“Just because you love the lord doesn’t mean you can’t knock the hell out of somebody.”

The title? That’s a direct quote.

It was stated by a man I’ve known since I was in elementary school. He also worked with my dad for twenty-some plus years and, to this day, they remain training partners. Anytime I’m back home in the fine state of North Carolina, I’ll hang out with them in a gym they fondly refer to as “The Dungeon.” It’s called the dungeon because it’s old, small, has few machines, lots of free-weights, and big boys (with even bigger girls) far less concerned with circuit training and fashion apparel than with getting huge and ripped. It’s a sight, that’s for sure. The owner, one of my favorite human beings in this solar system, is a “born-again Pentecostal.” In the eighties, he took every kind of steroid he could swallow, consume and inject, but now “plays it straight for the Lord.” He also plays, on the gym’s stereo no less, his share of incredibly bad Christian music.

I guess you call it music.

Anyway. It’s a bit unnerving except when I can convince him to break into the slightly more tolerable genre of Christian hard-core. You know how it goes: sXe, jXc, hXc, whatev’, I’m talking Straight-Edge for Christ! The Triple X with JXC! “Doing it for the kids!”

Yeah . . . it’s a bit ridiculous, but after all these years I still can’t help but floor-punch to Strongarm.

My dad and mutual friend in question are what you might refer to as ‘muscle-heads.’ Old school power-lifters. For these guys and gals, it’s a way of life (and for those who infuse it with Jesus, like the owner of the gym, the dynamic becomes even more interesting). My father has had five shoulder surgeries because he thrashed them bench-pressing insane amounts of weight. He’s a beast. Further evidence that I was totally adopted.

That’s all beside the point.

I think.

One day in the gym a colleague of mine, who happens to be a rockin’ feminist anthropologist at Elon University, was narrating the story of one of the old-school, hardcore, steroid-induced, semi-professional bodybuilders who had recently been in a bad accident and, because of it, “found Jesus” (don’t ask where–I’m just speaking the language). Several weeks passed and he started to recover. During his time in the hospital, one of his friends had, apparently, comforted his girlfriend/partner/mate/significant other a little too much. I don’t know the details, but what I do know is that this Lou Ferrigno wanna-be didn’t like it. So, he did what any person who was 245lbs with about 9% body fat would do–he put the guy through a wall.

Literally.

"Hulk gets angry when Betty Ross (his girlfriend for the non-nerd) cheats. Hulk don't care what Jesus said. Hulk smash Jesus, too, if he try to take woman meant to be treated as objectified commodity!"

He drove the man through an apartment wall into another person’s living room. You have to admit, that’s some pretty impressive strength.

Scary, but impressive.

As the anthropologist/bodybuilder was relaying the story I asked, “I thought you said he found Jesus?”

My father’s friend, and longtime workout buddy, quickly responded, “Just because you love the lord doesn’t mean you can’t knock the hell out of somebody.”

There was a brief momentary silence that was almost immediately interrupted by my genuine laughter. Tears were almost rolling out of my eyes.

I mean, come on . . . it is kind of funny.

It was stated with such sincerity and conviction–as if I were crazy to even pose the question as to what Jesus had to do with this sort of situation. Plus, to be honest, I just had no response. I face, almost on a daily basis, some of the most ridiculous things to ever come out of a person’s mouth in my classrooms (look for a top-ten post on this one pretty soon), yet, in this case, I didn’t even know where to begin.

In one sense, I was blown away because his response to me sounds like the kind of dribble that gets Mark Driscoll aroused.

"All you emasculated pansies take note: this is how a real Jesus-man holds his woman! Hells yeah!"

Yet, I find myself friends with a person I would never in a million years bestow with such a horrible insult.

So . . . I laughed. But I followed my laughter saying, “Well, you know, Jesus did teach peace, forgiveness, and love of enemies. It’s kind of the core of his teachings. Maybe this is one of those instances where following Jesus demanded a slightly different response than putting another human being through a wall.”

This man who has been a Christian of some stripe his entire life, whom I’ve known since I was a little kid, looked at me and said, “The guy #@$-ed his girlfriend while he was lying in a hospital. He’s lucky he didn’t kill ‘em. I bet if he hadn’t found Jesus he would have killed ‘em. I think that proves he’s come a long way.”

The owner of the gym, though none too happy with the curse word employed in our mutual friend’s justification for violence, agreed. “It’s true,” he said, “He’s come along way. Had it been a few months early, it would have been much worse. Really, it would have been bad.”

Well . . . praise Jesus for small victories, I guess.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1170453932 Tobias Winright

    Just FYI, even Christians who are not pacifists, but who live peacemaking lives that allow for the possibility of justified uses of force, would not (hopefully) think that knocking this guy through the wall is consonant with following Jesus.

    • Anonymous

      You know I never trust those kids who are like, “Always obey Jesus . . . except when these seven conditions align perfectly. Then, obey Augustine instead.”  =)

      Hey, get those answers to me!

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1170453932 Tobias Winright

        Answers should arrive this coming week. My review of Stan’s new book on war is due Monday, and I’ve been devoting all my energy to trying to come up with some good lines (for the review as well as for your questions).

        I only wrote what I did above because of your tags on your post, making it seem like there’s only violence or Christian nonviolence. Christian just war or Christian justified use of force, I simply attempted to say, would be in agreement with you on this one. Yoder devoted a lot of time to pointing out, when possible, areas where we agree.

        • Anonymous

          Ah brother, I know. And you know I’m just messing around—in tone,
          at least! It’s just far more fun this way. So, yes, your comments are dead-on. No doubt. But since you stirred a little of the pot here (and since I am completely lacking in theological partners these days–Hauerwas once said that the only requirement for teaching in a religious studies department was to be an atheist–he’s right), so, let’s play.

          Yes, Yoder spoke ad nauseum about these areas of agreement. No doubt. But I have to be honest, and in all seriousness here: I actually find this bodybuilder’s display of violence almost more acceptable than those within the just war tradition. This guy is completely ignorant of Christianity. No understanding whatsoever. No resources for how to even think about such actions. Yet, within the just war tradition,  just-warriors have spent fifteen hundred years justifying and rationalizing a larger scale version of what he did. I know that’s a bit crude, and, sure, the “criteria” has to be in place, as was not in this case (maybe/maybe not . . . no non-combatants were harmed, probability of success seemed pretty high, he is his own
          authority–which I find no less scandalous than the idea that nation-states could ever possibly function as a legitimate authority,) but, partial joking aside, it’s one thing to act with no knowledge whatsoever, yet it seems a completely different package to burn so much ink on ways to avoid assuming Jesus meant what he said. And yes, I am being a bad Yoderian here, because he would suggest that I am not taking seriously how seriously just-war theorists take Jesus. He’s probably right. But as you know, I spent a few years under Brent Waters tutelage (student of Oliver O’Donovan), I feel like I’ve read quite a bit on just war (Augustine, Aquinas, Vittoria, Suarez, Grotius, Ramsey–and Steve was my PhD adviser and Stanley was my master’s thesis adviser, so this material was constantly being ‘forced’ upon me–that was kind of a joke/pun), and I gotta tell ya–I find just war theory, now, even more scandalous than those who do not seek justification at all. At least the latter do not try to couch their penchant for disobeying Jesus under the right circumstances. And I know, the whole point is that under such circumstances it is not a form of disobedience; that is, it is correctly understood as a practice of loving one’s neighbor. I get it. And the good Yoderian in me tells me to at least make sure I get the JWT’s argument’s right. No doubt. However, I often wonder, do you ever find the JWT to be completely irrelevant? I mean, what does it actually do? Concretely? I
          ask those questions out of sincerity. As you know, people charge nonviolence with political irrelevance and idealism (and that’s because they do not understand it), but at least I can say, “Look at King and Gandhi! Those guys changed the world!”

          And are you ever inclined to just say, “Dorothy Day and Daniel Berrigan are right”? I mean, those kids are holy, and maybe, more importantly, interesting. I like interesting folks. Let’s be interesting! Because I just don’t see how, in terms of the necessity of our eschatological and resurrected witness, just war theory gives an appropriate vision of the peaceable kingdom–and, therefore, I don’t think it has any real means for conversion. It betrays that what we are called to embody–which I think should be an alternative to Homer, Cicero, and Jean Behtke Elshtain.

          But the Berrigan brothers . . . ah, they actually make me want to be a Christian! I cannot think of a single just warrior throughout Christian history who has had that effect on me–besides you, of course. You’re a saint, but, good thing you’re a Catholic . . . you’ll need purgatory to rid you of all of that necessary “force” you had to employ here on earth! =)

          • Felicia

            “As you know, people charge nonviolence with political irrelevance and idealism (and that’s because they do not understand it)…”  Why do you think people don’t understand this?  Just general lack of knowledge as you say?  Conflicting loyalties?  I get this argument against pacifism because of idealism often.  I am far from the academic and study this stuff lazily at best, but I have a hard time understanding any arguments in support of violence as a method of choice.  I am a pacifist.  And maybe this is a very wimpy way to put it, but I hope that my ideals shape me.  However, I know that at times I may fail them miserably.  For example, I have only thrown a guy through a wall once, and I am pretty sure he had it coming……..  but I did feel really bad later.  jk, we girls only pull hair.
             

          • Anonymous

            Hey . . . I pull hair, too!

            I think its because there are certain varieties of pacifism that are idealistic and utopian (or are embedded within more liberal/cosmopolitan accounts). Yoder, for instance, criticizes those accounts as being problematic (at least in terms of the Christian tradition).

            The “kind” of pacifism we are assuming here (Tobias and myself) is messianic pacifism in which nonviolence is only intelligible in light of Jesus’ resurrection, so that if the story of Christianity is false then this account of nonviolence would collapse. I think the first task of those who decry nonviolence is to understand which kind or type of nonviolence they are protesting–as I agree even with Niebuhr who called certain forms of nonviolence heretical. I highly, super highly that is, recommend Yoder’s “Nevertheless: The Varieties and Shortcomings of Religious Pacifism.” Excellent book. Not academic, very accessible. Brilliantly laid out. Perfect for small groups or individual reading.

            Now, stop beating up on the men-folk (though, I’m pretty sure we all have it coming).

          • Felicia

            ha!  well, just as long as you acknowledge which greater sex invented the hair pulling……

            i guess i should clarify that i love reading academic literature, i just feel completely inadequate talking about  it with the schooled brilliance i find on here :) 

            i loved Yoder’s “Christian witness to the state”, but have not read the one you mention.  i’ll check it out.

            unfortunately the people who i am discussing pacifism with are of the ‘saved’ variety.  while i think we are viewing nonviolence in the light of the resurrection (can we view it in any other way, really?), that may not always be the case :)  

            in my case, i truly hope that what i do informs what i believe instead of the opposite. i am about as doubtful and hell-bound as they come. ha.

            so nonviolence isn’t always in some way redemptive?  even when done with the dumbest of intentions?  explain to me the heretical.. this is interesting.  (or ignore me, that’s fine too.  you probably teach enough during the week :))

          • Anonymous

            Ah, his ‘Christian Witness to the State’ is still one of my favorites. But yes, I think you will dig his book on the varieties of religious pacifism.

            I like your comment about doing informing believing. Definitely.

            I’m not sure what it would mean to claim that nonviolence is always (or ever) redemptive. That’s a loaded word, and just to refuse to employ violence is not, in and of itself, some sort of redemptive act. Yoder’s understanding of nonviolence is not grounded in redemption–save for participation in a redeemed order. But it’s an eschatological witness to the original order of peace. The results of such a witness are never guaranteed (in terms of effectiveness, or good or bad results).

            To state it rather briefly (and crudely), Reinhold Niebhur argued that the kind of pacifism practiced by “liberals” (in the more classic sense of the word, say . . . those involved with the Fellowship of Reconciliation) was heretical because it seems to assume that as long as you are nice enough people will want to be nice, too. You know, give the world a Coke, hold hands, sing Kumbaya, and world peace will erupt. It also assumes a rather “progressive” stance toward human nature that suggests we are getting more civil as we evolve. Niebhur argued that this kind of thinking does not take into consideration the depth of sin and is, therefore, heretical. On this account, both the Niebuhrians and the Yoderians agree. Yes, that is a heretical account of Christian nonviolence–which is why the historic peace churches do not understand nonviolence in this vein.

            Now, in his defense, Niebhur did suggest that he understood that groups like the Mennonites did not assume this sort of pacifism, yet he argued that their brand of pacifism demanded withdrawal and was, therefore, apolitical. Niebhur even explicitly stated that to attempt to imitate Jesus is fine and dandy, but that Jesus is simply not politically relevant and, therefore, to be political one must abandon assuming Jesus meant what he said. Hence, John Howard Yoder’s gigantic middle-finger to that sort of thinking with his classic, “The Politics of Jesus.”

            Unfortunately, Niebuhr was deemed one of the most important Christian thinkers of the 20th century while Yoder is read by a few hundred weirdos like ourselves.

            Imagine that.

          • Felicia

            o.k.  i see. i am saying (probably incorrectly) that nonviolence is part of a redeemed(ing) order and participating in it is an eschatalogical witness to the original order of peace.  we have the cross as an example of violence as redemption.  redemptive acts don’t necessarily end pretty.  i see what what you mean, but i wonder if it’s possible that any refusal of violence points toward this witness.  motivations aside.  even without intention.  apparently i am not liberal at all, i have little faith that anyone has the right intentions.
             
            now if i can just quit calling yoder’s book “enemy of the state”….  :)  will smith and yoder… hmmm… one can see how i get them confused.  

          • Anonymous

            Yeah, I mean, and here is a potential problem: it could be a bit
            imperialistic to suggest, for example, that Aung San Suu Kyi’s
            commitment to nonviolence is a witness to the ontological peace that
            Christianity claims. Though, from the meta-narrative of Christianity,
            that could definitely be constitutive of its own truth-claims. So,
            maybe. I just don’t want to make any Karl Rahnerian-type claims about
            “anonymous Christianity” or anything of that nature–which I don’t think
            you’re suggesting at all. So, I get where you are going with it, and I
            kind of like it!

            I’m sure Yoder would be a huge fan of Will Smith’s films. Definitely of
            his albums. I can just imagine Yoder getting jiggy with it.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1170453932 Tobias Winright

            Thanks for this thoughtful (yet funny in spots) reply. Yes, I know this is supposed to be like we’re on the Colbert Report, and I truly appreciate the humor. I’m so swamped right now that I cannot respond to everything you’ve raised here. I think I attempted to tackle some of this in an article this past spring in Ecumenical Review. I’ll probably do so again in my review of Stanley’s book this week. For now, I’ll just say that I teach the Berrigans and Day all the time. I think they are right on much, but not everything. I’m still thinking all this through….

            Having studied with both Hauerwas and Yoder, it’s amazing I’m not able to call myself a pacifist, right? I’ve read the just war stuff through their lenses even more than I ever did through any just war lenses (I never worked, for example, with O’Donovan). Heck, I even grew up on the edge of Shipshewana country, and my name “Tobias” came from Amish influence there rather than from the Catholic Bible’s Book of Tobit! So there must be a serious reason why I’m where I am at present (and I leave it as an open possibility that I may modify or change my view–something that I don’t hear a lot of pacifists say for their view….). What is it? I haven’t yet figured out all the angles, and I certainly don’t want to accumulate arguments to support a position I’ve arrived at on other grounds and am going to adhere to anyway.

            Yes, I too am inspired by saints like Day, Francis of Assisi, Marcellus, etc., but I am also inspired by Franz Jagerstatter, who I don’t read as a pacifist like Day, but a product of a serious just war “with teeth” (as Yoder would say) way of being a Catholic Christian. This is a great question, though, and it is one I actually asked Dan Bell a year or two ago. The questions you ask about the relevancy of just war are ones Yoder was also asking, and I think that there are people now attempting to explore all that more seriously and sincerely. I, for one, also do not have faith in nation-states any more than I have confidence in the muscle guy about whom you write. But for me (and borrowing Bell’s language) just war as Christian discipleship is not (now to use Ramsey’s language) a “theory of statecraft” but rather a politics (which doesn’t necessarily mean politics a la the nation-state way we’ve had for a few centuries now). Of course, whether this politics is consonant with the politics of Jesus or not, this is the big question with which I’m really spending a lot of time thinking about. Now don’t “force” me to say more, so I can get my work done, including responding to your interview questions.

          • Anonymous

            Great stuff. And, I look forward to your review of Stanley’s book. I was hoping to use it in my spring class but, I have to be honest, it just didn’t do it for me. Have you read, Yoder’s The End of Sacrifice? Repetitive, but pretty good–though I’m sure you were already privy to all of his arguments on capital punishment.

            Just so you know, I am incredibly open to changing my mind on this issue. As a matter of fact, I would like nothing more than NOT being a pacifist! That would be awesome. Because, sometimes I just want to go all Wolverine on somebody. Speaking of which: Wolverine made his first appearance battling the Hulk–of which, I included a lovely picture of the Ferrigno version in this post. Anytime someone wants to start talking comics, I’m in.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=8622251 Matt Morin

      As providence would have it “Justified Uses Of Force” was the name of my first hardcore band– and as the name would suggest, we were terrible. It wasn’t so much that we sounded bad, or even that we lacked passion, but our main problem was that we were far too innovative. I mean, it is one thing to improvise and re-create, but it is entirely different when you just start making crap up and calling it metal. ;)

      • Anonymous

        Um . . . I kind of want to use this analogy in print! I swear to all things good, beautiful and true (well, not swear–only Constaninian Christians are allowed to disobey Jesus on that one, too…hahaha, Tobias, you’re my favorite just-warrior ever), oh yeah, I was saying . . . you will be cited for this source. I promise. Or, not promise.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=8622251 Matt Morin

    i can’t help floor punching to some strongarm myself, but it was living sacrifice that made turned me into a pacifist. it is impossible to mosh to math metal.

  • Pingback: (You make me feel like) A (super) Natural Woman : The Amish Jihadist

  • Myles_Werntz

    So, the big question: who is the Amish Jihadist? My dissertation was on Yoder, Day, and Stringfellow around these questions, and I’d love to talk with you more about this: myles_werntz@baylor.edu
    @baylor:disqus 

    • Anonymous

      Yes, that is a terribly profound and deep question . . . who is, and I mean really IS, the Amish Jihadist? I’m afraid I am not qualified to answer such a question (although if you check out the ‘About’ section, it will provide a few clues).

      Yeah man, let’s chat about Stringfellow. I love me some apocalyptic thinking! To quote Boy Sets Fire: “Tear it down!” (Albeit, nonviolently, please. Or, even better, no need for destruction; let’s just create something more interesting.)

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1170453932 Tobias Winright

        I wrote a paper on Stringfellow for Yoder once. I keep wanting to get back to it.

        • Anonymous

          You should. Stringfellow certainly does not receive the attention he deserves. He is also the only reason I hold out hope for lawyers!

          Here is an interesting short post I read on him sometime ago. I like how this person notes that most theologians tend to ignore his work.

           http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/sexandgender/124/the_biblical_circus_of_william_stringfellow/

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1170453932 Tobias Winright

            Thanks, the piece is pretty well done. Another thing I noticed in my study of Stringfellow, which this writer neglected, was his emphasis on the liturgy. I’ll have to dig out my paper sometime. Yoder tended to focus on Stringfellow’s attention to the powers and principalities.