Chase and Jacobs Debate War and Peace

Violence_review_06012016Kenneth R. Chase and Alan Jacobs (Editors). 2003. Must Christianity Be Violent: Reflections on History, Practice, and Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company (Brazos Press).

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

We live at a time when peace is illusive and violence is on everyone’s mind. Peace is illusive because modern media reports crimes and violence from every corner of the earth saturating the mindset of news followers. If real violence were not enough, simulated violence dominates book sales, films, and electronic games stimulating copycat crimes and potential secondary trauma [1] in the real world. Against this cultural obsession with violence, real acts of peace whether by individuals or presidents[2] are frequently deconstructed by critics to a point that makes ethical reflection difficult.

Taking seriously the need for ethical reflection, during March 15-17, 2000 the Center for Applied Christian Ethics[3] hosted a faculty conference at Wheaton College in Chicago, Illinois whose papers were collected and published into this book, Must Christianity Be Violent, edited by Kenneth R. Chase and Alan Jacobs.

In his introduction, Chase writes:

“At its most elementary level, Christianity celebrates peace. Jesus promises to give peace, he advocates forgiveness and mercy, he instructs his followers to be peacemakers and to love enemies, and he died so that we might have peace with God.” (9)

The early church clearly got Jesus’ message of peace and pacifism characterized Christ’s followers’ response to institutionalized war for four centuries after his death and resurrection. The “just war” doctrine, first articulated by Augustine (354-430 AD) and later expanded on by Aquinas (1225-1274 AD), and Calvin (1509-1564 AD), gave theological justification for Christian participation in war, but only in limited circumstances, such as war in self-defense (32).

Chase sees Christianity’s critics as focusing on two main points of contention: a pragmatic criticisms focused primarily on historical events (such as the Crusades, anti-Semitism in Europe, and support for slavery), and, and criticisms focused on problems inherent in Christian doctrine (such as aspects of exclusivism and divine judgment; 10-12).

In view of these criticisms, Chase and Jacobs divide the 13 essays in the book into three broad sections—history, practices, and theology, as follows:

Section one: Histories

  1. The First Crusade: Some Theological Historical Context by Joseph H. Lynch.
  2. Violence of the Conquistadores and Prophetic Indignation by Luis N. Rivera-Pagán.
  3. Is God Violent? Theological Options in the Antislavery Movement by Dan McKanan.
  4. Christians as Rescuers during the Holocaust by David P. Gushee.
  5. Have Christians Done More Harm than Good? by Mark A. Noll.
  6. Beyond Complicity: The Challenges for Christianity after the Holocaust by Victoria Barnett.

Section Two: Practices

  1. How Should We Then Teach American History? A Perspective of Constructive Nonviolence by James C. Juhnke.
  2. Christian Discourse and the Humility of Peace by Kenneth R. Chase.
  3. Jesus and Just Peacemaking Theory by Glen Stassen.

Section Three: Theologies

  1. Violence and the Atonement by Richard J. Mouw.
  2. Explaining Christian Nonviolence: Notes for a Conversation with John Milbank by Stanley Hauerwas.
  3. Violence: Double Passivity by John Milbank.
  4. Christian Peace: A Conversation between Stanley Hauerwas and John Milbank.

These 13 chapters were preceded by a preface and introduction and were followed by an afterword and lists of contributors and notes.

In reading through these many contributors and insights, it is clear that a summary is impractical because each essay is highly nuanced and contextual. Some insights, however, stand out as unique and can stand on their own in a short review. For example, David Gushee[4] in his essay, “Christians as Rescuers During the Holocaust”, summarized the religious motivations of Christian rescuers in these categories:

  • Those having a special religious kinship with Jews.
  • Those remembering the experience of religious persecution.
  • Those recognizing the incompatibility of Nazism with Christian faith.
  • Those honoring the dignity of human life.
  • Those with special Christian piety (72-77).

Gushee notes that Christian faith was neither necessary or sufficient motivation for rescuing Jews during the Holocaust; citing Nechama Tec, he observed that only a “certain kind of Christianity” felt compelled to intervene (77-78).

Another essay that stood out in my mind was James C. Juhnke’s “How Should We Then Teach American History?” which cited a number of historical accounts of alternatives, other than “triumphalism” or “radical criticism”, which he described as “constructive nonviolence” (108). Historical accounts of “triumphalism” basically chronicle the rise of “America’s rise to greatness” while accounts of “radical criticism” critique what this rise to greatness did to African American slaves, Native Americans, women, and other minorities (108); accounts of “constructive nonviolence” focus on honoring roads not taken that might have been successful had they been taken. Juhnke highlights these themes:

  • Honoring the survival and strength of Native American cultures, especially the peacemakers that made survival possible.
  • Honoring nonviolent alternatives proposed but rejected.[5]
  • Honoring the Antimilitary idealism of the founders, exhibited in the constitutional restraints.[6]
  • Honoring the human conscience against killing.
  • Honoring the role of voluntary communities.[7]
  • Honoring the opponents of total war (109-117).

Obviously much more could be said just about these topics in American history.

As someone deeply concerned about the future of America as well as our values and image in the world, I firmly believe that war should not be the first option or the only option considered when international conflicts arise. We need to know what other options can reasonably be considered because, as it is, the United States is increasingly in a perpetual state of war for lack of those options and the political will to consider them. As Christians, we should be willing to debate these issues openly and with an eye on how our options form our characters both as citizens and as Christians. Kenneth Chase and Alan Jacobs’s book, Must Christianity Be Violent?, is helpful resource in framing conversations about the issues of war and peace that we so desperately need to have.

[1] Secondary trauma occurs when an observer to trauma begins to experience the same (or related) symptoms as the trauma victim themselves. It is especially a problem when the observer has repeated exposures or catastrophic exposures to trauma, as might occur in a combat zone, plane crash, or bombing where multiple victims are affected. It is well-known among care-giving professionals, such as medical personnel and chaplains. See, for example: http://www.nctsn.org.

[2] On May 27, 2016, President Obama became the first sitting president to visit Hiroshima in Japan, the site of the first atomic bomb attack by the United States on August 6, 1945, to advocate for the elimination of nuclear weapons (http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/27/politics/obama-hiroshima-japan).

[3] http://www.wheaton.edu/CACE. (@CACEWheaton)

[4] David Gushee, Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust: Genocide and Moral Obligation, (Paragon House, 2003). (https://theology.mercer.edu/faculty-staff/gushee/)

[5] For example, Philadelphia agreed with Boston that they would not accept British tea during the pre-revolutionary war period. But instead of dumping the tea as was done in Boston (the Boston Tea Party), they sent the tea back to England (and paid the freight) thereby avoiding conflict (110).

[6] The prohibition against standing armies in the Constitution prevented early American elites from developing a “military industrial complex” as developed in the twentieth century (112).

[7] For example, the resistance to removing Indians from Georgia in the 1830s failed to prevent their removal but paved the way for abolition of slavery in the years that followed (115).

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