May 29, 2009

The Gift of Meekness: A Counter to N.T. Wright's Case For A Stronger United Nations, PART 2

N T Wright says of the powers that be:

"The problem, of course, is that human authorities themselves are then tempted to become part of the problem to which they are supposed to be an anticipation of the solution, and then you get the double chaos of tyranny – a chaos held in place by an essentially chaotic, because unjust, rule. Because one of the God-given tasks of authorities in the present time is to protect the weak and vulnerable from oppression, I believe that police action is often necessary, involving physical restraint and sometimes actual violence to prevent wicked and powerful people getting away with their intended ill-treatment of the weak, poor and vulnerable."

N T Wright is correct; police action is necessary; humans need to be restrained at some point because we are all fallen sinners. Police action, however, should never be confused with war-making or empire-building. Normally, Christians use Romans 13:1-7 as their text when arguing the state’s right to go to war, but the passage is primarily about the policing affairs of the nation-state. The activity of police forces are held accountable to higher authorities. Yoder argues that it is fallacious to place the doctrine of just war under the umbrella of police authority. While violence from a police officer is (ideally) applied to an individual who breaks the law, the imperative for justifiable wars does not seem to be located in this text. The sword, or the machaira, was really a dagger used by the Roman military that served as a symbol of judicial authority, not executive (Yoder, 203). An honest reading of Romans 13 should lead us to conclude that the Christian concept of Just War theory (which excludes Jesus’ peace-making mission) simply cannot be found in the text, rather the doctrine of Just War is read into the meaning of this passage.
Also, I feel uncomfortable with Wright’s vision of power where god is invisibly working behind the scenes as that g-d secretly and unambiguously endorses the heroes over the villains while Jesus functions as some superhero in the mold of Captain America who will come back to save the day just as the world is about to drown in chaos. In the realm of international politics, where EVERY state is driven by self-interest, any nation can be considered the “good” guy at any point in history as well as any country can earn the label of the “bad” guy just as well. Wright still understands the power of God as the ability to control, to micro-manage the human situation at any given point in history, joining the good guys in their cause eventually at the end. While Wright is honestly trying to deal with the problem of empires abusing their power, he falls into the trap of promoting a soft form of triumphalism. Rather than viewing Christian victory as something where the divine assures us of our triumph because of the effectiveness of some method or strategy on our part; rather true Christian victory comes from joining in the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah. If I may refer to Yoder once more:

"The triumph of the right is assured not by the might that comes to the aid of the right, which is of course the justification of the use of violence and other kinds of power in every human conflict. The triumph of the right, although it is assured, is sure because of the power of the resurrection and not because of any calculation of causes and effects, nor because of the inherently greater strength of the good guys. The relationship between obedience of God’s people and the triumph of God’s cause is not a relationship of cause and effect but one of cross and resurrection." (232)

Absent from Wright’s political theology expressed in his criticism of the U.S. and U.K.’s bilateral war in Iraq is what Luther called a “theologia crucis,” or a theology of the cross. Luther says that in Thesis 20, “He [sic] deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.” And in Thesis 21, he continues to say about theologians of glory, “A theologian of glory calls suffering evil while he [sic] calls works good. In fact, he [sic] works to avoid suffering.” One cannot divorce a theology of the cross from the Resurrection and Return of Jesus that easily in a Christian political theology. These three events constitute one salvific episode; to uplift one at the expense of the other is to neglect certain parts of the implications of God’s liberating and reconciling activity in the world. In particular, there is a tendency on both the right and the left to try to leave out as many references to the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth as possible. My fear is that Christian communities [that is, the many forms of Christianity whether they are Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, Mennonite, etc.] will start to adopt theologies of glory while neglecting those human beings on the margins of society, suffering and dying much like our Savior who has joined them in their oppressed state. In part three, we will examine what this means for a Christian view of international peacemaking missions.

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