Neither conservative nor liberal: just absurd


The story of Jesus and his acceptance of the cross as the indicator of the success of his ministry demonstrates a religious ethic that displays the following: Jesus assumed a leadership role that challenged injustice without committing any act of coercion or violence in response, despite the existence of circumstances that would justify the use of violence. Jesus ministered in his homeland, which suffered the status of an occupied territory. More specifically, he ministered in a land that his kin believed was promised by God to them as a fulfillment of divine promises to their ancestors. Not only was the promised land illegally occupied, but that occupation defied God’s will. Finally, Jesus ministered in a religious environment that not only assumed that militarism was a means in which God would restore the glory of Israel, but read texts and shared stories of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids that served as a reminder of the potential for armed revolt to liberate the oppressed.

Jesus did not rally disciples around a central idea that Rome must be driven out of the occupied “promised land,” but around an idea that they must embody a different ethic as an alternative to passively accepting the domination of Rome, or to continuously pursuing militarism against Rome in attempts to drive her out. In response to the evil of the Roman occupation and a corrupted Jerusalem religious hierarchy, Jesus practiced, and is remembered as calling for his disciples to practice, the eschewing of political, economic, and social power in favor of an ethic of community building and servanthood to both friend and foe. Jesus acted with knowledge that he would suffer a penalty of death as he continuously and publicly pointed out the injustices committed by those who had power and economic control.

The tradition of Jesus shows that when there was an opportunity or suggestion to use power or violence, he immediately rejected that option, though Jesus never failed to stand up against injustice and call for the powers to repent. Jesus not only operated from a position of socioeconomic and political weakness, he insisted upon rejecting the use of force as means to an end. In the second chapter of Philippians, Paul shows that this was not to be an ethic unique to Jesus, but a community ethic that was established by Jesus as the standard for Christian response to injustice and abusive power.

Such a distinction between the ethics of power and the ethics of servanthood is important in a culture that generally challenges individuals or communities with either/or situations. This either/or dichotomy, however, does not hold true when stated as a necessary condition of doing ethics. A Christian ethic, as concerns the issues of war, and even torture, places its adherents in a position where they refuse to participate in war. There is of course some nuance that needs to be unpacked here, but the ethic is as follows: a Christian ethic based purely on the embodiment of the gospel record; living one’s life as a member of community, and as an individual that engages in peacemaking; lovingly lifting the oppressor’s burden; developing egalitarian communities that show no preference for wealth, gender, or race; and living with an aim toward emptying the self of any privilege that might serve to marginalize or embrace the victimization of another, or “the other.” Loving God and neighbor, and loving even the enemy, become the normative day-to-day expression of both individual and community in a manner that makes it impossible to go to war, as one will already be negotiating for peace.

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