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Why I wouldn't punch a Nazi
“Should a Christian punch a Nazi?”
That’s the question I asked my cell last night to get our dialogue going. It’s origin comes from the now infamous suckerpunch the anarchist (presumably) protester delivered to Richard Spencer, the leader of the neo-fascist alt-right movement.
I don’t recommend watching this video, but if you do you’ll see how the alt-right leader’s rhetoric is infuriating to anyone who takes Paul’s words seriously in Galatians 3:28. Spencer and his movement take all the bad stuff from identity politics and make it worse. It’s frightening and enraging.
These guys have been getting attention since their movement supported Trump, a nationalist himself. To be honest, the aforementioned propaganda video and Trump’s inaugural addressee were equally frightening and horrifying for same reasons. “America first,” is feeling more and more like hate speech. Check out this idolatrous section of the new President’s speech:
"At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice."
“Total allegiance” sounds very nationalistic to me and declaring our love for the U.S. is not a recipe for overcoming prejudice, just unifying the empired caste under one flag. Trump is trying to nationalize the globalized one percent (hence his executive order for the U.S. to withdraw from the TPP), not bring about unity. He is not trying to bond the world, as is evident by his latest border and immigration security measures.
These nationalistic actions are unfortunately not unlike the explicit racism of Spencer. And they are worth some rage.
So what do we with our anger? Last week, we had a few options—and many of Circle of Hope’s people engaged in marches and protests. I heard that our representation at the Women’s March was moving. The violence that erupted in Washington, resulting in the burning of a Muslim immigrant’s limo, is understandable, but in my opinion, not justifiable.
Liberal democracy doesn't offer us the avenues for the kind of transformation we need. So I understand frustration with lack of options. I prefer not to use the tool that the state has a monopoly over, that is, violence, and instead try to transform it. Violence is redundant and reciprocal; the means need to be as transformative as the ends.
The Way of Jesus is a different way of doing things. It begins with the basic command to love God and love others, the two commandments with which Jesus summarizes the entire Old Testament law. The Old and New Testament are littered with calls for nonviolence. Even King David’s violence is rebuked by God, so that he can’t even be assigned to build the Temple. Peter’s call to Christians is simple: do not return insult for insult. Jesus even says if you have anger in your heart, you’ve committed murder. The enemy love that saturates the Sermon on the Mount culminates with “turning the other cheek.”
That begins some of the theological reasoning for why I wouldn’t punch Spencer. I don’t know the person who punched him, so I’m not judging his or her actions—I’m just starting with myself. I begin with Jesus and the Bible.
In terms of political theory, though, I think violence begets more violence. I think the U.S.’s colossal punch to the real Nazis in World War II resulted in an extreme arms race, unlike anything the world ever seen before while also empowering a horrific dictator in Joseph Stalin (not to mention two atomic bombs set up on towns in Japan).
Even at a micro level, I believe that this video gave Spencer too much attention. It may have placated some frustrated activists, who were satisfied to see such a deplorable man punched, but it doesn’t help the movement of love. And it makes the alt-right victims of violence. Check out Milo’s response (another reprehensible person, in my opinion) to the left.
Which brings me to my final point. The one thing I respect about the anger and outrage and even violence against hateful people is that it makes it clear that there is a “wrong” and a “right” here. Jesus draws the line in the sand too, never hesitated to separate the sheep and the goat. But using violence makes us guilty too. The liberal notion of tolerance, an important part of bourgeoisie democracies, does not allow for the kind of judgment that Jesus makes. It is a postmodern response, where “all sides” must be considered and heard. I don’t think Jesus lives in a democracy. I think he brings His kingdom where we submit to being ruled. His rule frees us to not use violence to assert ourselves, but to use love.
I don’t have a political strategy for countering fascism beyond the Great Commission. I have to actually help people follow Jesus. I might not start with Milo or Spencer (not sure I’d have their ear), but I’ll start with my neighbor and go from there. This incremental, incarnational way of doing things may not bring about the kind of justice that the world needs, as quickly as it does. But doing it haphazardly may perpetuate injustice even it gives you attention. Like Miroslav Volf says, “If you want justice and nothing but justice, you will inevitably get injustice. If you want justice without injustice, you must want love.”
This whole thing may seem impractical, I know. The sins of the state are so blood-soaked that some solutions seem to have to be too. I’m not sure about that. But presented with the chance to punch a Nazi and fifteen minutes of Internet fame, I’ll choose another way. Jesus forgave his crucifiers. I think I’ll follow him.