March 28, 2021


A Tale of Two Cities: What the Cross of Christ Did (And Didn't Do) (Marc LiVecche,  March 28, 2021, Providence)

Christians acting Christianly in the context of this world will, almost without doubt, suffer for it. But neither suffering nor the risk of suffering is the esseof Christianity--neither describe it's essential nature. Suffering is an accident of history, not it's purpose. To say otherwise is to make a hash of our image of paradise and hamstrings any sense of urgency in the here-and-now to alleviate the plight of the poor, the orphan, or the widow. Their suffering, after all, is simply makes their Christianity comprehensible.

Stanley Hauerwas, naturally, is happily Zahndian, and he brings our attention back to the two processions. Reflecting on the events of Passion Week, Hauerwas writes: "We (that is, we Christians) have now been incorporated into Christ's sacrifice for the world so that the world no longer needs to make sacrifices for tribe or state, or even humanity." He continues:

Constituted by the body and blood of Christ we participate in God's Kingdom so that the world may know that we, the church of Jesus Christ, are the end of sacrifice. If Christians leave the Eucharistic table ready to kill one another, we not only eat and drink judgment on ourselves, but we rob the world of the witness necessary for the world to know there is an alternative to the sacrifices of war.

Hauerwas concludes from this that "the sacrifices of war are no longer necessary. We are now free to live free of the necessity of violence and killing. War and the sacrifices of war have come to an end. War has been abolished." How can this be? For "the church is the alternative to the sacrifice of war in a war-weary world. The church is the end of war."

Bless Stan's heart, but the world hasn't gotten the memo. But that is the point. The only way that Hauerwas can live in his alternative Kingdom is because the Earthly Kingdom of Pontius Pilate remains. Predominately military in nature, Pilate's primary tasks would have involved using his forces to maintain justice, order, and peace. The Pax Romana--the peace of Rome--was not perfect, not by a longshot. But Rome did a better job at keeping neighbor from eating neighbor than any of the alternatives then on offer. Rome was better--including better for the poor--than anarchy.

The belief that the power of Christian witness will end human conflict is something that history, a rudimentary understanding of human nature, and lived experience will not affirm. This is what makes Christian pacifism impossible for me to affirm. The Christian pacifist often assumes the classic Anabaptist position that while the government's use of force to punish the wicked is ordained by God, that is not the role of the Christian faithful who are, instead, to provide a peaceable alternative. But this distinction, as Nigel Biggar has often affirmed, is incoherent. If God Himself believed that Hauerwas' peaceable kingdom was currently practicable as an alternative to the more coercive kingdoms of this world, then presumably He--being a good God--would have ordained that peaceful alternative kingdom over the coercive kingdom. A good God would not, after all, ordain unnecessary coercion. As it is, were it not for this coercive kingdom, Hauerwas' kingdom would be overrun by the beasts. But at least in the suffering that followed Zahnd would find ample opportunity to comprehend his faith (!).

Snark aside, this latter point is the worse one. The implication of the fact that God has indeed ordained the coercive kingdom is that the just expenditure of force is actually necessary to prevent hells on earth and that, therefore, the peaceable kingdom of Hauerwas' inebriated imagination cannot be an alternative; it can only be parasitic. As Biggar puts it, pacifist believers are forced into "contradicting in principle what they depend upon in practice." They are able to keep their own hands clean only because others are willing to get theirs dirty. Ultimately, such a pacifist view is a crime against charity. Zahnd asserts that the constant rival to the kingdom of Christ is empire and that "the supreme obsession of empire is security." Empires, he tells us, "always justify their violence in the name of security." That may be. But for Zahnd to decry the Christian support for the sovereign's sword as a concession to empire is unjust. The Christian justification of violence--just force really--has never been security. It has always only been love.

The Palm Sunday processions into Jerusalem best signal not the entry of the peaceable kingdom over and against the coercive kingdom but, rather, of the Earthly Kingdom and the Heavenly Kingdom. In aspiration, these two kingdoms largely match Augustine's "two cities." Each was created by different kinds of love--the earthly city by self-love reaching the point of contempt for God, the Heavenly City by the love of God carried as far as contempt for self. Christians, however, presently live in both cities. Our dual citizenship is a calling.

Posted by at March 28, 2021 12:00 AM