Resurrection and Justification Eastertide 2018
"Military Victory is Moral Failure"
Rev. Paul Mitchell
Vashon United Methodist Church
April 15, 2018
Acts 3:11-20a; Luke 24:36-48
Violence is never “good.”
Despite nearly two millennia of nuanced philosophical contortions by so-called Christian theologians and leaders, there is nothing “just” about war – ever.
I’ll admit that for the survival of a particular group, or a particular lifestyle, or a particular privilege, or a particular truth claim, war may be the evil of last resort. But the resurrection tells us that there is always a choice beyond the evil of last resort. There is always something “beyond” death – to which our trust in and fealty to Christ calls us. Jesus’ death in the most excruciating and humiliating manner known in his time does not recommend or justify the use of violence in any circumstance. Neither does it expiate our sin before a cold and vengeful God. We, as followers of the risen Christ, must always evaluate our actions and inactions in the morning light of resurrection – not in the dim shadow of execution.
Three Gospel accounts in their original conclusions have the audacity to present an account of an exchange between the shell-shocked and grieving disciples and the risen Christ. Those accounts are adamant that this Jesus is both unrecognizable in body but embodied nonetheless. The latter two Gospels, Luke and John, recount mysterious and unsettling experiences on the very day of resurrection and shortly thereafter. In both of these encounters, Jesus’ first utterance to the gathered followers is this: “Peace.”
Peace, then and now, can mean a lot of things. Earlier in his farewell address in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “Peace I leave to you. My peace I give you; not as the kosmon gives I give to you.” Apparently, there is some difference between what we normally assume about peace and the peace that is our inheritance as the heirs of Christ. The kosmon is literally the system – the known world – which in the times of the Gospel writers was synonymous with the empire.
What we normally assume about peace is that it is orderly, polite, stable, convenient, good for business, unchanging. The goal is to enforce conformity and uniformity in order to benefit the system – the hierarchical system of domination, in which business is usual and everyone has their fixed place. In our American mythos we may give lip service to the idea of the lone ranger pulling himself up by initiative and achievement. And we enshrine the idea that all start out in this world on equal footing. But the mythos functions insidiously as an instrument of the empire to enforce or enhance the status quo – which benefits the few to the detriment of the many. That peace – the peace of the world – does not lead to the common good.
Not all myths are bad.
Not all myths are false.
Some very good things come about because of the myths in which we frame our world view. Some truth which is impossible to convey in documentary fashion can best be told in the form of metaphor. Our ethos is created and sustained through our mythos. Perhaps many of you read the novel, The Shack when it came out several years ago. It was on the reading group lists of many book groups – Christian and otherwise. I avoided reading it for a long time because from what I had heard, it reinforces some problematic myths and relies on some unfortunate stereotypes. I avoided the film as well. I was fascinated, though, that both the book and the film cast a black woman as the Source of Being – called “Papa.” It recalls for me a moment in my seminary ethics class when we were studying “Womanist” theology – a response to Feminist and Liberation theologies from the perspective of the Black lesbian experience. In the midst of the conversation in class I blurted out, “Wow! God is a Black woman!” I was as shocked to hear me say that as my classmates were. But as long as we are talking about myths and metaphors, it has become more true to me as time passes.
The New York Times Magazine article this week was entitled “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis: The answer to the disparity in death rates has everything to do with the lived experience of being a black woman in America.” It addresses the shocking and grievous disparity not only between black versus white infant mortality in our nation, but more specifically the even more shocking and grievous disparity between black and white maternal mortality. Permit me to quote at some length:
“Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants … a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the [Emancipation Proclamation], when most black women were considered chattel. In one year, that racial gap adds up to more than 4,000 lost black babies. Education and income offer little protection. In fact, a black woman with an advanced degree is more likely to lose her baby than a white woman with less than an eighth-grade education.
“This tragedy of black infant mortality is intimately intertwined with another tragedy: a crisis of death and near death in black mothers themselves. The United States is one of only 13 countries in the world where the rate of maternal mortality — the death of a woman related to pregnancy or childbirth up to a year after the end of pregnancy — is now worse than it was 25 years ago. Each year, an estimated 700 to 900 maternal deaths occur in the United States….
“In addition, the C.D.C. reports more than 50,000 potentially preventable near-deaths per year — a number that rose nearly 200 percent from 1993 to 2014, the last year for which statistics are available. Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than their white counterparts, according to the C.D.C. — a disproportionate rate that is higher than that of Mexico, where nearly half the population lives in poverty — and as with infants, the high numbers for black women drive the national numbers.”[i]
The article suggests why.
“The reasons for the black-white divide in both infant and maternal mortality have been debated by researchers and doctors for more than two decades. But recently there has been growing acceptance of what has largely been, for the medical establishment, a shocking idea: For black women in America, an inescapable atmosphere of societal and systemic racism can create a kind of toxic physiological stress, resulting in conditions — including hypertension and pre-eclampsia — that lead directly to higher rates of infant and maternal death. And that societal racism is further expressed in a pervasive, longstanding racial bias in health care — including the dismissal of legitimate concerns and symptoms — that can help explain poor birth outcomes even in the case of black women with the most advantages.”[ii]
“Nothing should ever be said that cannot be said in the presence of dying children.”
I’m certain that I did not make that up – though I’m unable to find its source. I’d like to suggest a corollary.
“As an ethical framework for actions of any consequence – which is all action – we should ask, what is the impact on the black mother?”
What is the benefit to the black mother?
What is the injury to the black mother?
Jesus, revealing his wounds to his cowering followers, said to them “Peace I leave to you. My peace I give you; not as the kosmon gives I give to you.”
So, was our violent, punitive, preemptive military strike against Damascus and its chemical weapons supply chain legal? That is clearly debatable. There is no “legal” precedent. It seems to be a unique situation.
Was our violent, punitive, preemptive military strike against Damascus and its chemical weapons supply chain just? That depends on the prevailing definition of “just.” If just means the least evil possibility, it’s still debatable – but is certainly not Christlike.
Was our violent, punitive, preemptive military strike against Damascus and its chemical weapons supply chain wise? Wisdom always has to do with outcomes – with consequences. Our military strike – significantly during the overlap of the Jewish Sabbath and the Muslim Day of Prayer – will have consequences. I say our strike, because, like it or not, it was executed in our name and ostensibly to our collective benefit. There will be consequences.
But more important than legality, justice, or wisdom, was our violent, punitive, preemptive military strike against Damascus and its chemical weapons supply chain peace?
How does it impact the Black mother?
How does it benefit her?
How does it injure her?
The bridge between a missile strike on Damascus and the consequences for the Black mother may seem long and narrow – but it is a bridge which evil is unafraid to cross. [To be more explicit about structural components in that bridge of connection, the estimated cost of the attack was $300 million. Imagine what $300 million would do to address systemic racism in our nation. Imagine the disproportionate tax burden on the poor that is exploited to collect that $300 million.] In this ethical framework I believe we can measure the extent to which we respond to Jesus’ first resurrection command: “Peace!” Again, was our violent, punitive, preemptive military strike against Damascus and its chemical weapons supply chain peace, Jesus’ peace, not as the world gives, but as Jesus gives?
May God have mercy on us all.
[i] Linda Villarosa, “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis: The answer to the disparity in death rates has everything to do with the lived experience of being a black woman in America.“ New York Times Magazine, April 11, 2018. Accessed April 14, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/11/magazine/black-mothers-babies-death-maternal-mortality.html?emc=edit_rr_20180414&nl=race-related&nlid=7380297020180414&te=1