A theology of power relationships and social violence

The thoughts that I’m laying out in this post aren’t really original. I’ve been influenced by a variety of sources, including the bits of René Girard’s thought that I’ve encountered via Doug Wilson as well as Peter Leithart’s writings on post-modernism. I know that these men have their own sources, too, but that’s where I encountered many of these ideas.

I was talking with a couple at church yesterday about the structure of power relationships in unregenerate human society. Yes, I do have conversations like this. We started at GenCon; worked through Dogs in the Vineyard, carry, Grey Ranks, and Spione; worked our way through Cold War history and into the Iraq War; and finally ended up with power relationships, based on a conversation that I had with my daughter about a year ago about World War II.

Ever since the Fall, we divide our world into Us and Them. This is true on a small scale (families, clubs, or cliques) and a large scale (countries, corporations, or social classes). To do this, we have to choose something that makes Us special and distinct, elevating Us about the teeming masses.

Examples:

  • I’m German, and we’re special because of our good old-fashioned German Volk values.
  • I’m American, and we’re special because of our freedom.
  • I’m a gamer, and we’re special because of our unique creativity.
  • I’m a Reformed theologian, and we’re special because we have a corner on correct theology.
  • In this fallen world, there will often be a specific group who is a threat or a perceived thread to this claim to uniqueness. This is a special case of Them or the Other. This is the enemy.

    Examples:

  • The Jew is a threat to our good old-fashioned German Volk values.
  • Terrorists are a threat to our freedom.
  • Fundamentalist Christians are a threat to our unique creativity.
  • Federal Vision theologians are a threat to our corner on correct theology.
  • So, what is the response of Us to Them? Easy. It is violence. This can be verbal violence, economic violence, or even physical violence. But, regardless of the specifics, We act to destroy Them.

    Examples:

  • Kristallnacht
  • The current war in Iraq
  • Vicious mockery of Christianity
  • Various parliamentary maneuvers in church leadership bodies
  • This is just the normal order of things in this world. But, to make it worse, power-hungry men are attracted to these situations and make it worse by encouraging this process and by positioning themselves as the special guardian of Us. Hitler is the classic example, of course, setting himself up as a guardian of traditional German values that were under attack by outside liberal forces.

    As for my other examples…well, I’ll leave those as an exercise to the reader.

    Here’s the big point that I want to make. This social violence is necessary to sustain the unity of Us and to preserve the power and influence of the leaders of Us. Without this outside threat, the divisive Us vs. Them dynamic will begin to work within the group, and soon all that will be left are squabbling individuals, each seeking their own gain. In order to preserve the social structures that We have built, We must have violence against Them, or we will fall. In order for our leaders to preserve their personal power, they must encourage Our violence against Them, or their power base will destroy itself.

    Thus, the world: founded on violence and sustained by violence. Orwell was right. War really is Peace.

    But that’s not the end of the story. Because now, from outside our fallen world, comes Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

    Consider now the people of God, bought by Jesus with His blood. What makes them special? God’s covenant of peace with them. This makes us special, but it is an alien “specialness”. It does not reside in ourselves; it is a gift. Moreover, it cannot be threatened by anything or anyone (Romans 8:31-39). So, there is no They that can be a threat to us.

    Therefore, we no longer need violence to sustain our unity. Rather, our unity is the unity of peace, given to us by the Spirit of God Who holds all things together. As a result, we can embrace Them freely, because they cannot harm or damage our unity. Now, we are freed to love without violence.

    Of course, this makes us a threat. The peace that we bring will undo the violence that binds all other societies together. Therefore, these depraved social institutions, of necessity, will be destroyed by the Gospel. Those that gain their power and influence from the existence of these social institutions will attempt to fight against us, even though we are doing nothing but loving each other, because our love for another is a threat to everything that they have built. So, they will strike against us.

    But what does the Scripture say?

    Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
    Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
    (Romans 12:14-21)

    This isn’t being a pushover. This is how we attack violence. This is how we make war on war. For them, War is Peace. For us, Peace is War. And one day, the Peace of God will swallow up war forever.

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