21 March 2013

Christian jihad

For the last few days, I've been vaguely following stories about U.S. President Obama's visit to Israel and Palestine--but then my attention was riveted by an interview in Christianity Today with "God's Smuggler," Brother Andrew. Judge for yourself:
Bin Laden was on my prayer list. I wanted to meet him. I wanted to tell him who is the real boss in the world. But then he was murdered, I call it. Murdered, because he didn't shoot back. He had no resistance. That's not warfare. And I have had too much of that. A good number of my own friends in Gaza have been assassinated.
I would love to imagine a meeting between Barack Obama, Christian, and Brother Andrew, Christian. With Obama, chief cheerleader of the operation that killed Bin Laden, and Andrew, who had a different priority: to minister to Bin Laden.

Brother Andrew: screen capture from this interview recorded at the
Christ at the Checkpoint conference, Bethlehem Bible College, 2010.
I admire Brother Andrew and those like him who totally scramble the conventional categories. It is such a relief to me that someone who goes around the world preaching the Gospel that says "...love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (from Matthew 5:44; context) actually believes and follows the Gospel that he preaches.

Following up on this interview, I remembered that Brother Andrew had participated in the Christ at the Checkpoint conference a couple of years ago in Bethlehem. Between sessions at that conference he gave a brief interview which you can see here. I was particularly struck by a couple of points he made:
Stephen Sizer: You said in your presentation you were a pessimist, but because you were a pessimist, you were ...

Brother Andrew: That makes me busy! If I were an optimist, I would sit down with my wife, and with ... I use the word "geranium," because we happen to have them ... I think in a way Jesus was a pessimist because in the Gospels, right at the beginning of every Gospel, it already begins to talk about his suffering. He knew that's what he's heading for, that's what we are heading for, there's no other way than the way of the cross. If you go that way, it will end up in glory but through the cross. Why are we so afraid of the cross?

... I was speaking at the university, at the Hamas university, and all the Hamas leaders were there ... At the end of it I said I am not the man for a dialogue with you Muslims, but, I said, anytime, anywhere, I wanted a dialogue with Muslims on this one question, what kind of person does the book produce? Your book, my book. That's what I want to talk about.

Stephen Sizer: And you said, Christian jihad, from 1 Timothy, Paul said, I have fought that good fight--

Brother Andrew: I have fought that jihad. It's one thing to know what you believe intellectually, or even [what it] advises spiritually, but are you walking that way?--because only as you follow him, keep close, and only as you move, you have people follow you. If you just stay there static with all your tremendous righteous beliefs, you're not doing anything.
What Andrew calls pessimism seems refreshing realism to me. As optimistic as I am by nature, I can't see a path to peace in Israel and its region that doesn't include prayer and sacrifice. Among the things we must sacrifice is glib categories, politically convenient righteousness and cheap populism, guarantees based on violence. I think we must be willing to be broken--at the very least heart-broken--if we want to see fewer people broken by bombs and missiles and walls. But this is far from the triumphalism or the special pleading of most of the region's prominent actors.

When I was a new and naive Christian, I thought it should be axiomatic that the more conservative your theology was, the more radical your practice would be. That, however, is not how the conventional religion industry operates. Occasionally, I still see confirming flashes--such as these interviews with Brother Andrew.

Bin Laden is dead. Which of our enemies are you and I praying for today?

"How to be a member of Jesus's family."

Goodbye, Gordon Cosby.

"Why I'm fasting." ("Some of us have also articulated a desire to model sacrifice because transitioning to a society not dependent on fossil fuels is going to require sacrifice, something our culture doesn’t exactly promote.")

News items from space are especially rich this week: The Planck space telescope "reveals an almost perfect universe." And "Voyager 1 probe boldly goes, and goes."

The latest additions to the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry were announced today. To my total delight, they included one of my absolute favorite blues albums: Junior Wells, Hoodoo Man Blues.

In memory of Magic Slim....

Magic Slim feat. Keb' Mo' "Mother in law blues" & "The blues is alright" - Zycopolis Jazz TV from Zycopolis Jazz TV on Vimeo. - Jazz à Vienne 2012

Produced by : Zycopolis Productions
Directed by : Patrick Savey

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judi bola said...

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Anonymous said...

Hey Johan,

This is an interesting issue. We might need to get down to the bottom of it and ask ourselves - what is the Christian political view? Do we believe in Two Kingdom theology (espoused by Luther) or do we believe in a theocracy (founded entirely on Christian values)? Brother Andrews's viewpoint seems to fall into the latter camp. Obama, being "chief magistrate" of the most powerful country in the world and a believer of the First Amendment, obviously believe in the former. I suspect Obama would not object to Andrews's argument that one should minister to Osama. What Obama would argue however is that in a non-ideal world you need some sort of "enforcement" mechanism to keep things in order. Everything else, from wars, policing to the death penalty, boil down to the same one vs. two kingdom worldview.

Johan Maurer said...

As someone who once devoured just about everything that John Howard Yoder wrote, I've thought a lot about doctrines of two kingdoms. My thinking has developed (some might say degenerated) into a slightly different way of putting it: we humans are, for all our pretensions, still animals. We live in the animal kingdom. Animals have social organization, mobilize for survival tasks and for defense, develop hierarchies and territories, and so do we humans.

Awareness of our Creator's role in our lives, and love for us, changes us in ways that vary tremendously from culture to culture, and from person to person. Once we become aware of this role and this love, everything changes--but not all at once, and not in the same way for everyone. The kingdom of God and the animal kingdom are not sealed from each other; even the beastliest people can show flashes of godliness, and even the godliest people can become disoriented from time to time. And no two disciples reach the exact same level of maturity, insight, and freedom from animal compulsions at the same time and by the same path.

It's this overlap between the kingdoms, and the messy and uncertain process of being born again into God's kingdom, that fascinates me. However you label the two kingdoms, we take a wobbly path from one to the other. It may be right that Obama would approve of Brother Andrew ministering to Osama Bin Laden, but I believe (with the Anabaptists) that once Obama made a Christian commitment, there is no role permitted to him that allows him to order Bin Laden's death. Yet, Christians, by the millions, do take such roles; they continue to participate in the apparent imperatives of the animal kingdom, even as (to be fair) many do their best to ameliorate the obvious tensions between that kingdom and their own ethical ideals. Some even candidly talk about these tensions--Obama tried to do so, I believe, in his Nobel speech. But most of the time, Christian politicians wielding the sword don't spend time publicly regretting their actions and urging prayer for those they kill.

Maybe this huge territory of moral ambiguity, temptation, addictions, self-deception, that complicates any neat two-kingdom scheme ... maybe this is why "perfection" and "holiness" became so important in some Christian movements.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response. It was very well conceived. I guess the question really is - once a person has seen the light, can he return to become a cave creature on the ground that he lives in the cave and to survive in the cave he has to do so? (Just to borrow Plato's parable of the cave here for a moment?)

I think Catholicism and traditional mainline Protestantism are both highly tolerant of Christians behaving in bestial ways on the ground that we live in a bestial world and to maintain some orderliness and justice in the bestial world you need to crack a few eggs (terrible metaphor, I know...)

By the way, an example even more fascinating than Brother Obama would be Friend Nixon, yes? Nixon actually talked about his Quaker upbringing and its influence on him as a person and politician. It would be fascinating to learn more about his moral sensibilities.

Johan Maurer said...

Richard Nixon, hmmm...

Over the years, I've been involved in several extended conversations about Richard Nixon and the nature of his Quaker background. We've spoken about this to several at his Friends church and to a couple of his pastors. Quaker historian Larry Ingle has studied the topic for a long time, and some of his conclusions and interpretations can be found online by doing searches for Nixon plus Larry Ingle. Two fascinating examples:

"Was Richard Nixon an exemplary Quaker?" and "Richard Nixon's First Cover-Up." The subject of breaking eggs to make an omelette comes up briefly, in a way, in this Bibles-at-presidential-inaugurations news article.