In my previous post I spoke about the phrase ‘dislocated exegesis.’ I can think of no one who is a better ‘dislocated exegete’ than Bob Ekblad. I first became acquainted with Ekblad’s work when I read his fine book Reading The Bible With The Damned. I strongly recommend this book. Ekblad has a unique voice in the theological world because, well, his theology has legs. While he teaches at places like Seattle School of Theology and Psychology and Westminster Theological Center (UK), most of the theology you find in his books does not stem from school but from jail. A lot of the framework for his theology seems to come from his ministry with migrant workers and the Bible studies he holds with prisoners. There are a lot of theologians who write about ‘the powers,’ and the liberation from these powers, but Ekblad actually confronts them. One of the ways that he has helped me is by revealing the damage done by reading the Bible through the lenses of “moralism” and “heroism.”1 Once these mental barriers are broken, the news becomes good news to the damned in our society and to us, if we are able to accept it.
His next book, A New Christian Manifesto: Pledging Allegiance To The Kingdom of God, came as a bit of a shock to me. While it contained much of what I expected in terms of liberation theology, it also contained a biographical telling of how the Toronto Blessing had impacted the author. I was a little skeptical about all of this but so, apparently, was Ekblad. Regardless, God did something unique in him there and he sensed a challenge to not only bring liberation through teaching/preaching, but through the power of the Spirit. He explains the expanding focus of his ministry (Tierra Nueva) in the introduction:
“Our original ministry, which grew to include social prophetic advocacy, human rights, academic study of the Bible, contextual Bible study, pastoral counseling, and contemplative prayer, is being enriched by profound cross-pollination with the charismatic renewal movement with its focus on worship, empowerment by the Holy Spirit, inner and physical healing, deliverance, and prophetic ministry.”2
This brings me to his most recent book The Beautiful Gate: Enter Jesus’ Global Liberation Movement, and to the phrase I want to explore. Here Ekblad coins the phrase “militant ‘violent’ non-violence.”3 I was intrigued by this phrase and have been mulling it over. He only wrote two pages or so on this and I wish he had expanded his thought a bit further. Still, what he wrote really resonated.
Sometimes people ask me if I’m a pacifist. I don’t know how to answer. In a sense yes because, like a pacifist, I am against violence as a means to peace. But it is also problematic for me to self-identify as a pacifist mainly because of the word pacifism itself. As theologian Stanley Hauerwas often points out, the word pacifism sounds passive. The non-violence of Jesus is anything but passive. In the sermon on the mount, for example, turning the other cheek should never be understood as passive. Quite the opposite. If someone hits you and you turn and run, you a coward. If you hit back, you are simply a mirror image of your enemy. To offer your other cheek, however, is an action meant to do something. You will hear a lot of this kind of thing from people who speak or write about the non-violence of Jesus. But is this enough in a time when people are beheading christians and posting it on the internet? Is it enough when black men are being killed on our own streets? Here is where Ekblad offers a unique and, I believe, important perspective. First, he strongly endorses the non-violence of Jesus:
“In the Gospel accounts, you will find no place where Jesus himself kills or harms anyone, including his Jewish enemies and the Roman occupiers of Palestine. Jesus never calls on others to exercise violence against human beings or legitimates appropriate defense of the homeland. Not even once!”4
But Ekblad’s next move is interesting. He doesn’t simply point out absence of violence in Jesus but points to a different, and almost violent, type of non-violence. He writes:
“At the same time, Jesus identified and mercilessly attacked the invisible predatory powers that occupied human beings and institutions he encountered: evil spirits, sickness, legalism, superiority, discrimination, religious spirits, death, and other forces (Eph. 6:12)…Jesus invades territory occupied by the ruler of this world (John 12:31), destroying his works (1 John 3:85).”
The non-violent Jesus was not passive. He boldly confronted “the powers” and did so with power. It is popular in theological circles to chalk up talk about the devil to the metaphor. It’s easiest, of course, to do this if you are a white male theologian writing from the comforts of your ivy league school. The problem, though, is that you can’t cast out a metaphor. There is a pervasive and real evil presence that is working not only in individuals, but also through and beneath institutions of power. I believe that Christians must take seriously Jesus’ demonstration and instruction of living non-violently in a violent world. Still, we must confront the violence with the power and authority that Jesus told us he has given us.6 While we refuse to engage in war on the enemies terms (violence), we, on the one hand, exercise the power of cross-bearing while, on the other hand, powerfully confront the evils at work in this world by the power and authority of Jesus. I think this is what Ekblad is after with his phrase “militant ‘violent’ non-violence.” This has really been challenging me and I imagine will continue to challenge me in the days to come.
1 See chapter 1 of his fine book Reading The Bible With The Damned (pp. 2-3 specifically).
2 Bob Ekblad, A New Christian Manifesto: Pledging Allegiance To The Kingdom Of God. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. 2008). p. 8
3 Bob Ekblad, The Beautiful Gate: Enter Jesus’ Global Liberation Movement. (Burlington: The People’s Seminary Press, 2017) p. 106
4 Ekblad, The Beautiful Gate p. 107
6 Matt 10:1; Mark 3:5; Luke 10:19