ch. 8, a long form book response to Disarming Scripture by Derek Flood

Derek Flood has written an excellent book explaining the issues I covered in my blog series this past autumn. My series is titled "Not everything Biblical is Christian." His book is titled Disarming Scripture. Cherry-picking liberals, violence-loving conservatives, and why we all need to learn to read the Bible like Jesus did. It is certainly a mouthful, but his examples are better than mine and deserve a thorough treatment here. Flood's book is ten chapters long and I intend to speak about each chapter in separate blog posts. I heartily recommend this book for the thinking Christian.

Chapter 8 is titled, "A practical guide to enemy love." In it Flood defends the Anabaptist vision for peace, but seeks to clarify that pacifism is not a commitment to inaction but action to end suffering. Those who think inaction is always the way to respond are victims of their own unquestioning obedience. Those who go down this route cannot find in themselves a way to counsel women to leave abusive marriages. There is another way. "Jesus cares for us and is not calling us to passivity or irresponsibility. Enemy love is about ending suffering, not validating it." p. 177 The challenge Flood sees as a follower of Jesus is how to do this without violence.  Part of this reorientation involves "renewing our minds" and preparing ourselves with understanding, not just of doctrine but of biology.

Here is a paragraph of golden doctrine.
Jesus begins with the call to "love our neighbor as we love ourselves," and then pushes us to expand our definition of "neighbor" to encompass those we would normally reject and shut out. Love of enemies challenges us to enlarge the border of inclusion beyond its normal boundaries of family, tribe, and nation to include those we would regard as unworthy and enemies. In the relational perspective of Jesus, there is no "them," there is only "us." p. 180
I think this is just one of many ways to arrive at this conclusion. I came to a similar place as I meditated on the forgiveness section of the Lord's prayer. Jesus' model prayer says "Forgive us our sins..." Those plural nouns can change our perspective, similar to Flood's. There is no "I" or "me" in that prayer, just us and our and your. When I pray the Lord's prayer, when I ask God to forgive us our sins, I am asking God to forgive my sins, my kids' sins, my literal neighbor's sins, my fellow church members' sins, my co-workers' sins, my nation's sins, and my enemy's sins. When I pray that prayer, I ask for God's mercy for all of us. There is no them, only us.

The doctrinal stance I love. The science part intrigues me but I am always suspect of Christian authors using current science to support theology. I am not disagreeing with it, but as a scientist myself, I know research constantly shifts theories, especially in the extremely complex area of neuroscience. He presents the research on the amygdala, the primitive section of the brain, takes over the prefrontal cortex, the advanced/social section when we feel threatened. "When we feel threatened or triggered, the compassionate and social part of our brain literally gets shut down." p. 182 Thus the necessary "renewing of our minds" which will enable us to respond in love when we are threatened is a retraining to overcome our instincts.

He points to the success of a program in the San Francisco Sheriff's Department called Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP) as an example of how rewiring can work. This is from their home page.
The mission of the San Francisco Sheriffs Department's Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP) is to bring together all those harmed by crime, including victims, communities, and offenders. RSVP is driven by victim restoration, offender accountability, and community involvement.
Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP) recognizes that violence hurts victims, communities, and offenders and creates an obligation to make things right. Based on a restorative justice model, the program aims to accomplish the following:
  1. Centralize victims' needs, giving survivors primacy in the development of RSVP, while empowering victims to restore themselves, their families, and their communities as they make the transition from being victims to becoming survivors and advocates.
  2. Hold offenders accountable for their violence, focusing on redefining and restructuring their male-role belief system and on repairing the harm caused to their victims and communities.
  3. Mobilize community involvement to support victim restoration, reduce offender recidivism, create opportunities for restoration, and prevent further violence.
Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP) has proven successful in reducing violent crime and has resulted in a reduction in recidivism of up to 80% in San Francisco, CA. RSVP has been recognized with numerous honors and is a winner of the 2004 Innovations in American Government Award.
Imagine if our culture chose to prioritize restoring criminals and their victims instead of punishment, which does not work based on recidivism rates.

As an aside, the practice of meditation/mindfulness, even of the secular variety also can help the brain strengthen its social section, improving tolerance, and reducing irritability/ social reactivity. I listened to a fascinating discussion on that topic by a couple Christians on the Liturgists podcast, Episode 14. I have been using mindfulness practices since the beginning of the year and have found them helpful. I have also found the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises a helpful supplement as well.

Flood provides several examples of how non-violent means like RSVP have been successful in the wild. Usually they are longer and more complex than the response of violence, but usually the issues that come up are complex and have long histories as well.


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