Jacques Ellul: Violence: Reflections from a Christian Perspective, and a biblically-poor response to our complicity
A good friend posted on Facebook a partial quote of Jacques Ellul from his Violence: Reflections from a Christian Perspective. It aligned with what I have been thinking about in these past days concerning the scenes of violent protest around the globe. What was un expected was the way in which Ellul turned his eyes toward Christians as complicate in this violence. I didn't disagree with him.
I have often thought this. And, I was not put off by his warning concerning the Christian’s complicity.
Christians don’t typically self-reflect in this direction when we see such violence, revolt, or protest. We typically point to and offer our (mostly political in the guise of Bible) critique of the cultural culprits and, of course, the political culprits (usually from the party we dislike)—all which are indeed culpable for sure, especially those that leverage and use such violence for political gain (all the while never truly ameliorating the causes of violence, for such would work against their political status and power–but that for another blog). What we rarely recognize, however, is our role as Christians, really as church, in the resulting violence from the oppressed, marginalized, and poor.
Ellul’s critique is spot on and needed.
While this is an important point of repentance, it was the sentences left unposted that grabbed my attention:
Here is where I level some critique at the privileged Christian “woke” crowd. Rather than truly being a part of a local body of Christians, a local church, the very place and space God has created for an alternative, reconciling body, the option for expressing ones discovered wokeness (the repented posture to “soothe their conscience” as Ellul puts it) is to stoke the attitudes of violence and aggression against the people and systems of oppression. This isn't in the Gospels, nor any teaching whatsoever I can see in the New Testament. I am reminded of what I heard Miroslav Volf once point out, namely that when Christians side with a political vision (progressives with the democrats or socialism; the conservatives with republicans) they will inevitably be participants in the violence that results from protest and survival and, thus, bring harm to innocent people.
I am amazed (and saddened) at the stream of social media tweets and posts and blogs from Christians (woke privileged Christians especially) to take up arms, meet oppression with violence, to take on aggressive systems of injustice with aggression. (I have read exactly these calls of action.) While this resulting attitude and action is, given the human desire for survival (and power, I might add), inventible, such is not Gospel, nor the activity of the church (based on what is in the New Testament). We don't see such a call for violence and aggression from Jesus, nor do we see such in the church of Acts, nor taught by the New Testament–or seen in the early church of the first 350+ years.
The proper repentance is not to participate in the violence or call for such, but in occupying a humble space among the poor and marginalized as church.
Gary Haugen, President and CEO of International Justice Mission, raises an important point:
Gary points out that for poverty to be eradicated, decreased, or lessened for individuals and communities, everyday violence needs to be addressed first. Good intentions, targeted anti-poverty programs, and crisis services are nice and fill a need, but they will not, ultimately, bring an end to poverty. Building a school in an impoverished global city is a good thing, but it does not good for the young girls who need to walk to school if that walk endangers their lives. As I heard Gary's TED Talk and read his book, The Locust Effect, I could not help but think locally as I serve as a pastor in a very poor community in New Haven, CT, called The Hill. Violence is an everyday threat to good families, adults, teens, and children who are seeking to manage messy, difficult lives in order to have any sense of a good future.
International Justice Mission is an organization that seeks to rescue victims of violence, sexual exploitation, slavery and and protect the poor from violence throughout the developing world.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.