Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Politics of the Cross versus Liberal Pacifism

A recent comment on my post refuting those who recklessly and slanderously accuse Israel of “genocide” accused me of not applying the “politics of the cross” to the Arab-Israeli conflict. He asked what I thought of a one-state solution and I dismissed it because it would put the Jews right back in the same position as they occupied in Germany in 1933 - a persecuted minority in a country run by people who had been telling the world for years that they believed the Jews should be wiped out. He then wrote the following:

“A one-state solution would have to assume a radically different approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict that took the long hard road of reconciliation as its goal and a willingness by both parties to absorb some of the violence on both sides. But the cross suggests that such reconciliation is possible...and, for the Christian, this is the sort of thing we are called to bear witness to.”

This is a classic statement of liberal pacifism. Liberal pacifism is Pelagian, Utopian and highly dangerous in a sinful, fallen world. Liberal pacifism turns the kingdom of God into a human political project that need not await the Second Coming. It turns the cross into a symbol of liberal faith in human nature, rather than viewing it as a symbol of the reality of evil and the necessity of Divine suffering for redemption. Liberal pacifism chooses not to take evil seriously and blithely assumes that all forms of human conflict can be settled by negotiation and compromise. Liberal pacifism is not about Christians being peaceful, but about the human race being peaceful here and now.

The politics of the cross, on the other hand, is a specifically Christian form of witness in which Christians evangelize without violent coercion and bear witness to the love of God in a world that is dark and evil. Following Jesus by taking up our cross means that we renounce the use of violence and seek to convert people by preaching the gospel, rather than by forced conversion. This makes Christians stand out in the world because most other religions either do not evangelize or else they not only occasionally slip into violence, but actually glorify it as Islam does in its concept of Jihad.

To apply the politics of the cross to the Arab-Israeli conflict as the answer is a category mistake. Neither Muslims nor Jews profess faith in Jesus Christ, so to ask them to take up their crosses and follow Jesus Christ in the way of suffering for the Gospel is to put the cart in front of the horse. The first thing Christians have to say to Muslims and Jews is the call them to accept Jesus as Lord, believe the Gospel and be converted. Then it would be right and proper to call them to follow Jesus in the way of peace. But to think that those who are not followers of Jesus can embrace the politics of the cross is to separate peace as a political project from the Gospel. Our message is that peace on earth is only possible through being reconciled to God and then to neighbor. Christians expect the lion and lamb to lie down together, but not until Jesus has returned, set up the Kingdom of God and begun to rule as the Lord and Messiah of all the earth.

In the meantime, given the fact of hatred, violence and anti-Semitism in the world, Christians will expect the nation state of Israel to adhere to just war theory in defending itself and to make war only as a police action for defensive purposes and never as a means of revenge, conquest, genocide or deliberate targeting of civilians. Christians will expect Hamas to repent of its hatred of Jews, clean up school textbooks that portray Jews as inherently evil, stop firing missiles into Israel, accept a two-state solution, renounce suicide bombing, accept the legitimacy of Israel as a nation, negotiate peaceful co-existence in good faith and use whatever means are necessary to police militants from within its ranks who wish to undermine the peace process.

Given these two sets of expectations, which side do you think is likely to come the closest to living up to its responsibility in the next 12 months?

I am concerned that the politics of the cross not become a bridge over which Evangelicals travel into Protestant Liberalism. Many people, I fear, do use Yoder's theology in that way, but it is illegitimate and much to be regretted.


Sam Adams said...

I appreciate this response, although I don't appreciate being called a liberal pacifist...I think my position is a bit more nuanced than that. It certainly made me pause!

It seems to me that if the Gospel is about reconciliation at all levels, then calling the parties involved in the Arab Israeli conflict to take positive steps toward reconciliation is simply consistent. I agree wholeheartedly that conversion is a crucial step, both personally and ethically, and that we cannot expect states and organizations to witness to the Gospel in their politics. Yet to the extent that God is at work in the world, even outside of the church, we can expect to see Gospel-like activity in the world. We can also bear witness to the Gospel by working and arguing for reconciliation between people groups in such a way that it bears a resemblance to the Gospel. The Mennonite tradition is well known for just this sort of thing. As I understand it, it is also the sort of thing that Yoder was arguing for in his "The Christian Witness to the State."

Perhaps the difference between my position and liberal pacifism is that I think Christian pacifism is rooted in the church and the Gospel and not the nation-state. Because Christ has made peace with us, so we seek to make peace with others, and be peacemakers in the world. The realism with which you trump the pacifist position as it is extended beyond the church rules out the possibility of such a witness.

I am not afraid to call nation-states to live up to the best of just war theory, which is why I was calling your original post to be problematic. Just because Israel is not committing Genocide doesn't mean that it is somehow in the clear. I raised the issue of proportionality precisely as a just-war challenge to your defense of Israel--not to mention the questionable status of the Palestinians as a people group against whom a state ought to wage war. They are, for all intents and purposes, caged refugees. Yes, the behavior of Hamas is evil, but something needs to break the cycle of violence--and more violence won't do it. I think the Gospel-centered theory of Just Peacemaking articulated by Glen Stassen ought to at least have a strong hearing in this case.

I hope to review Yoder's "Christian Witness to the State" over the next few hours as I fly to Edinburgh, so perhaps I will have more to comment on later.

Christ's peace,

Craig Carter said...

I never criticized you for having a vocation to a life of non-violence. And I would never criticize anyone for going to the Middle East and personally working as a peacemaker among Arabs and Israelis. Bearing a witness to the Prince of Peace is what Christians should do.

What I criticized you for was for buying into the one-state solution for Palestine/Israel. This position used to be reserved for fanatical Muslim extremists, but lately more and more Western liberals have adopted it. Slogans like "apartheid" and "genocide" are applied to Israel in an effort to de-legitimize it as a nation-state. Hypocritically trying to separate anti-semitism from anti-Zionism, such people are systematically undermining the right of the Jewish people to a homeland and unwittingly laying the foundation for another Holocaust. The main reason so many Jews were killed in WW II is that they could not flee Germany in the 1930's because other nations (such as the US and Canada) refused to accept them as refugees. And there was no Israel to flee to.

The problem with liberalism is that it is naive and utopian and, therefore, dangerous. I'm sure that many liberals sincerely believe that if everyone just made nice with Hamas they would come round to living in peace.

The problem is that liberals don't understand that not everyone in the world shares their values and beliefs. Liberals think liberalism is based on universal principles of human nature, (even while they are busy deconstructing every principle of human nature known to man). Liberals are conceptually confused. They think liberty is the highest good and they are ready to impose it on you at gunpoint. Memo to the West: Not everyone in the world is a liberal!

So there is nothing but parochial, liberal arrogance and an out-dated faith in the perfectibility of human nature as a foundation for believing a one-state solution would ever work under present circumstances.

Liberalism is not simply cute, misplaced idealism. It is stupid, dangerous and, when imposed on people who do not believe in it (as in Iraq) liable to lead to civil war, terrorism and dead children in the streets.

Sam Adams said...

You write,

"So there is nothing but parochial, liberal arrogance and an out-dated faith in the perfectibility of human nature as a foundation for believing a one-state solution would ever work under present circumstances."

This is true only if the one-state solution that is suggested is derived from a liberal understanding of human nature. If, however, a one-state solution finds a theological rationale in the faith tradition of Israel then it must come under a theological critique rather than being dismissed out of hand as "liberalism."

I am also somewhat suspect of your pragmatic reasoning. How do we know what will or will not "work" in Israel/Palestine? If Christians are called to be peacemakers, and that peacemaking is learned through the cross, then why should we rule out a cruciform peace? Is such a peace inconsistent with the Hebrew faith? Is it inconsistent with the nature of the cosmos? Are de-escalating initiatives ruled out a priori because they don't work? Is returning good for evil something that can only be suggested to people that have been baptized?


Craig Carter said...

My position is not based on pragmatism, if that is what you meant to imply. It is theologically based; the doctrine of original sin and my biblical eschatology are the roots of my suspicion of liberalism.

You ask a series of questions; here are some replies:

With respect to "the cosmos" I think you are completely leaving out eschatology. Let us not forget what period of history we live in. Yes, peace is coming when Jesus returns. But until then it will be "wars and rumours of war."

As for "de-escalating initiatives" I like the sound of that much better. Let's have lots of those baby steps and see how far we can get. What I am opposing is those who are impatient with such initiatives and who want closure now. So they demonize Israel and call for a single state with an Arab majority. They are right about one thing: that will bring peace - the peace of the cematery.

When you ask how I know peace can never come to Israel/Palestine, you assume that I know that it will "never" come. I did not say that. I said that the solution to the current situation is not a one-state solution. Maybe peace can come. (It is always possible that peace can come. Why not? We have peace in Canada and we are no better than they are.) But I think the best chance of peace lies in a two-state solution with international peace keeping forces committed to security for both states. So those who advocate the one-state solution are, in my view, ready to throw the Jews under the bus in order to get peace. This is a counsel of despair.

I am not against working for peace in Israel/Palestine. But I do not define a genuine peace as a solution that places Jews in the hands of their sworn enemies. And I do not believe that there can be peace until the Palestinian people themselves - not the US or Europe or Western liberals or anyone else - takes matters into their own hands and creates and elects a government dedicated to peace and honesty. Only the voters in the West Bank and Gaza can do this and they must be told bluntly that as long as they elect terrorists and corrupt manipulators no one can help them from the outside.