5th Column and the Way to Peace: A #CheapPeace Synchroblog

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.

Riot Police in the Field, Peace - Banksy

Riot Police in the Field, Peace – Banksy

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.
Advertisements

Oppression and Civility: #TheNewPacifism

Note: This is my final (and fourth) submission for the #TheNewPacifism synchroblogathon hosted by my good friend h00die_R at Political Jesus. Please check out other fantastic entries from h00die, Sarah Moon, Dianna Anderson, and myself (“toot toot”!), among several others.

Christian writer Sarah Bessey’s new book, Jesus Feminist, is getting a lot of deserved attention, I believe. I have not read the book and may never do so (this is not a slight on the book. I’m just a slow reader and all), but I’m thinking of conversations around the book and particularly this trend of privileging the “civil” and “non-angry” feminist/pacifist/anti-violence activist.

I can see some benefits certainly to approaching injustice in a manner which makes it easier to engage in conversation with those who have not had the easiest time comprehending, let alone owning, that injustice. But that route isn’t for everyone – nor is it the only effective manner of addressing injustice; it is the nicest way, though, and so is easier on the ears (which, again, has its uses).

But recall that civility is the language of aristocrats, of Southern gentlemen of the antebellum US South, of knights, of gentrifying landlords, of oppressors whose depth of brutality was unparalleled by the unwashed heathens, enslaved, and peasants.

Chap Explored!

Do remember to be civil while I kick you out of your home, my dear chap!

This week, on my Facebook page, I was called too emotional and irrational during an argument with a man who kept referring to abortion as “murder” and “killing.” Actually, I had laid out several reasons why it was immoral and violent for him, under the guise of being “pro-life”, to use such terms– some being that this rhetoric energizes and enrages anti-abortion fringe violence; that it dehumanizes and marginalizes people who have had abortions; that the definition that anti-abortion people have of “life” (more precisely, “personhood” but they tend to use “life”) is not common nor accepted outside a specific, narrow and religious scope; and that the rhetoric uses the most extreme of common law language to label those who have aborted or performed services as death-worthy criminals.

But I was being emotional. Calling my friends murderers will tend to do that, though. So I have no regrets.

Would it have mattered in this case if I were being civil? Nope. Others who disagreed with him and tried to engage on different levels were also called irrational (This is what happens when women argue with Mansplainers and when men argue alongside women with Mansplainers. We’re all irrational), if not ignored or dismissed in other ways.

But the cries for civility continue from privileged Christians. “We can’t hear you through your anger.” And yet, the oppressed somehow have a hard time being heard no matter what language is used.

Expanding on that a bit: Civility is a language – it is the language of the oppressor. It is the language used to disguise oppression under the veneer of exaggerated humanity and mannerisms. One need not read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to see the direction this goes (well, I haven’t at least. Again, slow reader..)

Rather than touting civility as a neutral good, recognize it as the language of the violent elite being forced unto the masses as a way to distract from and hide societal violences. If a pacifist chooses to use civility or is comfortable in its use and can use it as a way of dismantling the powers that be, that is great.

But a new, integral pacifism will understand that the language of the oppressors, of the colonizers need not be the language of the oppressed and the colonized. And attempts to make it so is an act siding with violence.

Being civil sometimes isn’t being lovely.

On Praxis Versus Stasis: #TheNewPacifism

Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law.
Galatians 3 (The Message)

I identify as a Christian, as a communist, as anti-violence, and as an anarchist. Which I know confuses the mess out of people (partly why I like to identify as such).

But these are words. Markers. They help to frame, but don’t quite place. What does it mean to be a Christian (and particularly a White, male, straight) Christian in the United States? Both Cornel West and George W Bush are Christians. What does it mean to be a socialist – as one tends to think of Che, Mao and Castro, of violent unions and Soviet propaganda or super-duper unions and guys on Macs talking about revolution in coffee shops? And how does that jibe with they typical understanding of anarchism – whether that be Sex Pistols fans burning stuff down, wearing handkerchief masks and beating down cops in the most popular imagination, or people who really like Ron Paul and Austrian Economics who insist that taxation is coercive theft and government is slavery.

Briefly, I believe in following Jesus Christ as my Lord and his counter-intutive ways of loving my neighbor as myself and seeing the Supreme Creator God in every person and interaction. This definition isn’t necessarily the same type that Billy Graham or Pat Robertson would use, but it fits in within the history of Christianity.

I also come from a tradition that states that Christianity is a central identity – that “once saved, always saved.” I suppose maybe that is true, but I see salvation as being something that is never complete, never full (of course, we mean different things when we speak of “salvation.” But Christians have generally meant different things by these terms throughout Christian histories and traditions): salvation as following Jesus and acting according to his Spirit as mediated in the world. It’s “captivating every thought and principality” and so there is never a point of completion, never a destination. Always a journey. (This idea isn’t unique, of course. Just rather foreign to some sections of fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity.)

Socialism and anarchy appear paradoxical. But, in short, socialism and anarchy combine to be the sharing of resources and wealth and political agency of each person – from what each has to what each needs (socialism) but without centralized power (anarchism). Generally, when people hear these terms, they also imagine a kind of netherworld destination. With these two, it is a place, a no-place, a Utopia. Rainbows and ponies and all that razzle-dazzle (not that there’s anything wrong with rainbows and ponies!) where all problems are forever solved and everyone drinks free milk pumped by brawny hands and sits on down pillows and 4000 count thread sheets sewed by delicate fingers.

feather love

But I can’t subscribe to that. There will be no such future state, because that is not who we are – we are not wired like that and there will always be someone to take advantage and oppress. Rather, I think of anarchy and socialism as trends, as direction, as practice. Not a future destination– but a way of equality and solidarity and mutuality where no one group or person is marginalized or oppressed for another, where all are represented and the underrepresented are finally represented.

It is for this that I cannot separate my Christianity from my praxis, my anarchism from my praxis, my socialism from my praxis – they must be more than words. They must be doings. Faith without deeds is dead, said the Apostle James, brother to Jesus.

Just as integrally, I cannot separate any of these from feminism and womanism and mujerism, from anti-racism and post-colonialism, or from anti-ageism and anti-ableism and all intersectional forms of justice and equality and talking back to the colonizers and oppressors.

It is feminism and anti-racism and anti-ableist agency that teach us how to recognize all people as fully human and respect places, identities, and the things that the privileged and powerful see as abnormal, as oddities, as less-than. These movements also teach us to identify and deconstruct the systems of power and violence that keep people in the margins and that deny access to integral resources and support. White men cannot quite comprehend the oppression and violence that black women face on a daily level through just the lenses of pacifism or anarchy or socialism because none of those strains are neutral. They come about through prisms, and for white men, they come through the perspective of white men. So we must learn to adopt and sync to other views as well; for though we White men can never lose our perspectives, we are foolish to merely retain ours as if it were the ONE TRUE objective perspective. There is no such thing.

Some would-be radicals will say that all of this is extra excess and nonsense. That all you really need is communism or anarchy or Christianity and the rest just naturally fall into place. But each identification has troubling aspects. Each identity must be subjugated to questioning and interrogation for its participation in White, Male, Cis-, Class, and Hetero-Supremacy.

When I teach or tutor or write or become involved in community efforts or parent, I consider that I am not the only shaper, that my experience is not universal; I am not the only person influenced and influencing this world. I can’t teach without desiring to empower my students and trying to meet each of them as not just students, but as equals, as human beings, as complex and wonderful people. I can’t father without believing fully that my daughter is a full and equal human being who is now a little girl and that I want to make the world somewhat better for her while helping her carve out a good path in this hostile world – hostile to women’s bodies and experiences and minds.

That is why I am not satisfied with just anti-violence or just Christianity or just anarchism or just socialism.

And so I listen to the marginalized and oppressed voices and I practice and I meditate and listen some more.

It sounds like something Jesus would do, bear with others. And so I try to act in accord.

Note: This is the third in my series on the #TheNewPacifism synchroblog, all of which are hosted by Political Jesus.

Violence in the House of Hell (A #TheNewPacifism Post)

This is my second direct contribution to Political Jesus’ #TheNewPacifism Blogathon, and is inspired by @graceishuman  and @scATX’s  visit to a Christian church’s Hell House last weekend (Storify here; vlodcast here  [no, seriously, that’s a thing]). The rest of my pieces on TheNewPacifism can be found here.

Consider the confluence of hellish theology and violence and one can come to understand how someone like Mark Driscoll cannot possibly believe that Jesus would be a pacifist. After all, if a loving God eschews violence, how can God then allow for anyone to be thrown into eternal, everlasting torment of the most extreme and perverse imagination*? How can one believe that we are all sinners in the hands of an ANGRY God and believe, at the same time, that that God is against aggressive violence? That the most powerful being in the world himself not only doesn’t prevent violence, but it is his** will to enact violence against his enemies. So, taking the words of Jesus – “Love your enemies and pray for they who persecute you” – against the actions of a God that will destroy the entire world by fire and throw its people into a burning lake, well, we trust actions, don’t we? We can proof-text “love”, but the violence of Cage Fighting Jesus (if Jesus does desire to send people into hell and looks like Mark Driscoll’s version, then it’s an appropriate name, no?) shall not be denied his blood lust.

This imagination favors drama, actions, and policies that justify and even promote violence. It is no wonder that little kids can watch ultra-brutal religious psychodramas like The Passion of the Christ or go through a Hell House with multiple murders, various forms of sexualized and domestic violences, but not be considered mature enough for a couple of curse words or sensualized kisses.

The theology and acceptance of hell is of such an extreme that very little else can compare. After all, violence is of a relative nature. What would be considered violent in one context – for example pushing as first contact between kids or throwing rocks at tourists – would most likely not be considered (or at least should not be) considered violent in another context – the pre-schooler protecting himself from the bully, the occupied throwing rocks to protest the bulldozers and militarized police. If the greatest threat of violence – that of neverending torture – is committed by a supposedly all loving God, then all violence done in the name of that God is sacred.

Mary Ellen Page's Halloween Town 2009

Another factor that jumped out at me about Grace and Jessica Luther’s reporting is how entertaining the whole thing is set up to be, and how monetized the structure is. Hell as we understand it in Western Christianity, is rooted into the deepest, most carnal parts of our chemical and primal need for fear and how that fear relates to entertainment. Who needs torture porn when we have Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God? And hell houses are marketed as both a ministry and as entertainment – as both fear away from something, yet also with a draw towards something. And, always, underneath, the capitalist need to market and bottom-line.

Finally, and this ties in directly with Christianity and non-violence, hell is a prominent tool used by Christians in delaying denying justice for those who undergo violence. Whether that violence be domestic, sexual, economic, racial/ethnic, the answer tends to be the same: What you are going through is sad, but what your abusers/oppressors will go through will be much, much worse.

This is not consoling; it is not peaceful and does not lead to shalom. It is synonymous with another type of post-crime retaliation: rape-and-homicide-as-punishment of sexual predators in jail.

The following is a real live true statement in the comments section of an article by Dianna Anderson on the connections between Christian Purity Culture and Rape Culture:

I’m sorry, and I’m grieved, for the abuses you suffered. There’s no excuse for that. Your abusers will eventually answer for their actions, to God if not in this life. I hope it might help to remember that we Christians follow a Lord who suffered horrible abuse, enduring it so that he could suffer with us and win redemption and healing for us.

This answer is not an answer. He is telling abused people to consider the extremities of eternal punishment as a stand in for their denied justice.  Tied into this is his usage of the abuse of Jesus as a way to remind us all that we should shut the hell up when seeking the removal of our abuse. (I guess the lesson of Jesus’ death is that marginalized people are supposed to suffer? Doesn’t seem that way to me, Foolishness of the cross and all). What kind of redemption and healing is there in a God who suffers horrible abuse and then tells us to do the same rather than seek justice?

I would venture to say that any religious theology that teaches that extreme suffering (whether in hell or on the cross) is not only natural but good, is an violent religion. I do not see how the God who comforts the afflicted and tells us to do the same would revel in that.

——————————————————————-

*(certainly of the type imagined by fire-and-brimstone preachers as originally popularized by Dante and his Inferno)
**forgive me. It seems fitting that the God of Hell be uber-masculine. If not necessarily describing male-ness (I don’t think it does), then in keeping with the tradition of the Patriarchical God that the Hell Theologies represent.

Christian Pacifism’s Unintentional Martyrs

This post is done in conjunction with the #TheNewPacifism blogathon hosted by our friends at Political Jesus. All the my posts on this series can be found here.

War is not the only – nor, would I argue, the greatest single – form of violence in the world. If we were to take a much wider and necessary lens to the subject of violence, I propose that we consider three primary forms through which it comes: Poverty, sexism, and racism/ethnicism. Because war is special; it is declared; it is relatively infrequent; it is targeted. Yet poverty, racism, and misogyny are underlying and ignored facets of reality and the violence they wage are enfleshed and lived out every moment and in myriad and dynamic ways.

Those who do not believe that poverty is the basest of evils have never had the privilege of meeting poverty and its hunger, want, need, constant fear and worry. Nothing else kills as many people per day. Nothing else cuts the lives of children shorter, reduces men, women and children to mere numbers, consumable goods and numbers. Pacifists who consider war to be a great violence because of sheer lives killed are like anti-abortionists who only care about the life before birth, but not about the quality of life – not about abuse, neglect, health and well-being, or, well, poverty. They focus on lives being killed rather than lives being stolen and impacted.

We cannot look at any form of violence – whether it be poverty, war, or colonialism – without considering the weight of racism/ethnicism within it. What allows us to conquer and conquest a people is the evil internalized machinery that otherizes our fellow human being. We are so callously brutal to our fellow person because the evils of racism allow us to view them as brutes and bugs in need of destruction on the one end, in need of our rescuing on the other – but for most of us who reside somewhere in the ambivalent center, they remain the targets of our pity or the forgotten of our imagination – pushed out to the margins of remembrance. Here is the radical notion: People of color are human and are made in God’s image. The violence that befalls on them – whether through abusive microaggressions such as iconography and words that ostracize or stigmatize or institutional apartheid such as in South Africa of the 1980’s and Chicago of now – is not accidental. And we, White Christians, allow it through nullification, marginalization, and justification. Many Christian pacifists took to the blogosphere when Mark Driscoll said that pacifism is wimpy, but where was the outcry when Christian preacher John MacArthur said that slavery is a neutral good? Or when slavery apologist Douglas Wilson was saying he isn’t racist, but black people need to listen to him.

Misogyny is the premise that half of the human population is not quite fully human – that half of the population deserves to be the object of male sexual, psychological, and physical violence. But yet misogyny is the devil most often ignored or downplayed by Christian pacifists – the overwhelming majority of whom are white, economically-advantaged, and male. It is the physical and sexual abuse of women ignored by a party that largely idolizes a man, Yoder, while ignoring or downplaying his serial sexual assaults on women? Let us be unwavering here: Sexual assault is violence! Christian pacifism follows another man who had problematic statements telling Christians that their sex organs are not theirs* – a familiar Christian teaching with deep roots into Christian rape culture.

White Christian pacifists need to grapple with and antagonize over these demons within their leadership before they find they have much to say among themselves, least over the bodies of underprotected women and children who are taught to sacrifice themselves for the cause of peace.

.

It is with disembodied detachment that Christian pacifists imagine scenarios that they have little experience in (“What if I saw a man attacking his girlfriend? How shall I act to not cause harm to the man?”), giving priestly advice to those who very seriously want to follow and honor God, but in the process teaching them to privilege their attacker more than themselves. This goes above and beyond Jesus’ teachings about loving our neighbors.

Christian pacifism needs less theoretical scenarios and more space for analytical praxis. It needs to be based on life lived within and amongst the violence.

Christians – and particularly any Christian men interested in pacifism – need to listen deeply and long to the stories of those who suffer and/or survive domestic – or economic, racial, or sexual – violence before we offer even suggestions for what they should or could do in any given situation. More importantly, we need to reduce sexual oppression that allows for and justifies wife-beating and rape culture.

Middle Class, Male, White Christians are not in a place to forget those who bear the brunt of our social, economic, or sexual sins. Nor are we in a place to put them on a pedestal nor demonize them. No one who believes that all of humanity is made in the image of God can dear afford to Other our fellow God-bearers. Doing so reduces each of us and reduces our God to nothingness.

—————————————————————–
*In the Stanley Hauerwas Reader we find this (italics mine):

Christians, to be more specific, do not believe that we have a right to do whatever we want with our bodies. We do not believe that we have a right to our bodies because when we are baptized we become members of one another; then we can tell one another what it is that we should and should not do with our bodies. I had a colleague at the University of Norte Dame who taught Judaica. He was Jewish and always said that any religion that does no tell you what to do with your genitals and pots and pans cannot be interesting. That is exactly true. In the church we tell you what you can and cannot do with your genitals. They are not your own. They are not private. That means that you cannot commit adultery. If you do, you are no longer a member of “us.” Of course, post and pans are equally important.

Because pots and pans and privates are the same, y’all!