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George Elerick

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Love is Violent

Posted: 11/16/11 01:03 PM ET

We have this peculiar practice in the West, we willingly participate in groups that emulate the very narratives we ourselves subscribe to. If we believe that all animals should be treated equally (not merely within their own classification) with humans then we might join a local or international focus group that commits itself to fighting for the rights of those animals. If we believe in community development and want to enact change in a positive sense in our local context, we might join the local Lion's Club and so on. It has been overstated, that we are tribal people, it has been assumed that bird of a feather flock together, but what if this not what is true of our ontology but rather something we have agreed to?

What if birds of a feather don't alway flock together? What if we aren't hardwired to be tribal, but rather we have been taught we should be? It isn't that being in community is counter-productive toward identity formation but rather the ideology that encompasses it along with the violence of marginalization does seem to be inherent in the act of consummation. When we attempt to fully consume the 'other,' otherwise known as evangelism, we do not allow space for the other to offer themselves to any cause. Because ultimately what is being asked is that this person must become something other than themselves before they have some sort of acknowledged value for the rest of the perceived group. And so what is occurring is not acceptance, but merely a guise of acceptance.

This very ideology seems to be the exact structure that has inspired the current landscape of evangelism within Christendom. In fact, one of the children of evangelism is an all-too important institution that seems to have similar characteristics to another perverse system currently under fire globally -- the obscene yet hidden face of capitalism -- currently being unmasked as the system that thinks for us. This is the same for missions, not simply in the reception of it, but also in the purveyance of it. What it promises is to give the receiver something that will enhance its essence, but only if received, thereby creating a sense of identity through acceptance, but then does not account for those who reject it, which in turn creates a marginalized mass of nameless faces who some think will forever be separated from God.

The assumption then becomes that those who don't accept this special message either have no identity or value, which seems violently counter to the message it espouses itself to. The other violence inherent with such a tribal ideology is the claim that sharing the gospel is done in love. But, I think this is where the ideological assumptions fall flat, because love is not present in such tactics, especially the kind of love that emerges from the gospel narratives. If evangelism is the mark of a Christian and the act must be compelled by love, then there are no followers but rather only adherents. No love is present. Love embraces the other as the other, and does not consume it.

The word for love in the Bible is from the Greek word "agape," which is defined as death to the self, or the ego. This is a death to the "I" we use in explaining to others who we are. For example, when we say: I am a Christian, or I am a janitor or I like movies and so on, we are aligning the essence of ourselves to that object. We in turn become the object itself. This is counter to the love spoken of by Paul, which denies not only objectivity, but everything that "I" stands for -- yes, even one's own religious inclinations. This kind of love is violent. It also sees everyone as valuable, not as a commodity to be purchased -- therefore it is a meager kind of love that resists value-driven understanding. It eradicates systems that mediate and define us, this is the core message of the Christian faith, is it not? That we let go of everything and follow after Jesus.

But let's not be naive, to follow Jesus does not mean we go to church (where more identity occurs: i.e., the speaker proclaims through a sermon what a christian should look like), or pay out more money to charities, or sing more songs that promise spiritual jouissance. But rather, Church is about letting it go. Love is about violence, dying to ourselves for the benefit of the other....

 
 
 

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