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    PloughCast 6: Does Just War ever work? & other Listener Questions

    The Violence of Love, Part 6

    By Peter Mommsen and Susannah Black Roberts

    April 20, 2021
    • Martin Steinbereithner

      I think the idea of having Peter and Susannah, from two different Christian traditions, discuss these questions, is truly inspired. Thanks for that. Maybe I am just not intellectual enough, but lots of authors Susannah mentions I have never heard of before, and it would be nice if they also appeared in the show notes- at least in order to educate such people as myself.

    • Mel Fros

      I find the debate on the use of force interesting. If the OT is read/understood literally, all sorts of deeply troubling questions arise. Read non-literally, it can show how my spiritual ancestors understood their lot relative to Mystery...what Christians prefer to call "God." It seems obvious to me that the historic person, Jesus, did not and would not have countenanced the used lethal force. Does that mean his followers should always, in all circumstances, do likewise? What about those of us who try to take Jesus' teachings seriously without claiming to be "Christian"? Where do I, a person who prefers to not be identified as "Christian", stand on the use of force? While I clearly prefer a peaceful and just settlement in all disputes, I believe a sensible discussion must weigh the underlying issue(s). Very few issues ever are purely black or purely white! There is no one-answer-for-all-time regarding the use of just force. Each person in any given situation must depend on the Light within to decide what action to take. A Christian who wants to run for public office would do well to consider if two masters can be served at the same time. Only the individual can decide.

    About this Episode

    This episode included an Anabaptist and an Anglican in conversation as they attempted to address listener questions include the following:

    I'm convinced that Christians should not use lethal violence. Does scripture outline what those who don't follow Jesus, acting on behalf of the state, should or shouldn't do with regard to levels of violence to restrain evil?

    How do we read the violence in the Old Testament?

    What about Just War Theory? Does the state have a moral obligation to use violence, to prevent or reduce the possibility of greater violence? Was the Second World War justified?

    Plus: Striped bass fishing, the Lambs Club, creative minorities, beer-making, and why Susannah can’t be shunned.

    • Question 1: Can agents of the state legitimately use violence? What if they’re Christians?
    • Question 2: How should we read violence in the Old Testament?
    • Question 3: What about Just War theory? Should Christians fight just wars?
    • Digression: We argue about the principle of double effect.
    • Question 4: Should people of faith live as a creative minority? 
    • Can you talk about constructive resilience?
    • Intermezzo: The Plough Social World
    • Takeaways: What did we learn over the past six episodes of this podcast?
    • Recommendations

    [You can listen to this episode of The PloughCast on Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.]



    Susannah: Today, we are going to be answering listener questions and also reflecting on our takeaways.

    Peter: That’s right. After responding to some of the questions from you, our beloved listeners, we’ll be talking about what each of us has learned about violence and nonviolence over the past six episodes.

    Susannah: I’m Susannah Black, senior editor of Plough.

    Peter: I’m Peter Mommsen, editor of the Plough Quarterly, and this is The PloughCast.

    Susannah: This is the sixth and final episode of our first series. Check back again in six weeks for a whole other series of podcasts.

    Peter: While you’re at it, subscribe to Plough. Go to And now to our conversation.

    Question 1: Can agents of the state legitimately use violence? What if they’re Christians?

    Peter: So Susannah, we have a whole bunch of great questions from our listeners about constructive resilience, about the use of lethal violence by Christians, about violence in the Old Testament, the so-called texts of terror, and about whether the state is obligated to use just war, even if Christians aren’t. And there’s a bunch of others. We’ll see if we get to them. Which one do you want to bite off first?

    Susannah: I am interested in starting off with the question from Sam J. Tomlin that is his handle, “I’m convinced that Christians should not use lethal violence. Does scripture outline what those who don’t follow Jesus, acting on behalf of the state, should or shouldn’t do with regard to levels of violence to restrain evil?” So this is a very sort of Anabaptist-pointed question because it contains sort of Anabaptist premises. Do you want to take this, Pete?

    Peter: Sure. Although, I should quickly say that I don’t feel qualified to speak for all Anabaptists, this is Pete Mommsen, a mere editor at Plough, giving . . .

    Susannah: Lowly editor at Plough.

    Peter: . . . opinions. For what they’re worth. But I would just say that, this Anabaptist at least, believes in Romans 13, that the state is given the power of the sword to maintain a relative order of justice in a fallen world. Christians are called to an absolute order of justice, which I believe involves nonviolence. But the state is instituted by God, relatively speaking, to maintain a minimal order of justice. And so yes, can the state, should the state, use violence as much as it needs to, but no more, to maintain justice, to fight a defensive war against an unjust aggressor, to keep peace, to prevent the innocent from being victimized by bullies? Absolutely. And I think, does scripture give guidance on that? Yes, I think it absolutely does. Paul’s words about the task of the state are pretty clear. They also implicitly circumscribe what the state can do. Protect the innocent, punish the evil; not the other way around. And then the prophets, and in fact, the entire Old Testament, give a pretty vigorous account of what public justice looks like. So from a non-Anabaptist point of view, does that ring true in any respect?

    Susannah: Yeah, that absolutely rings true. I think, again, where we would differ is I do think that it is possible for Christians to serve as magistrates in a state like that. But that basically describes what it seems to me the state is called to do. Although, I also do think . . .

    Peter: Well, I also think that Christians can serve as magistrates. I just think, like many of the early Christians did, that if they serve as magistrates they just can never kill people.

    Susannah: True. But doesn’t that interfere with the purpose of the state? Doesn’t it sort of by definition, if a purpose of the state, a major purpose of the state, is to bear the sword for the vindication of justice? And I do think that the other sort of part of this, which is interesting, is that has to be seen in, where Paul is talking about that, it’s right after he talks about Christians not taking vengeance on their own behalves. So he’s kind of reminding them that if somebody steals from you or something like that, don’t start a feud.

    Peter: A private vendetta.

    Susannah: Right. A private vendetta. Refer it to the state. So how is it possible for a Christian to serve as a magistrate if that is a huge chunk of what it is the state’s job to do?

    Peter: So you’re in fact admitting that it is a huge part of the magistrate’s job to use lethal violence.

    Susannah: Or at least be involved in a system which sort of approves of lethal violence. I mean, the one time that I actually kind of almost got to serve on a jury, it would have potentially been a death penalty case. And I kind of recused myself saying, “I’m not sure that I would be able to be objective enough to answer that question, because I don’t think that I could be the person to say that this person should be put to death.” So how do you distinguish between being involved in a system as a magistrate, which could potentially lead to war, to a just war, or to some kind of appropriate state for the use of lethal force, even if you’re not doing it yourself?

    Peter: Well, I certainly don’t know, nor do I know how the first jailer baptized in the book of Acts was meant to act the first time he was called on to participate in torture. But we do know he was baptized, and for all we know remained a jailer, possibly until the first torture case came along. There’s this early, I think, second century Apostolic Constitution, possibly from Syria [Hippolytus of Rome, Apostolic Tradition, section 16] . It’s a bit debated where it came from. Also clear, admittedly, that it was never sort of a universal church teaching. But it was rules on which catechumens should be accepted for baptism. And it said soldiers can be baptized, but they have to promise never to kill. How does that work practically? I don’t know. But that’s how at least one community of early Christians dealt with it.

    We’re probably not going to solve this one here, but I think we have kind of hit Sam J. Tomlin’s question. Is there scriptural guidance as to how the state should use force even if we believe Christians should be nonviolent personally? Yes, I think there is. Justice is an objective thing and actually, it’s the church’s job to help inform the conscience of the state as to what is justice and what is injustice, what is good and what is bad.

    Susannah: I do want to jump in and say that that is one of the ways in which the Anabaptist kind of vision of the relationship between church and state is more similar to the kind of integralist Catholic vision than it is to the magisterial Protestant version. Again, because the idea is that the church is there as kind of the guide to right conduct of the state and the state ought to be listening to it. But it is also over it. They’re not sort of equal partners in this, which is kind of interesting.

    Peter: No, they’re not intertwined. They’re not sort of governing separate but equal spheres. The church kind of is, as you’ll see from Anabaptist writings, but as you say, also Catholic integralists, the church represents an absolute sphere of justice; the state merely a relative and passing and temporary and profoundly compromised form of justice.

    All right. Well, so many questions we’ll never resolve, Susannah.

    Question 2: How should we read violence in the Old Testament?

    Peter: Let’s go to another one. Peter Biles writes, “How do we read the violence in the Old Testament? Something I would like to hear you guys discuss.” Whoa. So yet again, I find myself completely unqualified really to weigh in on something that people have written dozens of books about who actually study the Old Testament. I did talk to a few friends who do study the Old Testament and they pointed me to some books. So with all those qualifiers, my big takeaway is I don’t really know. Susannah.

    Susannah: Yeah. This definitely falls into the category of . . . so when I first sort of converted in grad school, or I don’t know exactly when it was, really, there was a range of time, I used to freak out regularly about kind of various gigantic theological questions or texts of terror in the Bible. And as I kind of got more and more used to being Christian and used to living with Jesus as my King and seeing him resolve various questions in various ways, I developed this thing where I kind of have this “Susannah’s big box of things I don’t know,” and it is okay that that is there. And there are many things in there and there are many things that I am sure that I will not find out. I’m not going to resolve these all before the New Jerusalem, and possibly not even then. And on one level, the conquest of Canaan is in that big box.

    I do think that there are kind of mitigating . . . well, not mitigating circumstances. But the way that the text describes what happens, this is a culture that . . . word goes ahead that the Israelites are coming and that God has given this land to the Israelites. And there is kind of an expectation that either the Canaanites will repent and be joined to Israel in some sense, in a full sense, in a sense that will not allow them to maintain their paganism, or will clear out ahead. And there is this kind of one thing that Timothy Keiderling, who kind of chimed in on the Twitter thread where we were talking about this earlier, pointed out, which is that they’re commanded to make an offer of peace whenever they approach a city to lay siege to it. And making an offer of peace is pretty rare in those days. So I don’t know, man. It all sounds like, yeah, those are some potentially mitigating things, but boy, it’s still firmly in the box of things that I do not understand, and that is okay with me.

    Peter: So upfront, I think there’s two different things going on. One, that there is a sort of just war, a natural right of self-defense style of violence in the Old Testament. From an Anabaptist perspective, is no problem. Jesus, actually quite clearly says in the Sermon on the Mount, “It was said to you, but I say,” and he’s clearly instituting a new ethic of love and, we believe, of nonviolence in that. So a kind of just war or just form of capital punishment or a natural right of self-defense, that being allowed and even blessed by God under the Old Covenant is no problem. That’s not what we’re talking about. What we’re talking about is passages, particularly in the books of Joshua and in Judges, but elsewhere too, where God seems to command genocide, the killing of every living thing, the consecration of whole cities to destruction. There is that memorable passage, I believe, in the First Book of Samuel, where Saul is commanded to destroy a city of the Amalekites and fails to do so. He kills all the people, but leaves some of the animals alive. And then that’s really one of the big drivers for why God deposes him from the kingship.

    Now, those texts are just super tough. And as far as I can tell, there’s three kind of early responses to them that still play out in different forms. One is the one represented by Marcion, later declared a heretic, who basically said the Old Testament God who commanded horrible things isn’t the true God shown in Jesus Christ at all, and so we should essentially reject the Jewish God and the Jewish scriptures. Then there’s Origen, who basically argued for a spiritualizing reading of those passages saying we shouldn’t take them literally as history. These accounts of Israel’s wars against its neighbors should rather be read as sort of a prefiguring of our fight against sin and the fact that we should make no compromise with the devil in our own hearts. So a completely ahistorical reading of those accounts.

    And then finally, Augustine, who basically said, “Well, if God commanded it, it’s not an atrocity.” And you can go and see the Gospel Coalition website and you can still see people making an argument like that. And I’ll just say that I find that morally horrible. I don’t think that it is possible to ever justify killing babies as something that God would command. But apart from that, I actually also don’t find the other two sort of explanations satisfying either because the spiritualizing one just seems like a dodge and of course, the Marcionite one is Marcionite. It’s supersessionist. It’s a rejection of the story of God and the Old Covenant, which we’re just not going to do.

    So where I’ve come on this is, yes, you can read those texts as hyperbolic, and we should. The book of Joshua tells you that the Amalekites are all wiped out. And then in Judges, you find the Amalekites are still living there and most of the cities that Joshua has supposedly conquered in Joshua are still ruled by the seven nations that Israel was told to destroy at the beginning of the book of Judges. So, the Bible itself kind of relativizes the claims that there was any kind of mass genocide. Still, still, still, like you say, Susannah, those mitigations don’t make that stuff any less troubling.

    And here’s the thing. It’s interesting. So us Anabaptists love to talk about the early church and it drives everyone else nuts. But it is weird that the first couple of centuries of Christianity, just when Christians were most committed to nonviolence, these texts didn’t bother them. They didn’t even really talk about them. The Apostles don’t really spend a lot of time trying to figure this out. And I guess where it gets to the heart of it is Jesus himself shares a name with Joshua. He’s the son of David. He’s descended from and named after the people most implicated in these Old Testament accounts. So there is something there that I don’t think we get to kind of tie up too neatly, and maybe just have to live with.

    Susannah: And I mean, it’s not entirely a different question than Noah’s flood, except that using Israelites as the agents of destruction just feels much freakier. But yeah.

    Peter: Right. Or Exodus. So during Passover, a lot of people online are just remembering, again, that Passover is celebrating the death of lots of firstborn sons in Egypt.

    Susannah: So we have not solved this problem, shockingly. We somehow haven’t fixed it. Sorry guys.


    Peter: I think it’s actually a good reminder that in all these questions of violence and nonviolence life is difficult and there’s no shining line and maybe this is one of those places where we get to remind ourselves, like you said, at the beginning in answering this question, Jesus is our King. We believe as Christians, no matter where we come down on particularly questions that we’re discussing here, that the heart of God is revealed in Jesus Christ and that is what we’re called to and that’s what is going to govern our lives.

    Question 3: What about Just War theory? Should Christians fight just wars?

    Well, let’s turn to a question that possibly we can answer a little more satisfyingly, Susannah. Steve Gumaer asks, “I would love to hear you discuss the just war theory. And if the state has a moral obligation to use violence, war as a means to prevent or reduce the possibility of greater violence.” So we already talked about the role of the state, but I think it would be worthwhile talking about just war, the classic criteria of just war, what role that tradition plays in Christianity. For you as an Anglican, obviously you’re a little more open to affirming that, without your fingers crossed than I am.

    So let me ask you, just war theory is a theory that’s based on an Aristotelian tradition that’s kind of imported into Christianity by Augustine because he needed something.

    Susannah: Well, you’ve just loaded that, right?

    Peter: How does that all work out for you?

    Susannah: I’m feeling complicated about it as usual. So as you said, actually, in the question that we just answered, there is a just war tradition in the Old Testament. There is a kind of sense when they’re talking, not so much about the conquest of Canaan, but other wars, others of Israel’s wars, that there are like both just wars where the criteria would be something like what we recognize in just war theory today, and also just means of conducting wars.

    For me, the question really becomes . . . so just war theory, if you look at it like the strongest steel-man case for it has to do with like responsibility to protect and combined with the role of the state. So if you are the king of a country or you’re the one who has the care of the community, and someone is trying to attack your people and take their land and put them all to the sword, it would be negligent of you to not try to fight back in a parallel way to, if you were the father of a family and someone tried to kill your kid, it would be negligent of you not to fight back. So that’s kind of the steel-mannist position.

    It’s very unclear to me that that is entirely how just war theory . . . there’s also like a lot of people who are into just war theory, who kind of seem to be using it as a way of saying, “We’re Christians but we can still do war so it’s cool.” And that is not the way the just war theory I think ought to, or at its best has been applied. It’s been much more likely, or it’s been sort of thought of and designed to be a limitation on war because, kings and other rulers, as we have seen in America’s recent history, they just kind of like to go to war. It is good for the various kinds of economic growth. It’s good because you can take other people’s stuff. If you can create an outside enemy, it serves as a way to bind your people together. There are all kinds of incentives to go to war.

    Just war theory, one of its jobs I think, is to say most of those reasons, like all of the reasons that I’ve just listed are really bad reasons and you don’t get to go to war because of them. The other aspect of just war theory is... So that’s jus ad bellum, the just reasons to go to war. Jus in bello is sort of just ways of conducting war and this is also a kind of really distinctly... it’s a very different... I’ve had many conversations with Christians, especially sort of Christians who are into “owning the libs,” where when you talk about just war theory, or when you talk about war, they will basically say the purpose of war is to win and there are no rules in war and that’s a naive view. What we need to do in war is win as quickly as possible and destroy the enemy. And we can talk about justice once that is done, because justice has no role in war. Just war theory says, it’s absolutely not true. There are many times in which it is better to lose a war than it is to...In fact, it is always the case that it is better to lose a war than to do injustice, because it was always the case that it is better to do anything than to do injustice. It is better to suffer injustice than to do injustice. And that is very much not the kind of total war vision of, many . . . I guess you could call them ethicists in the 20th century, sort of FDR-style realists or Niebuhrian-style realists, where I think the Second World War was, if you can call any war good, a good war, but there is a kind of realist tradition that comes out of it in American political thought that kind of uses the Nazis as a bootstrap to say, it’s crazy to talk about justice in war because the bad guys are really bad.

    And that leads you to things like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that leads you to things that are absolutely forbidden in the just war tradition. The just war tradition would forbid things like poisoning your enemies’ wells, or salting their fields. And if there’s anything that is like that more than damaging your enemies like DNA so that their children are born with deformities, I can’t imagine what it is like. So, just war theory at its best as a way of limiting both going to war and limiting what you do in war, but it is also a sort of recognition of the obligation of a ruler to protect his people. So yeah, that’s kind of how I would look at it.

    Peter: From the point of view of kind of natural justice, that seems to make a lot of sense especially the dad protecting his kids, like what kind of monster would you be? What kind of complete wuss and failure as a father would you be if you did not protect your kids? So there’s kind of three pieces of it that I’d like to talk about more. And one is the tough thing from my side, right? which is the example of a supposedly just war, like World War II, literally fighting the Nazis, which is sort of the trump card in the back of the mind of many.

    Another one though, is for the Just War people. In the 20th century, I would be interested in your thoughts, Susannah, was there ever a war that Just War theory either prevented or reduced in scope? In other words, is Just War theory in practice such a huge loophole that it actually doesn’t mean anything? The third piece, which I’m saving for last, is to get back to my original question, Augustine who is kind of credited with first starting Christian thinking about Just War theory, he pretty much accepted that Christ’s teaching was of nonviolence at least in personal life.

    The change that he saw was that now Christians are responsible for the empire, now what Jesus said to the disciples in their personal lives when they were a persecuted minority, no longer can just sort of be literalistically applied to us now that we’re bearing responsibility for the commonwealth. And so I would like to talk about whether that distinction between personal life and public office actually makes any sense in real life, at least in Christian terms? But you were going to say something, you were going to say something about whether Just War theory actually is just an enormous loophole. And I should say, I like the Just War theory, like Just War theory is good.

    Susannah: Mm-hmm (affirmative). You heard it from an Anabaptist.

    Peter: Relatively good.

    Susannah: Yeah relatively good. I’m trying to think of I think there are some cases of enemy troops surrendering, where they weren’t immediately massacred in the Second World War and probably in the First World War, but I can sort of think of more in the Second World War. Even the idea of the Nuremberg trials to a certain degree and everything that kind of came out of that, the whole Samuel Moyn human rights tradition that came out of that I think is a kind of like outgrowth of Just War theory.

    Susannah: Part of that was a good pushback against the Nazi philosophy essentially of war, which was an absolute in Nazi political philosophy, which, it was a real thing, Just War theory did not apply. And so there was a kind of conscious, “Let’s not be like the Nazis,” except a lot of times... But it’s very rare. It is very rare for Just War theory to do any good. In general, it serves as a giant loophole. I think the Second World War was a just war, although it’s interesting to sort of look at the reasons that were given for fighting the Second World War. We think of it as to sort of prevent the Holocaust. That was actually not one of the main reasons that people went to war in the Second World War.

    Peter: This is where we’re getting onto difficult and also somewhat speculative territory, but a major thing that people have in mind when they say Just War theory, because World War II, because who else would have prevented the Holocaust, is that the Holocaust was enabled by the fog of war.

    Susannah: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

    Peter: Now, obviously Hitler was doing horrible things to the Jews and the gay people and Roma and all kinds of things long before World War II formally began. But it really was, as far as I understand it, as a matter of historical fact, only in the fog of wartime, that what we think of as the Holocaust was possible.

    Susannah: I mean, I think he would have figured out . . . he was really into doing that. He was really into doing that genocide as much as he could. And I think he would have probably figured out a way to do it, but yeah, it’s certainly the case that war made it easier. And it’s also the case that, that was not one of the major reasons that that Americans at least were given for going to war. Which again, I don’t think that this is a case against the Second World War exactly.

    But again, I also think that the Second World War made me feel like maybe the only just war that I can think of. I certainly do not think that the American Revolutionary War was a just war. That was just very silly.

    Peter: The Civil War.

    Susannah: The Civil War. Again, if that was to free the slaves, that was a really worthy cause, but that is not the reason that people were . . . the South was saying, “This is a war to free the slaves,” and the North including Lincoln were saying, “No, it’s totally not a war to free the slaves. We would never . . . that’s a ridiculous thing. This is a war to save the Union.” I don’t know. It’s an interesting sort of… But it certainly had a good effect. God can bring good out of horrible circumstances.

    Peter: Right. And I guess what I draw from it is two things. I just don’t think World War II and the Civil War are like knockout blows against Christian nonviolence as a tradition, because I think those things as historical phenomena are way more complicated than that. And yes, good things came from World War II. Undoubtedly good things came from World War II and from the Civil War, but also a lot of bad things came from those. And so to use those as kind of rhetorical cudgels, I don’t think works. But there’s also just a level of humility that we have to have regarding the flow of history and what really happens and the disconnect between our intentions and what results, especially in the international and political sphere that I’m not sure that Just War theory really fully takes account of. And there’s this sort of naivety weirdly enough about realism, thinking that what we intend and what we plan will have any relation to what results, that isn’t priced in enough when people talk really confidently about going and getting the bad guys.

    And that was of course, for folks who were around after 9/11, that looms really large in all of our lives. This hubristic overweening confidence that we knew as a nation what needed to be done and that we were the ones to do it, and God was going to bless it, most people were pretty convinced about that. Most Christians were pretty convinced about that.

    Susannah: Meanwhile, my dad was convinced that 9/11 was like the Reichstag fire.

    Peter: In what sense?

    Susannah: In the sense that he thought that the military industrial complex was looking to find a way to restrict civil liberties and just find a war to go to.

    Peter: Well, I think he was absolutely right and I kind of was moving in those circles at the time myself and you could feel an instant chill covering the country in a one of the most freaky ways imaginable.

    Well, we’ve talked a lot about just war. We should probably move on. I should just close by saying, from an Anabaptist point of view much as I’ve been poking holes in just war, I think the Just War theory is a great gift to civilization. If I don’t think it’s a gift to Christianity, I think it’s at least a gift to civilization. It’s good that there are restrictions in a war and we should support those. And even if I might not say, I feel that’s a Christian vision of justice being practiced in just war, I think it’s moving in that direction. And therefore is something that we ought to affirm and actually hold people to account. If they say they’re a just warrior, great fine. Let’s . . .

    Susannah: Let’s stick to just warriors.

    Peter: . . . look at those criteria.

    Susannah: Yeah.

    Digression: We argue about the principle of double effect.

    Susannah: You know what? There is actually one other thing . . . That there’s a kind of steel man that I want to do within my steel man, which is the idea of, okay, the maximalist, a father protecting someone who’s trying to kill his kids. The actual sort of way to think about that if you are deeply committed to nonviolence, at least this is what I would do, is to say that your intention is always going to be to protect your kid. It’s not going to be to kill the other person. Like that’s not the outcome you’re seeking.

    If you do kill the other person, that’s the kind of principle of double effect, which I know you and I have talked about this a little bit and you think that’s a little bit of a cop-out, I think, but it is a little bit parallel to the idea of [a situation like this]:

    If a woman has an ectopic pregnancy and you are trying to save her life, and by saving her life, you remove the ectopic pregnancy. You essentially give her an abortion, traditional kind of Catholic casuistry, which our friend of the pod, Charlie Camosy, would talk about, would say this is actually okay because you’re not intending to kill the baby. You’re intending to save the woman’s life and the only way to do that, like the side effect of doing that is that the baby ends up dead, which I wrestle with that. I think that’s actually right. It’s called the principle of double effect.

    But a parallel thing could be made, a parallel case could be made both for protecting a child, and much more complicatedly, for protecting a country, where you really, really want ideally the enemy army to just go away and you’re going to do everything that you can to get them to go away and you might accidentally end up killing them. But that just starts to seem a little bit farfetched.

    Peter: Right. So, okay, let’s climb into it. Double effect, right? Catholics love it, Anabaptist hate it, but actually, there’s a level on which it’s just common sense, right?

    So, random guy is attacking one of my kids. I get involved as a super- nonviolent-talking Anabaptist podcaster. I nevertheless get into a fistfight with him or push him or something, and he falls down and breaks his neck, right? I didn’t intend to kill him. I was just trying to get him to stop attacking my kid. I would feel bad, but I don’t think I would feel guilty, and that’s fine to me.

    But there has to be a limiting factor, which I don’t think some of your double-effect-loving Catholics quite get. Because that works for me intuitively in a way that doesn’t if I’m pointing a gun at a soldier across the trench and pulling the trigger, blowing his head off -- “but I don’t intend it because what I really intend is to serve my country.” That there, I call BS. There has to be an outer limiting thing to that, otherwise you can “double effect” anything.

    Where this was really illustrated to me is a scholar who I’m actually quite fond of, Nigel Biggar, over in the UK wrote a book on Just War theory defending it against wussy pacifists like me a number of years ago. And he actually managed to defend the Battle of the Somme where tens of thousands of people are slaughtered for no reason as a legitimate illustration of Just War theory criteria all being fulfilled and of double effect absolving anybody who did any atrocity or killing in that horrible slaughterhouse of personal guilt. And I think that if double effect and Just War theory lets you excuse the Battle of the Somme, then I think you have to go back to the drawing board and ask yourself: Is that really what Jesus is talking about anywhere in the Gospels? Because we’re talking about Christianity here, not about some disembodied form of international ethics.

    Susannah: Agreed.

    Question 4: Should people of faith live as a creative minority? Can you talk about constructive resilience?

    Peter: Okay. So I’ve done my rant. Now let’s move to Niaz Khadem. What is constructive resilience? How does it work? What are creative minorities? How do they work? And I think he actually threw in a question about Baháʼí community in Iran.

    Susannah: This is you.

    Peter: Did you see that?

    Susannah: This is all you. Yes, I did.

    Peter: Yeah, he did. This is on Twitter.

    Susannah: Yeah, I saw that. And you said, “Susannah, I got this and I will let you get this.”

    Peter: Okay.

    Susannah: I mean, I have some creative-minorities ideas, but . . .

    Peter: So creative minorities. I mean the best answer to how creative minorities work I think is to look at Judaism, right?

    Susannah: My people.

    Peter: The Jewish people over the last millennia since God called Abraham, and actually, Lord Rabbi Sacks gave an address at the Erasmus Lecture the First Things magazine puts on every year a number of years ago, I think entitled “On Creative Minorities.” We’ll drop a link into the notes on this to that, where he goes into this with great eloquence. What is the role of a creative minority and what do they contribute to the wider society? And why is it important that there are creative minorities? Why is it important that we not sort of universalize everything, but that it’s okay for there to be a called people called to do certain things.

    I think that actually applies to the question of violence and nonviolence. I think it’s okay for there to be a called group of Christians who do not assume responsibility for the commonwealth, who contribute to its good by praying for the empire, by reminding the state of its duties and obligations and its limits, but don’t actually feel like they need to keep the barbarians from the gates.

    So how does it work? I mean, again, right, isn’t the key example the Jewish people over the years? How does it work that that gets passed on from generation to generation in a way that, for instance, American Christianity, isn’t doing very good at just now?

    Susannah: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense and now I see the connection. And the way that I would think of it is the other sort of key example is . . . so there’s, man, there’s two kind of things here. One is that we have this . . . there is such a thing as a universal ethic, and Jesus does call us to a universal ethic, and there is also a kind of universal natural law. At the same time, different people have different roles. And even within the sort of counsels of perfection, at various points, St. Paul seems to be saying . . .

    Peter: Bleh! “Counsels of perfection” is not a biblical term.

    Susannah: I know. Sorry. I’m going to get into so much trouble with the Anabaptists right now, which I don’t know what happens when you get into trouble with the Anabaptists. They just, they make frowny faces at you.

    Peter: They nonviolently shake their finger at you I guess, or something.

    Susannah: They just . . . yeah, I guess. You guys aren’t even that into shunning, so I don’t know.

    Peter: We could apply that.

    Susannah: Plus I owe you too many edits on things. Don’t shun me. I like your wife’s cookies too much. Anyway, so one version of creative minorities within Christianity other than Anabaptists are people like monks and nuns, so, people who are called to embody the life of the kingdom to a greater degree. And I know that this is also getting me in trouble with Anabaptists, but in for a penny, in for a pound, so I’m fine with that.

    But it’s also just a kind of interesting question because there is this, looking at the history of the Jews and looking at the way that God works in cultures, in world-culture, large-scale, there’s that wonderful C. S. Lewis quote that I was just rereading. I reread it on the Annunciation actually, because he talks about how we have this desire and instinct for a kind of democratic and flat vision of how we ought to live. And so the idea of a chosen people is deeply offensive to us. But, that is not how God seems to work. God actually does seem to call specific people for specific purposes, call specific groups for specific purposes. And you could kind of make the argument that the ultimate creative minority is Mary, in the sense that she’s the one who finally gets picked, gets tagged to carry this active co-creation of the second person of the Trinity into existence, which is a super probably heretical or a semi-heretical way to put it. And you know what I mean. I’m not being heretical.

    But yeah, that is a really interesting kind of connection to nonviolence. And I definitely think I regard the Bruderhof as kind of called in the way that various orders, religious orders are called to live the life of the kingdom to a greater degree and kind of be gadflies in our heads to make us all think that maybe we should be doing this too.

    Peter: Okay. So yeah. Yeah. So I accept that halfway and I’m not happy with it either, but Niaz Khadem’s question is wonderful and I do recommend Rabbi Sacks’s piece, and this would be a great thing to talk about more deeply, maybe in its own episode once. We do have one more question about punishment and retribution, but I don’t think we can get to it right now and we need to get to our intermezzo, Susannah.

    Susannah: That’s true. Yeah, there are some other good questions here though. There’s the punishment one, there’s the kingdom building one. Okay.

    Peter: So thanks to everyone for your questions and we will maybe turn them into their own podcast episode some other time.

    Intermezzo: The Plough Social World

    Peter: So as usual, in the middle of our podcast before we get to our second topic, which is going to be our takeaways and what we learned and what we didn’t learn over the last six episodes, we talk about what’s going on in our communities. I talk about the Bruderhof community where I live, and then Susannah will talk about the wider Plough community. Right now, it’s a really exciting time in the Bruderhof because we’re in the middle of a special sort of moment with our beer brewing, where we move from winter beers to summer beers. And my friend, Darrell Arnold, in the Woodcrest community, who is one of our chief beer brewers, kind of does a specialty beer to go with different seasons of the year.

    So we had, for the maple sapping season, we had a Rauchbier, a smoked beer, that was kind of based on the smoked beers where you actually smoke the malt before you make the beer. It’s from the sort of Franconian area around Nuremberg in Germany. They make some really good ones. And so we had that for maple sapping season, which is just wonderful. And it has a tang to it. So that’s a sort of recommendation. I think you can get some in stores around here. They’re kind of hard to find.

    But then we went to a bourbon porter where you actually dump Wild Turkey into the beer just as we were closing out the cold season, and that was to celebrate actually that we have a new community in Tennessee. We just bought a big college campus called Hiwassee. It used to be a Methodist college and we’re starting a new community there. And so we had to make a bourbon-based porter.

    And we’re finally moving now into striped bass season here in New York. The striped bass are coming up the Hudson and following the herring. We do a lot of that [fishing] in the next couple of months. And so there was a striper beer, “Striper Smash.” Striped bass fishing involves a lot of sitting by your fishing rod watching the herring swimming around and waiting to be eaten by a striped bass. And so there’s time for beer and there’s a really great, powerful IPA to kind of help you while away the hours. So that’s kind of what we’re doing now.

    Susannah: All right. So my sort of catch up from the social world of Plough in New York is, well, A, I went to an Easter, like a physical Easter service, and I cannot tell you how this is like the second time I’ve taken communion in fifteen months basically, and that was just incredible. And then seeing all . . . I go to a church called Emmanuel Anglican, which normally meets on West 11th Street, but we sort of haven’t been able to, so we were meeting on East 34th Street in this Armenian Evangelical church which had an organ and the music director was playing the organ. And you could feel the air vibrating around you. And I kept touching the wood of the pews, like it’s real physical wood.

    And then we kind of went into . . . we didn’t really care and we were hugging each other. And I highly recommend the physical world and interacting with your friends in the physical world and singing in the physical world. It’s a lot better than Zoom.

    So then after that, we actually . . . that was Easter Vigil. So then Easter Sunday, I met up with a group of friends on the terrace of The Lambs Club, which is this theatrical club that kind of a lot of us belong to. And the terrace is this wonderful kind of . . . it’s right across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and you can just look at the cathedral and drink prosecco, and that was wonderful. And we actually were discussing Bruderhof. We kind of developed this . . . I think Dhananjay [Jagannathan, a Plough contributor] suggested that there be such a thing as “Bruderhops” as a beer name. And I think that that already exists.

    Peter: Yeah. And I have this lifelong dream. When I’m kind of old and useless, I think it would be really cool to start the “The Bruderhops” pub down somewhere around there in Manhattan.

    Susannah: Yeah. We’ve discussed this before. I am very much in favor of that. And there’s also just “Brewderhof.” There’s so many annoying wordplay things that you can do here.

    Peter: Yeah, yeah. That’s really eye-rolling.

    Takeaways: What did we learn over the past six episodes of this podcast?

    Peter: We’re going to talk about our key takeaways and what we’re left with and what we learned. Susannah, I think it’s only fair for you to start since I’ve been fronting the Anabaptist thing for so long today.

    Susannah: You’ve been ranting. One of the things that this has made me think about is one thing that living with principled nonviolence makes you do is it makes you consider what to do with the parts of ourselves that in a good way like fighting. So essentially, what to do with our thymotic or spirited natures.

    And that’s a question that every Christian has to ask themselves because we are going to be living as embodied creatures in the New Jerusalem with fulfilled human natures. And if that kind of combative or spirited part of ourselves, is part of ourselves that God built in, which I think it is and is good, can we picture how that would be fulfilled in a world without war, which we are eventually going to live in. We are going to live in, thank God, a world without war, and we are also going to live in a world where no part of our self is thwarted.

    And I think for men and women, maybe especially for men, that is part of themselves. And I’m not sure I totally have answers, but I actually think that Eberhard Arnold’s writing, one of the reasons that I like it so much is that it seems to me to honor and address that part of humans while maintaining a pacifist, a nonviolent stance, which is not the case with all pacifism. A lot of pacifism strikes me as just not liking human nature or not liking . . . It just, it feels wimpy, and Arnold does not feel wimpy to me.

    And so that is one of my takeaways. There also are lots of . . . I’d love to hear your takeaways, but I also have lots of unanswered questions, including questions that have kind of come up for me.

    Peter: Yeah, I guess that was one of my takeaways too, is that all of us, whether we’re committed to sort of Anabaptist-style nonviolence or not don’t take seriously enough the scripture’s language of spiritual warfare. And it’s interesting to me, even in the peaceable kingdom, it seems to me there’ll be fights to fight, right? There’ll be fights to fight. We don’t know, but the book of Revelation certainly indicates . . .

    Susannah: The book of Revelation.

    Peter: . . . the kind of thing that we’re signed up for. And so I don’t think all adventure comes to an end. Yes, we get to be under our own vine and fig tree, but probably that’ll still involve getting up and going off to join the battle of the kingdom somehow. So I think embracing and re-understanding and becoming excited again about the fact that we actually are in a war, but our fight is against powers and principalities, not against human beings is one thing I take out of this. Christian nonviolence isn’t just about having peaceful feelings. And actually, of course, you look at Jesus, and he was not like that at all. He was pretty harsh, he got mad. He was tough on people, reading the Easter story, his confrontations with first Caiaphas and then Pilot, he’s hard. And so there’s something in that spiritual battle that I think we all need to recapture and think about.

    So takeaways, unanswered questions. I mean, I haven’t obviously changed my sort of Anabaptist convictions, but I think over the last six episodes, I definitely have a greater appreciation for the just-war tradition in Christianity. And I’m kind of left with a bunch of stuff I’d like to chew over with people from there. And I think we’ve touched on some of those unanswered questions in our discussion today. But speaking of Jesus’ example, and the way he was very tough and is tough with people, does bring me to the question of speech and violence. And that’s one thing we actually never talked about really in our podcasts. So can speech be violence? And it’s kind of hilarious because a friend of mine was just having a go around about Christian nonviolence with a Lutheran, and this was in a German sort of Anabaptist magazine, and the Lutheran turned around and accused him of being verbally violent for pushing him so hard on nonviolence.

    Susannah: Oh boy.

    Peter: And said it was a form of violence to question the commitment to violence by other Christians, by making them feel uncomfortable that they were okay with certain kinds of violence.

    Susannah: I’m not sure that guy could have really thrived in the sixteenth century.

    Peter: No, not well.

    Susannah: Yeah. So one of the ways that I . . . I have two opposite feelings about this, one is that we really need to be less thin-skinned and we really need to find ways to be okay with verbal combat. But also that means that there need to be, not every place is a place for verbal combat. Not every social situation is equally appropriate for verbal combat.

    Peter: There needs to be a Just War theory for verbal combat.

    Susannah: There needs to be a Just War theory for verbal combat. And one of the principles needs to be, we shouldn’t regard the whole world as one flat place where we get to go through the whole world and never be challenged. There are differences in temperament. From what I have seen, guys tend to like to duke it out verbally, as well as physically, sometimes in ways that I’m not always comfortable with. I also kind of sometimes like to duke it out verbally and get irritated with a more accommodating or verbally nice, maybe we’re all right in different ways approach, but that depends on mood.

    I think that the idea of language as violence, we do need to kind of have a basic sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me stance. At the same time, we need to recognize that again, thinking about say seventh-grade boys and seventh-grade girls. Seventh-grade boys tend to kick each other, seventh-grade girls tend to be catty and obnoxious and talk behind each other’s backs and say things that rankle in the mind for the next twenty years. And that’s not cool. There is such a thing as verbal violence, we might call it something different, don’t take speech is not violence to mean you can say whatever you want and that’s cool. But at the same time, speech is not violent.

    Peter: Yeah. I mean, I thought about this in the context of course, this whole discussion about wokeness and cancel culture and can speech be violent? And if you go back to the gospels, you kind of see two apparently contradictory things. On the one hand, Jesus, warrants very strongly. He says, if you call your brother a fool, you’re liable to judgment. Turn the page, and he’s calling the Pharisees, a “brood of vipers who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” So much depends on intention. Also, I think on the power dynamics involved in a conversation. If you call somebody who’s struggling an idiot, and really mean to harm and put them down, that is a form, violence, this is a word game, right? Is that bad? Yes, it’s bad. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t really get into it with somebody and speak the truth harshly sometimes. And I wonder, are there lessons from that that we could apply to this “speech is violence” debate today, which often seems to get just silly on both sides.

    Susannah: I mean, in general, I think that one should seek to be courteous as much as possible. It is good to have good manners. And the purpose of good manners is to make other people feel comfortable, which is why it’s never good manners to point out someone else’s bad manners, which is the second thing I ever learned about manners. And so that’s good. It’s good to, not to be a civility person, but civility is good, and courtesy is good. And a gentle answer turns away wrath. And in general, that is the way that we should approach things. We should not seek to be abrasive or combative verbally or to make other people feel like crap. But, contending for the truth verbally is important and sort of candid speech in the Oliver O’Donovan sense is a duty that we have to each other in public.

    Peter: And in private.

    Susannah: And in private. And what Jesus did, Jesus did not sin. He never sinned. And therefore his modes of speech as really brutal as they frequently were, were not sins. On the other hand, we’re not Jesus, and we kind of I think in various moods . . . tend to have an excuse to be polemical and to essentially pull an “you brood of vipers” or are you “whited sepulchers,” not people. So I don’t know. I think this is a matter of wisdom, and there’s not a single answer. And this is one of these things where sometimes acting one way is right. And sometimes acting that way is wrong. And you need to have wisdom to figure out how to act and what to say.

    Peter: So in our communities there’s a saying, I’m not sure exactly where it’s from that “love without truth lies and truth without love kills.” And that’s certainly true in interpersonal relationships in the community where truth is needed, but truth can be deadly if it’s spoken without love. And that’s perhaps the solution to, I think we just solved the “speech-is-violence” problem.

    Susannah: Yeah, we fixed it.


    Peter: Well that concludes our six episodes on violence and nonviolence. And at the end, of course, we always give some recommendations, and we wouldn’t want to skip that this time. Susannah, do you have a recommendation?

    Susannah: I do have recommendations. So I actually have two, one is a new podcast called “Stet” by Barbara McClay and Clare Coffey.

    Peter: Oh that sounds good.

    Susannah: Yeah. They are two of my favorite people, and they are doing a podcast together. They’ve been friends for years, and this is going to be extremely entertaining. So just look at it, you can find it wherever you find podcasts. I think they’re pretty much everywhere. It’s called S-T-E-T, which is an editorial term, meaning “let stand as is.” And then, also, I want to recommend Dorothy Dunnett’s The House of Niccolò series. So I’m on the second book right now. It’s called The Spring of the Ram. The first one was called . . . I forgot what the first one is called. But it’s this wonderful kind of incredibly well-researched series about essentially a Renaissance business family, and a Renaissance meditator type figure. And the Renaissance world that it describes, and this kind of incredibly interconnected strangely modern seeming world is just delicious. So Dorothy Dunnett, D-U-N-N-E-T, and The House of Niccolò. So we will drop links to both of those things in the show notes. Pete, what are your recommendations?

    Peter: Well I have one, and it’s kind of related to the season. So it’s wild swimming. It’s a tradition in our family going back to when I was a kid. Go out into the woods somewhere, find a wild body of water, and go swimming while it’s really cold. We used to always do it around the Easter weekend, and our family still did it over the Easter weekend. And it was really, really cold. But talk about ways to kind of get in touch with nature and just powers of self-mastery. It’s really wonderful, creates great memories. And it’s just a great way to just walk through the woods and look at the birds and realize that you’re going to feel a lot better after you jumped into the water than you did before. Well with that, we’ll conclude. Perhaps that falls under the category of self-inflicted violence.

    Susannah: You said it, not me.

    Peter: Do stay subscribed to our podcast. There’ll be Plough Reads coming every week from now until when we launch our next issue on nature; Creatures: The Nature Issue, and we’ll be doing another round of six podcasts then. So talk to you then. Goodbye.

    Susannah: Goodbye.

    Contributed By portrait of Peter Mommsen Peter Mommsen

    Peter Mommsen is editor of Plough Quarterly magazine. He lives in upstate New York with his wife, Wilma, and their three children.

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    Contributed By portrait of Susannah Black Roberts Susannah Black Roberts

    Susannah Black Roberts is a senior editor of Plough.

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