Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The nonviolent way of Jesus documented

As Book Review Editor for the journal Perspectives in Religious Studies, I receive books in religious and theological studies submitted to the journal by publishers and then secure reviewers for them with appropriate expertise from among the membership of the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion, the professional organization that sponsors the journal. Frequently I receive books that I believe ought to be commended to a broader readership beyond scholars of religion and theology, and occasionally I receive a book that I feel compelled to purchase myself after passing the review copy along to a reviewer. Christian Peace and Nonviolence: A Documentary History (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2011), edited by Michael G. Long, is one of those books on both counts. I ordered it from Amazon after finding a reviewer for it, and I urge followers of Ecclesial Theology to read it and recommend it to others.

Long, Associate Professor of Religion and Peace and Conflict Studies at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, has anthologized 116 sources from the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures through the twenty-first century that document nonviolence and peacemaking as convictions and practices that belong to historical continuity with the formative Christian tradition rather than constituting occasional exceptions to a Christian "just war" tradition.This Baptist theologian took note of the significant number of voices from the larger Free Church tradition selected for this anthology, including not only Mennonites but several Baptists proper--among them a declaration issued by Pennsylvania Mennonites and German Baptists in 1775 and a 2004 statement on "Confessing Christ in a World of Violence" co-issued by Baptists Glen Stassen and Richard Pierard with others, along with selections from the writings of Charles Spurgeon, Howard Thurman, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Muriel Lester, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The opening paragraph of a selection from Miroslav Volf, who received his Christian formation in the larger Free Church tradition, summarizes well the overarching case made by this volume:

In this essay I want to contest the claim that the Christian faith, as one of the major world religions, predominantly fosters violence, and to argue, instead, that it should be seen as a contributor to more peaceful social environments. I will not argue that the Christian faith was not and is not often employed to foster violence. Obviously, such an argument cannot be plausibly made; not only have Christians committed atrocities and other lesser forms of violence but they have also drawn on religious beliefs to justify them. Neither will I argue that the Christian faith has been historically less associated with violence than other major religions; I am not at all sure that this is the case. Rather, I will argue that at least when it comes to Christianity, the cure against religiously induced or legitimated violence is not less religion, but, in a carefully qualified sense, more religion. Put differently, the more we reduce Christian faith to vague religiosity or conceive of it as exclusively a private affair of individuals, the worse off we will be; and inversely, the more we nurture it as an ongoing tradition that by its intrinsic content shapes behavior and by the domain of its regulative reach touches the public sphere, the better off we will be. "Thick" practice of the Christian faith will help reduce violence and shape a culture of peace (pp. 298-99).

No one should reject nonviolence as a Christian commitment without first reading, marking, and inwardly digesting these documents--which are also must reading for anyone who dares to follow Jesus' nonviolent way.

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