Wednesday, September 18
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
In our ﬁrst reading this week, we noted peace is often deﬁned as the absence of armed conﬂict or war, regardless of how much animosity and tension is present. Obviously this form of peace has little to do with the shalom of God. In this sense, the expression “the Cold War” was very accurate. Missiles may not have launched and armies may not have lined up for battle, but that doesn’t mean people were experiencing wholeness, harmony, security, and tranquility.
The early Church was very aware of such incomplete peace. Pax Romana (“Roman Peace”) is the phrase used to describe the period of militarism created by the early Roman Empire. Lasting from 27 BCE until 180 AD, Caesar’s authority was maintained by a straightforward threat: if you do not act as the Emperor desires, the overwhelming force of the Roman army will destroy you, your children, and your city. Death hung over every citizen of the Empire. This ugly, brutal form of “coerced peace” exempliﬁes an issue every majority group in a culture must address, including the Church.
Coercion is the practice of one group forcing other people to act the way the ﬁrst group wants by use of threats or force. For example, a bully threatening to beat up other students unless they hand over their lunch money is coercion. In the legal world, coercion is codiﬁed as a crime of duress. The bully doesn’t have to actually harm others; the psychological harm that results from the threat of violence is considered coercion.
There are four forms of coercion used to force people to comply:
• physical - assault, withholding medical care, torture
• psychological - threat of violence, angry outburst, verbal abuse, insult, labeling, extortion
• economic - reduce earning potential, blacklist, unfair distribution of goods or employment
• social - overlook, shun, ostracize, limit participation or membership
Some folks add religious, racial, and sexual coercion to this list; others believe these are subsets of the primary four forms. Certainly modern hate groups use all these forms of coercion against minorities. Sadly, Christians have experienced these same forms of coercion during periods of persecution. Sadder still is that the Church has also used each of these forms of coercion at various times in its 2000 year history.
All institutions led by people who are in the cultural majority are tempted to use coercion to accomplish their goals. As Christians, we cannot assume that our community is immune from the same temptations. In the past, congregational scandals involving the misuse of power were often covered up. Today, it is rare to ﬁnd a person who is not aware of such coercive behavior in the Church.
One thing is clear: coercion is in opposition to love and peace. We cannot be coerced into loving God or anyone else. Similarly, we cannot be at peace with God and use coercion in any form against others.
• What examples of each form of coercion can you oﬀer?
• When have you personally experienced coercion?
• When have you seen the Church use coercion?