The Violent Hypocrisy of Some Peace & Justice Christians
“Peace and justice” Christians are insistent in telling us they do not wish to move away from the protection of unborn life when they point to other social issues. They simply seek to “expand” Christian social witness from the “Religious Right’s” narrow focus on abortion and marriage to the full range of life issues.
We’re not pro-abortion, they assure us. It’s just that we believe that life doesn’t begin at conception and end at birth. We believe, they say, that global warming and quality daycare and an increased minimum wage are pro-life issues too.
Let us grant that for the moment, setting aside the fact that we know abortion is murder but do not know what God would have us do about global warming. Let us look at the kind of political activists who are drawn to the big tent of the “peace and justice” movement.
Worship & Violence
Last summer, the Reverend Donna Schaper, pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church, an American Baptist congregation in New York City, wrote in Tikkun magazine about aborting her daughter, a daughter she named “Alma.”
She wrote that she doesn’t apologize for or even regret her decision. Abortion, she said, has been a positive development, allowing sex to be “recreational” for both men and women. In a chilling line, she declared, “I did what was right for me, for my family, for my work, for my husband, and for my three children.” She continued:
I happen to agree that abortion is a form of murder. I think the quarrel about when life begins is disrespectful to the fetus. I know I murdered the life within me. I could have loved that life but chose not to. I did what men do all the time when they take us to war: they choose violence because, while they believe it is bad, it is still better than the alternatives.
Now, Schaper writes in recent days for “God’s Politics” weblog—one of the leading forums of the “peace and justice” movement—on the subject of, of all things, responding to violence. In response to the Virginia Tech massacre, Schaper offers a “small guide for good worship” for Christians in response to acts of violence.
These include her suggestion to involve “diverse constituencies” in the worship. As she puts it: “This (in my view) is not the time to invoke the name of Jesus so much as the name of the God beyond God. Don’t alienate people who may never have wanted religious connection before!”
It would be appropriate and commendable for that weblog to ask a self-confessed murderer to speak to the issue of violence. After all, a repentant and forgiven murderer stands as one of the pillars of the foundation of the Church, the former Saul of Tarsus. A repentant killer could speak to the horror of violence, as one culpable and redeemed.
No Damascus Road
But Schaper has walked no Damascus Road. She has justified and celebrated the taking of an innocent human life, an act she says she knows is murder. And yet she is the one, for “God’s Politics,” who can instruct us on how God views violence, indeed how to worship in its wake. It is a revealing choice.
About this much the “peace and justice” Christians are correct: The gospel informs us how to view—and how to feel about—the bloodthirstiness of this present darkness. The wreckage of Eden is all around us—from the bloody Abel-shaped stain in a field somewhere in the Ancient Near East to the gruesome presentation of the Baptist on a platter at Herod’s banquet to the crazed slaughter on the campus of Virginia Tech to the jihadists’ crucifixion of Christians in Sudan to the calculated flushing of infant remains down a garbage disposal at the neighborhood “women’s clinic.”
Christians should not be surprised to see random or calculated acts of violence. After all, we serve a brutally executed Messiah who still bears the marks of such violence in his hands and side. We understand that, as the Apostle John tells us, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). And we understand from our Lord that this cosmic ruler is both a “murderer from the beginning” and “the father of lies” (John 8:44). The lies then cover for the murder—as they did from the ancient taunt in the Garden, “You will not surely die” (Gen. 3:4), to the government-sponsored query, “What is truth?” (John 18:38), and right on to the present day.
Our lack of surprise at such violence, however, should not lead to complacency. The prophets rail against the shedding of innocent blood, including the prophet Amos, who denounced violent Ammonites who “have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead, that they might enlarge their border” (Amos 1:13).
The messianic kingdom promised us is one in which “they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain” (Is. 11:9). The anti-violence of the new order is directed to the protection of those who the world thinks do not warrant such protection. Thus, Solomon sings of the coming reign of his greater Son: “For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and needy, and saves the lives of the needy./ From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight” (Psalm 72:13–14).
Such kingdom priorities are not negotiable, even if they cut down on opportunities to pray the opening prayer at Democratic—or, increasingly, Republican—party gatherings.
There are some “peace and justice” Christians who remain true to their convictions. Ronald Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, for example, remains (in my view) naively pacifistic, and he too often equates the Sermon on the Mount with the federal budget priorities of the Democratic Caucus of the United States House of Representatives. But he has refused to be a religious beard for the Godless Party.
We wish we could say the same for other leading “peace and justice” Christians. When Jim Wallis advises pro-abortion politicians how to “neutralize” the life issue among religious voters—“neutralize” it, that is, without actually protecting the life and liberty of unborn Americans—he is playing a very old role in American politics: the political chaplain who claims divine sanction for a party’s existing policies. Right-wing churchmen of another era neutralized the law-and-order issue among middle-class voters by condemning lawlessness, but ignored lynching when it suited the politicians with whom they curried favor.
Whatever the inclusion of Ms. Schaper by the “God’s Politics” weblog tells us about the “peace and justice” movement, her writing does tell us that it is much easier to be politically selective about peace and justice, and serve a political movement on its terms, when one doesn’t mention Jesus.
— Russell D. Moore, for the editors
Donna Schaper’s comments can be found at
Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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