Jesus for President tour

July 11, 2008

activism / politics / theology

At Cornerstone Festival this year, the Jesus for President tour made a stop on July 4. As Shane Claiborne’s recent article says, we then had an alternative celebration.

I have only recently picked up the book Jesus for President, and have not yet had time to read it. Even so, the tour is amazing, and is more than worth going to even if you have not read the book. Dates are on the tour’s website, and the event is free.

Essentially, the tour presents the message of Jesus, put within its actual cultural and political context, which over the centuries has been forgotten at best and manipulated and hidden at worst. The fact that the message of Jesus is always anti-imperialistic, whether he stands in contrast to Roman emperors or American presidents, is not a popular thing to say, but it is essential.

For myself, I often struggle with the implications of my belief in pacifism. It is a complex issue, and it is further complicated by the fact that cases of effective pacifism in the face of extreme evil, like the atrocities of imperial Rome, Nazi Germany or communist Russia, can be difficult to find. They do exist, but the various cultural and political frameworks of our time do not view them favorably.

Nazi Germany is usually the example thrown in the face of a person in today’s Western world who professes pacifism. The idea is that if pacifists had had their way in the United States, or the United Kingdom, or Russia for that matter, Hitler would have taken over the world and there we would be to this day.

Further complicating the issue is the fact that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a strong proponent of Christian pacifism for most of his life, was arrested, imprisoned and tortured, and finally executed for taking part in a plot to assassinate Hitler. At face value, then, it would seem that he finally gave in and saw the truth of Just War and Christian violence, and that we who resist the war in Iraq, or the saber rattling in Iran, or other military operations, should do the same and support our commander-in-chief 1.

On the Jesus for President tour, a different stance is presented. Through studying the life of Jesus and the beliefs and practices of the church before the time of Constantine, the extent to which Jesus stands against nationalism, imperialism, and the kingdom of the sword is demonstrated.

In John 18, when Jesus is arrested, Peter cuts off the ear of one of the servants of those arresting Jesus. Jesus promptly puts it back. One of Shane Claiborne’s statements that stuck out to me the most was that the early church, in its writings and its way of life, viewed the incident in this way:

“When Jesus disarmed Peter, he disarmed all Christians.”

It is a beautiful thing to watch parts of the Church gradually wake up to the reality of entirely separate kingdom of Jesus, and what it really means to be a part of it.

1 For further information, see the brief document, Bonhoeffer's Pacifism by Ronald Osborn.