Ted Grimsrud

Posts Tagged ‘Nonviolence’

New thinking on nonviolence: A review of Advancing Nonviolence and Social Transformation: New Perspectives on Nonviolent Theories

In Book reviews, Nonviolence, violence on March 4, 2017 at 10:11 am

Heather Eaton and Lauren Michelle Levesque, eds. Advancing Nonviolence and Social Transformation: New Perspectives on Nonviolent Theories. Equinox Publishing, 2016. Xiii + 364pp. 

The 20th century has been called the century of total war. The incredible expansion of the devastating power of war, the heretofore unimagined globalization of warfare, and the creation of new weapons of mass destruction have left humanity on a precipice of vulnerability that renders the survival of our species in jeopardy. Many other expressions of violence have also continued to undermine human and ecological wellbeing.

On the other hand, one glimmer of hope arises from the reality that the 20th century also saw the emergence of strategies of self-conscious nonviolent action that provides ways to imagine overcoming the scourge of out of control violence. Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., are the two great prophets of nonviolent action who consistently show up on lists of the world’s most influential people of the 20th century.

Gandhi famously stated that nonviolence is a very young and immature “science” that can only get stronger and more effective with practice. Erica Chenoweth is a more recent thinker who has researched social change movements and argues, based on her data, that nonviolence is noticeably more effective than violence for bringing about change.

Nonetheless, our understanding of nonviolence remains rudimentary. The literature is expanding, as is the broadening sense of the applicability of nonviolence to a wide range of human endeavors—not only with political action but also education, criminal justice, and many more areas. Read the rest of this entry »

Is God Nonviolent?

In Anabaptism, Mennonites, Pacifism, Theology on June 14, 2012 at 10:22 am

Ted Grimsrud—Peace Essays #D.1

[Published in Ted Grimsrud, Embodying the Way of Jesus: Anabaptist Convictions for the Twenty-first Century (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2007), 47-53.]

The importance of self-conscious theological reflection for Christians in the Anabaptist tradition may be illustrated by considering an issue at the heart of Christian ethics, the moral acceptability (or not) of the use of violence.[1] From its beginning in the 16th century, the Anabaptist movement has as a rule affirmed pacifism as the will of God. However, this affirmation has not generally stemmed from sustained theological reflection so much as from a more existential belief that Jesus’ commands to love enemies apply in all circumstances. What has sustained this belief has generally been the on-going existence of pacifist communities that have claimed a loyalty from its members higher than the loyalty given to nation-states that might ask involvement in warfare of its citizens.

However, in the 21st century, the close-knit, homogenous, rural communities that sustained Anabaptist pacifism in a way that did not require sustained theological reflection are disintegrating. If pacifism is to remain a central aspect of Anabaptist convictions, such theological reflection will become more important—including, at its heart, reflection on the character of God.

God and violence? The urgency of the question

In our day of heightening sensitivity to the role of religion in violent conflict—“terrorism,” “wars on terrorism,” retributive criminal justice practices, religious-supported nationalist movements—the question of how we understand God in relation to violence has never been more urgent.

Certainly, not only pacifists have a stake in this question.  And not only religious people have a stake.  The urgency of the question stems not so much from the need to “get it right” about how God actually is (as if human beings could actually nail this down).  Rather, the urgency stems from the reality that our view of what God is like greatly shapes our behavior.  How people act in relation to their view of God affects us all.

The connection between our view of God and our behavior in relation to violence may be understood in four possible ways.  Most people who believe in God believe God is violent and that human beings thus are also appropriately violent, at least in morally justifiable circumstances.  As human existence grows ever more precarious, though, this simple assumption grows more problematic—violence, it becomes increasingly clear, leads to more violence.  The spiral of violence is more clearly all the time becoming a threat to the very viability of human life itself.[2]  And, of course, for Anabaptist Christians, the assumption that human violence is appropriate has always been questioned.

As a second logical possibility, one could presumably believe that God is nonviolent but that human beings need not be, though I am not aware of anyone taking this stance.

A third view would be that God is not nonviolent – but human beings should be nonviolent. Some of those who believe human beings are called to nonviolence, understand this calling to stem more directly from the specific teaching of Jesus, not God’s own pacifism.[3]  Perhaps based on the biblical portrayal of the “warrior God,” perhaps based on the need to allow God freedom from anthropocentric moral restraints, perhaps based on the necessity of recognizing God’s need to use violence in effecting final justice in relation to a rebellious creation, perhaps based on an awareness of nature itself as “red in tooth and claw” – for these reasons many pacifist Christians answer our question, “is God nonviolent?” with a clear “No, but we should be.”

Other pacifist Christians hold a fourth view, that God is nonviolent (or, more precisely, that we should view God as nonviolent) and that human beings are called also to be nonviolent.  In this view, human nonviolence is both what God through Jesus commands us to embody and what has become a necessity for the sake of our survival in the contemporary world.  And, God’s nonviolence is the necessary grounding for human nonviolence.[4]  If nonviolence does not go with the grain of universe, if our deepest ethical imperative does not cohere with God’s very character, we are in the end hopeless romantics to think that nonviolence is a realistic human possibility.  And if nonviolence is not a realistic human possibility, pacifism is indeed parasitic idealism of the worst sort – calling us to live in ways that are impractical, irresponsible, counter-productive, needlessly guilt-inducing, and (ironically) conflict fostering. Read the rest of this entry »

Is the book of Revelation a resource for peacemaking?

In Biblical theology, Eschatology, Pacifism, Politics, Revelation, Theology on July 24, 2008 at 9:22 pm

The book of Revelation, though having the reputation of being a book of violence, actually is more accurately read as a book supporting nonviolent resistance to empires and their servants.

This article, “How should 20th-century Christians read the book of Revelation?”, was originally published in Gospel Herald, January 21, 1992, shortly after the 1991 U.S. war on Iraq.

A pacifist response to 9/11

In Biblical theology, Mennonites, Pacifism, Politics on July 24, 2008 at 12:44 pm

The Sunday after September 11, 2001, I was asked to preach a sermon in response to the events of that tragic day. Here is an article based on that sermon, called “Grief and critique,” that was published in The Mennonite, October 2, 2001.

Reflections on why World War II should not be celebrated

In Mennonites, Pacifism, Politics on July 24, 2008 at 9:33 am

“Not a ‘good war’: We should mourn, not celebrate the victory of violence in World War II.”

Here is an article that was originally published in The Mennonite (June 13, 1995).

Pacifism With Justice (15)

In Pacifism, Theology on June 6, 2008 at 9:48 am

It is more than a perverse attraction to warfare that makes pacifism unpopular in our contemporary world. The ways we are socialized to see the world themselves mitigate against pacifism. So we need to consider what aspects of the modern worldview in western culture underwrite violence. This is the focus of my essay, “A Pacifist Critique of the Modern Worldview,” which is part of my book in process, Pacifism with Justice: The Biblical and Theological Case.

Drawing on writers such as James C. Scott, David Abrams, Richard Tarnas, and Albert Borgmann, I critique this “modern worldview” for its seeing the universe as impersonal, its emphasis on dominating nature, and its rationalism–all factors that actually tend to underwrite violence.

Pacifism With Justice (14)

In Pacifism, Restorative justice, Salvation, Theology on June 5, 2008 at 11:19 am

Christian theology is both part of the problem and part of the solution with regard to violence against children. My essay, “The Theological Roots of Violence Against Children,” which is part of my book in progress, Pacifism with Justice: The Biblical and Theological Case, addresses this tension.

I suggest that a problematic “logic of retribution” characterizes the theology of evangelical writers such as James Dobson and Millard Erickson. This logic underwrites harsh practices of child discipline that actually teach children to be violent. Drawing on the work of Alice Miller and others, I argue for more peace-oriented approaches to relating to children that are ultimately grounded in biblical theology.

Pacifism With Justice (16)

In Pacifism, Theology on June 4, 2008 at 4:00 pm

The peace epistemology of John Howard Yoder is the focus of the concluding essay in my book-in-progress, Pacifism With Justice: The Biblical and Theological Case. The essay, “Pacifism and Knowing: John Howard Yoder’s Epistemology,” argues that Yoder serves as a model for an approach to pacifism that understands this core conviction to shape the very way one views the world.

Seeing pacifism as a way of knowing shapes Yoder’s understanding of the gospel of Jesus and the relevance of Jesus’ life and teaching to all of life. Such an approach challenges Christianity to its core, suggesting that its core message is indeed a message of pacifism (which I define as the conviction that no value or commitment takes priority over the values of love, compassion, and caring for each human being).

Pacifism With Justice (11)

In Biblical theology, Eschatology, Pacifism, Restorative justice, Revelation on May 28, 2008 at 12:02 pm

The Book of Revelation might seem an unlikely place to find a theology of justice that emphasizes mercy over retribution, but here’s an attempt to present a case that this indeed is what we find. This essay, “The Justice of God in the Book of Revelation,” is part of my book-in-progress, Pacifism with Justice: The Biblical and Theological Case.

Pacifism With Justice (9)

In Biblical theology, Pacifism, Politics, Romans on May 28, 2008 at 9:48 am

Most of the writing I have read that critiques Christian pacifism brings up as strong New Testament evidence against pacifism Paul’s famous passage in Romans 13 that, as usually read, calls upon Christians to obey their government. This essay, “Romans 13: An Interpretation.”, from my book-in-process Pacifism with Justice: The Biblical and Theological Case, offers a different reading of this text. This essay focuses on a constructive reading of Romans 13, not a critique of other ways of reading it.