Written by Leanna Westerhof. Media by Rachel Koehnemann.
A little while ago my Methods in Wesleyan Theology class attended a lecture at Saint Louis University by Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. He gave a theologically rich talk, most of which I struggled to comprehend. I found myself completely lost at times, but once in a while a sentence or two would stand out. One of those things he said stood out to me more than the rest. He said, “Defenselessness is the mark of the Church.” He didn’t explain it and just kept on talking. This is something I have been struggling with the past year or two here at Greenville; defenselessness and pacifism. Williams also said in his talk that God doesn’t need a defense. That makes sense; he is God, after all, and he doesn’t need us to defend him. If that is true, then Jesus also didn’t need a defense, and so he was defenseless. We see this truth in the Gospel as Jesus did not resist arrest or defend himself in front of the crowd and Pontius Pilate.
Williams also said at one point, “The vulnerability of Jesus reflects the divine,” allowing us to see a better picture of who God is through Jesus’ interactions with the world. Jesus’ engagement with the world was one of defenselessness and this informs our own worldview by giving us the greatest example of love. Our relationship with the Creator is not one of rivalry, but one of love. There is no rivalry between Creator and creation. Jesus’ divine nature does not minimize his humanity, his divine and human natures aren’t competing with one another.
Jesus’ ongoing presence is the Church. We, as members of His body, are that Presence. The Church doesn’t need a defense if we are following God. “The mark of the Church is defenselessness.” This mark is what sets us apart. It marks us as followers and disciples of God. We should be following Jesus to the cross. We should be defenseless.
Instead, we fight for survival. With every breath that we have and all the strength we can gather we will fight to live one day more, one minute more, one second more. People have done terrible things in the name of defense and in the name of survival. Wars have been waged, murders have been committed, lies have been told, and other atrocities perpetrated all in the name of survival. To die another day (James Bond reference intended). But why?
All of this has been done because of fear: the fear of dying, the fear of death. I am afraid of dying; I will admit it. Yet we know, as Easter Sunday has just come around, that Jesus has conquered death. So we don’t need to fear death (easier said than done). We don’t need a defense. We need love. We need a love that transcends all boundaries and differences. Our engagement of the world should mirror Christ’s; we should be of one universal spirit of love. We should be defenseless.
Leanna, your piece reflects the thoughts I’ve been having lately, so thank you for sharing your fresh insights from one of Rowan Williams’ points. I would love to see this message of defenselessness shared by more of us who are Christians living in America. It pains me to see more concern for the legal preservation of our religious freedom than the actual practice of preaching the gospel to the poor, healing the sick, including the outcast and loving those who persecute us. We tend to put our identity as Americans ahead of our identity as Christians. Thank you, again, for your emphasis on Christ as the one who made no defense for himself. I want to me more like him.
Thank you for your response to this article. You understood exactly the point that I was trying to make. It isn’t our job as Christians to legally preserve our religious freedom. It is our job to worship God and be faithful to him.