The Lamb's War: Quakers, Nonviolence, Gandhi, and Jesus

Series: Philosophical Figurings
Tags: Quakerism, Gandhi, nonviolence, Jesus, Christianity, AFSC, Nonviolent Peaceforce, Quaker House of Fayetteville, Bayard Rustin, J.C. Kumarappa, Leo Tolstoy, QuakerSpeak, George Lakey, Metta Center, soldiers
April 5, 2014

    I have a very empirical approach to my mysticism. Some people judge mystics by their ability to say mystical-sounding things: it’s a kind of spirituality-as-performance-art. One example of this is Julian of Norwich, whose fans tend to be excited about the way in which see communicates her divine revelations. Other people judge mystics by the way the mystics carry themselves. An example of this is the Dali Llama, whose gentle, charming, affable presentation communicates a touch of the divine to his fans. But the way I see it, if someone is really in touch with the divine underpinning of all reality, then there should be some kind of practical upshot. A mystic should know something that the rest of the world struggles to comprehend. A mystic should leave a trail like Fermat’s last theorem: their message should seem right, but be beyond our ability of the world to comprehend at the moment. Given enough time, however, we should expect to be able to prove the mystic right.

    The way I figure it, Jesus was a mystic like this. He had this scandalous, bizarre idea: all things will be better if we did not respond to evil with violence, but with love. This was his message and his claim. One of the great embarassments of Christianity is that a Hindu man was the one to prove that Jesus was right. Jesus said it, but Gandhi proved it worked two millenia later. Tolstoy, among other Christians, managed to make theological sense of the bizarre claim. J.C. Kumarappa, a Christian and one of Gandhi’s close supporters, described the experience of living through Gandhi’s proof of Jesus' message: this is why I have their accounts in my anthology. The anthology also includes Bayard Rustin’s 22 Days on a Chain Gang, which proves it out yet further by applying Jesus' lesson within the context of a prison. Yet it is Gandhi who first proved the power of nonviolence at an epic scale, and in doing so Gandhi proved Jesus' fundamental social teaching to be absolutely accurate.

    One of the things that I love about Quakerism is the fact that they took Jesus absolutely seriously early on, and they still do. Christian mystics throughout the ages have found a kind of intuitive confidence that Jesus was right when he taught nonviolence: the early Christians martyrs certainly knew it, and Quakers certainly figured it out, and so did early Pentacostals. Within Quakerism in particular, there is long history of Christians being those who wage the “Lamb’s War”: to be a Christian is to be a combatant, a soldier, personally committed to the front lines of a war against Evil. Evil is all-pervasive, having infiltrated our governments, our churches, and ourselves.

    The Enticement of Evil

    That infiltrating power is the most powerful weapon that Evil has against us. That inflitrating power convinced us that Jesus could not have possibly meant what He said, and that clearly our only way to defend ourselves against Evil is to partake in it—but, of course, in a lesser extent. We will do evil things, but we will do less evil than the bad guys, and therefore it will work out in the end. In this way, Christ’s very followers become agents of Evil. Quakers recognized this power, and so they rejected the idea that violence is the only resort when things get ugly. Combating that infiltrating maneuver is one of the fronts where I fight the Lamb’s War. I love this QuakerSpeak interview of George Lakey which highlights how this is playing out, and the fact that we are (finally!) gaining ground on this front:

    I firmly believe that the Achille’s heel of the violence paradigm is its collateral damage. To that end, institutions like Quaker House of Fayetteville are absolutely essential, because they give voice to the silent victims of the violence paradigm: murdered spouses, abused children, and traumatized veterans. These are the costs that we pay by participating in our lesser evil, but the very existence of our self-victimization creates a cognitive dissonance: after all, these are supposed to be are heroes…but how can the system which produces these heroes also produce child abusers and rapists? How can the experience that proves our heroes leave them broken, homeless, and strung out? How can the institution of heroes be actively engaged in the suppression and oppression of its own people?

    “But What Choice Do We Have?”

    Once there starts to be cracks in the violence paradigm, people still won’t surrender it without an alternative. Gandhi called constructing this alternative “constructive programme”, and Jesus called the alternative “the Kingdom of God”. Building the kingdom of God is going to include building up a way of responding to conflict and to evil. Far too many anti-war activists have a good answer when the violence paradigm demands, “Well, what’s your alternative?” It is hard work to construct these alternative solutions and to communicate them out to the world. Accomplishing this will take more than just theory or praxis, however: it will take witness and evangelism.

    Two organizations that do great work on this front are Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP/NvPf), an institution of professional nonviolent soldiers, and American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for (among other things) the reconciliation work at the end of World War Two that made possible the united and peaceful western Europe that we have today.

    Pressing Forward

    Gandhi may have beaten Christ’s followers to proving out the power of nonviolence on an international scale, but contemporary Christians are taking up our predecessor’s slack. To fight this war, you start inward and push outward. First and foremost, identify how the violent paradigm works within yourself, and be able to answer to yourself the question, “But what choice do we have?” There’s a great opportunity coming up to hear the AFSC describe how a nonviolent US foreign policy would work: to hear it, hop on the call on April 14, 2014, from 7:30-9:30 EDT. The Metta Center has two great podcast series which make up a collegiate-level course in nonviolence: PACS 164A and 164B. My anthology, Voices of Christ, is intended to help make sense of Christ’s message and help you move into the proper frame of mind.

    Once you have started transforming yourself, it is time to press your advantage through your relationships. Form relationships with individuals and institutions dedicated to lovingly combatting violence in its myriad forms, and work through those institutions and relationships to transform the lives of those we encounter. The church calls this evangelism: Jesus calls it making disciples.

    This is our work, and it is not easy work to do. But the great news is that Christ has already told us the ending: love wins. Evil will pass away, and God’s love will persist eternally. We just have to play our part to make it happen.

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