A Quaker, A Pope, and The Violence of Ideology

Wess Daniels recently wrote a post entitled When Peace Preserves Violence about his experience of peace theology within the Quaker tradition. Something about his post struck a chord with me even though I do not share his experience in a peace tradition. After reading his post again, I realized that the same violence that he observed in regard to peace theology is often evident in evangelical fights to defend “truth.” In quoting him, I have added parenthetical notes to point out where his words apply to the broader evangelical tradition.

Wess asked, in what way has our understanding of peace (substitute truth, correct doctrine, etc.) preserved a war between us and them, preserved violence upon others who are different from ourselves? He stated that “any theology that protects our position, that doesn’t expose us to critique and challenge, is violent; and that what often gets labelled as peace (or truth) is nothing more than a middle-class, white supremacist grasping at straws, used to justify our existence, our abuses of power, our disgruntled attitudes, and our inability to play well with others under a noble-sounding cause.”

Also getting a lot of attention recently, Pope Francis spoke about Christians who turn their faith into an ideology, suggesting this makes people hostile and arrogant and pushes others away. The following are excerpts from the homily of his Mass:

“Ideology does not beckon. In ideology there is not Jesus in his tenderness, his love, his meekness; ideologies are rigid, always. When a Christian becomes a disciple of ideology, he has lost the faith. The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into ideological and moralistic knowledge; these close the door with many requirements.”

“The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens. Ideology chases away the people. It creates distances between people, and it distances the Church from the people. It is a serious illness, this ideology in Christians.”

“When a Christian does not pray, this happens, and his witness is an arrogant witness. He who does not pray is arrogant, is proud, is sure of himself. He is not humble. He seeks his own advancement.”

“When a Christian prays, he is not far from the faith; he speaks with Jesus. I say to pray, I do not say to say prayers; because these teachers of the law, they say many prayers in order to be seen. Ah, poor things, they are people dishonored by their pride.”

“We ask the Lord for Grace, first never to stop praying, to never lose the faith, to remain humble, and not to become closed, which closes the way to the Lord.”

The church today is facing the fallout of many who have been hurt and excluded by the violence of ideology. Acknowledgment of this failure is necessary to embark on a path of humility and embrace. Yet at the same time, there are many in the church who have no desire to put down the sword, who see movement toward humility as compromise and failure. I will close this post with the following excerpts from Wess Daniels post:

Jesus embodied the way of nonviolence, a way that is non-abusive, a way that holds the tension of neighbor and enemy, a way that does not call profane what God has called sacred, nor does it create an us vs. them. In other words, it’s nothing like most of our churches and meetings today. Instead, Jesus taught us to see the God of love as the one who calls us all together into a new humanity.

We need less violence in this world. We need a lot less male theologians and pastors abusing others. We can start from a place of recognizing that we are all guilty of violence, even and especially when we claim to be practicing peace (or truth).

Saying “peace” (or truth) is cheap; building a community where people are honored for who they are and are welcomed regardless of where they stand on “the issues” would be a far better place to start.

Maybe in letting the thing die (letting go of our need to be right) something new will be born in its place, something that is truly reflective of the beloved community where brothers and sisters are in mutual participation, where many voices are presented, and where we no longer avoid the hard work of becoming fully human.

God Help Us.


  1. Love these reflections. Violence is ongoing and prevalent even with sincere intentions for the sake of ideology… problem is, we often won’t admit it is ideology, but wrap our ideology tightly around Jesus and say it is him. I guess ideology must first be named and once we try to do this, as Moses did with God at the burning bush, we are left with a conundrum of sorts. Rather than domesticate God into an ideology that begins with naming God and then moves to structuring what it means to relate to God, the God who is free simply says, I am who I am and invites us into a posture of non-possessive submission to his gradual revelation that we can participate in. This post speaks volumes to me on the tails of reading Mark Van Steenwyk’s book the UNkingdom of God and Nadia Bolz-Webers book Pastorix.

  2. Great comments John. As you noted, none of us live in a belief-free zone. I think the Pope points to the heart of the issue in distinguishing faith from ideology. It is much easier to be united in a shared faith in the person of Jesus and much more common to divide over a set of ideas. I agree with the Pope’s suggestion that drawing near to God will put us in a posture that will not be divisive or violent regarding our beliefs and where they may differ with others.

  3. So true, so true. Hoping that “maybe something will be born in it’s place” is what keeps me tied to the old “fellowship after the mess over theology was swept under the rug.

  4. Good observations Linda.

    What Bonhoeffer said is so obvious yet we so often overlook it in our pursuit of “correct theology”;

    The primary confession of the Christian before the world is the deed which interprets itself.

  5. Best wishes Dave.
    Great quote Tom!

  6. Thank you for this thoughtful reflection and pushing it out into a broader arena of Evangelicals and “truth.”

  7. Wess, thank you for your post. It was encouraging to read.

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