Thomas Merton writes, “People may spend their whole lives climbing some ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” Are the mainline and evangelical Christian Churches and many Christian Peace and Justice groups scaling the wrong wall? They seem to be trying to be “successful” at scaling the wall of wickedness that is governmental politics. But what if that is the wrong wall? What if the heart of the Gospel is opposed to entering into any process or organization, whether it be the Mafia, the government, the military, etc., that operates and that must operate on”violence, deceit, betrayal and corruption” (see Fast Food Fourth Helping)?
What if the wall the Christian and his or her Church should be ambitious to scale is the wall St. Paul presents in 1 Corinthians 13: “Be ambitious for the greatest spiritual gift,” which he say is “agape” (love), as defined by “Christ Jesus who is the visible image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15)? What if faithfulness to God for a Christian and for an institutional Christian Church means struggling to live out of the Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies as taught by word and deed by Jesus and St. Paul? Indeed, what if faithfulness means rising daily to live our very lives each day to do precisely that above all else as many times as possible daily?
However, a Christlike deed in one moral moment does not ratify doing evil in another situation. A Mafioso giving some money for food or fuel to a poor person in his neighborhood does not validate his being a participant in an institution of systemic violence, enmity and evil. The works of mercy are not works of violence. But, neither do the works of mercy at one time morally validate the works of violence at another time. Constantine (d.337) abolished crucifixion in the Roman Empire. Does this mean that Christians should seek to be politicians, kings, dictators, prime ministers or presidents in order to get their hands on the levers of dominative, coercive, violent power of the state so they can force people by the threat of violence to do good and avoid evil?
Is Jesus’ solution to the problem of violence in the human situation to get all the instruments and agencies of violence into the hands of the good guys, the good politicians of the kingdoms of this world?
Or, is Jesus’ solution to the problem of violence to designate other people to do violence for Him?
If two Mafia gangs go to war against each other how should the Christian respond, if he or she desires to follow the teaching of Jesus? What should his or her Bishop inform that person is morally right Christian choice to make? Should the person join in with the gang that rules the territory he lives in? Should she join the gang that run the protection racket in her area? Should he make a determinations which gang is killing for a just cause or using just means to kill and join it? Should she join the gang that has been most helpful to her in peace time, the time between internecine Mafia wars for territorial control, power over people and greater wealth? Or, should the Christian’s moral stance when confronted with two Mafiaesque gangs going to war be, “I am a follower of Jesus. I’ll take a pass on both of your offers to sign up for duty in your intrinsically violent organizations.” And a Christian Bishop’s public teaching and direction to those in his spiritual and moral care should be what? “Do what you want. Join up or don’t join up; its up to you. I am washing my hands from having any moral obligation to my flock in this matter?” Or should it be, “It is your Christian duty to join the violent organization that is your local protector?” Or should it be, “You are a follower of Jesus, stay away from the wickedness of homicidal violence regardless of who is engaged in it or why. It is better to die by choosing the Way of Christ than to live for a few more seconds by choosing the way of Satan?“
Which wall must a faithful disciple of Jesus put his or her ladder against? Christilike nonviolentagape or the wall of “violence, deceit, betrayal and corruption” that is politics in any of the kingdoms of this world?
-Emmanuel Charles McCarthy