Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Last Thursday I went to Sioux Falls to listen to my son Creath present a paper at a Conference on the Campus of the University of Sioux Falls. A select group of Junior and Senior students had been invited to submit papers to this function, and Creath was selected to be one of those who presented a paper during a session focused on African American Studies. I've copied into this post his entire paper, I think he did a great job and the whole time I was there listening I was thinking, "I wish Jesse was here to hear this". I am very proud of Creath he is a highly intelligent (wherever did he get that from... LOL) young man and has some brilliant insights. He is so much higher evolved than I was at his age that I am incredibly humbled and extremely proud.
Here is his paper:
19 March 2013
Justification of Violence used by American Slaves
The words ‘slave’ or ‘slavery’ conjure up within us many images and emotions, none of which could be described as positive. The history of slavery is one filled with dark and gruesome images that most would like to pretend had never and do not still happen to this day. However, the violence and bloodshed was not always been perpetrated by the slave owners, but just as the slave owners could treat their slaves violently, the slaves themselves at times responded with violence. David Walker provides one example of this in his Appeal in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America, written in 1829, where he cites a newspaper reporting on a group of slaves who had turned violent against the men driving them, which resulted in the deaths of two of the three men. There are many questions which could be raised in regard to this sort of event and the primary focus of this paper will be to address the following question: how justified were the slaves in acting violently against their owners? While in today’s America we no longer have proper slaves, we still find people who are under forms of oppression within our culture and across other cultures as well. Addressing the issue from a Christian prospective, this paper explains how violence is in fact not justified but rather shows an attempt to become independent from God by relying on one’s self in these situations, and in fact all other situations where violence might seem to be an appropriate response. To show this, the paper will focus on two biblical passages: first the Exodus, focusing exclusively on the events leading up to the Israelites’ escape from Egypt where we find examples both of man issued violence and its consequences as well as God issued violence and the results that follow from this. The second passage will be Luke xxii.36-38; it is here that we find instruction given directly from Jesus on the matter of trusting in God rather than partaking in violence. Having looked at these two sources, I will then compare them to modern thinkers.
In the Exodus, we are given a story of the mass escape of a nation from the bonds of slavery to a tyrant. It is a condition that the escaping nation of Israel had been in for the past four hundred years and during which they were subject to the violence of the Egyptians daily. Despite this, Moses’ task in freeing the Israelites was not one that was meant to involve violence issued from his own hands or the hands of the Israelites. Violence against the Egyptians is first suggested in iii.19-20 where God makes Moses aware that Pharaoh will certainly not allow a single one of them to leave unless force is used against him. However, it is not anything that the Israelites will do that will cause Pharaoh to let them go but a direct action of God that we are told will result in the release of the Israelites from their bondage. After Moses and Aaron had embarked to return to Egypt, Moses is again given instruction on what to do once they have arrived. In Exodus iv.22-23 we have again a foretelling of what will happen once Moses has confronted Pharaoh, here God anticipates the tenth plague that will befall Egypt and claim the firstborn of every household outside of the covenant family. Once again we have foretelling of violence that will be used against the Egyptians in order to free the Israelites and just as in iii.20, it is not from the hand of Israel that the violence will come from but it is the hand of God that will inflict violence upon the Egyptians. These instances in the Exodus story along with Moses’ commission, give clear understanding that in this case violence was not a method to be used by the Israelites against the Egyptians and that should any violence be used, it would be directly from the hand of God against those who had enslaved his people.
Further evidence of this is found even prior to Moses’ first encounter with God. The first story told of Moses’ adult life begins in Exodus ii.11 where we read of his encounter with an Egyptian task-master who is beating an Israelite slave. Having made sure that no one was within sight of the place, Moses enters into the conflict and strikes down the Egyptian, killing him, and then proceeds to hide the body in the sands. While it might be a ridiculous idea to think that the death of one task-master might free the countless enslaved, Moses undoubtedly has in mind the wellbeing of the slave who he is attempting to rescue. Even so, it is clear to see that nothing in fact comes of his actions here except for his fast approaching flight from Egypt in order to evade Pharaoh’s wrath. There are two forms of violence in the first chapters of Exodus, from which we can see the consequences of what happens when violence is used. In the first instance, it is manmade violence, man-to-man violence which is stirred up from the independent actions of man; the violence is issued from man from a trust and dependence upon himself to achieve the desired results. In the second instance, violence does not come from man at all – in fact there is no human factor involved in the issuing forth of that violence – it is directly from God and requires a dependence on God. Had the Israelite slaves not been dependent in this event and rather taken the violence into their own hands, as Moses had already done, then we can expect that any effort to free them would have failed as well. From this we can see that good is seemingly not a possibility when man acts violently against his fellow man, that even in this most extreme of circumstances it is futile when that violence comes from man’s dependence upon himself. Justice from violence only occurs in the Exodus when the Israelites place themselves at the mercy of God and allow for the violence to be issued from the hands of God alone against those guilty of injustice, without any effort on their own part.
In Luke xxii.36-38 we have a New Testament comparison to the Exodus passage, one that displays a dependence upon God rather than a dependence upon ourselves through violence. This passage opens with Jesus having just reminded the disciples of the previous times in which they were sent out and were told to bring nothing with them because they would be provided these things along the way. This is the first instance in which they are being told to have these things with them prior to setting off and is the only time when the mention of a sword is included. However this passage is to be read, whether taking what Jesus is saying as literal instruction to carry a sword or as a figurative clue, it is an indication of trial to come. In this aspect, we can relate it to the condition of the Israelites and likewise to the Black American slaves. This relation though should not be seen as an excuse or permission for either party to use aggressive force but only to act in self-defense; that is if we choose to read it literally. If we do choose to read it literally, the passage is read as saying that in the up-coming trials they are to face, self-defense is such a necessity that all other things are secondary and they must be willing to give up even what they are wearing in order to stay alive. However, this view, while being the most straightforward, does not stand up when put in conversation with other passages where Jesus speaks on violence – most notably at his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane in Luke xxii.49-51. This view also does not correspond to the way that the disciples actually did respond when confronted by violence and hostility after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. When faced with persecution, none of the disciples resorted to violence.
In Gethsemane, we see Jesus scolding his disciples for resorting to violence, not advocating a form of self-defense. The passage reads more appropriately when put in a figurative light. [As Leon Morris says,] When we do this, it becomes [quote] “Jesus’ graphic way of bringing it home that the disciples face a situation of grave peril. ‘Because He was not thinking of their weapons, the disciples require that courage which regards a sword as more necessary than an upper garment and surrenders even its last possession, but cannot give up the struggle.’” [end quote] Jesus’ death is coming fast upon them and there are few things in the struggle that the disciples will come to face as a result that are more necessary to preserve than their faith and commission. The necessity to preserve their faith and their commission is so great that they must be willing to sacrifice everything else so that their faith and commission can continue and spread. This is surely not instruction advocating violence then, but rather one advocating the preservation of one’s faith despite the violence they may come to face in the near future. This is only possible, however, by doing as the Israelites had done before them by placing everything they have in the hands of God and becoming dependent upon God rather than themselves.
However, it is this instruction that the disciples misunderstood and likewise can be misunderstood by us as well if careful attention is not given to what Jesus is saying here. In xxii.38 the disciples make their response to his instruction to them saying simply, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” The misunderstanding becomes all too clear with the words Jesus utters to them next, “That is enough.” With these words, Jesus both shows the misunderstanding of the disciples and ends the discussion on the matter altogether. His response hints to us his frustration with his disciples for their inability to apprehend what it is he is saying, their dullness has made them unable to hear his words. [According to Leon Morris,] While the disciples [quote] “spoke in terms of this world’s arms and said they could only muster two swords. Jesus’ response, It is enough, means not, ‘Two will be sufficient’ but rather, ‘Enough of this kind of talk!’”[end quote] They have sorely missed the point.
From both the Exodus and the Gospel of Luke, there are two distinct and yet intertwined purposes given for non-violence. From the Exodus, we see an enslaved Israel, who finds herself in a condition much like that of the Black American slaves. In their escape from captivity and oppression they are moved forward only by a reliance upon God rather than taking matters into their own hands to violently overthrow their worldly-masters. This is seen most strikingly in comparing human action – what Moses would do – to divine action – what God actually did. Had the Israelites relied solely upon human action, on their own hands, we can assume from the consequences of Moses’ actions that their condition would only have worsened. Only relying upon divine action realizes the promise of God to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians. In the Gospel of Luke, we see the disciples who will soon find themselves being hunted down, much like the escaped slave, but who are told to remain faithful to the very end at any cost. When they do resort to violence at Gethsemane, even in what they might see as self-defense, they are scolded by Jesus for having missed the point.
In order to help clarify how just it is for a slave to use violence against his master, we look further to Stanley Hauerwas’ discussion of war and its morality. The assumption can be made here that the violence of slaves upon their masters is a rational violence, that is to say that they are not acting out violently for no purpose but have as their primary motive their human rights which have been taken captive by their owners. From this assumption we can then compare the “violence” of the slaves to those actions that take place during a war because war, as described as war rather than mere violence, appears to have a different moral evaluation than simple violence. [Hauerwas explains,] [quote] “At the very least, war denotes purposive human activity that violence does not always imply.” [end quote]
However, even though this sort of violence does seem to serve a moral ends it does not appear to be the best Christian ethical response to the problem at hand. Hauerwas, in his essay Should War Be Eliminated? A Thought Experiment applies eschatology to this problem of moral violence in order to help us see that while violence certainly is an option, it is not the option most suited or most advisable for the Christian. [In this essay Hauerwas states] [quote]
Thus the Christian must live between the vision of the reign of God and its concrete realization in history. Any ethical response to war must be worked out in light of this tension. Christians may take different stances about war as they move toward the realization of God’s kingdom in history, but all Christians will “find in any violent situation the consequences of sin: not only sinful patterns of domination, oppression or aggression, but the conflict of values and interests which illustrate the limitations of a sinful world.”[end quote]
Violence then, understood as a result of sin rather than the sin itself, only exists because of sin, because of man’s effort to make his own way. We see this in Exodus with the behavior of Moses in attacking the Egyptian; in an effort to do things his own way Moses attacks and kills another man thinking some good might come from it, but because it was done of his own accord as an effort to pave his own path rather than depending on God to find a solution rather than himself, the action has a negative result.
If violence is not the ethical answer in this eschatological age, what then is the correct answer to violence? In the case of the Israelite slaves, their freedom from Egypt was only made possible by their reliance upon God for their rescue, rather than taking matters into their own hands. This meant for them to patiently wait for God’s business to reach the point at which they were able to escape, and once they had, to further rely upon God’s assistance, and when violence was needed to allow it to be issued by God rather than themselves. For the disciples, Jesus gave them instruction saying that soon they would come to face persecution because of him and when they were faced with this violence that they must be ready to sacrifice everything else for the sake of protecting their faith and their mission. Hauerwas, as did Jesus, advocates pacifism and non-violence, saying that [quote] “Christian nonresistance is a form of discipleship to Jesus, not in a legalistic way but rather ‘as he is, so are we in this world’ (1 John 4:17). Such discipleship is inherently eschatological,”[end quote] for it is only in relation with God’s future that nonresistance is meaningful.
So, can we say that a slave is justified in killing his master? The answer seems to be a resounding ‘no’ from these three voices. This act, from the perspective of Exodus, is to take matters into your own hands which rightfully belong to God. It is God’s duty in the Exodus to act as the rescuer, not the Israelite slaves whose duty is to rely upon God and maintain their faith in the God of their fathers, this is done for them by allowing for God to lead them away from violence rather than partaking in the violence themselves. Luke echoes this idea saying that it is the duty of the disciples to maintain their faith at any cost and to spread that faith, not to strike at or kill those who oppose it, which only acts against their purpose by imposing their own purpose for the faith they wish to spread into that faith. While it is an option to act violently against their oppressors, I believer Martin Luther King, Jr. was right when he said, [quote] “the nonviolent approach does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect. It calls up resources of strength and courage that they did not know they had. Finally, it so stirs the conscience of the opponent that reconciliation becomes a reality.”
Hauerwas, Stanley. The Hauerwas Reader. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2001.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. Strength to Love. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to St. Luke: An Introduction and Commentary by Leon Morris. London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1977.
Rice, Edwin W. People’s Commentary on the Gospel According to Luke. Philadelphia: The Union’s Book Agency, 1889.
Walker, David. Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America. Massachusetts: 1829.
 David Walker, Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America (Massachusetts: 1829), 26-27.
 All Bible references or quotes are taken from the NIV Study Bible.
 This first occurs in Luke ix.3 and second in Luke x.4.
 Edwin W. Rice, People’s Commentary on the Gospel According to Luke (Philadelphia: The Union’s Book Agency, 1889), 290.
 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to St. Luke: An Introduction and Commentary by Leon Morris (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1977), 310.
 Morris, The Gospel According to St. Luke, 310.
 The NIV translates this, “That’s enough!”
 Rice, People’s Commentary on the Gospel According to Luke, 291.
 Morris, The Gospel According to St. Luke, 311.
 Stanley Hauerwas, The Hauerwas Reade (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2001), 394.
 Hauerwas, 401.
 Hauerwas, 437.
 Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981), 151.
On the way home I stopped and took a couple of photos of country churches. Here are two beautiful Lutheran Churches in South Dakota.
In His Love and Glory,