Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The logic of retaliation and the logos of God

A Florida church is intent to go ahead with plans to burn a copy of the Qur'an on the 11th September in order to send a message to radical Islam: "If you attack us, if you attack us, we will attack you".

"But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you." - Luke 6.27-31.
I'm surprised that no one thought to put this quote to the pastor in question. Just goes to show how biblically illiterate many journalists are. The senselessness of this pastor is an easy target, but it's worth mentioning because what has become explicit in this tiny church is implicit in the thinking of too many Christians. Even if it were true that "they" are out to get you (whether "they" are radical Islam, the government, the eco-fascists, the religious right or your in-laws), this fact is justification for nothing but love in response.


Anonymous said...

on the subject of biblical illiteracy, did you catch this article, about a month ago? worrying not just because of their unfamiliarity with the story of Jesus, but also because the tribunal is attempting to set itself up as an arbiter of who is and who is not a Christian.

gbroughto said...

The extent to which Luke 6 can be applied to 'unknown' (i.e. distant, not-known-personally) enemies is a crucial issue for Jesus’ teaching, which appears to elude much contemporary analysis (everyone acknowledges that Jesus’ call to a discipleship of mercy & compassion is grounded in the character of God the Father). But to whom is that mercy and compassion to be directed?
First, in the context of enemies who are strangers, Jesus’ command suggests that recognising enemies as neighbours is a first step (the 2nd might be 'guests' and 3rd 'friends'). The specific actions Jesus’ commands to do good, bless and pray for adversaries have a very specific application. In the Lucan narrative, Jesus’ command to love the neighbour-who-has-become-an-enemy is demonstrated by Jesus’ example on the cross (Lk 23:34), the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7:60) and the (dying) prayer of both for their enemy. Whereas loving one’s neighbour is the sum of the Law (Lk. 10:27), loving one’s neighbouring enemy in the practical actions of the cloak, slap and loan commanded by Jesus deepens and extends actions prohibited by the Law of collecting pledges on loans to a neighbour (Deut. 15:2 and 24:10), striking a neighbour (Deut. 27:24). Jesus command is not only against hating, bearing grudges or seeking revenge against a neighbour (Lev 19:17), but for loving and blessing the neighbourly enemy.
Second, the radical nature of Jesus’ command is the new orientation it forces upon the disciple and not just the size of the circle the disciple must love. The contrast with relationships where love is reciprocated makes this new orientation explicit.

All this means that the acid test for this pastor and his congregation (and closer to home, our congregations) is his (our) willingness & capacity to proactively love (not just refrain from hating) our neighbourly enemies - as well as some 'distant' threat of terror. This is not to let him (or us) off the hook with loving our 'geo-political' enemies. But abstract love for a terrorist-cell-in-training on the other side of the world is comparatively easy compared to enemies next door.

Sam Charles Norton said...

A contrary view(!):

byron smith said...

Geoff - Yes, it is a valid and important point to emphasise the proximity of the enemy. It is easy, or at least easier, to feel that I am loving an enemy I don't see or directly interact with simply because I don't directly do or wish them harm. Enemies next door are indeed more difficult. However, reflecting on enemies across the globe may be an important part of recognising those closer to home whom we hate, harm or culpably ignore.

Joel - No, I hadn't seen that. Ironic.

Sam - I've replied on your blog (a couple of times - couldn't help myself!) ;-)

I'm also writing a follow-up post on this. We'll see if it gets past draft stage.

Jeremy said...

I've noticed a certain irony in the way that the left has used liberty to defend the mosque building (I think you're tacitly affirming Olbermann here:, while the right has used the notion of liberty to defend Koran burnings... If we were to be consistent, wouldn't an honest response to both situations have to be the same? Namely, seek peace and not conflict regardless whether one has the liberty to pursue a particular action?

I'm also sensitive (with Geoff above) to the fact that "symbolic" discussion points such as these seem to dominate our discussion over against concrete local ones in which people can have an actual participatory stake. It seems to be the case that what really gets the blogosphere excited, are these sorts of symbolic issues, i.e. some random pastor in Florida burning Korans, and the building of a Mosque in a NY neighborhood, over against similar exercises of "liberty" in say... Edinburgh? I can understand the notion of the common good... but does such a notion become incoherent at a certain macro-level? Is it really the best use of our time for non-Floridians to be weighing in on this situation?

byron smith said...

Jeremy - Yes, I think Geoff makes a good point about the priority of the neighbour, however, such symbolic events help to set the tone at a local level and so offering a take on them can, I think, be helpful for shaping our assumptions and habits of thought. You might like to check out the opening few pages of O'Donovan's Common Objects of Love for a more detailed defence of the value of deliberating on questions to which we cannot make any practical contribution.

As for whether there is a parallel here between the so called Ground Zero Mosque and the Qur'an burning, I think that is a long bow to draw and the strained attempts by Pastor Jones to do so have largely been a distraction. The former (which was neither at Ground Zero nor a mosque) was not intended as a hostile or threatening action, but was turned into a national controversy by demagogy. The building was planned to meet the needs of a local community, rather than as some kind of protest or political stunt. The latter is an attention grab by a disgraced and manipulative individual aiming at maximum shock value in order to send a message of hate and fear. Liberty is simply the wrong category to evaluate either action.