Episode 41: Regina Shands Stoltzfus – A Nonviolent Faith

2 weeks ago 15

Jared: You’re listening to Faith for Normal People, the only other God ordained podcast on the internet. 

Pete: I’m Pete Enns. 

Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.

[Intro music plays]

Now it’s time to tell you about the next class in our summer school series. Our July class is called Go to Hell?: Alternatives to Eternal Damnation, taught by the brilliant Jamie Clark-Soles. 

Pete: This class will cover topics like the history and meaning of hell, hell and God’s morality and our morality, how does hell fit with the idea of justice? And it’s happening live on July 25th from 8-9:30 p. m. Eastern Time. 

Jared: As always, it’s pay what you can until the class ends and then it costs $25 for the recording. Or if you want extra credit and to support what we do, you can sign up for our Hall Pass, which gets you access to all three courses in the 2024 Summer School Series, which also includes a class on universalism and another on the Apocrypha. You’ll also get a bonus gift for your support. 

So if you want the hall pass, if you want to sign up for this July class on hell, or to look at the whole summer lineup, go to thebiblefornormalpeople.com/summer 24. That’s thebiblefornormalpeople.com/summer24

Pete: And as always, these classes and all our classes are included in our society of normal people membership for just $12 a month, which you can find at thebiblefornormalpeople.com/join

Jared: Today on Faith for Normal People, I’m here with Jennifer Garcia Bashaw, and we’re talking about A Nonviolent Faith with Regina Stoltzfus. 

Jennifer: Regina is professor and director of the Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies program at Goshen College. She’s also the co-author of Been in the Struggle: Pursuing an Antiracist Spirituality, and we are excited to talk to her today.

Jared: And don’t forget to stay tuned at the end of the episode for quiet time when Pete jumps back in for a reflection on the conversation. So let’s dive in. 

[Music plays over clip of Regina speaking]

Regina Shands Stoltzfus: “We know that we belong together because we have a story together. And that story is built on much more than ‘we are resisting this thing together.’ That’s important, but there’s so much more to be mined from our human experience and what we know about what we need from one another and what we can draw out from one another and how we support one another.”

[Ad break]

Jennifer: Welcome Regina. We are so happy to have you with us today!

Regina Shands Stoltzfus: It’s really good to be here. Thank you for having me. 

Jennifer: We’re going to be talking about nonviolence today, but I was wondering if we could start with maybe a definition of what violence is. 

Regina Shands Stoltzfus: I like to start talking about violence—in my classroom, which is primarily where I have these conversations—with the big picture and sort of pull us away from what people, especially traditionally aged college students, might be prone to think of as what violence is. It’s when, you know, one person punches another person. And they likely have a more expansive definition of physical violence. But thinking in terms of violence being physical behavior, verbal behavior, emotional behavior—it can be directed outward. It can be directed inward towards ourselves. It can be between two people, it can be between two countries.

So all of that behavior, and here I’m drawing from Ken Butigin, a professor of peace studies, that says violence is those things, emotional, verbal, physical behavior, which dominates, diminishes, dehumanizes, or destroys ourselves or others. And so he gives that big picture, that big umbrella and talks about it in terms of this definition includes dehumanizes.

Dehumanization, I think, is the first act towards violence when we can not think of another person as a person. Then it makes it easier for us to do things that dominate or diminish or destroy them. I would even expand that even more broadly because using dehumanizing only includes humans in our definition of violence.

And we certainly can be violent towards other than human entities. We can be and are violent towards other creatures, towards the earth, and so it really is a big, big picture of things that destroy. 

Jared: Then, maybe to back into it, when we talk about nonviolence, we’re talking about—would it be fair to say—talking about the resistance to, or, because I think it’s more robust than just not doing those things. It seems like it’s also actively working against systems. And how would you flip that? How do we reverse engineer it to talk about nonviolence then?

Regina Shands Stoltzfus: I would say exactly the path that you were starting on. It’s not just not being violent, not just not punching someone in the head, right? That’s my favorite example.

When I’m in the classroom with students, I walk up to someone and say, “Now, suppose I were to punch you in the head. You have some choices about how you’re going to react to that.” And yeah, it is much more than just not doing those things, but it is creating a container and atmosphere, practices, that help us let ourselves and each other flourish.

What are the things that make for a flourishing? What are the things that make for relationships? Interpersonal relationships and group relationships and international relationships that are bent towards survival and thriving and flourishing and having what we need? Right, thinking in terms of, and so when we think about structural violence, those are the things that take away from what people need, right? Takes away the possibility of being able to have a roof over one’s head and sleep at night with a full belly and sleep at night knowing that the next day you can walk into without fear of, you know, harm from someone who is trying to take things away from you or destroy or diminish you for whatever reason.

So it is much bigger than not just doing the things, but creating space and possibility of flourishing and of thriving. And so when I think about, probably for many people in the US, when they think about nonviolence and nonviolent tactics, they might very well think about one of the biggest proponents mid-20th century of nonviolent activism in the civil rights movement.

And on the one hand, you can look at that and say, okay, they are not fighting back against that which is trying to destroy them at a demonstration, or just trying to advance civil rights in this case for African Americans. But we can think of other liberation movements that are doing the same thing.

So on one level, it is that sense of not fighting back, staying stalwart and sort of calling attention to the violence that is being visited upon them. But if we widen that out, pull the curtains back and think about the ethos and the practices that undergirded that movement and undergird other movements, it is about how one is a part of a community and how that community, that’s doing a very specific thing, fighting for civil rights, fighting against racism and other -isms, but also creating a space where there was joy and laughter and a sense of belonging and a sense of strength and a sense of purpose, right?

A sense of, I am a being that deserves dignity and respect, even though I’m not getting it, even though there are forces in this society, in this country, in this world that say, no, I don’t get those things. In this community where we are doing this very specific thing, we are also building a world or attempting to build a world because no movement is perfect, right? People are human and there were certainly things that did not contribute to that, but the overall sense of we are not only existing in this moment to fight, we are existing in this moment to live and to invite others into living, into living justly and building a just world, building a world that has shalom as its primary mission statement, I guess.

Jared: My brain is going a million different directions here. So you’ve used the word fight quite a bit. And so it’s interesting that we’re talking about nonviolence and yet you’re talking about fighting against racism, fighting against these systems. So can you talk about—and you kind of already did this at the beginning—but maybe a little bit more specifically this relationship of violence to conflict. Because you’re still fighting, but you’re doing it for the sake of nonviolence. And so maybe it’s jarring for listeners to say wait, so you can be kind of a nonviolent activist and still fight things. So can you talk about that relationship a little bit?

Regina Shands Stoltzfus: Sure. Other words that could be used that have similar connections, we can talk about struggle. We can talk about resistance. Resistance is probably a better word. Resisting that which is trying to harm. But the essence of it is that it is a struggle. It is something that there needs to be a vision towards, something that is not happening right now or not happening enough, that is not bringing enough life and a sense of being able to exist and thrive with respect and dignity and justice that is part of that shalom that I mentioned before.

That everyone has what they need in order to live. And so, yeah, maybe using the word resistance to that which would, intends to destroy people, that intends to marginalize people, that intends to provide those things that are needed for survival to some people at the expense of others. Because at the end of the day, that’s probably more of what’s happening. When you think about racism, when you think about poverty, when you think about other areas of injustice that marginalize people, that don’t let people thrive, right? It’s usually not because there are hordes of evil people that are bent on this destruction. Usually there’s lots of people that either don’t know what’s going on or don’t know how they might be benefiting from the system that is harming the people that are wanting that dignity, that are wanting their needs met.

Jared: Something struck me as really powerful and important in what you said that this mode of being isn’t just being against things, but it’s also for belonging and joy and peace and mentioning the civil rights movement as a place in a community of belonging and positive energy. For me, it feels like a lot of things that I run into tend to be missing that part of it. It is a lot of what we’re against, but not a lot of what we’re for. So can you maybe speak to that? 

Regina Shands Stoltzfus: Yeah, it is one of the things that I’m really concerned about. Because if we are to look at a system that we’re pretty much agreeing this system is not working, this system is destructive for many people, this system is harmful, ultimately, for all of us, whatever the particular system that we’re looking to change. And we want to tear it down. We don’t like it, we want to tear it down, we want to destroy it. We need to be asking the question, so when that is torn down, what do we have? What is it that we want to build?

And I think that movements that are, I hesitate to use the word successful, but movements that don’t go away, I think that having a vision towards what it is that we want to build, and paying attention to that and even working towards that in small ways, and part of that is building community, I think. Part of that is that sense of, we have the capacity to call out in each other that strength, that joy, that we need to be calling out in each other, and we need to be building in each other. 

So there’s a reason that movements, civil rights movements and other movements, depend so much on the energy of being together, and depend so much on what artists bring to us. Right? If the artists are not part of the movement, then the movement has lost some of the engine that keeps it going. And so we sing together and we march together and we eat together. Those practices, which are part of the human experience, they’re part of community building, they’re part of faith communities. That’s what faith communities do together. We participate in rituals together. We know the words. We know how we fit in. 

The other end of the spectrum does that as well, right? The military does that. And so, as human beings, we know, whether we know it in our heads or we just know it in our guts, we know that we need to belong to something outside of ourselves.

And when we are thinking about nonviolent resistance to violence, structural violence in all kinds of ways, we are losing something if we depend solely upon what we have now in the 21st century with the internet and with digital organizing. There are certainly some pros to that, our global movements and our capacity to know what’s going on in places where we are not; our capacity to be part of communities, especially if we are isolated because of where we live or because of a pandemic or for whatever reason, we can connect with people in ways that were not possible 50 years ago, 100 years ago. And so those are gains. 

But I do think that part of what living online, whether we’re in resistance movements or not, does have this bent towards only focusing on the negative. And here I’m not just talking about movements for social change, I’m talking about just life on the internet is about being negative so much of the time. And that has an effect on how people are able to remember that we need to pull in the other parts of what keeps community bonded with one another and what—I mean, one of the things that being part of a community does is that everybody doesn’t have to be on all the time and everybody doesn’t have to do everything. There’s more than the march. There’s more than the protest. There’s the getting the word out, there is feeding people. I think of the people that become mobilized to take care of people at the protests. To bring the milk for the tear gas, you know, in the eyes. And to have the phone numbers to call the people with the bail money.

All of those are things that are necessary in this day and age and were necessary then. But it’s harder to do that for people that you don’t know or don’t have a story with, right? That’s another thing that we get from our faith communities. We have a story together. We know that we belong together because we have a story together, and that story is built on much more than ‘we are resisting this thing together.’

That’s important, and I’m not diminishing that at all, but there’s so much more to be mined from our human experience and what we know about what we need from one another and what we can draw out from one another and how we support one another.

[Ad break]

Jennifer: You mentioned faith communities, and I would love to hear about how you came to the conclusion that the Christian faith is a nonviolent faith. And you can talk about your work or the church tradition you grew up in, but I would love to hear more about that. 

Regina Shands Stoltzfus: Yeah, I came by it primarily through two different streams that came together and for which I am infinitely grateful.

One is being raised in a church with a peace theology, a peace and justice theology, and the other being raised by a socially conscious mother who loves black culture and steeped her children in black culture and then growing up in a church that brought those two things together. The church that I grew up in was what was called a mission church of the Mennonites back in the fifties.

There were a number of those churches that were founded in the United States in the forties and fifties. And, you know, it was sort of that coming out of that old school mission tradition, that let’s bring Jesus to the people. The reality for my congregation and for the other ones that were planted during this time was that it wasn’t so much that people didn’t know Jesus or didn’t have a church, but people who were looking for a church.

That was the case for our family. We moved into a neighborhood. We were invited to church by the neighbors that lived behind us, or we lived behind them. We went to that church, uh, it seemed like everything that my parents were looking for, what my mom was looking for, and one of the things that I remember her talking about was, they had things for kids, I had kids, so that was important to her, but she and other folks who were joining the church in its early years, We’re not necessarily, as the church lingo goes, unchurched people.

They had been raised in church, many of them, some not. They were looking for something that seemed to fit what they needed at the moment. And so, for my mom and for other folks, I don’t think necessarily that it was the peace theology that they were looking for. But once they got settled in this church, that seemed like, yeah, this is, these are the conversations I want to have. These are the activities I want to be involved in. 

And I was a child during the 60s, a teenager during the 70s. And so liberation movements of all stripes were in the backdrop of my formative years. They were things that were talked about at church and at home, and that was my foundation. One of the things that I did a lot of, sort of my primary way of doing peace and justice work before coming to the academy, was doing antiracism work. And I laughingly say I blame my congregation for this because it was an interracial congregation, predominantly black, but we talked about race and we celebrated blackness in the context of a faith community. And that was very, very important for me.

And when I started doing anti racism work, I was actually doing peace and justice work with Mennonite institutions and wondering why isn’t racism part of these conversations about peace and justice? 

Jared: Can you say more about what was it specifically, you know, that was taught about God and Jesus that had this peace and justice bent to it? Because there are a lot of people, and I think a lot of our listeners, that would have grown up without that emphasis. So, their theology, their training in who God is, and how God operates in the world, and who Jesus is, and how Jesus operates in the world, wouldn’t have heard a lot of the language of peace and justice.

Now, it’s not to say that maybe the concepts weren’t there in some form or fashion, but that was absolutely not the emphasis. And I can, just my experience, that wasn’t how I was taught to think about God or Jesus. So, what was it that you were taught that had that bent, and how is it that people come to such different conclusions about peace and justice when it comes to their Christian faith?

Regina Shands Stoltzfus: So, one of the things that I was taught, and it was taught to me primarily as a child by witnessing and being in the context, we were doing something that felt very normal to me: Black people and white people going to church together. We weren’t, as kids, stupid—we knew that there was all this hubbub going on in the country, around the world, but in the United States regarding race and civil rights and protest and the assassinations of Dr. King and other people. 

And so we knew that that was going on. And so we knew that there was a race problem in the country. And yet we were in a context as kids, seeing black people and white people being family together in church and also being family together in nuclear and extended families.

We also knew from talking to people who went to other churches, and friends at school, that everyone thought we were a bunch of weirdos, because why would you do that? I don’t know, because that’s where we go to church, and it seems to be fine. And of course, as we got older, as I got older and moved into teenage years and learned and understood more about what was going on, learned more and understood more about the history of this country, I thought we were like, okay, so clearly it is possible for people of different races to overcome all of these things, because I’m living in it. I see it happening around me. 

And so that was a lesson for me that was still growing because I was, I was learning these things. I was understanding these things. I was experiencing these things. But I was still quite naive. I was operating under the, we should just all learn how to be friends and racism will be over.

I got older and realized that it takes a little bit more than that, but having that foundation was very, very important to me. And so the biblical lessons and theologies that were coming alongside that lived experience were that of equality. Right? People are equal to one another, and that is a biblical message. And particularly marginalized people, people who don’t have someone to stand up for them, to speak for them.

And so the prophets’ trio of the foreigner, the orphan and the widows, people who don’t have a person in a position of power to speak for them or to protect them—it is the responsibility of the community, it is the responsibility of God’s people to make sure that they’re okay. And so that was something that came through very clearly.

And then I think the focus on Jesus and particularly the Sermon on the Mount undergirds and shores up that theology that God is a God of peace. God is a God of Shalom. God’s vision for God’s creation is that we exist with one another in that sense of shalom, which is not just everyone getting along. It’s not just we’re friends with each other, but we make sure that everyone has what they need, that everyone has enough to eat, that everyone has a job. That in the examples that I think about from my mom, I interviewed my mom for my dissertation project, which was looking at these black churches and so why did, why did these black people go to these churches that most, if not all of them at the beginning had white pastors, which was also really unusual.

And my mom talked about one of the things that she remembered being talked about at church was why do the poor Black neighborhoods in our city not have the same access to city services as the wealthier, whiter parts of the city? Like that was something that was talked about at church. Maybe not necessarily from the pulpit, but I imagine that it probably was talked about from the pulpit.

And so tying those two things together, the lived reality of this is what oppression looks like, this is what justice looks like, and this is what God calls us to. This is what Jesus taught, and this is what Jesus demonstrated. And some of those things became, I thought more about and learned more about as I got older. Right? One of the things that I think about that, sort of, those, one of those mind blown moments from seminary was Jesus healings. 

Jesus healings are on the surface about healing someone’s body, someone who was blind and now they can see, someone who couldn’t walk and now they can walk. But the other thing, and maybe the more important thing that Jesus is doing in those physical healings, is restoring a person back to the context of community.

Someone who is separated from community because of an ailment, because they can’t get to where the people are, or because they can’t do what the rest of the people are doing. They are brought back to community. I believe that’s the bigger lesson, because one of the things that always bugged me about those healing stories as a kid and as a young adult was, well, why didn’t Jesus just heal everybody? Like, clearly, you can do it, so what’s the problem? And I think that that’s at least a kernel of what’s happening there, that it is not just about one person getting something that they didn’t have before, but the community at large understanding that we need each other. And bringing someone back into the context of community is something that happened not just for that person that was being healed physically, but for the community that may not have even thought about the ramifications of what was going on.

[Ad break]

Jennifer: I agree so much about this communal idea of Jesus’s healing. And I’m wondering if you have advice for us, for our listeners, of how we can get involved in that kind of restorative communal work today. 

Regina Shands Stoltzfus: Oh, I think that talking to each other and going—I hate meetings, right? And one of the reasons that I hate meetings is, I hate bad meetings, I should say that. And so if the meeting is just about, “here’s the update on all the things and here’s the task list of all the things, go and do all the things and we’ll see you next week.” Can we spend five minutes of being human together? Can we know a little bit about what’s bringing you joy today? Or what’s heavy on your heart today?

And that sounds, as I’m saying that, I recognize that it sounds a little, uh, I don’t know, a little churchy in a way that I don’t understand myself to be churchy in that way. And I’m a super-duper introvert, right? And so I don’t like small talk, but I do like knowing who I’m doing this work with. And I do like knowing if there is a struggle that someone is having that they’re willing to share with me so that I can be part of their support, even if that support is, “I know you’re going through something right now and I’m here for you”, or let me just have you on my mind as I’m going about the things that I have to do, or let me rejoice with you that that amazing thing happened, um, I saw you had a big smile on your face when you walked in, what’s up, what’s going on with you?

So it’s not a big project, right? It is that reminder that we are moving through life together, and life can be hard. Or life can maybe not be necessarily hard, but we can forget to remember to bring the light and the joy into our everyday interactions with one another. And because there is so much sorrow and hurt and violence in the world, if we can just infuse some of the other things in the midst of that, then we’re not losing anything by paying attention to those things as well. 

Yeah, and I want to qualify that by saying, I’m not at all saying let’s pretend everything’s great, but let’s remember that there is more than death and destruction, and we’re part of creating that.

Jared: What you’re painting is this holistic, acknowledging and respecting the person and personhood, not just as a theoretical value in the work of nonviolence, but actually in the practice. When we show up to do the work, we need to also embody the thing we’re talking about, which is taking time to understand each other.

Can you say more how that might extend to relationships with folks who would maybe disagree with this approach, or maybe who don’t have the emphasis of peace and justice theology? Maybe other Christian traditions, just in a world where it can maybe be difficult to be for peace, belonging, and joy, and do these things while also making sure that we’re not diminishing or destroying or dehumanizing people who don’t agree with that approach—or who, maybe even to be more charitable, who agree with it in theory, but whose practice goes against maybe some of those values, at least the way we see them.

So how do you extend that kind of relationality and holistic approach to folks who would maybe minimize this as an important part of the Christian faith or important political process? How do you engage in those relationships? 

Regina Shands Stoltzfus: Yeah, that is something that I think is getting more and more difficult to do because we are in such a contentious time for all sorts of reasons.

And for me, one of the things that I need to remember is that as a human family, we have been in this place before. Getting through it, bringing that in, talking to people who have a different view, it’s really hard. And I don’t know that I have the perfect answer to that. 

What I try to do in the place where I have these conversations most often, which is in the classroom, it’s not the only place, but that’s, that’s where it happens most of the time, is I work really hard at saying, here are the things that are important to me, but I’m also about more than that. That’s not all of who I am. These are things that are important to me. And in this space, in our classroom, we can disagree with each other. And we do disagree with each other for a variety of reasons. And my request, the promise that I want to make to you, and I hope that we can do that with each other, is that in this place we will respect one another’s dignity. We will treat each other with dignity. We will own our beliefs and our thoughts and share them in ways that are hearable. 

That’s one of the things that I try to really get my students to do, and I think, I think about it too in, if I go to speak somewhere or if I’m in a place where I’m speaking to a group of people and I don’t know what their beliefs are and I don’t know where they are on the political spectrum, and I suspect I’m going to say something that is going to rub someone the wrong way, or at least they are going to be disagreeing with me—one of the things that I want to do is think about how am I hearable, which means how do I get my message across without signaling to a person who probably disagrees with me that they can stop listening now. Like, I have nothing to say of any value to them. And it’s not an easy thing to do, especially when we don’t know what we’re walking into.

But I think that the ability to speak to one another and to hear one another and to build up the capacity to do that outside of our bubbles or our echo chambers is really, really important. That’s another thing that online communities have given us the possibility of doing: only talking to people who believe and think just like I do. And ultimately, that’s comforting. And I think sometimes we do have to go there, but also we live in the real world. And we live in towns with people who don’t think exactly as I do. We go to work and go to school and even go to church with people who are not one to one correspondents on every point of agreement.

And so, as much as I can remind myself that I need to extend that sense of dignity and respect for another person’s humanity just as much as I want it for me, then I need to do that. If I’m going to tell people this is what I’m being called to and I believe this is what our human family is being called to, but I can’t do it for that person. But it’s really hard because it does make one wonder, am I compromising my beliefs? Am I setting myself up to be sort of in the muddy middle rather than clear on “here’s what I think about this issue. Here’s what I think about this problem in society. Here’s what I think is a fair solution to a problem.”

If I’m wanting to invite people into those kinds of conversations, I have to be able to be in a room with them. 

Jared: Hmm. Well, thank you, Regina, for coming on and providing an education around nonviolence in your lived experience and giving some color to that. It’s really helpful and really appreciated.

So thank you for taking the time. 

Regina Shands Stoltzfus: Oh, absolutely. Thank you for having me on. This has been a great conversation. 

Jennifer: Thanks Regina. 

Regina Shands Stoltzfus: Thank you.

[Music signals beginning of Quiet Time segment]

Jared: And now for Quiet Time…

Pete: …with Pete and Jared. All right. So Jared, let’s talk about this, shall we? Why do you think some people can claim to follow a Christ of peace yet also believe violence against others is justified? That does happen. 

Jared: Yeah, yeah, for sure. And I think, you know, maybe we didn’t get into it too much in the interview, but the Bible is complicated on this issue, like the Bible itself is complicated. It’s not clear cut. And one of the things we talk about a lot in our podcast in general is letting the Bible be what it is. And again, I think sometimes when we have ideology come first, we read it through a particular lens and we like to focus on those parts and we tend to de-emphasize other parts and then we’re baffled that others would emphasize a different part.

We kind of forget that those parts are there. And I think this is one of those cases where we look at the Bible as a whole, it’s sometimes problematic when it comes to violence. And it’s not a moral textbook. And I think we get frustrated by, as modern people, that the Bible isn’t a moral textbook that consistently says, thou shalt and thou shalt nots.

It’s stories and it’s some imperatives or rules, but it seems like those are contextual and some seem like they’re not as contextual, like there’s certain pronouncements. So it’s, it’s complicated. So that’s, I think it’s, pretty simple to understand why we come to different conclusions about this pretty strange ancient ambiguous text.

Pete: Yeah, it’s got—and Jesus as well has, you know, he’s not presented as always peace always peace. I mean personally, I do, I would emphasize Jesus as the, you know, the Prince of Peace idea. Right? I’d emphasize that. But there’s also some violence in the New Testament.

I mean, it’s not just the book of Revelation. It’s, you know, a couple of parables that Jesus tells and, and, uh, I mean, jumping, one of my favorite weird texts is the Ananias and Sapphira episode in the book of Acts, which is not Jesus, but it’s still part of the beginning of the Jesus movement. And, these guys get wasted for like hoarding some stuff where they should have given it away, rather than just getting a stern talking to, right?

So there’s violence in the New Testament. I don’t think it’s as pronounced as in the Hebrew Bible, but it’s there and it can’t be avoided. So I think what’s needed, personally, and I try to think through this myself. This isn’t just an abstract issue. But the hermeneutics of it all, you know, like on what basis would I want to emphasize one over the other? And that’s a theological hermeneutical question. It’s much more than just picking a verse sort of unreflectively and saying, well, this means Jesus is all about peace. 

Jared: And if we’re trying to advocate for a more peaceful version of Christianity, I don’t think it’s a helpful tactic to say, “You’re wrong about what the Bible says.” It’s more trying to get people to feel compelled by a more peaceful version, a hermeneutic of peace, and convincing why that’s a maybe better way of reading it, not a more literally accurate way or something like that.

Pete: Yeah. And the thing that strikes me about that very thing, Jared, is, you know, Jesus had a context, right? The New Testament writers had a context. And that context I think can be summed up very accurately by saying, first century Jewish apocalypticism which has overthroes of government in it. It has big an overturn of the way things are done and a new thing is coming—

Jared: Well, political revolution was often a part of apocalypticism and in the ancient world that was typically violent. 

Pete: Yeah, I mean read the first two chapters of Luke and the you know, the announcement of Jesus’s birth and all that. It’s very Israelite, we’re gonna, you know, “our king is coming to rid us of our oppressors,” right? Read the prophecy of Zechariah. You know, this, it’s, it’s interesting how this is presented and it’s not, you know, the baby Jesus who’s just all happy clappy and stuff like that. So, but we know that, but that’s the issue though.

How do we transpose this into a completely different non apocalyptic context? And that, and Christians have been doing that really since the first century, definitely since the second century, and it doesn’t stop. That’s why it’s always a theological and hermeneutical question to engage this stuff and say, what Jesus is going to show up here in our moment, right?

And you know, some might advocate for a more violent one. And I can’t say that’s wrong. I just would say the ethics of that, why are you proposing that? And for some people it’s because “I’m tired of my people being oppressed.” And I, okay, that’s a, that’s a whole different conversation. I can, I can get on board with thinking, uh, with, um, bringing that Jesus forward in time. But yeah, that’s a huge discussion, you know, and, and, uh, I mean, it’s as simple as that, you know, what’s Jesus like? Well, good question. 

Jared: Well, and to that, I think that’s a good segue into another part of what we talked about, which I think is helpful when we, I’m glad we got into it because it’s something I wanted to talk about with Regina, which is, because sometimes when we talk about nonviolence, we immediately go to this reductionistic scenario of like an ethical dilemma of when is it justified? And we sort of reduce it to, okay, we pull it out an extreme example and say, can you be violent here? And what I appreciated was the idea of nonviolence, whenever you talk about pacifism as “we are not doing violence”, we’re defining it by what we’re not doing. And Regina and others who come from peace traditions would say it’s a lot more about what we are doing.

Pete: Right. 

Jared: It’s how do we dismantle the systems that lead to violence in the first place? How do we go upstream so that we don’t end up with an ethical dilemma where we are forced to choose. Which may still happen. But the energy and the emphasis in peace traditions is often, how are we for peace? How are we for belonging? How are we for joy? How do we understand how violence erupts and take care of those systems beforehand so that we know, if it’s poverty leads to more violence, how do we address poverty? 

And so it’s those systems that need to be addressed way before we get to this reductionistic, okay, but if if terrorists are knocking at your door, are you going to resist the violence or the violent impulse to protect or whatever those things are? Those are interesting. Those are helpful. But I think on an, on an everyday level, the peace tradition has a lot more to say about kind of some roll up your sleeve, everyday activist work than it does what happens in a moment that’s most likely not going to ever occur in your life. 

Pete: And also, like you said, looking behind the scenes at the structures that exist. And see, to me, that’s a great example of what I might call the progress of theology over the millennia, right? It’s like, I’m not sure if I’m, I’m not saying nobody had this conversation before, you know, the civil rights movement or something. People have been talking about this, but maybe people can get more clarity on things, you know? And say, yeah, there’s like, there’s violence in the book of Revelation, for example.

But I mean, Brad Jersak talked about this on a podcast a couple of years ago, but it’s just—don’t do that. You don’t base your life on what this book is doing in a very apocalyptic upheaval moment, right? You can’t just take that and base your theology around it. It’s more a window onto how certain people in the first century grappled with this whole Jesus business in their context.

We can’t let their grappling simply be our grappling. We have to grapple too.

Jared: Or limit our grappling. 

Pete: Or limit our grappling, exactly, just because it says X, Y, and Z in the Bible. I think a lot of this is really just saying, what does it mean for Jesus to show up in this world that we’re living in? What is that going to look like?

And, you know, MLK took a point of view there, right? With nonviolence. And that’s what he emphasized because he felt that’s what’s needed. That’s how to get this. And yeah, exactly. 

Jared: So what I’m hearing is, in a lot of these, I think it’s a good example of how to continue the conversation and how we bring what was in the Bible forward to our time. And not that it can limit us, but it can be, it can be a catalyst for more conversation. A thing that we can go back to again and again to draw from a well of inspiration and motivation. But if we allow the language or the structure of that context and that time to dictate the rules of engagement, we’re going to end up with, I think, an impoverished theology and an impoverished ethical stance towards some of these things. 

Pete: Absolutely. 

Jared: All right. 

Pete: Alright.

[Outro music plays]

Jared: Well, thanks to everyone who supports the show. If you want to support what we do, there are three ways you can do it. One, if you just want to give a little money, go to thebiblefornormalpeople.com/give

Pete: And if you want to support us and want a community, classes, and other great resources, go to thebiblefornormalpeople.com/join

Jared: And lastly, it always goes a long way if you just wanted to rate the podcast, leave a review and tell others about our show. In addition, you can let us know what you thought about the episode by emailing us at info@thebiblefornormalpeople.com

Outro: You’ve just made it through another episode of Faith for Normal People! Don’t forget you can catch our other show, the Bible for Normal People, in the same feed wherever you get your podcasts. This episode was brought to you by the Bible for Normal People team: Brittany Hodge, Stephen Henning, Wesley Duckworth, Savannah Locke, Tessa Stultz, Danny Wong, Natalie Weyand, Lauren O’Connell, Jessica Shao, and Naiomi Gonzalez.

[Outro music ends]
Read Entire Article