A lone human standing motionless in front of a row of armored tanks is the image on the cover of Thomas Slater’s Revelation as Civil Disobedience (Abingdon Press, 2019)

The cover design is prescient, as is Slater’s observation that “Christians are to put their faith in God, not their Guns.”

An African American scholar, CME pastor and professor emeritus of the McAfee School of Theology, Slater’s words and themes would prove to be clairvoyant, if not prophetic, of what the world would witness beginning in spring 2020.

With the advent of COVID-19, it seemed overnight that civil disobedience emerged, violent and non-violent, based on ideological battle lines.

Heated culture wars began following the death of George Floyd, the dismantling of Confederate monuments, and disagreements over how to care for others through public health measures.

The Bible was everywhere, particularly its end times rhetoric, with people using it as a platform from which to bludgeon opponents.

The cacophony produced noise but little unity.

To our chagrin, there has been as escalation in social and cultural dis-ease, with gun violence spreading across our country like the virus we’ve been struggling against.

Lives have been senselessly claimed while people of color were shopping for a loaf of bread. Children looking forward to a summer of popsicles and swimming pools were tragically murdered in their classroom.

The debates have never been fiercer, or the rhetorical sparring more electric, than what is emerging around the machines of violence that are codified in certain interpretations of the Second Amendment.

Churches across the country are divided over how to preach good news into this context.

What takes precedence? How do faith communities navigate gospel, culture, and ideology and be wise enough to know the difference between them?

We are at a cultural crossroads, and the stakes have perhaps never been higher.

While reading Slater’s monograph, I found myself saying out loud, “If only everyone in the church, in America, could hear what he is saying right here.”

There is not a timelier biblical monograph for our situation.

If only Revelation was being read, and applied, as Slater presents to his readers: a book that provides hope to the marginalized via a savior that turns worldly power on its head and embraces witness, not war, as a vehicle for triumph.

The Book of Revelation gets lots of press for its violent imagery, unimaginable scenes, and battlefield-like portraits. Yet, Slater reminds us that the risen Christ never uses the sword in Revelation.

There is never any actual fighting on the part of Christ or his “army.” On the contrary, in Revelation, Christ wins the “battle” with the sword that is his word, a word that comes from one slain, now risen in love, not in violence.

His followers achieve victory through faithful witness. The world tells us to fight; Christ dares us to forgive, using our bodies and words as objects of witness that swallow the emptiness of violence.

Slater’s work here has echoes of the non-violent victories wrought by Martin Luther King Jr., and the civil rights movement that was grounded in biblical conviction. I believe Slater would firmly place the work of King within the realm of John’s revelatory means of witnessing. Life was won by witness, not war.

As King famously said in his speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, on August 16, 1967, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

For John’s churches, this was most certainly true, as Christianity eventually became more acceptable in Roman society. For current day victims of prejudice, violence, and oppression, people of faith are still pulling at the arc.

The Book of Revelation is an imaginative medium whereby following Christ teaches us a new way.

Jesus turns the older imagery of divine warrior, that many of us love, into the caricature of sacrificial lamb grounded in his life, death, and resurrection. It is ultimately his civil disobedience through his non-violent witness that hangs him on a cross.

Is there any event in the annals of history that has reverberated throughout it as the non-violent witness of Jesus?

With an effortless stroke of a seasoned biblical scholar and pastor, Slater weaves together a biblical theology grounded in a keen awareness of minority disenfranchisement and interpreting such within the context of one treated like an outcast: Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Consequently, if violence is not the currency of faith, neither is it the solution to safety.

If the question is, “How does one overcome evil?” Slater would emphatically say, we overcome evil with good. We witness and eschew war, to save the world. Jesus, Lamb and Lord, is the lens through which one views right action.

If such a witness turns one into a societal pariah, so be it. That is the nature of witnessing against the culture and why such witnessing is a form of civil disobedience.

People of faith use the resources of tradition, experience, reason, revelation, and cultural awareness to make decisions. Yet, we must not forget to use scripture.

Many implore its use, but often scripture has become a distant authority rather than an intimate looking glass that helps us frame a new response to the sin that holds us in captivity.

So, wherein does our faith lie? In the means and mechanisms of temporal power, or in the means of non-violent witness that hold loosely to its earthly citizenship?

These are question’s all people must ask, the privileged and under-privileged.

In this little book about the most misunderstood book in scripture, Slater gives us a sermon that points us in the right direction for answers. I strongly commend it for such a time as this.

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