Friday, February 11, 2011

Christian pacifism in the 21st century

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Lisa with the late Glen Lapp, in Afghanistan
Lisa Schirch's name has come up before on this blog. She was one of the first professors I studied with upon coming to Eastern Mennonite University over two and a half years ago. Recently having "retired" from her faculty position at EMU, Lisa is now focusing most of her energy on being the director of the 3D Security Initiative, which, according to its website, "(promotes) conflict prevention and peacebuilding investments and strategies in U.S. policymaking." Lisa is a Mennonite, Christian pacifist, yet her work often takes her into the halls of power in Washington, D.C. - where 3D's office is based - and also gets her audience with the military. For the past few years, she's been making trips to Afghanistan to teach peacebuilding and work with local and national issues on the ground there.

For this work and the convictions which fuel it, Lisa is often criticized from all angles. From within her own tradition, fellow Mennonites blast her for working with the military. Anabaptist theologians get nervous that she's not "theological enough" in her peacebuilding work. From fellow Americans outside the Mennonite tradition, she is criticized for her "irresponsible" pacifism, enjoying the freedoms that the State has fought/still fights so hard to secure and maintain. Check out this wonderful confessional and challenging piece that Lisa recently had published, and then read on after the link for some further reflections:
Confessions of a modern day pacifist: What should pacifism look like today?
by Lisa Schirch, in The Mennonite

Toward a postmodern Christian pacifism
Some of the challenges to modern-day Christian pacifism which Lisa articulates at the end of the article are very good, and need to be taken seriously by pacifist theologians (such as myself). Sticky situations are common when one boldly steps into the (nonviolent) battle of Christian peacebuilding. Moral ambiguities come crashing like waves against you. For example, post-conflict child soldiers who've committed horrible atrocities are deeply traumatized children in need of restoration to their communities. How to do justice here? What brings peace? What might a practical glimpse of God's in-breaking peaceable kingdom look like? Offenders (traumatizers) are victims (traumatized), and victims are offenders. How can you not be moved amidst these forces?

One of Lisa's strongest rebukes to pacifists in Anabaptist traditions is this: "The U.S. military is a scapegoat for many U.S. pacifists. Condemning military aggression is easy; we point fingers at other people who do harm. There are not many pacifist efforts to love people in the military." This crops up in so many different practical ways in the U.S. Amongst Brethren, it seems like "pacifism" is associated with "liberal" and takes the shape of organizing protests and writing letters to U.S. policymakers, but not much else. (I'm oversimplifying and a bit cranky on this point, I admit.)

One of the reasons I'm studying both theology and peacebuilding/conflict transformation is to work at closing the disciplinary gap between pacifist theologians and peacebuilders who are nervous or suspicious of each other's work. Theologians are too "academic and theoretical" and peacebuilders "aren't theological enough." This dichotomy is damaging to a faithful, rigorously Christian peace witness to the world, and it needs to be addressed. It also reflects a secularity in the Christian academy that's unhealthy, an issue I've been studying especially in the philosophical work of James K.A. Smith and Charles Taylor. At some point, I hope to stop just studying these problems and begin to work at practical restoration.

These creative tensions are at the heart of what I've been calling "restorative theology," or theological peacebuilding. Disciplinary cross-mojination is becoming more common in the academy. For example, there is "theological ethics" (Stanley Hauerwas), "theological philosophy" (James K.A. Smith) or "philosophical theology" (yes, there's a difference), "political theology" (William T. Cavanaugh), and more. Thanks be to God, secular walls are crumbling in the Christian academy, and it's time that traditional Anabaptists and neo-Anabaptists stop their in-fighting and get serious about bridging the gaps between peacebuilding theology and practice. How about loving your enemies...even when they're fellow Christian pacifists?

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