Note: This is my second of two additions in the second edition of the #NewPacifism Synchroblog hosted by Rod at Political Jesus. This edition is called Cheap Peace.
In the last blog I argued in a footnote that while the Christian Pacifist class may do a good job of critiquing the Security State abroad, there is no workable critique of the Security State in the domestic level. I propose this is for a variety of reasons. First, Evangelicals overwhelmingly voted in George W Bush and his culture of war, and re-established him even after he and his neocon buddies showed the true face of their “compassionate” Christianity and just what kind of “democracy” they were exporting (and thus importing back into the US as well). So the Christian Pacifist focus on the War on Terror is an important critique. And because this critique was so little heard in the very White and thus Republican Evangelical churches, it caught on with a largely younger generation. In effect, taking on this message became profitable and popular. But it was also easier than critiquing the very essence of the White middle class existence.
This White Middle Class existence is built upon Black enslavement, Indigenous extermination, Brown deportation, racial-economic segregation and gentrification. The largest motivator for these actions is fear. Fear of a Black planet; fear of a Brown county. We readily see fear in not just conservative but liberal and progressive utterances in regards to People of Color. Hives. Muslim Terrorists. Crack babies. Thugs. Infestation. All terms dehumanizing POC. Even the idea of the “Model Minority” puts unrealistic and inhuman expectations on East Asians – using them as objects and props in the neverending socio-psychological war against Black people and other, less-desirable minority groups.
So the disconnect is so wide between the White World created on the energy of fear and the Black and Brown worlds controlled and to a degree defined by that same energy that it’s easy to see why White Christian Pacifists will not tackle domestic racism – it’s alien because they are a part of White Supremacist system and because Cheap Peace comes easy. In the American consumer culture, peace is merely another product that can be – under the right people – wished and spoken into existence. So the cries for Peace, Peace they cried upon Ferguson in the wake of the non-verdict were not cynical, but sincere and genuine. And that is the problem. They seem to actually believe that peace can be achieved abroad or domestically without tearing down the very systems that benefit them in the process. They actually believe that peace is merely a state of mind, and that they – being predominantly white and male – can institute that state of mind. It’s a colonial state of mind.
Even Banksy tends to have this neoliberal view.
And as Fanon points out, decolonization is an act of violence because colonization is an act of violence. This is why those who speak for the recognition of the humanity of black people in the framework of White Supremacist America are viewed as “race-baiters” and “racial instigators”. Notice that within this work I – as an identifiably white male – am never referred to as an animal (that distinction would go to my grandmother, friends and neighbors, I suppose), but merely as a trouble-maker. Christian pacifists do not like trouble because it makes things harder for them. Their work is in the speech acts and speech acts need Searlian contexts in order to be effective. The speech acts must be presented at the right time, in the right place, with the right set of words (or their acceptable approximates), and be agreed upon by all acting participants. For someone to reject the call of peace means that the peace-keeper has failed and must go it again. But the lack of peace isn’t due to the fact that the peace-speaker wasn’t working – it’s a result of uncooperative people (usually people of color, of course).
This is of course the essence of Cheap Peace. When Bonhoeffer critiqued Cheap Grace, he was speaking on such matters – grace given as a proximate, as a speech act when none was appropriate. Grace was given by the church over a murderous, genocidal, nationalistic state. His Lutheran church sanctified the Third Reich just as the White American Churches sanctify the White Supremacist code. To reject such is to reject peace. Is to stir up trouble.
This last week I was called a “racial instigator and 5th Column Marxist” by an ex-FBFriend. I joked – as one does – about adding these titles to my CV. I’ve already been long convinced that what the White Church needs is more racial instigation, as its complacency and silence breeds violence just as the Lutheran church’s did in the 1930’s and 40’s. In looking up what a ‘fifth column’ is, however, I was rather stoked. It is this idea of sabotage, of taking down a city or fortress from inside its own walls. I will gladly do that to capitalism, if I could. I will spread the very real news that capitalism is a great evil that is capitulated on the value of private property over the value of human lives. If that is not a fundamentally Christian morality, the one Jesus spoke of to the Rich Young Ruler, I do not know what is. Isn’t radicalism fundamentally instigation and sabotage? To work within the city of corruption and death and destruction to bring it to collapse? If the White American Church runs on a capitalist model (and it does) that benefits White Americans while silencing the voices of those on the margins, it needs to be brought down. It needs to be invaded. Perhaps the word closest to mind would be infested.
But even if the White Pacifist Christians speak out against injustice in and of their communities and silence their own hushing techniques, are they willing to uproot the systems that cause sustained, traumatic violence at home? Are they willing to strike simultaneously against not just the Military Industrial Complex, but against Heteropatriachy1? Not just against the Prison Industrial Complex, but capitalism? Not just that #BlackLivesMatter as a slogan in the same way that the professional anti-abortion industry co-opts the message that all lives are precious to God, but in a theologically robust and comprehensive way that the likes of James Falwell, Chuck Colson, and Operation Rescue never ever comprehended?
The Security State is in place to protect White Middle Class American fears. Is it not the job of Christian theology – and certainly any pacifist view based on that theology – to erase fear with hope and love? And if love in action is the work of justice (I argue it is), and if we recognize that peace does not exist outside of justice, instigate. Instigate!
It is cheap to maintain the status quo at home while demanding change abroad.
This is Cheap Peace. The fact that lives are cheap and that all we need to do is say some words about how lives are treated over there by our government. But very little critique is here, at home. Peace is cheap and shouldn’t cost us some businesses, right?
1Patriachy is the logic that naturalizes social hierarchy. Just as men are supposed to dominate women on the basis of “natural” biology, so too should the social elites of a society naturally rule everyone else through a nation-state form of governance that is constructed through domination, violence and control. Patriarchy, in turn, is presumed a heteronormative gender binary system. Thus, as Ann Burlen argues in Lift High the Cross, it may be a mistake that the goal of Christian Right politics is to create a theocracy in the United States. Rather, CRp work through private family (which is coded as white, patriarchal, and middle class) to create a “Christian America.” She notes that the investment in the private family serves to make it more difficult for people to invest in more public forms of social connection. In addition, investment in the suburban private family serves to mask the general disinvestment in urban areas that makes the suburban lifestyle possible. The social decay in urban areas that results from this disinvestment is then construed as the result of deviance from the white, Christian family ideal rather than as the result of political and economic forces.
- Andrea Smith, “Dismantling the Master’s Tools with the Master’s House: Native Feminist Liberation Theologies.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion (22:2), Fall 2006, p 96.