Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What is terrorism? (...and what is our response?)

One of the things I really enjoy about being in Hingham is participating in the religious leaders association (and don't you dare call it a "clergy group").  The Hingham & Hull Religious Leaders Association meets monthly, is well-organized with a president, VP, treasurer, and usually 15-20 attendees at the monthly lunch meeting.  The group also includes counselors and compassionate center leaders (including NCM Friends of the Homeless).  While there have been one or two "almost intense" discussions in my three years of participation (I'm there probably 75% of the time), I am amazed and proud of the collegial and friendly interaction amongst our group, which includes faith traditions Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Benedictine, United Methodist, Unitarian-Universalist, Reform Jewish, liberal conservative Jewish, Congregational (UCC), American Baptist, Conservative Baptist, Baha'i, and Mormon (LDS).  

A smaller group of us meets regularly for lunch and extended conversation (a rabbi, UU minister, Baptist minister, UCC minister, and me, the Nazarene...yeah, go ahead and make your jokes).  I've really enjoyed this group.  Each of us knows that we believe different things, but we know that we come to that table without fear of discrimination, proselytization, or anything other than helping each other figure each other out.  Indeed, I feel like I'm a better follower of Christ because of my learning and understandings from this group.  Are we different?  Definitely.  Do we get heated sometimes in dicussion?  Yes...if we didn't, then I might actually feel like I'm compromising.

The HHRLA hosts a number of events every year including an MLK, Jr. event, a Thanksgiving Eve community gathering, and several "Hot Topics" forums.  These forums have discussed things such as Heaven & Hell, Faith & Politics, and End of Life Ethics.  The format usually has 3-4 of us sharing about the topic from our faith perspective.  Last night we held another forum, this one answering the question, "What is terrorism and what does our faith do in response?".  I shared for the first time last night.  After reading McLaren's Everything Must Change, Yoder's Politics of Jesus, and Claiborne's Jesus for President all in the last six months, I had some feelings on the subject.

Below is what I shared.  

My name is Jeremy Scott.  I serve as Pastor & Teacher at North Street Community Chapel, a Church of the Nazarene.

Before I begin, a preliminary...I maintain a online blog and the blog is in my name.  And on my blog, I give this disclaimer: 
The written understandings expressed on this website and blog are solely those of Jeremy D. Scott and are not necessarily (though perhaps hopefully!) representative of the International Church of the Nazarene, North Street Community Chapel, or any individual or organization other than Jeremy D. Scott. If you happen to quote this website/blog, be sure that it's quoted to "Jeremy D. Scott," and not as necessarily representative of the aforementioned groups.

While the words I write and speak are certainly reflective of my upbringing, my education, my family, my experience, and my life in a certain faith tradition, namely the International Church of the Nazarene, a Wesleyan-Arminian denomination, to single out my words and feelings as wholly representative of any one of these bodies or experiences is hardly accurate.  You'll find members of my family, members of my denomination, and professors I've had each of whom may disagree with portions of what I'll say tonight.  But that's the beauty of living within the story of humanity, isn't it?

All those who speak publicly in front of crowds know that a small percentage of spoken words are retained by listeners.  So many a Sunday morning, as I stand in front of my small community at North Street, I find myself saying, "If you only hear one thing this morning, pay attention right now and hear this."  

I'll offer the same kind of thing this evening.  If you only hear one thing about my perspective on terrorism as one who follows Christ, hear these words from Henri Nouwen: "Much violence is based on the illusion that life is a property to be defended and not to be shared."

While I'll work from the definition of terror as "that which uses various expressions of power to elicit fear through intimidation."  The question of terrorism for me really comes down to a discussion of power.  And power, in speaking of terrorism, is so very related to a discussion of inequity, a vast chasm on the spectrum of prosperity.  If terrorism were put on one end of a spectrum of labeled "responses to power," the other end of the spectrum from my viewpoint would be resistance through love and self-sacrifice.  And much like the opposite end of the spectrum - a response of love, that is - terrorism is defined by the eye of the beholder.  What is terrorism to one is heroism to another.  

Any good dictionary follows a definition with examples.  This is where things can get difficult.  For myself, the spectrum of terrorism runs from the obvious: flying planes full of people into buildings full of people to make a statement - to the not-so-obvious to some: the use of torture for information extraction or the use of a massive bomb for the purpose of a statement of power.

So as a follower of Christ, how do I respond to terrorism...

Christian author and activist Brian McLaren, in his 2008 book, Everything Must Change sets out in one part of the book to propose three metaphors in response to the problems of international security, equity, and prosperity.  While I have not the time to go in depth with these metaphors, they are hopefully somewhat self-explanatory.  He says that Jesus might respond to these problems, all today an imbalance of power, with a "divine peace insurgency," an "unterror movement," or a "new global love economy."  (at this point, I read from the book)

And the topic of power is one to which I believe the life of Jesus of Nazareth greatly spoke, particularly noting the society, government, and culture in which he walked and lived (I'll get back to this in a second...).

Really, a response to terrorism is in effect a national security plan.  And a true Christian response to terrorism is "a national security plan that won't be winning any elections."

Activist and "new monk" Shane Claiborne wonders in jest why we never hear the words of the Gospel according to Matthew 10:39 from the mouth of a president: "Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it."  (read from book)

Even the Old Testament, which at first has seemingly exemplar examples of genocide and terrorism in the eradication of peoples in the Promised Land by the nation of Israel, the nature of God as written and understood by those who were called his people gravitated towards Jesus' understandings in certain times.  I Samuel 2: "...not by might does one prevail."  Zechariah 4:6 - "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord."

But terrorism is about demonstrating the most power at any given moment to one-up the opposing side.  For the follower of Christ, this is unacceptable.  Christian preacher Barbara Brown Taylor wonders, "If Jesus wanted his followers to conquer the world, why did he teach them to wash feet?"

Perhaps you remember the Presidential Forum held at the evangelical Christian Saddleback Church in California, over which Rick Warren was moderator.  The question as asked was, "Does evil exist and what do we do about it?"  While one candidate's answer satisfied me more than the other, they both made the conclusion that we play a great part in eliminating evil.  That evil can be squashed by human endeavor and that this is the role even of the United States.  

And though this may be the response of many Christian groups, and indeed win elections, I hardly believe it to be the response of the human being that was and is Jesus.  Would Jesus say that evil can and will be ridden once and for all?  Yes, definitely.  Does Jesus live by example in human form demonstrating how to fight evil?  Yes, of course.  Does Jesus give example of squelching evil by force?  No, not when it counted most.

It's not by mistake to me that the central image of the Christian religion is perhaps the greatest icon of terrorism of all-time.  The cross or crucifix was the tool of terrorism of the Roman Empire: the society, culture, and way of living into which Jesus of Nazareth was born.  It was no accident that crucifixions were carried out in public, on high places, for days at a time, where all could see and remember the sight, the anguish, and the stench.  The pax romana, that is the peace of Rome, came at great cost to tens of thousands of human beings who served as blatant and obvious reminders of what happens to anyone who dares to challenge the pax romana.  This is terrorism: as I know it: "that which uses various expressions of power to elicit fear through intimidation."

And so was Jesus' response to this terrorism was to fight back, to give 'em what they give, to fight fire with fire, and to squelch by force the powers of oppression?  No, not at all.  As it goes, Christ succumbed to the cross, "took it up," so to speak, and lay down his own life.  

I'll conclude again from scripture, and from a passage that I believe to be central to Christian ethics: Philippians 2: 5-11, which reads:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 
who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited, 
but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, 
   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross. 

Therefore God also highly exalted him
   and gave him the name
   that is above every name, 
so that at the name of Jesus
   every knee should bend,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
and every tongue should confess
   that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father. 

From a human perspective, this seems foolish, and it's certainly not the natural response.  This is for us part of what Paul means when he says in I Corinthians 1: "...the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us it IS the power of God."  

But as a follower of Christ, that's why I believe that we see the best of humanity and divinity when we look at the person of Jesus Christ.


Some discussion ensued after.  

The general notion of the forum was that the panel was pacifistic.  I'd rather describe myself as an "almost-but-not-quite-pacifist."  At one point, the statement was made that "not doing anything" isn't how somebody wants to respond to terrorism.  I tried to clarify that I never said I wouldn't want to do anything.  There is a difference between pacifism and passivism.  Pacifism can be and ought to be proactive while passivism is...well...passive.

I have more thoughts, but that's good for now.  This post is already a few weeks delayed.

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