A Suggestion of Violence, Or Just a Misunderstanding?
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Aug 02, 2012 at 02:12:19 PM EST
Journalist Greg Metzger thinks I've got up and coming evangelical and Christian Right leader Eric Metaxas wrong.  In a recent essay at Religion Dispatches I had written that Metaxas had, in a bookstore presentation in March, called on conservative Christians to consider revolutionary violence in light of the Obama administration's plans to require employers to include contraception in the insurance packages offered to their employees.

Greg, (whose discussion of Metaxas' unsupported claim that the Obama administration's policies were analogous to the early Nazi era, first brought this matter to my attention) thought Metaxas was engaging in a political metaphor when he talked about "firing all of our bullets" in the "fight" and being prepared "to die on this hill."  Greg says he chose to give Metaxas the benefit of the doubt.

But I don't see the benefit for Metaxas, or for the rest of us. It seems more likely that Metaxas knew exactly what he was saying and understood the implications.  Is this man of letters -- the author of several children's books, a writer for the late Chuck Colson's BreakPoint radio commentaries, and two best-selling adult biographies -- not the master of his own words and their meanings?

Let's go to tape.

Bonhoeffer's voice, Metaxas explained, was prophetic:

    "I see him as someone who like Isaiah, or Jeremiah, was saying things to call the people of God to be the people of God... In his day, clearly his voice was not heeded. His voice, if it's prophetic, is not Bonhoeffer's voice--it is really the voice of God."

"This HHS mandate" situation he said "is so oddly similar to where Bonhoeffer found himself" early in the Nazi era. "If we don't fight now," Metaxas warned,

    "if we don't really use all our bullets now, we will have no fight five years from now. It'll be over. This it. We've got to die on this hill. Most people say, oh no, this isn't serious enough. Its just this little issue. But it's the millimeter... its that line that we cross. I'm sorry to say that I see these parallels. I really wish I didn't."

But there is a part of his quote that I did not use.

"We are getting a second chance...so we don't make the same mistakes and go down the same road."

So let's review.

Metaxas, a biographer of the famous anti-Nazi German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, tells us that Bonhoeffer and his generation of Christians failed to halt an epochal horror, and that Metaxas sees our current situation as similar to the one in which Bonhoeffer found himself. But "we" are somehow getting a "second chance." As if we are somehow an extension of the age and contemporaries of Bonhoeffer.  If so, and "we" are therefore in an era analogous to the early Nazi era, how then shall "we" live?  What would Bonhoeffer do?  Alas, Metaxas leaves us with more questions than answers -- except for his violent metaphors.

For example, what would the "second chance" for Metaxas's notion of Bonhoeffer Christians be?  Greg says he is troubled by Metaxas' "lack of clarity." But that is the thing about metaphors, isn't it?  Metaxas asked us to consider "if we don't really use all our bullets now, we will have no fight five years from now... We've got to die on this hill."   I think Metaxas was being as clear as he dared about a matter he claims to see as seriously as, well, totalitarianism and genocide.  Remember, it was Metaxas who made the Nazi analogy, and invited us to interpret his violent metaphor, not me.

But let's consider the possibility that Metaxas was not offering us a considered metaphor in light of his Nazi analogy.  In that case, was he being so reckless in his use of language in discussing a man he considers to have sometimes been the voice of God -- that someone might come away thinking that Metaxas had just called for insurrection against the government of the United States?      

Certainly violent metaphors are not uncommon in political discourse and are usually benign, even if they sometimes go too far.  But we also know that violent metaphors are not limited to politics and are sometimes actually about violence.  I think the available evidence and the context of their use in this instance, points clearly to the latter.

In view of the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, and the ill-considered rhetoric favored by the tea party that surrounded this senseless act, any kind of language that may incite violence is foolish and utterly irresponsible.

Metaxas should be called upon to clarify and justify his statements. To give him the benefit of the doubt without taking him to task for making these remarks seems to be unnecessarily apologetic. Why not wait for a response from Metaxas before excusing his questionable and disturbing choice of language.

by PastorJennifer on Thu Aug 02, 2012 at 05:10:10 PM EST

Maybe Metaxas is just issuing an early call for Joel's Army

by JerrySloan on Thu Aug 02, 2012 at 06:08:05 PM EST

Words have meanings. Metaxas should be pinned down by a skeptical and crafty interviewer. "Exactly how and against whom will you deploy your bullets, and who will be designated to pull the trigger?" bbbbuttt...."well, you were apparently sober when you publicly stated, I quote, "...(above quote in gray)

by NancyP on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 03:45:10 PM EST

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