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Biblical text from the Gospel of Matthew found fused to metal from the World Trade Center wreckage at Ground Zero in Manhattan. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Biblical text from the Gospel of Matthew found fused to metal from the World Trade Center wreckage at Ground Zero in Manhattan. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Retraction and Correction – Page 228

Obtainable Expectations: Timely Exposition on the Sermon on the Mount

Please strike over and disregard the entirety of the second full paragraph on page 228 of my Sermon on the Mount book. It is rubbish I wrote in 2003. This book was written over of a couple decades and there are several places where I’d say things differently today. However, the issue I correct here is so central at the very the summit of the mount it cannot stand uncorrected. There is no section of the Bible like here at the summit of the mount (enemy love) where corporately, Christians contort themselves more to get out from underneath its demands. Here we come to the second of the two main issues of interpretation with regard to the Sermon on the Mount. The first being, is it liveable? Is it an obtainable standard? The entire thesis of this book is absolutely, it is liveable and obtainable. The second issue then becomes who is it for, an individual believer or also for Christian’s corporately, including nations seeking to adhere to Judeo-Christian values? If you want a more developed article on non-retaliation go to my essay: Love as a Foreign Policy: September 11 and Turning the Other Cheek (pdf alert, 11,000 words). One of the first questions I get on this is; what about self-defence, what about defending the nation?? This article is about retaliation and to whom the non-retaliation commandment applies. If that is not kept in mind one will misunderstand and misrepresent my argument. The following constitutes the corrections I wish to make in place of the disregarded paragraph.

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Christians quickly hide behind Romans 13 arguing God gives governments the power of the sword. Romans 13 does say just that, except the passage does not say God agrees with and sanctions every pagan governments decided use of the sword. And most certainly, Paul was not telling Christians that they are justified to forsake the path of mercy and love if and when they one day assume positions of power. Why then are so many Christians today defending the values of pagan Romans and the ethics of Nero? Perhaps it should be the case that governments in the Christian sectors of the world are based more on the ethics of Jesus rather than on the ethics of Nero. It is remarkable how much weight Christians throughout the centuries have given to this eisegesis of Romans 13:4. Somehow it outweighs fifty verses from Jesus on showing mercy and love.

Retreating to a bifurcated interpretation of “turn the other cheek,” in that it applies to Christians interpersonally but not to Christians corporately and politically, is to entirely miss all that the Apostle Paul underscored in the chapter immediately before Romans 13, chapter twelve. Chapter 12 of Romans reads much like the Sermon on the Mount;  “Love must be sincere… Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Do not repay anyone evil for evil… Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Those were Paul’s instructions immediately prior to his Romans 13 statement on Christians living submissively under pagan governments (whom God has delegated the power of the sword). There is no caveat that they do not apply to the Christian later, if and when they find themselves in positions of power and political authority.

There is no caveat that these divine strategies of responding to hate and hurt with love and responding to evil with good only work on a small scale. My contention here is those who have been faithful and obedient in smaller situations can be entrusted with the same in larger situations. Jesus never differentiated between loving a neighbour and loving a neighbouring nation.** Effectually it is as if we believe Jesus said “These are some strategies that I commend to you for little matters. Honestly, for the more complex conflicts I have nothing for you in terms of heavenly wisdom or strategy so go ahead and ‘do unto them what they’ve do unto you’ and I’m okay with whatever response seems and feels right for you at the time. Not to worry, forgiveness comes easy with me, and grace cheap.”

**Leo Tolstoy settles this centuries-old, unnecessary uncertainty with a simple appeal to the words Jesus used and what they would have meant to his original hearers. “…[N]eighbour in the Hebrew language meant, invariably and exclusively, ‘a Hebrew.’” Considering the lengths he went to describe the thoroughness of his study of these words, that he seems to imply Jesus spoke this originally in Hebrew, not Aramaic, is peculiar. His justification may be it is the same word and meaning as in Luke 10:29 where the “neighbour” is a Samaritan– someone a Hebrew would have clearly not regarded as a neighbour. Finding the same meaning in Acts 7:27, his conclusion is “‘neighbour’ in Gospel language, means a compatriot, a person belonging to the same nationality…. And so the antithesis used by Jesus in the citation, ‘love thy neighbour, hate thine enemy,’ must be in the distinction between the words ‘compatriot’ and ‘foreigner.’” Tolstoy contended his supposition was further confirmed when seeking the Jewish understanding of enemy. “The word enemy is nearly always employed in the Gospels in the sense, not of a personal enemy, but, in general, of a ‘hostile people.’” His citations are Luke 1:71,74; Matthew 22, Mark 12:36 and Luke 20:43. Based on the words Jesus used, Tolstoy’s conclusion is that it is not possible that Jesus intended his teaching to be applicable only on the interpersonal level. [Source: Tolstoy, Leo. My Religion–What I Believe. (Guildford, UK: White Crow Productions Ltd, 2009 reprint of the 1884 text), 72.]

4/2016, SH

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Stanley Hauerwas and Steve Hickey

Stanley Hauerwas and Steve Hickey

On March 11, 2016, here at the University of Aberdeen, I asked Stanley Hauerwas the question: What should turn the other cheek mean to a Christian President the morning after September 11? What follows is a verbatim transcript of my recording of his answer. Next week I will be publishing an essay entitled: Love as a Foreign Policy: Hauerwas, Elshtain and a Christ-like Response to September 11th. Part of Hauerwas’ comment below appears in my essay but I’m posting his entire statement here so it is out there for others to use. ______________________________________

Steve Hickey: What should turn the other cheek mean to a Christian President the morning after a September 11?

Stanley Hauerwas: And my answer is, how does a Christian ever get elected President of the United States? I mean I would assume that they would have been interrogated about what it means to turn the other cheek before they ever got to be president. And that would have made them– not ready candidates to be understood as people who would be ready to do anything to defend the American people. So the question itself already presupposes a Constantinian form of Christianity that I do not represent.

In terms of September 11, America is a country whose politics is fundamentally determined by September 11th. When September 11th occurred I said “this is the next fifty years and maybe longer than that” because Americans are determined to find a way to get out of life alive. And we think that if we have the strongest military that will be able to provide that result. And of course, it’s just bullshit.

And this would be kind of a Niebuhrian point…. One of the tensions within the American society is the disconnect between the morality necessary to sustain a serious military and the ethos of the American people. What was the fundamental thing that George Bush said a day after September 11?… what is the moral response of the American people to September 11th? “[Go out and] Shop.” So now you have the American military, which is an honour society, defending a social order whose deepest moral commitment is shopping. How do you do that?

And so those are the deeper questions I think that occur about how Christianity relates to American politics. Reinhold Niebuhr, his thought was committed to trying to figure out what it would look like if as a matter of fact America had a Christian Secretary of State and the primary implication is they have to be planning out how to kill as few as possible and that means you need to be smart in terms of how you act out of American self-interests. Niebuhr never called into question whether a Christian could be a Secretary of State. He wanted that.

The West doesn’t want to admit it but we find ourselves in the midst of a brutal holy war. As the sun comes up in Paris this morning the world is reeling from last night’s attack on Paris by the Islamic State. Media outlets are still unsure the exact body count. Muslim radicals are engaged in a full-on holy war against the West. The leaders of this holy war aren’t military generals, they are imams. What if the religious leaders of the West took the lead in responding?

UntitledThe President of France immediately announced France will respond mercilessly. Haven’t we learned since 9/11 this (a merciless response) isn’t working? We’ve mortgaged our future spending trillions on the sword. Selectively fiscal conservatives still think additional trillions in defence spending and ongoing war will make us safer and depopulate the world of bad guys. It has done the opposite. Maybe it’s time we push the leaders espousing those failed solutions aside. Where is the radical leadership of those who hold to the values of Jesus? Is it really nutso to say if they bomb our children we will only work harder to feed their refugees until they can be screened and relocated? There is a demonic spirit in radical Islam. You don’t disarm a demonic spirit with more bloodshed. That feeds it. You dislodge a demonic spirit by moving in the opposite spirit. My pushback here is fuelled by my concern that in Christian circles in America the same spirit of violence in radical Islam is also operating increasingly in us.

My weariness is in all the creative rationales Christians concoct to avoid the mandates of the Sermon on the Mount. For example, turn the other cheek only applies here or there but not every where?!? What is left is that we live none of it because we’ve wiggled out from under all of it. These are questions I raise in my Sermon on the Mount book: What does turn the other cheek mean to a Christian leader the morning after a 9/11? I’m not suggestion police officers or soldiers turn the other cheek. I’m saying what if our Presidents, Prime Ministers and Generals effectually and strategically did? If something is God’s strategy on a small scale, why will it not work on a larger scale? Where has it be tried? Is a bomb really the only thing in our arsenal? The more we kill them, the more they kill us. And who wins? They kill our children and we kill theirs. And Christian leaders essentially baptise all this with their silence and lack of leadership. Baloney that our role is to only comfort the grieving and pray blessing on our soldiers. 5646ddfcc36188e1198b4602

Time for some radical alternatives. We need some holy leaders for this holy war. Wouldn’t it be something if 100 Paris imams held a press conference with 100 Paris rabbis and Christian ministers and said – Stop, both sides, this isn’t the way forward and call for a total renouncement of violence from all sides? I’d like to see religious leaders take the helm from the national leaders and navigate our way out of these times. The time for peacemakers is now. A peacemaker is one who stands in the middle of conflict and sets both sides back. National leaders don’t have the tools or the anointing for peacemaking. That’s our job.

4905446128_ddb41c277cEvery bomb we drop has proven to be a seed that produces ten more people who hate us. Closing borders is step one. Slowing down the welcome of refugees is step two to vet them properly so radicals aren’t waltzing right in among them. A military response here is more of the same and produces more of the same. We need to use our values not our bombs. Certainly there is a Sermon on the Mount response that will effectually heap burning coals on the heads of our enemies

If you’ve never read Mark Twain’s short War Prayer I commend it to you today. If you think these ideas are worth considering, please forward the link to this post on to others. Maybe it’ll resonate and gain some traction.

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