Disarming the Church

Why Christians Must Forsake to Follow Jesus and Change the World

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Eric A. Seibert
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Cascade Books
    , April
     2018.
     342 pages.
     $40.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781620328873.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

If you’ve ever wanted a comprehensive and compelling argument for making the followers of the “Prince of Peace” more peaceful, Disarming the Church is your book. Sadly, this may not be high on many churchgoers’ reading lists, but it should be. For those concerned about Christianity, violence, and the tradition of peace, the church’s failures are striking. From support for war and torture to the harsh exclusion and marginalization of LGBTQ people to racist attitudes, the American church has a problem.

Seibert aims broadly, trying to convince his educated audience of both the theological and practical reasons for nonviolence for faithful and effective witness and presence. Seibert should be lauded for the comprehensiveness in his argument. The book is structured in four parts: understanding the church’s problematic relationship to violence, making the case for nonviolence from the New Testament, exploring practical alternatives to violence, and everyday suggestions for living nonviolently. It’s a comprehensive rhetorical strategy ranging from the local to the global and back again. Seibert’s narrative takes a thoughtful reader across all of these domains carefully and reassuringly. The pages exude confidence and competence, the presumed culmination of decades of experience of engaging diverse and doubtful Christian interlocutors. Seibert is a strong advocate for this basic, though neglected, core of the faith. His argument is carefully laid out and accumulates steam as the book progresses.

Seibert relies heavily on stories in making his argument, which certainly helps with its readability and helps round out and deepen his more strictly theological and pragmatic rhetoric. This strategy is important given the broader contemporary failures of the church that Seibert addresses. The stories present moving evidence that the church sometimes does get nonviolence right. Given the broader milieu of a hyper-violent American culture at just about every level, Seibert’s stories offers glimpses into the potential efficacy of solving problems nonviolently, of the potential for human goodness when we engage dilemmas with love rather than fear. The work is laudable for engaging its argument on many fronts. Seibert aims to lay the groundwork for a vigorous and deep commitment for the faithful and offers many footholds for those not sure where to start. There are plenty of reasonable starting places for the reader who may want to investigate more.

While Seibert aims broadly, he could be criticized for not going deep enough. This is particularly noticeable on some of the hard challenges the church faces in being nonviolent. For example, in an otherwise helpful and reasonable penultimate chapter on practical suggestions Seibert addresses the need to confront prejudice, bigotry, discrimination, and exclusion within the church in just under three pages. His recommendations are reasonable, but as a sociologist I am keenly aware of the enormity of this task and its difficulty given the social dynamics and social psychology within the church. These problems run deep and are definitely worthy of both greater consideration and work for the faithful. Ultimately, I think this shortcoming is a reasonable and manageable consequence of both his intended audience and his rhetorical method and the breadth of his argument.

I recommend the book for those in the church whom I might describe as nonviolent-curious or interested in encouraging more of their coreligionists toward the way of peace. Disarming the Church offers a rigorous and challenging introduction to the Christian case for nonviolence. The book would be a great read within congregations, since it comes with discussion questions for each chapter, though they are a bit buried in the back of the book. These readers may learn a good deal about the biblical, theological, and narrative resources within the tradition. It may well be an interesting read for non-Christians, as well. As Seibert discusses, there are nonbelievers curious about what a less violent Christianity or America (in so far that it’s identified as Christian) might look like. This book offers a suggestive glimpse of that.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Chris Morrissey is assistant professor of sociology at Bluffton University.

Date of Review: 
May 2, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Eric A. Seibert is Professor of Old Testament. He has training and experience in conflict mediation and enjoys speaking about how to read the Bible nonviolently, in ways that promote peace.  His two most recent books are Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God (2009) and The Violence of Scripture: Overcoming the Old Testament’s Troubling Legacy (2012). Eric lives with his wife and three children in Grantham, PA.

Keywords: 

Comments

Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.