Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jesus and Barack: A Comparison

Jesus and Barack Obama
On Resisting “Evil”

A comparison of the teachings and actions of Jesus and the teaching and actions of President Barack Obama, in light of the “troop surge” in Afghanistan and his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, December 10, 2009

US President Obama was on the defensive in Oslo. He sheepishly admitted his achievements for “peace” were “slight”, especially when compared to others like Martin Luther King Jr., his hero from a previous generation (and also a Peace Prize winner).

We will look at his attempt to justify perpetrating the “just war” in Afghanistan and pose the question: “What would Jesus do?” in dealing with rouges who refused to “adhere to standards that govern the use of force” (para. 21).

He made a point that the 9/11 attacks on American soil originated “from Afghanistan” (para 48) with the strong implication that that government officially sanctioned or permitted it to happen and that therefore, the US has a right to “self-defense”. (What he failed to mention is that Al Qaeda, the self-declared foe of the US, has never been tied to any nation. It is a trans-national movement. Thus attacking a country is suspect, to say nothing of fruitless, with little or no hope of “winning” the “war”).

And besides, he went on to say, as “the world’s sole military superpower” (para 16), we defend not only US interests, but “global security” as well (para 17), (just as we did for European nations during WW II). America is involved in a “conflict we did not seek . . . in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks” (para 3).

He looks with favor on the teaching and actions of Jesus, as espoused by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. But only up to a point. He reserves the right to “use force” (para 13) and “the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation” (para 21). He lauds the way of nonviolence, even saying he is a “living testimony to the moral force of nonviolence” [of Martin Luther King Jr.].

In para 12, he claims not to bring a “definitive solution to the problems of war”, blatantly ignoring that a “Way” to peace has clearly been brought, taught, and lived out by his confessed “Leader”, Jesus of Nazareth. How can he argue there is no other “way” than to engage, as a last resort, in violence to counter violence? His Christian brothers and sisters must shake their heads in grief that the “Way” of our common Master is so finally dismissed. In not being “guided by their [Gandhi, King, and Jesus], examples alone” (para 15), he chooses to be guided by the oldest “way” in history: violence to be countered by violence as the only real way to “peace”. This lie of our Adversary (The Evil One) is universally acclaimed and practiced. Kill or be killed is the law of the jungle; it is not the Way of Jesus.

Can a nation’s leader choose nonviolent measures to combat “Evil”? Well, yes, he responds:

* 1) using international institutions like the UN (para 17),

* 2) living by the “standards that govern the use of force” (para 21),
* 3) using tough sanctions with rouge states (para 31 – 34);

* 4) protecting the “human rights” of individual citizens and in nation states (para 35-42);

* 5) committing to economic security and development for people everywhere (para 43, 44); and

* 6) expanding our “moral imagination” (instead of killing people by the supposed authority of “God” (para 45 – 54). (When individuals take the power of the sword to themselves, they attempt what only the “state” has authority to do).

Let it be said that Jesus, Peter, and Paul, (to name a few biblical characters) completely accepted the policing authority and power of nation-states (Matt. 20:25, I Pet. 2:13, 14; Rom. 13:1-7). (“Governors are sent by [God] to punish those who do wrong” (I Pet. 2:14). Nonviolence (“love, faith”, para’s 48 – 51) may not be “practical or possible in every circumstance” (para 50). He states as axiomatic that “A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies” (para. 15) yet lauds Pope John Paul’s “engagement with Poland” that stood down Russian oppression and President Nixon’s dealing with “the enemy” in China at the height of the Cold War without bloodshed. The “love” and “faith” [of Gandhi and King] “must always be the North star that guides us on our journey” (para 50). He lauds “love” and “faith” and “engagement” but retains the “right” to act violently.

Yet, in typical Barack Obama fashion, he wants it both ways. He wants the application of “love”, but not too radically if you please. He doesn’t trust it. He can’t bring himself to say, “It is not practical or possible”. All he can say is, “It may not be practical or possible” (para 50). Sometimes the use of force is preferable really to confront evil is what he really is saying. (We are glad he at least struggles with this).

President Obama states, “I know there is nothing weak, nothing passive, nothing naive, in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King” (para 14). Nor does he want to dismiss “love” and “faith” as “silly or naïve” (para. 51). Yet, that is exactly what he does when he talks and acts as though nonviolent resistance is inappropriate when the threat to our “security” calls for military action. It is here he parts with Jesus, (Gandhi and King) who do not apply (nonviolent) “love” selectively but consistently.

The “just war” theory does not come from Jesus. It comes first from St. Augustine, as an attempt to get (Christian) rulers to abide by “standards” (proportionality, as self-defense, protecting non-combatants, hoped for “success”, etc.) War has always been justified by combatants on either side. The “just war” is like Moses giving spouses permission to divorce. “War” was never what was meant to be between persons or among nations! Jesus had enemies. He refused to be an enemy. He engaged enemies. He wanted the best for enemies. He loved enemies, even when they were determined to destroy him.

Even in the moment of greatest danger to himself personally (and his disciples), Jesus did not argue that he had a right to “self-defense”. At no point did he surround himself with a militia to insist on or impose the “rightness” of his “Way”. His was a completely nonviolent approach to “enemies”. It is not relevant nor true that Jesus was acting uniquely for himself and his mission, as though his example does not apply to his followers at that time or for succeeding generations. We are to “love” our enemies and do good to those who abuse and “hate” us. This never justifies the use of force (violence).

That this way is not popular or adopted by leaders like Al Qaeda or the USA (as being too naïve or passive), does not take away from its application or relevance for Jesus’ followers in threatening situations or circumstances. There is a difference between the way of empire the “Way” of Jesus of Nazareth, a difference being blurred all too often. Alas, we are all “Constantinian Christians”, descendants of the Roman emperor who co-opted Jesus to justify wars against “the enemy” and ensure our “security”.

Finally, Mr. Obama asks us to live by his example, as he speaks of “the mother [his mother and grandmother] facing punishing poverty (who) still takes time to teach her child, who believes that a cruel world still has a place for his dreams” (end of the second to the last paragraph, para 53). Here then, is Mr. Obama’s “faith”:

We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of depravation and still strive for dignity. We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that—for that is the story of human progress; that is the hope of the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work on Earth” (last para).

This sounds so noble and bracing. Mr. Obama thus sees himself and the US as the guarantor of “Global Security”, gathering up willing nations to work for the great Pax Americana, using Jesus’ nonviolent “love” selectively and insisting on the right to use force (of course, as a last resort) on those who would do the US (and our “friends”) harm.

In this way, the American version of empire will pass the way of all empires, of King David, of Babylon, of Persia, of Alexander the Great, of Rome, and yes, the Third Reich. In being true to King Herod and Pontius Pilate, he will be false to Jesus, Gandhi and King.

There is a “Way” to walk beyond the “Nation” as ultimate good, beyond the truism that “nation will fight nation, and ruler will fight ruler, over and over” (Matt. 24:7). It is the “Way” made crystal clear by Jesus and vindicated by God in his victory over self-aggrandizement and death.

Followers of Jesus will seek to be true to our Leader’s nonviolent Way of loving enemies, living generously toward others, even those who hate us (Matt. 5:38-48). When “the enemy is hungry, feed him; when he’s thirsty, give him a drink. . .Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good” (The Message, Rom. 12:20,21).

Any other “way” to peace, especially the use of (violent) force to counter “evil” leads to ever widening circles of vengeance, further injustices and destruction. Faith, hope and love are not to be applied selectively. They are to be applied consistently, completely, and with no coercion. Nonviolent, active resistance IS the “Way”. There is no “way” to peace by violent action. Active, nonviolent resistance is the “Way” to peace.

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