Local News Archive
Print Issue: February 7, 1991
Christian Nonviolence Not Taught, Conference Told Pope
By Rita McInerney
Few people know about the theology of Christian nonviolence.
It is not taught in any of the main line Christian churches. Local parish priests know little about it; the majority of seminarians never have a single course on it.
With these comments, Father Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, a priest of the Byzantine Rite, opened a weekend conference on the topic Jan. 25 at Agnes Scott College in Decatur. The conference concluded Sunday afternoon Jan. 27. He is a co-founder of Pax Christi.
The Friday evening session began with prayer, song and readings from Matthew 25, I was hungry and you fed me, and Luke 16, concerning the rich man and Lazarus. These readings, the conference leader said, are clear, straightforward answers, to the questions What does God expect of me?
The readings, Father McCarthy said, teach that apathy, indifference to suffering in the face of relievable human misery is radical evil. And hell is Jesus answer to those who refuse to respond to the pain of others when they can.
He spoke from the bare stage of Dana Theatre on the Agnes Scott campus. Nearby, on a screen, a riveting black and white photo of an Ethiopian woman and her starving child was projected. A few hours after the Pulitzer Prize picture was snapped by a Boston Globe photographer, the child was dead.
It is theologically and humanly impossible he said, to accept the person of Jesus and reject His words and deeds.
And yet he finds an ethic of justified apathy in the First World church. We are the rich man in the Gospel story ignoring Lazarus. First World people, literate, both conservative and liberal, think progress will come to the poor without any diligence or risk on their part. They believe, he contends, that the sick will heal; the lame walk, and progress will come While I eat my popcorn and drink my Schlitz.
In our world someone dies of starvation every nine seconds.
Through the Gospel, the priest says, Jesus is saying that the expectation, the purpose of God in creating us is mercy. Active mercy is the spirit of God, the spirit of life that carries over into eternal life.
He called Pope John Paul IIs 1980 encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, (Rich in Mercy) an extraordinary document that every Christian should read. In it he said, the pope reflects on love and mercy as the heart of the Gospel.
God does not reveal himself through books, but through mercy and love to the poor, the oppressed, the prisoner, sinners. This is not the program of the First World church, the conference leader stated.
Churches, their leaders, and laity do not want to consider Christian nonviolence. It is a desperately unwanted message that would require tremendous change from the church community, Father McCarthy told the attentive audience on Saturday morning, Jan. 26.
If we cannot know from the New Testament that Jesus rejected violence, then we can know nothing of his person or teachings, the priest said in a quote from Father John L. McKenzie, a Biblical scholar.
In the American bishops letter on war and peace, the Byzantine priest claimed, the early part talked of being Catholic and accepting Jesus teachings on nonviolence. This section included many Scripture quotation. But a major part of the letter, he said, was an endorsement of the just war theory. This part contained no quotes from the New Testament, many from St. Augustine.
In the present conflict in the Persian Gulf, he continued, probably 80 percent of our (troops) are Christian and 20 percent on the other side are Christian. It is not a problem between states but a problem of Christian slaughtering Christian. Its a breakdown of baptismal vows. And the church, like Pontius Pilate, washes its hands.
Nonviolence is the only stance for Christians, he believes, and a war a total betrayal of Calvary and Easter.
The earliest Christians were nonviolent as was Jesus. Three hundred years of Roman persecution could not liquidate them. In fact, they flourished, he reminded the audience.
Origen, an early Christian theologian, the priest continued, is reported to have told a Roman emperor of the third century, that Christians do more to preserve the empire with our prayers than your soldiers do with their killing.
Father McCarthy then moved on to the fourth century during which St. Ambrose wrote, and St. Augustine refined, the just war theory. Today, he said, 99 percent of the adult population does not know what the just war theory is. It is noon-taught but used to justify every war that comes down the line. The reasons are not taught. No nation could meet its standards. Military chaplains never teach boys and girls the standards. Were talking about homicide, evil.
In the last 1700 years, he claimed, no group has slaughtered more people than Christians. From the Crusades of the Middle Ages when plenary indulgences were earned for killing Albigenses, members of an ascetic cult, and infidels, to the Reformation when popes, Martin Luther, Henry the Eighth and Calvin all slaughtered in the name of Jesus, it goes on to this day.
But the low point, Father McCarthy reminded his listeners, was Aug. 9, 1945, a never-to-be-forgotten instance when God, who is love, can be yelling at the top of his voice and cant be heard.
An American bomber, crewed by Christians, devastated Nagasaki with an atomic bomb. St. Marys Cathedral, largest Catholic church in Japan, was ruined. The cathedral was a sacred place of a Christian community founded by St. Francis Xavier in 1549 but forced to go underground soon after because of persecution which counted its share of martyrs. This community survived for more than 200 years until 1875 when a priest from the outside world learned of the existence of tens of thousands of Christians. Once revealed, again its members suffered persecution. Then, in 1894, they received permission to build a church in Nagasaki.
This labor of intense love was finally completed in 1917, Father McCarthy said, and evaporated in nine seconds in 1945.
During the second conference Saturday morning, Father McCarthy talked of the great power of evil and the great power of love.
War in the Gulf is a tiny piece of the reality of evil, he said. So are the cancer wards, the rapes, wife beating and child abuse, the spirit of greed.
There is no answer to the mystery of evil. The intellect is no help in conquering evil and death. When someone we love is affected, we begin to experience its full power. It is only the nonviolent love of friend or enemy that conquers death.
He gave the example of Jesus in Gethsemane, Sweating blood, a person on the border of chaos, asking His Father to let this cup pass from me. We could see He wants out. He wasnt courting death like a hero.
Yet a short time later, when Simon Peter cut off the ear of a man who would take him to his death on the Cross, Jesus used his extraordinary gift, the power to heal, for the man. To his death, the priest reminded the audience, he was preaching his message of love, even of those about to kill him.
Father McCarthys account of St. Therese of Lisieux warmed an audience struggling with demands of Christian non-violence.
The young Carmelite died of tuberculosis at 24, totally unknown but trying to love as God did. If the Church took the commandment as seriously as she did, it could change the world, the priest commented. Second to second, she looked to see what she could do.
He told of how, close to her death in 1897, she would slowly and in great pain, walk back and forth in the convent garden. Urged by another nun to guard her ebbing strength, she replied, I am walking for the missionaries.
At the time missionaries were greatly needed by the Church for labors in distant lands. After Thereses death, according to Father McCarthy, an increase in missionary vocations was recorded. In 1935, the Church made her the patron saint of missionaries.
Short years after this unknown Carmelite died, a stream of glory was unleashed and pilgrims flocked to the town of Calvados and the monastery.
She is an example, the priest said, how micro deeds of mercy can put out the flames of evil in the world.
Speaking of faith during a question and answer session Saturday afternoon, the priest offered Scripture in Matthews, Chapter 6:24-34 the lilies of the field as the great statement of total trust in God. The entire history of Judaism and Christianity rides on faith.
It was so with Abraham, both when God told him he and Sarah would have a child in their old age, when God asked him to sacrifice that child, Isaac, and with Mary, at the time when patriarchal authority demanded death to a woman pregnant outside marriage.
Her trust was on the level of Abraham and Moses. And her yes a demonstration of radical trust. And then, he said, there was the Mount Everest of trust, Jesus at Gethsemane, when he said your will, not mine to the Father. Christians, he urged, have to say no to the sword, yes to God.
Jumping to the contemporary moment, of Medjugorje, the priest said the one passage Mary has ever asked people to read is Matthew 6:24-34. Do that and the rest will fall in place, is her reported message.
The church, the diocese, the parish and the home are supposed to be nurturing a lifestyle which follows the mind of Christ, Father McCarthy said. The Church has lost its place as the nurturer of human consciousness. Now the world is after the mind...This is where the battle is won or lost. The way of Jesus has to be chosen.
The Peace and Justice Committee of St. Jude Church in Sandy Springs took the initiative in bringing Father McCarthy to Atlanta after members attended his conference in the spring of 1990 in Americus, Ga. His conference was not prompted by the situation in the Persian Gulf. Co-sponsors were Pax Christi/Atlanta and the Agnes Scott College chaplains office and departments of philosophy, Bible and religion.
A follow-up meeting has been scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the Emory Catholic Center, 1753 N. Decatur Road, for those who attended the conference.