A new, nonviolent Christianity is breaking forth on the native soil of the U.S. Nonviolent both in practice and intrinsic theology. It will shine out like apple blossom in May!
Why is it possible to say this? Because there is no other place on earth so equally soaked in violence and the writings of the New Testament! The future here has nowhere to go, except more of one or the other, and probably of both. In biblical-historical terms, the Spirit of God chooses specific moments for aspects of God's work to come to clarity; and we are here in one of them. The present moment constitutes a "great emergence", as Phyllis Tickle calls it, a five-hundred year shake-up. I'm also claiming that it takes shape not simply as a style or sensibility, but specifically in terms of a theology of nonviolence. It will have its own authentic ecclesial expression, and it will renew the ancient churches.
The present near impossibility of US politics is one pointer. The extreme ideological divide around the nature of freedom, of humanity, of the U.S. constitution, results in gridlock in Washington, interspersed with wars of choice and endless extra-judicial drone-killings of those who are counted guilty simply by the fact they're killed. The resulting situation is spiritually toxic at a critical level, whether people think about it or not. Anyone who takes Christianity seriously is driven to a new searching of scripture, simply to detox.
Another indicator is the guns. The romance of the gun in the U.S. has morphed into a monster. The power of automatic weapons puts the immense sanction of the state into the hands of individuals, deciding in an instant the final rights and character of human existence. By means of the gun the trope of the individual has advanced to a twisted Augustinian god: sole, self-justifying, beyond appeal. It is now a spiritual disease which can only be cast out by seeking the more powerful nonviolence of Jesus.
A positive indicator is the stirring of the evangelical churches. The emergent and missional movement is out there looking for its soul. Theologians like Brian McClaren and Rob Bell push in the direction of nonviolence, but a conscious theology has not fully percolated to become a core evangelical theme.
What is world-changing and dangerous and essentially Christian is nonretaliation, and love and forgiveness of enemies. Nonviolence arises from Christianity's deepest self, from the deepest self of the Crucified and Risen One. And it amounts to the new humanity, which is the eschatological plan and in-breaking of God.
Christian faith now is nothing less than this, and it can be learned only in a face-to-face group continually rehearsing the nonviolence of the Gospel as both teaching and life. At the same time it can affect and change the established churches--but only along this route.
Real evolution only takes place at the level of the cell, the single, small cell. Organisms as such cannot evolve. New organisms arise because of the new, transformative cell. This is true at both the biological and ecclesial levels. However, it may also be true, in a framework of social evolution, that established organizations can mimic and change under the influence of new ones. This is Tickle's point: the Counter Reformation among Roman Catholics imitated the Reform of Protestantism. But first there must be the new cells!
And today these cells of a new Christian humanity are indeed emerging and once they come fully to light the ancient churches may learn this new meaning--of their traditional existence!
The apple blossom can be seen! The voice of the dove is heard in the land!
Tony Bartlett, Contributing Theologian