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Sticking it to the Man

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : June 2, 2008

Mark Van Steenwyk is the general editor of Jesus Manifesto. He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife (Amy), son (Jonas) and some of their friends.


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    Mark, you've captured quite explicitly my frustration with the secular peace movement -- and it's more a heartbreak for it on my part than it is a frustration. We insist on loving America's enemies, but don't love those we most directly see as our enemies (neocons, corporate folks, Erik Prince, Dick Cheney, whomever).

    Maybe that's why the epistles tell us to pray for and honor political leaders -- perhaps when those letters were written, such power-brokers WERE the church's enemies. "Pray for your leaders", in the logic of the New Testament, might just be a synonym for "pray for your enemies".

    Oh how Constantine changed that one! *sigh*
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    ha ha ha awesome!

    I was wearing my 'Bush/Cheney '08' shirt out one day and some guy stops me and says "Are you seriously going to vote for them?". After we established the basis of the 22nd amendment, and our mutual discontent with politics as a medium for change, he said "well, anybody that isn't Republican".

    I asked him if he really wanted changed. He said yes. I replied "Unless you can love George W. Bush like you love Osama bin Laden, and love both like you love yourself....there's no change."

    Our conversation ended there, but on a good note.

    On the other hand, my wife's (then girlfriend) roommate in college was a die-hard Republican/fascist, and declared that one may as well give up their faith if they would stoop to voting for Kerry in '04. I asked her if she would be praying for the president with the same fervor if it were Kerry for four years, and if not, to shut up (politely). There's no mandate to AGREE with the leaders you are praying for.

    So to all the anarcho-punks out there - my protesting of the RNC will be by supporting and loving the Republicans around me. And those heartless Democrats. ;)
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    Ouch! Republicans = fascists? So...Dem's + Roe v Wade = Babykillers? I am not sure you want to stay on this path with those types of examples out there! Rocks in glass houses and so forth...

    Oh...and Yep! Prayed for Clinton too!
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    Not Republicans....Republican. Singular. :)

    Just her. And maybe a couple others, but hardly the whole party.
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    Is peace the lack of shooting? Can we be mercifiul and love our neighor without justice? I have never been able to wrap my arms around why those who hate the RNC, corporate types and neocons have such venom in their hearts. With Jesus extolling Roman Centurions, His description of the actions of a good shepherd does (ask the wolf how he feels about this?) and then His use of a whip as he drives the moneychangers out of the Temple, I fail to see the corrolation between between the perception of a so-called peace movement and the actions of our Master.

    As an undershepherd, we are always called to be 'consistantly and regularly led by the Spirit of God' as these end up being the 'mature sons of God' that are spoken of in Romans 8. Does this not call on me to on one hand act like Jesus and love the unlovely (prostitutes, beggers, rich young rulers and government officals) while at the same time protecting those who are vulnerable (Kurds, civilians, etc.) who are within my care as the example given by the good shepherd? Knowing how to weld a whip (or whatever conventional tool) gives me the ability to be flexible and discerning, all while led by the Sprit of God as a mature son of God.

    As individual sons and daughters of the King, we need to follow our individual convictions. Working together, we can perhaps find the whole counsel of God. But we must also understand that our Lord also places those in government oversight (good or bad leaders) for the 'punishmnet of those who do evil' as in 1Peter 2:14.

    A good soldier prays for peace...and prepares for war! That is the posture of a really good shepherd! To shrug your shoulders, throw up your hands and run away when the wolf approaches are the hadits of a bad shepherd. Jesus knew what to do with demons, those who where demonized as well as just plain evil men! He also knew when to have physcial mercy on them too!

    Brian
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    Hey Brian,

    I think the things you bring up are definitely in need of a response. These are many of the same objections I use to raise. I'll try to deal with some of them as I see them. This is by no means a comprehensive, end-all response, but the way I've dealt with some of these issues.

    Brian:
    "With Jesus extolling Roman Centurions..."

    The centurion was extolled for his faith, not for his participation in the military. Jesus said nothing regarding the soldier's occupation.

    Brian:
    "His description of the actions of a [what] good shepherd does..."

    I take it you are referring to John 10? Well, let's take a look at the text.

    John 10:11-13 (NIV):
    "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep."

    The actions of a good shepherd are laid out pretty plainly: "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." He says again in v.15, "I lay down my life for the sheep." He allows harm to be brought to Himself instead of allowing others to be harmed or Himself harming.

    Brian:
    "His use of a whip as he drives the moneychangers out of the Temple..."

    I think that is a poor interpretation of the passage in question.

    John 12:13-16 (NIV):
    "When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!""

    Jesus used the whip to drive out the "sheep and cattle," not money changers.

    Brian:
    "As an undershepherd, we are always called to be 'consistantly and regularly led by the Spirit of God'"

    Yes, indeed. And "the fruit of the Spirit is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23)...killing people (no matter the reason) is not.

    Brian:
    "Does this not call on me to on one hand act like Jesus and love the unlovely (prostitutes, beggers, rich young rulers and government officals) while at the same time protecting those who are vulnerable (Kurds, civilians, etc.) who are within my care as the example given by the good shepherd?"

    Oh, it most definitely does, Brian! It is just that the two are one and the same (acting like Jesus and protection those who are vulnerable). However, you are making the unjustified assumption that the only way to protect or care for the oppressed is by eliminating the oppressor. That is the way of the World. It is the duty of a Spirit filled believer to seek (and act upon) distinctly Kingdom of God ways of going about this business. This will always look like Jesus Christ dying on the cross for the very people who crucified Him.

    Brian:
    "But we must also understand that our Lord also places those in government oversight (good or bad leaders) for the 'punishmnet of those who do evil'"

    Yes, our Lord has most certainly instituted the governments of the world (Romans 13). Yes, He most certainly uses them to bring about His will. However, instituting and using do no necessarily entail control. It does not say that God created or ordained the governments, but that he "orders" them. However, in many places the Scriptures make it seem as though the the enemy is in control of them. For instance, in Matthew 4:8-10 we see part of Jesus temptation with satan. It says,

    "Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'"

    Notice Jesus didn't object to satan's claim? Apparently Jesus didn't disagree with satan's claim to power. Rather, He made it abundantly clear that He wasn't doing things that way.

    Brian:
    "A good soldier prays for peace...and prepares for war! That is the posture of a really good shepherd!"

    Indeed it is, my friend! But again, you assume too much. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12). As Christ's followers, we are not warring against people, but THE enemy. The way we do warfare is not by the power of the sword, but with self-sacrificial love.

    Hope this helps.

    in Him,
    >>zack
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    Zack,
    Maybe you can explain to me how you see the Christians in Darfur should resolve their situation peacefully? I've thought a lot about civil disobedience, and other such peaceful protest means of changing situations, but I just can't see how they work in a situation where the political power is determined to practice genocide. I think we resort to violence to solve problems way to quickly when we haven't tried more peaceful methods first. But in the case of Darfur, I can't see how the people of Darfur can be protected without the threat of violence.

    Thanks for your response.
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    I'm not even going to pretend like I have a legitimate answer to this question. I think about real-life scenarios (like Darfur) and others (like protecting my family from a home intruder) all of the time. Those are mostly what-if situations. "What would I do if I were in Darfur?" What would I do if someone broke into my home and threatened my family?" I honestly can't say. What I can say is that I hope and pray that my relationship and dependency upon the Holy Spirit would guide me to the right decisions. As Spirit-filled followers of Christ, we should see possibilities in these situations that others will most likely not.

    However, even though you or I or many others may not be able to provide what many would feel to be an adequate "Christian" response in Darfur, there is one thing I can assure you. It should not involve killing people. It should always look like Christ dying on the cross. It should look like self-sacrificial love. Period.

    Honestly, the thought process that says we must use violence to end violence simply does not make sense to me any more. I see it as utterly nonsensical. To say that I am going to prevent someone from killing someone else by killing them is self-defeating. What if someone else saw us as bullying the people that we saw as bullying to begin with and they decided they wanted to stop us from killing the original bullies? Who is right then?

    See what I mean. That kind of thinking simply contributes to the seemingly endless "tit-for-tat" game of the world. We are called to stop that process dead in its tracks.

    Back to the question. When I really think about what a "Christian" response to Darfur would be like, it seems to me that it will almost always be played out on an individual basis. The question, "How can I serve self-sacrificially in this situation?" should be the question that plagues our minds." It will be a moment by moment commitment on an individual basis to love as Christ loved, and if necessary, die like Christ died. When Christ tells us to pick up our cross and follow Him He is essentially saying, "Come and die." I have a conviction about so-called "peaceful protests." The ideology I buy into is more "non-resistance" than it is "non-violent resistance."

    Thanks for the question. I hope I did it at least a little bit of justice (thought I probably didn't).

    in Him,
    >>zack
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    This would be an answer for John Mulinde or Michael Kimuli (http://www.worldtrumpetmission.org/)

    Maybe I can interview them on how this was done in Uganda, under Idi Amin and Tito Okello. This was a situation where churches were forming in neighborhoods that were used as target practice by soldiers. Pastors would meet and pray in the jungle. The executions of pastors and their congregants in church buildings reinforced the understanding that church doesn't really happen there anyway.

    Idi Amin didn't last. The church did - and flourished. And now, slowly, the country is beginning to as well.

    There are still a number of issues, but at no time did 'the church' take up arms and fight.

    On the flip side - the church HAS been involved in more recent military activity, namely the battles against the Lord's Resistance Army (yes, the one that kidnaps kids to use as soldiers). Last I spoke with people over there the military was sending pastors out ahead to pray over territory control by the LRA and the spirits behind them. Only after prayer went forward was the military able to defeat some of the guerilla groups.

    Mind you, that information is second or third hand, so don't take it all as gospel - it's been a few years so my facts may not be 100%, but they're close. What I can do, perhaps, is see if I could get one of them to tell the stories in their own words.

    Peace
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    That would be really great! I find that if I premeditate other options, I'm much less likely to use violent ones. Of course, I always hope I'm not put in such difficult situations and I do believe that the Holy Spirit can guide us in the moment, but I think it is much easier for the Holy Spirit to work if we have meditated on God's way beforehand.

    Zack,
    I agree whole heartedly about stopping the tit-for-tat with self-sacrifice. I'm just wondering if there aren't some circumstances where self-sacrifice might be aiding the enemy rather than stopping evil. Darfur seems like it might be one of those situations.

    While I want peaceful solutions to every conflict, and I'm willing to explore and pursue those possible options, I'm just not convinced from reading either the New Testament or the Old that in all situations violence or war are totally out of the will of God. Ecclesiasties indicates that there is a time for war. And when soldiers in the New Testament repented or became Christians, they were not instructed to give up their occupations, (in contrast to the 'go and sin no more' directive given to the prostitute). I will concede that whatever place violence or war might have, it is going to be a lot, lot less than we practice today.
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    "I'm just wondering if there aren't some circumstances where self-sacrifice might be aiding the enemy rather than stopping evil. Darfur seems like it might be one of those situations."

    When left to human reasoning that would be the logical outcome. But that is just the point. We humans are broken...in a bad way. It is just like us to want to use violence to bring about our wills. But in this process we are no different than those we are trying to stop.

    "I'm just not convinced from reading either the New Testament or the Old that in all situations violence or war are totally out of the will of God."

    I believe you are right. I do not believe that violence and war are totally out of the will of God. Indeed, the Scriptures say that "in all things God works for the good of those who love Him" and "works all things according to the counsel of His will." I believe "all things" consists of war and violence. I DO NOT believe this means that war and violence ARE the will of God, but that He is not afraid to get His hands dirty and use us as we are. The war and violence in the OT are a perfect example of this. There are too many people who are so very quick to look to the OT to justify their "just-wars" and ignore the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. We should seek to interpret the OT narrative in light of what God has revealed of Himself in Christ. If Christ is presented as an all-loving, self-sacrificial, humble, servant then that is how God actually is. Period. That understanding that we gain from Christ trumps all.

    I recently read a very compelling view of the violence in the OT. It treated as thought it were a negative object lesson. In other words, if we get uncomfortable when we read about exterminating entire populations and bashing babies against rocks....it is because we are supposed to. Through that process God was revealing to us that it simply can't happen that way (nationalistically). When we try to make it happen that way it gets very very ugly.

    As far as the NT is concerned. I'm not sure how anyone can look at the example we have in Christ as a humble, self-sacrificing, servant and think that war and violence are viable options as Kingdom of God people. The soldiers weren't instructed to give up their occupations because that simply isn't they way we function. We leave people room to work things out on their own. We don't demand for people to quit their jobs just because they get saved (even if they are prostitutes). That's one of the lovely, scandalous, things about Grace. If/When God convicts them we'll be waiting with a smile. I believe this is what Paul was getting at in Romans 14, not just food and days, but in all areas.

    in Him,
    >>zack
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    The "what about Darfur?" question is one that intrigues me, because -- and I'm not trying to pick a fight, honest -- it assumes an ethical stance is only cogent if it offers a "fix" to this kind of problem. It also tends to presume that we (and in this case I don't think it matters who "we" are) have the prerogative to adjudicate human affairs. Yes, the blood of the slain cries out for justice. And I hope nothing I might say, no noise I might contribute to the din of those of us who probably have no right to speak, would take away from the tragedy and inhumanity of genocide. This is not light stuff.

    But what if peace -- which is not the absence of shooting but the fruit of reconciliation -- cannot be reached in Darfur at this time? What if Christians in Darfur can do nothing more "effective" than suffer alongside the suffering and mourn with those who mourn? Is that nothing? Is that wrong? How do we respond? I think there is something to be said for an ethical stance that suggests we work, as we are able, for peace, and die, when we must, for peace, but never, if are to follow Jesus, kill for peace.
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    Ted. You're awesome. Beautifully and succinctly said.
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    I couldn't agree more.
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    "but never, if are to follow Jesus, kill for peace."

    I get uncomfortable with the word "never". It is a very extreme word. I am reminded of two things: the lies Christians told during the WWII in order to save Jews lives, and the psalm of David in 2 Samuel (RSV): God shows Himself pure to the pure but to the perverse He shows Himself perverse. While I would like to make every effort not to use violence or kill someone else, I can't conscientiously say that I would "never" intentionally kill someone.

    I'm not sure you can make absolute statements like that even with using Jesus as your example. I'm even more doubtful if you take the whole of the Bible into account. And I'm definitely skeptical if you broaden your perspective to include all of creation.
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    Maria,

    There was no link to respond directly to your comment, so I'm responding here.

    You're right, of course: "never" is a strong word, and I understand your discomfort -- your skepticism is healthy. I actually indulge in very few absolutes, if we're being honest, but this is one of them. Perhaps, like me, you only have room for so many absolutes and you've spent yours somewhere else that would make me uncomfortable. I'm okay with that.

    I can't say I would never resort to violence. In staking out an ethical position I am not holding myself up as an example. Having demonstrated myself capable of unethical behavior for ignoble purposes in my life, I have no delusions of my own moral rectitude. I would hope, should my moxie be tested in some significant way, I'd have the guts to be a pacifist. But I wouldn't place any bets.

    In appealing to Jesus, I can only point out that he never did kill for peace (or any other reason), in spite of being in situations where most of us could easily have justified it. Whether are not there are situations in which he might have is, to my mind, purely academic. The way Luke narrates the story, he may have considered it (he was, after all, tempted in every way), but by the time anyone gets the chance to lay the smack down, Peter is instructed to put away his sword.

    I don't blame WWII Christians for lying to save others (especially since I wasn't there), and I'm not sure that is in the same category as "killing for peace". Moreover, recognizing that you might violate your own principles in dire circumstances is not the same as deliberately placing yourself in in situations where those circumstances are likely to come up, or deciding ahead of time what those circumstances might be and claiming them as exemptions. I don't think an honest appraisal of our potential weaknesses necessitates the compromise of our ethical positions in order to accommodate those weakness.

    Ted
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    Zack,
    You said, "Yes, our Lord has most certainly instituted the governments of the world (Romans 13). Yes, He most certainly uses them to bring about His will. However, instituting and using do no necessarily entail control"... "Notice Jesus didn't object to satan's claim? Apparently Jesus didn't disagree with satan's claim to power. Rather, He made it abundantly clear that He wasn't doing things that way."

    Satan only has the power that God allows him, after all God is sovereign. Govts., and people for that matter, can only do what He allows them to do. As a Jesus follower I strive to live "a quiet peaceful" life, which I hope never includes violence against me or by me. How do we step into a conflict to protect the "innocent"? Who is the "innocent"? And, how do we know the difference?

    Should we stand off to the side in our cozy western life and admonish the factions to please stop? Should we get between the parties on put daisies in the barrels of their guns? Should we physically remove their weapons from them? I don't have an answer. But, I have worked with at risk teens for many years and have inserted myself in to several conflicts to stop the violence. What that has meant is that I put myself between the warring parties. I have had to take the punches while trying to keep them from hitting each other and physically restraining them in the fight. Was I wrong? Maybe. Did the fight end? While they were around me. Did I get to talk to the parties about the love of Jesus? Many times. Did they care? Occasionally. What would have happened if I stood by and said to them, " please stop the fighting"? or just brought out my daisies and said "peace"?

    Just questions, I have no hard and fast answers.