Pax Romana Unity vs Pax Christi Unity

In a recent conversation that is all too familiar, Rachel Held Evans asked the organizers of a major leadership conference why there were only 4 female speakers out of 112. The responses received were pretty stereotypical:

  • “Hey, look, here’s a woman,” with a picture of one of the 4 speakers. In other words, it’s the equivalent of “I’m not racist! I have a black friend!”
  • “We did invite some more; not our fault they said no” which is a handy way of passing the blame back onto the voice you are silencing.
  • “We acknowledge women are good for talking about women’s issues: pregnancy, abortion, marriage” which understandably infuriates a lot of women who think they are capable of discussing more than that.

The response I really want to hone in on, though, is the oft-repeated claim that anybody who questions the power-holders are being divisive and thus hurting the Body of Christ. It’s an effective move because nobody really wants disunity. We can all agree that the ideal is for Christianity to be one big happy family.

The problem, though, is how this big happy family is possible. In the framework of these critics, those in power seek to make it happen through control and suppression of other perspectives which may challenge that control. Power-holders decide what works and maintains enough support of the general population for it to continue. It also ties in nicely with the human impulse to scapegoat, since those who disagree can be shunned as destroying the peace, thereby providing a sense of unity among those doing the scapegoating.

This may indeed create some degree of unity on the surface for a period of time. It is the same approach employed by the Roman Empire and referred to as the Pax Romana. The vast majority of the world does still operate on this kind of peace, being the same philosophy behind many Americans’ desire to be the world’s police (recently very evident in discussions about intervention in Syria) as well as Just War Theory in general. I understand it and why it is so attractive, I really do: it just seems like common sense to maintain peace by shutting out those who don’t agree with your vision of peace.

And yet Jesus comes along and teaches a very different kind of peace. His peace brought those on the margins into the centre and elevates their voices. It is a peace that forgives the wrongs committed by the oppressors and the oppressed alike, although it does not brush them under the rug or try to ignore their consequences. In short, his peace is built on restoration of God’s equality-loving, justice-seeking Kingdom. This is far deeper and more powerful than simply seeking the absence of too much outward conflict for as long as possible.

I’d really love to look at our Catholic brothers and sisters here as well. While they do on average support Just War Theory in general, they also understand unity in a way that Protestants do not. In my experience, their approach to each other despite vast differences is much like what Anabaptists strive for in the Third Way and much like the Pax Christi. This is a much more realistic unity than the Pax Romana attempts to keep others in line that Protestants default to.

I’d encourage more churches move to the Pax Christi approach, with our own disunity as well as with violence around the world and any other form of conflict. Pax Romana might seem to work for a short time, but it falls immensely short of Jesus’ life and teachings, settling for the “peace” of the world.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

  • Someone’s been listening to their teaching pastor, haven’t they. 😉

    good stuff, Ryan… this is an excellent supplement and application to what Bruxy was talking about… Kudos, dude!