing, participated in the fate of their Lord and witnessed to his love. What if the whole church had’ve joined them (Germany was supposedly a “Christian” country after all)? Hitler’s war would certainly have been more difficult to fight.
That’s why I agree with Jaques Ellul that despite Allied pronouncements to the contrary, Hitler actually won the war. http://www.jesusradicals.com/wp-content/uploads/hitlersvictory.pdf
You said, “I would say that the issues and choices he [Bonhoeffer] faced were complex. Would it be fair to say that the world view of committed pacifist is not necessarily complex – in that non-violence is the ONLY option?”
This is a significant point for me – that it is not nonviolence which oversimplifies complexity, but violence. Violence divides the world into the good and the bad, those who deserve to live and those who do not. I like what Pam McAllister has to say about this in “You Can’t Kill the Spirit”:
What has drawn me most strongly to nonviolence
is its capacity for encompassing a complexity
Necessarily denied by violent strategies.
By complexity I mean the sort faced by feminists
Who rage against the system of male supremacy but,
At the same time, love their fathers, sons, husbands,
brothers, and male friends,
I mean the complexity which requires us
to name an underpaid working man who beats his wife
both as someone who is oppressed and as an oppressor.
Violent tactics and strategies rely on polarization and dualistic thinking and
require us to divide ourselves into the good and bad, assume neat, rigid
little categories easily answered from the barrel of a gun.
Nonviolence allows for the complexity inherent in our struggles
And requires a reasonable acceptance of diversity
And an appreciation for our common ground.
You’ve asked how I think the ‘secular world’ with its military industrial complexes relates to the teachings of Christ. I believe the New Testament witnesses to the ultimate victory of Christ through his crucifixion and resurrection. The victory is won; nonviolent suffering love has conquered militarism and war and poverty and hatred and division. Of course, it is true there is an aspect of the “now and not yet”. But I believe the church is called to be the “now” in the “not yet” of the world – as John H. Yoder puts it “to walk out now what God wills the world to be ultimately”. Simply withdrawing or refusing to engage with the “not yet” (as the Essenes did in Jesus’ day) or trying to conquer it by force (like the Zealots in Jesus’ day or the Crusades) or assimilating ourselves into the world and its way of doing things (eg. the Herodians) are not options for the church. This opens up the possibilities for creative nonviolent action that witnesses to how the transformation of the cosmos has begun in the person of Jesus Christ. Saying “Jesus is Lord” is not merely a personal statement – it’s a political, social, cosmic statement about the state of the world since the Christ event! We can’t be timid, or leave the world to its own devices. Jesus has won! The power of death has been defeated…we’re here to continually remind the world of that!
So I guess by swanning around Shoalwater Bay we were trying to do just that. How will the world know what Jesus is like if the church is not like Jesus? This recent marketing campaign in some ways highlights and represents the failure of the church to be the church. If we’re not being a giant Jesus in the world, if we’re not our own marketing campaign, there’s little point telling people about Jesus on billboards and tv. Jesus got killed for his nonviolent intervention in the destructive systems of the world. We seek to similarly place ourselves in the way of the world’s systems.
I’m sorry you find it hard to accept that this was not about media attention. Yes, we would have done it and called it a success even without any media attention. Because the point is to be faithful – as Dorothy Day used to say, “our call is to be faithful, not successful.” Following Jesus by concretely intervening in Australian and US warmaking was what it meant for us to be faithful. Getting killed on a humiliating cross on the outskirts of empire would’ve looked pretty much like failure to the disciples at first too, but as we know it was something more than that. Thankfully I’m not in charge of how history comes out, that’s God’s job. I just have to be faithful to his story in my historical context.
The irony in your question, “Do you have a similar bent for pragmatism as Dietrich did or do you feel that you would never do anything of the sort that he had the opportunity to do?” is that it assumes that violence is the “pragmatic” option, and nonviolence the principled one. In many cases I think it’s the other way around, or at least more complex than that. We’ve been trying violence in Afghanistan for 8 years, and the Soviets for 30 years before that. None of it has “worked” on a pragmatic level (it’s a more violent place than ever, surprise surprise), yet we somehow refuse to question the efficacy of violence, because the truth is as a society our ultimate faith is in violence, and that includes the church in many cases. The simple fact is that violence cannot achieve peace any more than shagging can achieve celibacy because it is its own logical negation. Violence covers over the inherent injustices with brute force and does not deal with the truth underneath. All it can prove is who is richest and strongest and can cause the most suffering to the other side. It can’t prove who is right. So I share Bonhoeffer’s pragmatism, but I believe he misplaced it by participating in the plot.
So let’s follow your last scenario. Let’s say I come across (who? – Hitler? Bonhoeffer? Osama? – I’m going to assume the latter) Osama on a mountain pass in Afghanistan. I hope I would sit down with him and talk so that he could see my humanity even as a white western man. I hope I would listen to him and hear why he does what he does, and that he could listen to me and hear a different take on western culture. Perhaps he’d lop my head off. But then I would have witnessed to Christ.
Have you heard of Dirk Willems? He was an Anabaptist who was persecuted and placed in jail by fellow so-called Christians, simply because he had been baptised again as a believer. He escaped, and while being chased Dirk’s pursuer fell through the ice and was about to drown. What does Dirk do? He turns around and saves his pursuer, knowing full well he’ll be captured and killed. His pursuer catches him, brings him back and Dirk is burnt at the stake (bummer!).
That is what it means to be Christ – to love our enemies despite the cost. Does it “work”? Not always, as Dirk found out (although it’s worth questioning what we mean by “work” – what does “success” look like? Mere survival? Jesus says those who want to save their life will lose it…and those who lose their life for his sake or the sake of the gospel will find it). As Yoder says, “Between the absolute agape which lets itself be crucified, and effectiveness (which it is assumed will usually need to be violent), the resurrection forbids us to choose, for in the light of resurrection crucified agape is not folly (as it seems to the Hellenizers to be) and weakness (as the Judaizers believe) but the wisdom and power of God (I Cor. 1:22-25).”
I think what’s unfortunate or unhelpful about your mountain pass scenario is that it again focusses on one person (as does the inevitable Hitler scenario), when the reality is that that particular person (in fact, many people) is tapping into (and a victim of) a whole lot of complex social factors, including poverty and cultural clashes and discontent at the invasion of sovereign states by perceived bully states and so on. So the question is not “what do we do with Osama bin Laden or Hitler?” but “how do we love those who see themselves as our enemies in such a way that they cease to see us as their enemies?” Instead of swatting mosquitoes (killing terrorists), how do we drain the swamp that produces them? I don’t think more bombs are going to do it. More aid and schools and hospitals and good relationships might though.
Which brings me to Janet’s questions, which are great questions and I apologise for taking so long to get around to answering them.
“Is a “peace keeping” force OK? Is a police force OK? Is a defence force OK?”
I have some questions for your questions (ever notice how Jesus does that a lot?! Very annoying!) Can you “keep peace” with a gun or can you only force the repression of overt violence? I would say the latter. And I agree with Jung that “whatever is not transformed is transferred.” As someone once wisely observed, peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice. Where people are only not being violent because someone in front of them has a bigger stick, you probably don’t have the presence of justice. That’s one of the reasons for Hitler’s rise – the allies after WW1 decided to humiliate Germany and crush them. All it did was make them want to rise up and humiliate those who had humiliated and subjugated them. It’s a vicious circle. So it depends on what kind of peacekeeping you mean.
Groups like Christian Peacemaker Teams (and a bunch of others – including Peace Brigades International, Nonviolent Peaceforce, etc) have demonstrated the efficacy of creative, active nonviolence in situations of entrenched conflict (ie. war zones). Gandhi advocated nonviolent peace teams, and Abdul Ghaffar Khan (a Muslim incidentally) put it into practice in the hills of what is now Pakistan. These groups go unarmed into situations of violence to “get in the way” and work with local groups on grassroots peacemaking efforts. It’s much harder to kill an unarmed person, as they pose no threat to your own safety. What if the church saw this as its role? To concretely get in the way of violence at great personal cost? What a witness to Christ that would be!
Police force is interesting. Again, it’s a question of what you’re trained in. The old cliche applies, “when all you’ve got is a hammer every problem looks like a nail.” Hence when a 15 year old threatens police with a knife from 10 metres away in the next suburb over to me, they shoot him 7 times. Why? They’re trained for hours and hours and hours every month on using deadly weapons. They might do a couple of hours training in a year in talking someone down (if that).
There are two issues when it comes to police and military. One is the Christian response. Gordon is right that the world will do things their way (but as I said before it doesn’t mean we as Christians don’t call them to a better one). The Christian is called to live out the Kingdom now. Hence the early Christians did not leave the military, but did two things – one, they refused to bear the sword. Two, they refused to wear the amulet that indicated allegiance to Caesar. For this they were crucified – what kind of army marches out unarmed, right? But they had a new Lord.
So the question is who is the “we” we want defended? If in Christ we are a new family, then our allegiance is no longer to the government or state or social group in which we find ourselves. Our “we” is a commitment to the children of God – the whole cosmos. After all, to be a child of God is to be a chip off the old block who “makes the sun to shine on the good and the bad, and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” This changes what a defence force might look like considerably. It means protecting the vulnerable, not defending “my” territory. And it means doing so with your own vulnerability. Nonviolence can seem like an unnecessary stricture. But once you renounce violence, a whole world of engagement opens up that was never possible when you saw the “other” as an enemy to be destroyed. It’s infinitely more creative, infinitely more freeing, than violence.
So the world can do what it likes, and the Christ-follower’s job is to call it to repentance (while simultaneously working on our own!). So whether it’s a defence force, or a police force, or peacekeeping, I believe it can be best done nonviolently.
Regarding the Rudd/Obama thing, I was just making the point that Bonhoeffer’s actions were by a group against their state, and can therefore not be used to justify state violence. It’s easy for us with hindsight to demonise the Nazi regime, but let’s face it, a lot of very ordinary citizens thought it was the greatest thing for their country, and far from questioning it, went willingly along. I think there are more parallels for our situation than we are comfortable admitting. We may not live in a totalitarian state, but our country is involved in killing thousands of people.
Finally, here’s a link to an article by a Baptist with all the reasons why we should end the war in Afghanistan…it’s a pretty comprehensive and convincing case, I must say.