Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Vol 3: 23 The Missional Practice of Nonviolence – Part 2

To make the claim, as I did last week, that leadership in the West is shaped by a culture of violence and that a necessary project for the North American church is to undo the violence of leadership in the church, gives rise to a significant question regarding nonviolence – is nonviolence intrinsic to what it means to be Christian, to be a follower of Jesus? 

J. Denny Weaver, who as a theologian is focused upon exploring the implications of nonviolence for life and theology asks, “[i]s nonviolence an assumption that belongs intrinsically to Christian theology with the potential to shape and/or be reflected in all theological doctrines[?]”  His response is yes, “I believe that nonviolence is intrinsic to Christian theology” (J. Denny Weaver, Christian Faith as Embodied Nonviolence. Paper presented at Historic Peace Church Conference, June 2001).

Weaver in describing the shift of allegiance that took place in the life of the church from the first century to the fourth and fifth centuries, expresses that the early church, rather than serving the empire, served Jesus as Lord – “to be Christian was to oppose the Roman empire and to live in a social order structured around Jesus as the manifestation of the reign of God” (Weaver, June 2001). 

By the fourth century, the church became identified with the social order of the state and became reliant upon the power of the state to effect its purposes – “[t]he end result of these changes was that the Christian church ceased being perceived as a dissident minority group and came to identify with the social order and to make use of and express itself through the institutions of the social order. It changed status from harassed minority to dominant, required majority” (Weaver, June 2001).  The support of the state with its use of the sword became an integral part of the church being church.

Though now at the beginning of the 21st century we are questioning the church’s comfortableness with power within Christendom, we still by and large lead the church in ways intrinsic to the paradigm of hierarchical leading in a context of power and control established within Christendom – and in some ways have become more comfortable with it as we experienced loss of control as we try to navigate the modernity to postmodernity cultural shift – seeking to exert “more control” to hang onto what we sense we are losing.   

Therefore, as Weaver asks within the context of theology, I ask within the context of practical theology (and leadership) – is nonviolence an assumption that belongs intrinsically to the practice of leading and the shaping of how we lead within the life of the church?

I believe it is.  Nonviolence is not merely an option, I believe it to be essential confession for being a follower of Jesus and in pastoring and leading the communities to which we have been sent to shepherd.

In believing that nonviolence is intrinsic to leading in ways which exemplify the way of Jesus, we need to uncover how violence has influenced the way in which we have been leading – asking how we have embraced ways that are more aligned with the agenda of the cultural social order, rather than the social order structured around the reign of God. 

As stated last week, this has strong missional implications.  If we are to be a community participating with God in God’s mission, then not only our worship, discipleship, but also the way we lead needs to embrace practices that foster the redemptive purposes of God in reconciling humanity to God and to one another and in making all things new.

I confess that I have been complicit in leading in ways which were comfortable with power and control (violence).  I have not only hurt and burned out others in leading within a paradigm opposed to nonviolence, I and my family were also hurt.  I came to dislike who I had become as a pastor in leading the way I had been led to lead.  In leaving the pastorate in 1993, I found myself on a wilderness journey that lasted about 15 years – never dreaming that I would ever re-enter the pastorate in order to walk alongside and with a community of people seeking to attend to God and participate with God in God’s redemptive mission in the world.  I commit myself to leading in which nonviolence is intrinsic to my practice of pastoring and leading. 

It’s now been about three years or so in which I have had the opportunity to pastor in a radically different way.  I am still discovering what all that entails as I keep surrendering my penchant for taking charge, exerting control, dominating the vision, strongly expressing my perspective or opinion over those of others, and, being the sole voice or interpreter for hearing what God has to say to us as a church community.  It is my prayer that the way I practice leading exemplifies the way of Jesus.
Next week, I will move away from this leadership focus and explore the missional practice of nonviolence from another perspective – one that embraces the church’s way in the world as a community of character.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Vol 3: 22 The Missional Practice of Nonviolence

As you may or may not have noticed, I have been gone for a number of weeks on a sabbatical focusing on reframing how we go about exercising the gift of leading in the church.  My working title is: Undoing the violence of leadership in the church.  I am asking the following question in my exploration: When the way we lead is shaped by the culture in which we live, and that culture is shaped largely by violence (which is a growing understanding of our Western culture), does not then a culture of violence (control, coercion, power, etc.) shape the way we lead in the church?  If we are to lead in light of the Gospel, in light of God’s reign, which is foundationally nonviolent, then we need to examine the way we have been leading and are leading so as to reframe the way we lead. 

For many of us raised in evangelical circles, nonviolence has almost never been a tenet of faith.  Yet, in being an Anabaptist for the past seven years or so, I have developed the conviction that nonviolence is foundational to understanding God’s reign, to understanding the Gospel, to understanding Jesus and his ministry, to understanding my discipleship, and to understanding God and God’s mission, and God’s call to the church to participate with God in God’s mission in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Nonviolence is not an option in being missional, a mere nonessential.  No, nonviolence is an essential tenet of being the people of God (which understands God to be nonviolent, even in the Old Testament because Jesus in his way of nonviolence is an exact image of the invisible God – cf. Colossians 1: 15, also John 14:9.  This requires us to come to a fresh interpretation of the relationship between God and violence in the Old Testament – which some contemporary biblical scholars are indeed showing). 

We have been under the Constantinian paradigm for so long, we do not question violence as something contrary to the purposes of God – it is time we do so and embrace a nonviolent understanding of God and God’s ways.  Therefore I confess that to support violence as a means to bring about peace and justice, to align ourselves with the state’s use of power and violence to resolve conflict, is not to be about God’s mission in the world.  To be a disciple of Jesus requires embracing a life of nonviolence; to be missional, to participate with God in God’s mission requires the practice of nonviolence.

I do not see how we can be followers of Christ and practice violence or condone the practice of violence and military power – except perhaps if we are comfortable with the Constantinian compromise in which the church aligned itself with the powers of the State and sanctified the State’s use of force for accomplishing its ends.  Engagement in the practice of violence can only lead to us fostering the non-reign of God (a phrasing J. Denny Weaver uses to express the kingdom of the world).  To foster God’s mission and God’s reign calls us to embrace the practice of nonviolence.

As we seek to be, in Lesslie Newbigin’s words, a community of faith which is a sign, foretaste and instrument of God’s present and coming reign, we need to give serious thought to our stance towards nonviolence and violence.  If the way of Jesus is the way of nonviolence, we cannot continue the ministry of Jesus, nor participate with God in God’s mission if we are not about embracing the way of Jesus, which includes Jesus’ practice of nonviolence. 

I admit growing up in an evangelical context, being equipped for ministry in an evangelical seminary, that I did not give serious thought to nor was I led to seriously engage the practice of nonviolence, until I was introduced to Anabaptism.  That being the case, as evangelicals, yet even as Protestants, and Roman Catholics, I believe we need to examine all our practices as pastors and leaders in order to see in what ways we may be more influenced by our culture of violence, than influenced by the nonviolent ways of God’s reign.  Our practice of leadership is one of these areas and I believe it is time we sought to undo the violence of leadership that continues to guide the church to live within a Constantinian construct, rather than being a community of God’s reign – indeed being a sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s present and coming reign. 

To be missional, then, is to embrace the practice of nonviolence.  I will explore this more in future blog posts, but I hope this can be a catalyst for ongoing dialogue.