Whales, Violence, and the Big Tent

Japan Suspends Whaling, citing ‘Violent’ disruptions from Activists

“Their harassment techniques, which are controversial even among many opposed to whaling, involve throwing flares and stink bombs onto the whalers’ decks, and throwing ropes to foul propellers.”

Is this ‘violence’?


There’s a level of debate about what constitutes ‘violence’. I’m suspicious people like Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. would not have been in favor of these kinds of practices. On the other hand, there are those like Dan and Phil Berrigan, known for their protests which involved burning draft cards, and damaging military equipment.


I’m not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, property destruction of this sort makes a powerful public statement, and could yield results. Yet I would also value the idea that the best resolution occurs when all sides can maintain face. If the only goal is to stop the whaling, then property destruction would be appropriate. I would push further, though, seeking not just a change in practice but a change in the attitudes of those who perpetrate the whaling.


This is relevant for the discussion of Big Tent Christianity. If the goal is to re-imagine Christian theology so that it is more inclusive of marginalized groups and voices, then we can resign ourselves to a large segment of Christians who will disagree and they will simply  choose not to participate in the conversation. The sides will make their claims, argue a bit, probably mock each other, and then go separate ways. If, however, the Big Tent metaphor is an attempt to establish more understanding, more common ground, and more unified action in spite of differences, than a deeper approach, one offering respect of persons and opposing ideas, needs to be initiated, even if that approach is not fully reciprocated.


This is especially difficult when you feel that others have particularly absurd, untrue, unjust, or otherwise offensive views. We have to validate the others’ humanity while invalidating their claims. Too often, the attempt to invalidate claims results in dehumanizing. At the Big Tent conference, there were a few glimmers of the positive kind of connections I’m talking about. Notably, Nadia Bolz-Weber’s story of meeting Chris from Pirate Christian Radio was a powerful testimony of breaking down these boundaries of dehumanization. I would suggest that future Big Tent events be structured around those kinds of conversations – generative, humanizing encounters with those we consider our ‘enemies’.


What kind of environment fosters those encounters?

What attitudes and postures must we develop if we’re to have these conversations?

Is this kind of thing even possible within a conference structure?



~ by Joe Paparone on February 17, 2011.

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