I've been seriously wrestling with the question of violence (read: abstractly) since last fall when I first came to seminary. When I was a college student, I read Gandhi and King and told myself that I was a pacifist. Truth be told, there was nothing at stake to prevent me from embracing this conviction and it seemed at the time like the only option for one seriously seeking to follow in the way of Jesus. Somewhere along the line, I didn't explicitly reject pacifism, but it became more complicated than simply affirming the principles of non-violence embraced in my youthful idealism. The question of pacifism came up afresh in an ethics class I took here at Princeton Seminary last fall and I found myself resistant to embracing pacifism like I had in the past. I was surprised by my resistance to pacifism given my history and also because I'm not exactly a proponent of just-war as I can't imagine many situations where war can ever be labeled "justified." And call me unreasonable, but I prefer to live in peace and don't exactly revel in the violence of American society that devours the most vulnerable among us. However, my rejection of pacifism last fall was more indebted to my ever progressing understanding of the nature of ethics from a Barthian view rather than any sort of excitement for "justified violence" (again, as if there is such a thing). In short, it seems like pacifism is simply another ethical principle that one can embrace and therefore the human agent can know in advance what to do in any given situation. This necessarily means that the human agent does not need to remain open to the command of God ever anew in the present to discern what action should be taken. Pacifism at its core means that I have my principle of peace and, therefore, I already know exactly what God is calling me to do in the present moment of decision; act non-violently. This creates a sort of creaturely autonomy in relation to human action that functionally negates the need for the command of God in the present when it comes to the question of force/violence. As such, my Barthian sympathies in this respect kept me from embracing pacifism full-stop and led me to say that while the burden of proof is always and forever upon the use of any type of force, I must remain open to the command of God in the present to act in a type of way that might defy certain principles of pacifism.
These questions of violence, ethics, the command of God, white privilege, and discipleship came up again this semester as I read James Cone. While some may argue that Cone doesn't have true pacifists in mind, his condemnation of whites who refuse to use violence and their judgment of blacks who use it is incredibly powerful. I still haven't been able to come to any sort of conclusion regarding what to say by way of response to Cone's charges as I stand somewhere in between denying pacifism as a principle (for the reasons I list above), always hoping to seek the way of non-violence and wanting to remain open to God's command in the present at all times. In the midst of my confusion and wrestling, I read an article by Paul Lehmann sent to me by a friend a few weeks ago. Lehmann is attempting to respond to Cone's recent work back in 1975 on black theology in an article entitled "Black Theology and 'Christian' Theology" (note: the title makes it seem as though Lehmann is using the conjunction to make a stark dichotomy between the two but he is not) and at the end, he responds to Cone's questions concerning the use of violence. I'm particularly interested in the last line referencing the shift from ethical justifications to "the apocalyptic sphere" and what Cone might say by way of response to the claim that the gospel moves the question of violence to the apocalyptic arena. It might be interesting to ask whether or not Bonhoeffer makes this shift himself to "the apocalyptic sphere" when he remains committed to the way of non-violence while simultaneously rejecting any justification for his forceful actions against the Third Reich carried out in the ever uncertainty of faith.
"In pressing the questions: 'Whose violence?' and 'Whose reconciliation?', Professor Cone has brought that question to a point from which it is possible to make a theological move which regrettably he does not make. The theological move is that the questions: 'Whose violence?' and 'Whose reconciliation?' lead directly to the recognition of the fundamental human reality of violence as man's radical inhumanity to man which only God's reconciliation can prevent and heal. The gospel is that people can be reconciled with one another only as they are reconciled to God; and when people are thus reconciled to God they give themselves in thought and word and deed to the empowerment of the poor, to the liberation of the oppressed, to the struggle against every dehumanizing dimension of human existence. Cone rightly declares that 'reconciliation means that people cannot be human ... unless the creatures of God are liberated from that which enslaves and is dehumanizing. In this same sentence, Cone writes that 'God cannot be God' unless the creature is liberated. But putting it this way involves Cone in am imprecision as regards the gospel which is analogous to the imprecision which Professor Moltmann expresses as regards violence and nonviolence. The gospel is that God refuses to be God without being reconciled to man and in this empowerment man is to be reconciled to his fellowman. Similarly, Moltmann, whom Cone quotes, rightly declares that 'the problem of violence and non-violence is an illusionary problem.' But one cannot say, as Moltmann then does, that 'there is only the question of the justified and unjustified use of force and the question of whether the means are proportionate to the ends.' It is because the gospel transposes the question of violence from the ethical to the apocalyptic sphere that it also deprives force of every justification, not least the one which illusorily seeks a proportionate relation of means to ends."
- Paul Lehmann, "Black Theology and 'Christian' Theology," 36-37