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WN: Reconciliation is a key term in the New Testament. The article excerpted below was written in 1989 at the invitation of The Mennonite Encyclopedia (Volume V) editors. That publication was subsequently digitized and is known online as (acronym) GAMEO.
(Interestingly (at least to me) is that one of the co-editors of that project, Dennis D. Martin (since deceased), married a “Team Member” from my stint doing evangelism in West Berlin, 1972 – 1974. That experience was life-changing for me – at least over time. Elsewhere on this website, you may click on information about the novel, Chrysalis Crucible, that is a fictional telescoping of my journey away from “evangelism without the Gospel” towards (I think) a much more wholesome and authentic faith.)
In 1989 I was just beginning an almost 10-year stint with Mennonite Central Committee Canada (MCCC) as Director of Victim Offender Ministries (VOM). It was a great experience! Years earlier while a student at Regent College (University of British Columbia Vancouver) I had discovered the centrality of peace in the New Testament through Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder’s book: The Politics of Jesus.
Just after that time (1999), Chaplain Hugh Kirkegaard and I presented a paper at a COV&R Conference held at Emory University in Atlanta Georgia, on the application of scapegoating theory to sex offenders, an area of work in criminal justice I’ve been involved with for decades, and serve currently on the CoSA Canada Board. The title of our workshop/paper was: “The Sex Offender as Scapegoat”. You may find the paper with explanatory notes on my website here. You may also find it cited/reproduced/translated on multiple websites here (and following). There are also articles about sex offenders on my website here.
Would that Yoder had himself followed the way of Jesus in relation to numerous women he sexually assaulted! A great reflection on this is here by scholar Andy Alexis-Baker who was sexually abused in another context, and who also co-edited four of Yoder’s books. One take-away from this tragedy is the seeming total disconnect one can have between one’s (theological) ideals and one’s actions. It is the human condition, but reprehensible when such disconnect is lived out (no doubt indicting us all at some time) over the long term. Yoder did immense damage to innumerable women. I do not recommend Yoder’s book because of that almost total disconnect.
I do nonetheless enthusiastically recommend another Mennonite theologian’s magisterial study on peace in the New Testament: Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics, Willard M. Swartley, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006. My book review is here. A great review by New Testament scholar Richard Hays may be found here (though The Christian Century charges one to read it) or here, where I had downloaded it before that journal began charging. One learns from Swartley’s work that peace is the central organizing theme of the New Testament. That study will I’m sure stand the test of time!
I was not raised Mennonite, currently attend a Mennonite church (though my wife and I are by choice not members), and pay homage to that tradition’s putting me through two conversions over against my fundamentalist Christian upbringing:
- The amazing discovery that the very warp and woof of the Judeo-Christian Story is its challenge to – one can say call to subversion of – the socio-political order of any era and place. This discovery was also made partially and tragically by conservative fundamentalists/evangelicals in North America in the 1980’s. But their direction largely taken is in direct contradiction to my second “conversion”.
- The determination/commitment that the way of doing politics and living in society in any era and place is the nonviolent way of the Cross. A paper I wrote (“Christianity and the Subversion of Just About Everything”) in the same period as my “Reconciliation” article is here. My website is dedicated to this theme, which my Home page explains more fully, especially understanding the Gospel as Counter-Narrative to Empire.
I am also no longer in the Anabaptist/Mennonite theological fold as it were. Not because of a rejection of peace theology – on the contrary! But due to a revision of my understanding of 16th-century European history, especially the towering role of the central peace theologian/humanist/political philosopher of that time, Desiderius Erasmus, and related to him, the English Reformers. My friend Ron Dart published a book (Erasmus: Wild Bird) in December 2017 on this, to which I contributed a Foreword. My Foreword briefly alludes to some of my journey. Ron Dart’s book is a great primer on Erasmus in relation to many other persons and entities in his time and since.
Reconciliation is a classic New Testament concept. Though Jesus only used the term once, and Paul used it rarely, it is qualitatively the heart of the message and theology of the New Testament. It is not without antecedents in the Old Testament and Judaism, but in its full development is distinctively Christian.
Its central meaning is the overcoming of an enmity. This enmity is towards humanity from God’s side (i.e., his wrath), and towards God on the part of humanity (sin, rebellion, indifference, disobedience, etc.). Both parties therefore need reconciliation, but in the God-human relationship, God is the initiator.
Paul is the only New Testament writer to use the actual terminology of reconciliation, specifically in Romans 5:10-12; Romans 11:15; 1 Corinthians 7:11; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Ephesians 2:16; and Colossians 1:20-23. Related concepts are forgiveness, justification, fellowship, sanctification, atonement, peace, freedom, “sonship” (i.e., filial relationship). These terms are employed by a variety of authors.
Reconciliation with God (theological) through Christ becomes in Jesus and Paul the essential paradigm for all other relationships: to oneself (psychological); to one’s neighbor (sociological); to the entire creation (ecological, cosmological). Reconciliation is the operative antidote to all consequences of the Fall, which may be described always as breakdown of relationship — or enmity and conflict.
“As the concept of shalom-peace is a harmonic of tesdeka-justice, peace is a harmonic of reconciliation” (Allard, 110). Christ’s sacrifice on the cross epitomizes the understanding that God’s justice vis à vis human conflict has reconciliation as its goal. Punishment and retribution as ends in themselves in response to human conflict (for example, crime) have no legitimate place in Christian vocabulary, action, or call to the state. Alternatively: “law is in the service of reconciliation and peace,” a statement that is the conclusion and title of a major exegetical study of the New Testament on law (Meurer, Das Recht im Dienst der Versöhnung und des Friedens). “Remove the concept of peacemaking from proclaiming the Gospel and the very meaning of Gospel changes…. Reconciliation among humans is the identifying mark of God’s new creation!” (Kraybill, 8, 12). That God’s forgiveness is God’s law is the breathtaking teaching of the New Testament. As in the Old Testament, law is quintessentially mercy. Old and New Testament texts point to this conclusion (see Lind, Transformation of justice: from Moses to Jesus; Meurer).
Vengeance too is definitively at God’s initiative (Romans 12:19) — and is never the Christian’s prerogative personally. Neither is the Christian to call for or desire vengeance by the state. But even from God’s perspective, if he “. . . has willed the dire consequences that ensue on sin, it does not necessarily follow that he has willed them retributively, punitively. It may be that he has willed them as the only way of doing justice to the freedom and responsibility of the human personality, as he has created it” (Moule, 23). Vengeance is self-consciously omitted from Jesus’ agenda — even when he quotes Scripture with such themes in it (Jeremias).
- Please look at several articles as well on American/Western will to world domination by clicking on "Selected Articles: Western Aggression Backed by Western Media”. The series of articles is introduced thus:
The Western allies never run dry of resources to support their global war of terror and aggression, ostensibly an integral part of their foreign policy. They dynamically legislate laws lest the people awaken. They have the unbending support of the corporate media, which skilfully distorts reality. When will they ever back down from their destructive quest for colonies? Read our selection below.↩
- It continued:
‘For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians – in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public,’ the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians. ‘Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers,’ The Blade said. ‘Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.” The New York Times confirmed the claimed accuracy of the stories by contacting several of those interviewed. It reported: “But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a ‘rogue’ unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing. “Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops… ‘Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go,’ [one veteran] said in a recent telephone interview. ‘It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’ Current likely Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was also quoted giving evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. He reported that American soldiers in Vietnam had “raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country. Nicholas Turse [later author of: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam], a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. ''I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported,'' Mr. Turse said by telephone. ''I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds.'' Yet there were few prosecutions.↩
- Historian John Coatsworth in The Cambridge History of the Cold War noted:
Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin's gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries [under direct sway of US Empire] ("The Cold War in Central America", pp. 216 - 221).What was true for Latin America was true for around the world: massive human rights abuses, assassinations, regime changes of democratically elected governments, etc., etc., etc. orchestrated by US Empire. Yet Americans invariably have wanted it both ways: to be seen as the exemplary "City on A Hill" that upholds universal human rights and democracy, while operating a brutal Empire directly contrary to all such elevated values, and a concomitant rapacious Empire market economy that takes no prisoners. This began of course even before the founding of the United States of America and continued apace, in its mass slaughter and dispossession of indigenous peoples, in its brutal system of slavery on which its obscene wealth in the textile industry in the first place was built. "The Land of the Free" conceit was a sustained con job on the part of America's leaders. It was also apotheosis of hypocrisy. American exceptionalism was/is true in one respect only: it was brutal like no other Empire in its eventual global reach.↩
-  The highlighted article about renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg points to again what is utterly chilling, horror-filled, exponentially beyond immoral, American (hence the world's) reality: "Daniel Ellsberg: U.S. Military Planned First Strike On Every City In Russia and China … and Gave Many Low-Level Field Commanders the Power to Push the Button". He has since written The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Of it we read:
Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist for the California Book Award in Nonfiction The San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2017 List In These Times “Best Books of 2017” Huffington Post's Ten Excellent December Books List LitHub's “Five Books Making News This Week” From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day. Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America's nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization--and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration--threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.↩
- A classic instance of this aligning with "just war" is the United States' "war on drugs" as subset of "war on crime", while at the same time the CIA was a major worldwide drug dealer in league with other drug cartels -- all done to enhance American Empire during the Cold War -- and continues to the present. The four-part series mentioned below connects American Empire drug dealing to the current War on Terror, in particular in Afghanistan. This of course is colossal hypocrisy as well. Worse: the series posits American federal government administrations over many decades as the Ultimate Drug Cartel, with Blacks, Latinos, and generally the poor directly being knowingly poisoned en masse. Then they have been primary targets of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and thereby become victims of America's too often savage prison system that oppresses and brutalizes them all over again... See: "The War on Drugs Is a Failure, So [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions Is All for It". A citation from the article reads:
In June , the History Channel aired a four-part documentary series called America’s War on Drugs.” The series asserts that the war on drugs was actually a war of drugs—and that the CIA was essentially a partner in spreading drugs and drug use. The series follows how the U.S. intelligence agency, in an obsession with fighting communism, allied itself with U.S. organized crime and foreign drug traffickers and includes firsthand accounts from many involved. In an interview with Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar on her radio program “Rising Up With Sonali,” the series’ executive producer, Anthony Lappé, explains why the CIA got involved:
It’s actually a pretty mind-blowing story when you look at the extent to which the CIA was involved with drug traffickers and drug trafficking throughout the Cold War. … If you look at Cold War policy against the Soviet Union, we were locked in a global battle for supremacy, where we have lots of proxy wars going on. … We needed to team up with local allies, and often the local allies we were teaming up with were people who had access to guns, who had access to underground networks, to help us fight the perceived threat of communism. There are actually a lot of similarities between what drug traffickers do and what the CIA does.Lappé elaborates by saying the hypocrisy of the war on drugs has been evident from the start: Secret CIA experiments with LSD helped fuel the counterculture movement, leading to President Richard Nixon’s crackdown and declaration of the war on drugs. The series also explores the CIA’s role in the rise of crack cocaine in poor black communities and a secret island “cocaine base.” In addition the documentary makes the connection between the war on drugs, the war on terror and the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco state and contends that American intervention in Mexico helped give clout to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the super cartels, making it easier to send drugs across American borders. Watch Kolhatkar’s full interview with Lappé by clicking here. Please also see the now classic: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by noted American historian Alfred McCoy. Of it we read:
The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. New chapters detail U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs.To be noted as well is Johann Hari's Chasing The Scream, which tells the tragic tale of America's long-standing offensive against drugs, and the way to end such a war worldwide -- that several nations are successfully embracing.↩