Category Archives: Politics

letting the enemy go free?

I read most of the book Kingdom Ethics while home in Michigan for my sister Lindsay’s wedding.  Stassen and Gushee take Jesus’ own teaching, and in particular his Sermon on the Mount, as foundational for their Christian ethics.  They see in the Sermon a series of triadic sayings, each of which break down as follows:

1)  traditional teaching
2)  identification of a vicious cycle of sin
3)  prescription of transforming initiatives designed to break the vicious cycle

It’s a helpful book, emphasizing the transforming initiatives rather than rules.  For example, they don’t try to answer the question of just war theory vs. pacifism (whether war is ever permissible as a last resort), but they highlight the strengths of each view before turning to an emphasis on just peacemaking theory (how to defuse situations before they get to a state of “last resort”).

With “just peacemaking” in the back of my mind, I was fascinated when I came across the article “A Smarter Way to Fight” in Newsweek and a mention of 2 Kings 6 on Greg Boyd’s blog.  Could it be that in the bloody world of the Old Testament and in the bloody world of today, the most powerful action in ending cycles of violence is actually to let the enemy go free?  Excerpts below.

“Not to Exterminate the FARC”

Strange things are happening in the jungles of Colombia. After years of fighting a fierce, conventional war against the leftist guerrilla group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s military accomplished a major feat earlier this month without firing a shot. The Colombians used a complex ruse to free 15 hostages, including three Americans and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, eliciting international acclaim and comparisons to the Israeli hostage rescue at Entebbe. But what happened afterward—which hasn’t been widely reported—was almost as remarkable, according to Colombian Vice Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón. The Colombian Army cornered the hostages’ captors, the FARC’s notorious 1st Front—the latest success stemming from Bogotá’s tactic of dropping its special forces into the jungle and keeping the weakened guerrillas on the run. “But we took the decision not to attack,” Pinzón told NEWSWEEK, because the government wanted to convey it had a new “strategic concept.” “We want to send a message to the FARC and to the world: not to exterminate the FARC but to welcome back anyone who wants to come into the system.” Last week, to drive that point home, the Colombian military equipped helicopters with loudspeakers that began booming Betancourt’s recorded voice over the jungle, saying “Hey, guerrillas … demobilize now … You’ll recover your family, your honor, your liberty.”

The Aramean Attack Is Thwarted

8 Once when the king of Aram was at war with Israel, he took counsel with his officers. He said, ‘At such and such a place shall be my camp.’ 9But the man of God sent word to the king of Israel, ‘Take care not to pass this place, because the Arameans are going down there.’ 10The king of Israel sent word to the place of which the man of God spoke. More than once or twice he warned such a place* so that it was on the alert.

11 The mind of the king of Aram was greatly perturbed because of this; he called his officers and said to them, ‘Now tell me who among us sides with the king of Israel?’ 12Then one of his officers said, ‘No one, my lord king. It is Elisha, the prophet in Israel, who tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedchamber.’ 13He said, ‘Go and find where he is; I will send and seize him.’ He was told, ‘He is in Dothan.’ 14So he sent horses and chariots there and a great army; they came by night, and surrounded the city.

15 When an attendant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. His servant said, ‘Alas, master! What shall we do?’ 16He replied, ‘Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.’ 17Then Elisha prayed: ‘O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.’ So the Lord opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw; the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 18When the Arameans* came down against him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘Strike this people, please, with blindness.’ So he struck them with blindness as Elisha had asked. 19Elisha said to them, ‘This is not the way, and this is not the city; follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.’ And he led them to Samaria.

20 As soon as they entered Samaria, Elisha said, ‘O Lord, open the eyes of these men so that they may see.’ The Lord opened their eyes, and they saw that they were inside Samaria. 21When the king of Israel saw them he said to Elisha, ‘Father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?’ 22He answered, ‘No! Did you capture with your sword and your bow those whom you want to kill? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink; and let them go to their master.’ 23So he prepared for them a great feast; after they ate and drank, he sent them on their way, and they went to their master. And the Arameans no longer came raiding into the land of Israel.



shane claiborne on cnn

Shane Claiborne and his used-vegetable-oil-powered “Jesus for President” bus tour are the headline article on CNN right now!  Check it out.  I sat next to this dude on the grass a couple weeks ago.


kingdom come

After my post yesterday on Shane Claiborne and the responses to him at the Envision conference, I thought I’d go ahead and reflect on this new article by N.T. Wright in The Christian Century called “Kingdom come: the public meaning of the gospels“.

N.T. Wright

It’s a classic summary of Wright’s views, and I think it provides some resonance with and some balance to Claiborne’s book. Wright laments that the church has not known what to do with the four Gospels:

The Gospels have thus been seen either as a social project with an unfortunate, accidental and meaningless conclusion, or as passion narratives with extended introductions. Thus the Gospels, in both popular and scholarly readings, have been regarded either as grounding a social gospel whose naive optimism has no place for the radical fact of the cross, still less the resurrection—the kind of naïveté that Reinhold Niebuhr regularly attacked—or as merely providing the raw historical background for the developed, and salvific, Pauline gospel of the death of Jesus.

Rather, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection together “launched God’s saving sovereignty on earth as it is in heaven.” The kingdom of God, that is, the reign of God, is at hand. God has returned at last in the person of Jesus to take charge of his broken and rebellious creation. Jesus has proceeded to the centers of Jewish and Roman power (just as Paul would in the following years) to claim that he is the true Messiah of Israel, the true Lord of the world. In doing so, however, he refused to take up the sword and to bring about the kingdom by violence. He achieved a strange victory over evil, absorbing its worst and finding new life out the other side, eventually ascending to rule at the right hand of God.

Jesus didn’t shy away from power, but he did refuse to idolize the kind of power that is offered by the kingdoms of this world (starting with his temptation in the desert). He embraced the sort of power that can only be bestowed by God in response to self-sacrificial love in the face of evil. Jesus ministered on the margins, on “the fringes of empire,” but from there he also confronted the forces of evil at the center of empire and caused them to reveal their true colors. These were not two separate missions, but rather two integral parts of a single vocation. The ministry on the margins gave meaning to the final confrontation in Jerusalem, while his death at the hands of Herod and Caesar brought his work to its climax and opened the way for his healing love to be unleashed to the corners of the earth.

We have a challenge in bringing these insights forth into our present day, because now we have more options for how to relate to power. In Jesus’ day, either you collaborated with the empire, you revolted, or you embraced Jesus’ mysterious third way. In our day, we have the ability (the responsibility?) to influence (or even to become!) our ruling authorities through democratic means. Wright (with the support of scripture) encourages us to see government as a God-given institution, intended to keep order, to keep the strong and the wealthy from squashing the weak and the poor. But we are to bear prophetic witness that our transient rulers are serving on borrowed time, and that they serve at the mercy of the one who even now is the true Lord of the world, Jesus.

Could this include attempting to become one of the rulers of the world? Certainly, but not if doing so involves becoming owned by and bound up with and compromised by the many different interests scratching and clawing for more and more power. I would love to see many followers of Jesus running for political office, campaigning on principles reflecting the generous, restorative, peace-loving heart of God and remaining fully uncompromised by the messy political process–even if this meant that they all lost! What a powerful witness it would be to have vast numbers of Christians living, with Shane, at the margins of empire, with the suffering and the forgotten . . . to mount uncompromised political campaigns at every level, with candidates concerned more about the love of God than their own victory . . . to mostly suffer defeat, but in so doing to force the political system into showing its own true, worst colors. That would be preaching the gospel like Jesus did.