Why I am a Shalomite: a sermon for Remembrance Sunday

by Kim on November 9, 2006

I want to explain something to you this morning, something that is important, something that is very important. As far as I am concerned, because – as I hope to explain – as far as I can tell, it goes to the very heart of being a Christian, a follower of Jesus. All my sermons have titles. I thought of calling this one “Why I Am a Pacifist”. But the term is too loaded to be of any theological use. So the title is, instead, “Why I Am a Shalomite”. It’s a term I made up – shalom, as you know, is the Hebrew word for peace, and includes the notions of human well-being and creation perfected – so it means – well, that’s exactly what I want to explain!

Of course a shalomite is, in fact, a certain kind of pacifist, but this certain kind is, crucially, a different kind of pacifist. Let’s looks at some other kinds.

You can be a pacifist for all sorts of reasons. I suppose one reason that we have to consider, because it is a charge that is sometimes made, usually with contempt, is that people are pacifists because they are cowards. Or, another slur, because they are unpatriotic. Well, I suppose that may be true of some folk, but personally, I don’t know any, and I have never met any pacifists who aren’t pacifist by conviction, reached only after a lot of deep thought, and who also don’t love their country (but not my country right or wrong, which is like my husband drunk or sober). And while it is true that being a pacifist between wars is like being a vegetarian between meals, being a pacifist during war is a burden, not a bolthole. Besides, it would be as unfair to accuse all pacifists of cowardice as it would be to accuse all soldiers of brutality.

So let’s get on with the more realistic and reputable reasons why people are pacifists. First of all, it is clear that you don’t have to be a Christian to be a pacifist. Indeed, in terms of religion, most people would associate pacifism, quite rightly, with Buddhism. But you don’t even have to be “religious” to be a pacifist. There are plenty of what you might call “humanist” pacifists, some of whom are anti-religious, because they can quite rightly point to the religious element in many, if not most, wars. Humanist pacifists, in any case, base their position on such ideas as “reverence for life”, or, if they are utilitarian, on the results of war, on the futile devastation and endless cycles of violence and counter-violence that seem to be endemic to war.

And then there are Christians. Christians too can be pacifist for all sorts of reasons. One they might call belief not only in “reverence for life” but in the “sanctity” or “sacredness of life”. The great theologian, musician, doctor and missionary Albert Schweitzer thought in these terms, and so too did Ghandi. “Sanctity” adds the note of divine blessing to “reverence”. Nevertheless, the accent is on life, specifically human life, and it is a statement more about human life than it is about God. It is an argument from creation rather than the Creator, and certainly than the Redeemer.

Then there are the historic peace churches, whose origins lie in the Radical Reformation of the 16th century, the most familiar to us probably being the Quakers. This position is distinguished by a specific vision of the relation between the church and state. And so too, more radically still, is what has been called Christian “anarchist pacifism”, represented by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have no real vision for society at all, not least because they think it ain’t gonna be here very much longer.

Finally, there are what I call “post-just war pacifists”. These are Christian pacifists of a recent vintage. Motivated by a careful respect for just war theory that goes back to Augustine in the 4th century (its secular roots go back even further, to Roman Stoic philosophers), they may have reluctantly conceded the moral possibility of participation in wars in the past on certain stringent conditions. Such conditions include righteous conduct, proportional means, appropriate discrimination – namely the safety and protection of innocent civilians and the avoidance of non-military targets – and also a reasonable chance of attaining war’s only legitimate aim, namely the establishment of justice and a lasting peace. But, say post-just war pacifists, the advent of nuclear weapons and other WMD, weapons of mass destruction, make it most unlikely, if not entirely impossible, that these criteria can ever be met again. To use a Monty Python expression, they are now “ex-criteria”. Today, therefore, the only option is pacifism. Observe, again, the thrust of the argument: it is pragmatic, it weighs up evidence and possibilities and calculations of casualties. Technically it is still based on what theologians call “natural law”, it is based on reason rather than revelation, no substantive appeal is made to the Bible or to Jesus.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are some good reasons here for being a pacifist. And I should add that there are plenty of good reasons for not being a pacifist. Not all people who wage and take part in wars are knaves or fools. Like pacifists, they no doubt act in good faith, and display many virtues along with it. Insofar as Remembrance Sunday has any Christian value and validity, that’s where it lies and that’s what we may justly celebrate: the courage, the self-sacrifice, the commitment to a better, safer world. Nevertheless, I am not only not a non-pacifist, I am not a pacifist for any of the reasons I’ve described. At best they amount to a cumulative case, the arguments adding up to what nowadays is called a “tipping point”. But I am a Christian pacifist for a single reason, and a reason that has nothing to do with results. Which is not to say that there are no results attached to my reason – there are indeed; indeed I would argue that my reason is in fact the most practical and realistic reason of them all, but they are not why I am a Christian pacifist. And because there is this one, single, unique reason why I am a Christian pacifist, I prefer to call myself by this neologism of mine: I am a Shalomite.

To come to the point. As the American Methodist theologian Stanley Hauerwas puts it – because he puts it so much better than I could: “Non-violence is not one among other behavioural implications that can be drawn from the gospel but is integral to the shape of Christian convictions.” And further – and to the point of the point: “Nonviolence is not just one implication among others that can be drawn from our Christian beliefs; it is the very heart of our understanding of God.” You see I am a Shalomite – and I believe that at least all Christians and, in principle, all people should be Shalomites – not because of anything I know about the world or human beings, or through a calculus of war and peace, “but because of something I know about Jesus” (William Willimon) and because of something Jesus knows about God: namely, that God is a God of Shalom, that (to adapt what St. John says about God and light and darkness [I John 1:5]) God is non-violent and in him there is no violence at all. And what is Christian ethics, what is the very heart of following the way of Jesus, if not learning to be like the God of Jesus? And how do we learn to be like the God of Jesus if not by obeying the teaching of Jesus? And what is the teaching of Jesus if not “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matthew 5:43-48)?

We are called to be like God: perfect as God is perfect. It is a perfection that comes by following and learning to be like this particular man Jesus of Nazareth. That is why being a Shalomite is not an ethic of principles, laws, values, or consequences, but an ethic that derives from and demands that we attend to the life and teaching of this specific individual who challenged his culture of violence by engaging in active non-violence, and who ended up on a cross. End of story, you might say, because Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the end of story, the climax of the story, God’s story of creation and redemption.

I don’t need to say anymore. That is my explanation of why I am a Shalomite. And I don’t intend to, because I don’t need to, and it is not in my power to anyway, to try to persuade you to be a Shalomite too. At the risk of sounding presumptuous – the risk, in any case, that a preacher takes every time he climbs the pulpit and dares to proclaim the Word of God – only the Holy Spirit can turn you into a Shalomite. But neither is it the point of the pulpit to give you your marching orders, because only God can do that too – and he does do it, from the cross, which is whence Christians receive their marching orders, not from the Union Jack or the Welsh Dragon. But, no, the way I see it, if I can just get you to see it, you’ll figure out what to do all by yourself: see, I mean, this alternative world and alternative life-style described in the gospels and proclaimed and embodied in Jesus, which is the real world, a world of grace and truth – and, yes, peace – the real world compared to which the so-called real world, the world of power politics, of wars and rumours of war, is nothing but a grotesque shadow destined to disappear in the full glare of the sun of righteousness.

So my job today is done as I conclude, “Look! See! God’s New World! God’s New People!”

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Jonathan Marlowe 11.09.06 at 1:45 pm

Amen.

The only thing I would add would be to remember that in TPoJ, Yoder warns us not to draw too sharp a distinction between faithfulness and effectiveness - why? - because of the Resurrection.

How interesting that you would call Hauerwas a Methodist! At least he was a Methodist when he wrote the words you quote! And then referring to a Methodist bishop like Willimon — Joel, take note, I think Kim is a closet Methodist, since this sermon is basically a commentary on the Wesleyan doctrine of sanctification. :)

2

Kim 11.09.06 at 2:07 pm

Hi Jonathan.

Great point about “faithfulness and effectiveness”. Thanks.

And, yes, I am aware that Hauerwas has recently become an Anglican, but I suspect that most people aren’t, and decided not to throw them off the flow of the sermon by saying “the American Anglican theologian Stanley Hauerwas”. Not that most (many? any?) of my congregation would be aware of who the hell this Hauerwas guy is anyway! :)

Finally, I’ll take what you say about my being a “closet Methodist” as a great compliment. And there may be some truth to it. Though I would add that Wesley himself was a crypto-Calvinist, at least on the matter of war, about which he wrote that its “universal misery is at once a consequence and a proof of . . . universal corruption.” And remember, unlike Luther, Calvin was himself very strong on sanctification, what has been called his “soteriological gradualism”. “Christ,” Calvin wrote, “is not outside us but dwells within us. Not only does he cleave to us by an invisible bond of fellowship, but with a wonderful communion, day by day, he grows more and more into one body with us, until he becomes completely one with us.” So there! :)

3

Jonathan Marlowe 11.09.06 at 2:50 pm

Yes, the best of Calvin and the best of Wesley have been reconciled in Barth. I think I will write a “ten propositions” post on that. :)

4

Kim 11.09.06 at 4:44 pm

Hi again, Jonathan.

An interesting project, your proposed “ten propositions”. Though you might have some trouble with Barth (who is my theological hero). Hans Urs von Balthasar in particular directed the very pointed criticism at Barth that he neglected, even rejected, the idea of progess in the Christian life. That may be an exaggeration, but it is certainly true that Barth talked very little about Christian growth. If you are interested, there is an excellent essay by George Hunsinger, “A Tale of Two Simultaneities: Justification and Sanctification in Calvin and Barth”, in John C. McDowell and Mike Higton, eds., Conversing with Barth (Ashgate, 2004).

Also, if you are interested, my friend Ben Myers at faith-theology.blogspot.com is about to post my own “Ten Propositions on Karl Barth: Theologian”, perhaps even tomorrow.

5

Eugene 11.09.06 at 6:26 pm

Theologians aside I think the sermon was brilliant. I also spoke on the issue of war to the students and faculty of Knox College. I advocated for both though. But Kim and I have drawn the same conclusion, hope for a better world.

Blessings,

Eugene McKinnon

6

Pam 11.09.06 at 7:26 pm

I’m wondering what sort of context you are preaching this into, Kim.

I’m struggling with being a pacifist new minister in a congregation where I am certain that there will be several people who might see any profession of pacifism as “spitting on the graves of their loved ones who died to keep this country free from Hitler”, no matter what my apologetic to the contrary might be. (What one preaches and what the congregation hears.)

7

Kim 11.09.06 at 8:13 pm

Hi Pam.

I will be preaching to a congregation to which I have ministered for nearly twenty-five years. So, in a sense, that makes it easy. They are used to Fabricius for banging on about this and that, and they can switch off and think about Sunday lunch! And hose who would be offended by the sermon have left years ago. In fact, I have lost several members of my church to my so-called “political” sermons, particularly during the height of the cold war, apartheid, and the miners’ strike in Wales (the eighties).

I once preached a sermon on the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) - a passgae you won’t find in many lectionaries! In the sermon I asked the congregation to guess what has made me most proud in being its minister. I gave them some examples of what might make a minister proud kata sarka. And then I hit them with this: that my proudest moments were the losing of those members to sermons they didn’t like. Mind, I tried to keep those folk, tried damned hard. I visited them, discussed the issues with them, indeed pleaded with them to stay, if for no other reason than that disagreeing with the minister, or even being offended by him, is not a ground for leaving the church - only heresy or apostasy is a ground for leaving the church. But they left, and I was proud, because it confirmed, as the story of Ananaias and Sapphira confirms, that the gospel means business because, while free, is not cheap.

Calvin, by the way, distinguished between giving offence and taking offence. I never intend to give offence; I always try to preach the gospel. But if, by grace, I do preach the gospel, then offence is inevitable - true faith always begins with recoil - and people will take it. If, as a result, they leave, I am sad, but I will not compromise the gospel as I see it. Remember Jesus and the rich man. And the congregation called a shepherd, not a sheepdog.

Very early in every minister’s ministry, it seems to me, she has to make a choice, a very hard choice given the psychological profiles of most people in the “caring” professions: Do I want to be liked, or do I want to be faithful, not to the congregation, but to Christ> But - here’s the thing - by being faithful to Christ, one is being faithful to the congregation as well, even if it doesn’t recognise or acknowledge it. And the people who don’t like you, who even hate your guts, if they stay, they tend, at least, to respect you. At least that is what I have found. For what it’s worth. Is that helpful?

8

Jonathan Marlowe 11.09.06 at 9:41 pm

I wrote about Calvin, Wesley, and Barth below, but I am thinking about organizing it more tightly into ten propositions:

http://theivybush.blogspot.com/2004/12/three-cheers-for-john-calvin.html

9

Pam 11.09.06 at 11:10 pm

At least that is what I have found. For what it’s worth. Is that helpful?

It’s somewhat helpful. I suspect that we ARE very different. To me as a listener the - shall we call it - very assertive approach shuts down dialogue before it can even begin. Wanting to keep communication channels open does not necessarily imply having to lie about one’s own views.

I’m thinking that, in my sermon, I will have to acknowledge why I find these issues difficut. I’ve already taken the “love your enemies” Gospel reading, so we’ll see what develops.

10

Kim 11.10.06 at 12:18 am

Yes, Pam, I guess we ARE very different - and not only because I do not think that a sermon is to be judged by whether or not it generates “dialogue”.

But even assuming that it is so to be judged - and certainly I agree that dialogue is crucially important in the life of the church, and we don’t do it nearly enough - why should a “very assertive approach” shut it down? On the contrary, if we are really serious about dialogue, and serious that the subject of the dialogue is really serious, assertiveness is actually crucial to opening it up. Only then does dialogue become really interesting, when it is passionate. In fact, if you are not assertive in what you say, why should I even bother to listen to you?

That is why Karl Barth is such an interesting conversation partner, precisely because he is so pugilistic. As Mike Higton and John McDowell argue in their contribution to a collection of essays they have edited entitled Conversing with Barth, the “rejection of argument can only function where religious beliefs and practices are reduced to bland differences in choice, to matters of private taste about which it would be tasteless to kick up a fuss. Such a rejection can only function where religious practices, and indeed the shape of all our politics and ethical practices, are removed from the dangerous ultimacy of worship (the recognition of a universal scope worthy of our worship) to the local subjectivities of consumer choice In other words, the rejection of argument, of serious disagreement, is possible only for a pluralism where all is allowed because nothing is taken seriously.”

Jon Milbank has also spoken of a kind of dialogue which is, in fact, a profoundly ideological enterprise masquerading as tolerance. To wit, recent pronouncements by government spokesmen about veils and faith schools, which, they say, are meant to open up debate, but which, in fact, reflect the totalising claims of secular liberalism.

In any case, the church, above all places, is the forum where we should be able to clash polemically but (of course) courteously.

11

Pam 11.10.06 at 7:05 pm

why should a “very assertive approach” shut (communication) down

Maybe it’s a male/female difference. A “puglaistic” approach, to me, shuts down dialogue because it’s combatative in the first instance. Why would one want to BEGIN a conversation in a combatitive mode? (Serious question and you used the word “pugalistic”.)

Isn’t there something just slightly ironic about “I believe in pacifism (or pacific mimesis even) and I’m going to hit you over the head with the righteousness of my opinion and the sinfulness of yours”?

Karl Barth is not my God.

12

Kim 11.10.06 at 7:45 pm

Good evening, Pam.

There is nothing whatsoever “ironic” about a pugilistic pacifism. You’re a Methodist, right? The you must know of Stanley Hauerwas, right? I rest my case! :) (Though, admittedly, Stanley is now an ex-Methodist.)

Seriously, though, Pam, as Gandhi himself recognised, the violent actually make the best pacifists, those who have recognised the violence within themselves, which is the violence in all of us Cains. Pacifists are those who channel the universal human rage and homicidal spirit into channels of peace. And remember that the Prince of Peace himself, who entered Jerusalem riding on a docile donkey, proceeded to rampage in the Temple courtyard, and then later to rage, rage against the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23). To say that he was “assertive” would be under an understatement!

As for Karl Barth, I am glad he is not your God - but sad, very sad, if he is not your teacher.

13

Pam 11.10.06 at 8:10 pm

Sorry, Kim. I really don’t understand your overall point here and I feel that you are twisting words and arguments to win some sort of debating game.

I agree with the content of your last post.

I think you are saying the following things (correct me if I’m wrong), and I disagree with all of the following statements:

1) That I cannot have or express my own views if I enter into dialogue with others;

2) That wanting to respect the views of people who disagree with me is a sign of weakness;

3) That a person cannot be respected if he or she dialogues with others.

We seem - weirdly - to have a very similar theology. I asked my first question because I thought you might say something that might help me with a “way in” to my sermon on Sunday. At this point, I’m sorry I asked.

14

Kim 11.10.06 at 8:49 pm

Ooops!

As the warden said to Paul Newman in Coolhand Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Perhaps I’ve made a hash of our dialogue by being too assertive! :)

Or perhaps I just haven’t expressed myself very well. Because I mean to say the exact opposite of 1), and also mean to say that - 2) and 3) - mutual respect is absolutley essential. I would have thought my assertion of assertiveness covered 1): You must have and express your own views in dialogue (besides, who else’s views are you going to express?). And as for 2) and 3), I concluded my penultimate post with an explicit emphasis on courtesy.

Anyway, sorry to have been of no help. The last thing I want to do is to screw up your Sunday sermon! :)

15

Pam 11.11.06 at 11:01 am

Sorry, yes, I didn’t and I don’t really understand what you’ve said. The words you used sent a lot of mixed messages to me.

To me, being combatative means to approach another person with disrespect and an unwillingness to listen to their point of view. It did seem to me that in your first post you were saying that I shouldn’t worry about listening to others or their points of view. (This goes against all the experience of leadership I’ve had in the secular world.)

Basically, what I heard was “Be peaceful or I’ll metaphorically shoot you”, which is why I said I thought the stance was ironic. I don’t need a pacifist to maintain peace that way. Bush and his ilk are perfectly capable of threatening others with violence if we don’t do and think as he likes.

I will confess to little knowledge of Barth, having last read him in the 1970s; heap scorn on me, but I only have so much time. I was confused about your comments about Haurwas being combatative as I don’t see his work in that way at all.

16

Kim 11.11.06 at 11:54 am

Good morning, Pam.

Stanley not combative? He’s a theological gunslinger!

And how’s this for initiating “dialogue”. Here is how Professor Hauerwas begins an academic course:

“I start my classes by telling my students that I do not teach in a manner that is meant to help them make up their own minds. Instead, I tell them that I do not believe they have minds worth making up until they have been trained by me. I realize such a statement is deeply offensive to students since it exhibits a complete lack of pedagogical sensitivities. Yet I cannot imagine any teacher who is serious who would allow students to make up their own minds.”

Back to the preacher and his congregation - a fortiori!

17

Pam 11.11.06 at 1:39 pm

Kim, then we just have to agree to disagree, I guess, because I really don’t understand what you are trying to say. I’ll be blunt, since that’s what you seem to like.

I think that heaping scorn on people and their views from the pulpit six weeks after becoming their minister is a stupid and idiotic way to try to be a pastor.

I think it’s perfectly possible for me to preach a sermon where I state why I am a pacifist and why I believe that Jesus called for pacifism without pouring scorn on the congregation and their values and effectively calling them fuckwits before I’ve heard all their stories.

Personally speaking, I do not respect people who approach me in the first instance with the attitude that they don’t give a toss what my views are or what my experiences are, and that if I disagree with them then I am an idiot. To me, that is a violent model of “respect” -a “power over” model of respect. If I’d wanted a path of Christian discipleship like that, I could have stayed in my male-headship confessional denomination where the the pastor threw his weight around and got away with being a narcisstic meglomanaic at the expense of a congregation comprised of an unusually high percentage of depressed people (I wonder why).

Preaching may not be the moment of dialogue in the life of a church, but the preacher is also a pastor and good pastoring involves dialogue. Preaching with the attitude that the congregation’s view is worthless seems to me a great way to shut down dialogue. The “truths” of war and peace are complicated. I can understand why a mother who lost her child in combat may feel it’s disrespectful to be a pacifist, even if I don’t agree with her point of view. There is no need for me to tell her that her views and feelings are worthless and I don’t care how she feels.

I’m reminded of the old chestnut “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

I’m going away now because I’m completely gobsmacked at the idea that being a peaceful person could involve the same sorts of spiritually and emotionally abusive shit I grew up with in the crazy fundamentalist church. But then as my crazy fundamentalist friends never tire of reminding me, liberals can be intolerant too.

18

Kim 11.11.06 at 3:15 pm

Pam.

Read my lips. Read my sermon “Why I Am a Shalomite”. Does it “heap scorn on people and their views”? Does it refer to them as “fuckwits”, or suggest that their “feelings are worthless”? Does it seem to you pastorally insensitive?

I’ve really pissed you off, haven’t I? Though not I, but the straw Kim you have constructed.

But, really, if you haven’t pissed off anybody on Remembrance Sunday - well, I just cannot imagine that you have preached.

19

Pam 11.12.06 at 10:34 pm

But, really, if you haven’t pissed off anybody on Remembrance Sunday - well, I just cannot imagine that you have preached.

No, your sermon doesn’t sound like you are heaping scorn on people and their views, that’s why I was trying to make sense of this conversation.

Like why does pissing someone off have to be a mark of a good sermon? How about just getting people to think? Why does everything have to be so aggressive and in-your-face?

No one got pissed off with my sermon, so I must be some kind of wuss who doesn’t know how to communicate. Some DID say they disagreed. One chap joked that he was sure that if he looked hard enough, he might find something about Jesus approving a defensive war. Someone else said “well, you didn’t have any of the usual platitudes in there”. I’ll take those comments although I’m sure we can read them as being signs of a crap sermon.

Pam
(Back after having delivered the damn thing to two different congregations.)

20

Kim 11.12.06 at 11:23 pm

I’m sure it was a great sermon - twice! What people said sounds to me like you touched some nerves. Take “piss people off” as a hyperbole: perhaps “disturb” would be a better word. Give me a break - I’m from New York! :)

21

Mark 11.13.06 at 1:00 am

Pam & Kim - glad you hear both of you still posting! Thanks for both of your inputs they challenged me in my sermon prep.

If its any comfort after my couple of services today some people said they ‘enjoyed it’, others said ‘you gave us something to thing about today’ and still others ‘nice hymns’! So much for engaging with the life changing God and wrestling with how to be a community of disciples today then - or maybe its just they don’t like to talk about it in front of the minister (whatever the sermon said).
Peace,
Mark.

22

Pam 11.13.06 at 3:17 pm

Kim, OK, I shall read your language as hyperbole from now on. :0

23

Mike Swalm 11.16.06 at 12:08 am

Hi there Kim. Thanks so much for posting this sermon. i don’t think i pissed anyone off this sunday…not sure if i feel bad about that or not :) it’s going to be a while, but i’m hoping that someday i’ll have the ability (and guts) to distill my belief in shalom and preach it.
Thanks again.

mike

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