Intersectionality and Peacemaking: Problematizing Modern Christian Pacifism

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 When Mark “I Don’t Want to Worship a Jesus I Can Beat Up” Driscoll preached a sermon and posted a blog this week about whether or not God is a pacifist, I clicked on it already knowing his answer. A loud, resounding, “NOPE.” Driscoll is well-known for fetishizing violence as a trait of masculinity, and it would be no surprise that his view of pacifists imagines them as weak-willed “p*nsies.”*

Most of the responses from liberal Christians were predictable – mine included. Driscoll’s reasoning was weak and contained massive leaps in logic. Particularly, the reasoning illustrated just how limited Mark Driscoll’s imagination is, and says a lot more about his attitude toward violence than it does about Christ’s.

But, I noticed that Christian liberalism has trouble problematizing the issue of Christ’s pacifism beyond arguing that pacifism is the Christian ethic we should follow. However, this view of a pacifist Christ flattens who Jesus nearly as much as Mark Driscoll’s “cage-fighting Jesus” does. Namely, proclaiming Jesus as a pacifist is to co-opt him for a political movement when the truth of his actions (and of our real, human experience) belies something far more complex. So I’m going to discuss a few principles/premises we have to keep in mind when discussing nonviolence.

Jesus wasn’t entirely nonviolent.

In John 2:15, Jesus makes a whip of cords and uses it to drive money-changers from the temple. You can argue that this act was somehow justified, and that he was the righteous Lord enacting his punishment and protecting his holy space, but you cannot deny that fashioning a whip and attacking another person’s property is an inherently violent act. While this one act does not characterize the whole of Jesus’ demeanor, we cannot make the mistake of minimizing the Scriptural precedent here. We have to deal with Jesus as he is present, and in at least one part of Scripture, Jesus uses violence without retribution, and it is called righteous.

Pacifism is a position of privilege.

My friend Sarah Moon discussed this on Twitter the other day, and has expanded on it further on her blog, so I will simply direct you there. Pacifism, nonviolence as a philosophy is often dependent on a privilege of not being in those situations. In some radical, extreme examples, pacifism has led to great grace and change (stories of a woman talking down the person robbing her, etc). But those examples are rare. Asking that a battered spouse not take measures to defend themselves simply because those measures may be construed as violent is to ask a lot of someone who does not share your privilege.

Pacifism reduces violence to physicality.

This last is probably the most controversial because it varies so much depending on which pacifist one talks to. Many of my friends who identify as pacifists do make an effort to change their individual language as a method of eliminating violence from their individual world. However, I rarely see things that are not flesh-to-flesh physical violence discussed as violence, which is a large gap within the pacifist movement. Poverty is violence. Discrimination is violence. Hate speech is violence. Sexism is violence. Racism is violence. Words are violent. Violence is not confined to fists and bombs and drones, but extends into our policies on gender, race, sexuality, and education. The narrow, myopic view of violence often presented by the political pacifist movement is a failure of intersectionality. To narrow the definition of violence down to merely physical, the pacifist movement erases and ignores other types of violence that must be dealt with if we are to make a difference in the world.

We need a philosophy that moves beyond “turn the other cheek” to address the myriad ways in which violence is enacted and responded to in our modern world. Pacifism as peacemaking needs to be more than a hypothetical, and needs to be larger than the privileged circles in which it currently resides.

This post is a contribution to the New Pacifism synchroblog hosted by Political Jesus. You can find out more about the synchroblog and link up here.

*I’ve asterisked this out because, for many of my gay male friends, “p*nsy” is a slur.