I don’t think I’m through with the pacifism posts, but I’m sure I’m through for now. I have some other things that are itching to get out of my fingers and onto the electronic page — and we’ve pretty much covered the high points of pacifism.
There are enough differing views and scriptures that bear on the topic that I could write a book — and many others have. But I’m ready for a change of topic. I’m sure most of the readers are as well.
So, anyway, here’s how I’ve got it figured —
1. If God meant for us to reject the use of violence in self-defense, defense of the weak, and in military service, this would be a dramatic change from the ethical standards of the Law and Prophets. It seems strange that Jesus would choose to announce such a change in the Sermon on the Mount — where he is expressly affirming the Law and the Prophets. He is not repealing the Law and the Prophets. He’s explaining their deeper meanings in preparation for life in the kingdom that is dawning.
2. It bothers me when some argue that we should forget Paul and Moses and focus exclusively on Jesus — as though Paul is not a sound expositor of Jesus or Jesus wasn’t really the author behind the Law of Moses. And if you read Paul’s ethical instructions, such as Rom 12, you find much about love for enemies and not taking vengeance. You see nothing about refusing governmental service or self-defense.
3. On the other hand, it’s certainly true that we see Stephen and the other early church martyrs willingly submitting to torture and death in the name of Jesus. But they do so at the hands of governmental officials who insist that they give up their faith — not murderers and rapists. If you must worship Caesar to live, you willingly die instead. But bandits aren’t asking you to surrender your faith.
I’ve seen no example of early Christians dying at the hands of criminals rather than defend themselves when they could do so without denying Jesus. Even if there were such an example, I think it would be a mistaken reading of what Jesus says. He does not say that violence is prohibited to Christians. That was just not the subject at hand in the Sermon on the Mount.
4. Refusing to defend yourself and others against criminals and invaders seems to me to make you an enabler of evil. Refusing to surrender your faith to an anti-Christian government resists evil. We are called to resist evil and not to enable evil.
5. The scriptures plainly ban vengeance. Vengeance and self-defense (and defense of the weak) are two different things. Confusing the two is a category mistake.
6. Some argue that we shouldn’t defend ourselves because God will defend us. Well, I’m not sure those promises apply in that sense, and even if they do, they don’t do our unbelieving neighbor any good.
7. Pacifism is perhaps defensible if you see the church as a tiny minority surrounded by a much larger, evil world. Our refusal to fight doesn’t really harm them. But to a non-sectarian, many nations don’t look like that. Indeed, there are plenty of nations that are largely Christian, and in such a nation, if all the Christians were pacifists, we’d subject all the citizens, not just Christians, to un-policed criminals and leave them defenseless against invaders. How is this loving?
8. It is argued, with considerable force, that we must be like Jesus and so willing to die for our beliefs and to serve others. And I agree. But defending the helpless is serving others.
9. It is argued that the church must be totally removed from the political process because we are not called to politics. I think we are called to love. And when people we love are being hurt by the government, we need to call on the government to stop. Indeed, one of the great weaknesses of democracy is that the poor and disenfranchised will not be as well represented as the wealthy and powerful. If the church doesn’t speak up for the unborn, for orphans, and for the poor — who will?
10. On the other hand, self-defense does not justify conquest. It may well justify defending an ally. Indeed, if all countries only acted in self-defense, there’d be no war.
11. I’m not entirely sold on the 7 points of just war theory. They are helpful guideposts, but if we’re not careful, they can take us away from the true guidepost — faith expressing itself through love. Obviously, war is not inherently a loving act. But it can be.
12. It is a fact that people are often deceived by their leaders into fighting unjust wars. But that doesn’t mean we never, ever defend those who need defending. Life is just messy that way. (Thank God for his grace!) This makes it all the more urgent that we train our members on how to think about political questions in Christian terms. We are not good at it, but we getting better. We have a lot of work to do.
You see, as the church becomes more thoughtful in thinking about political questions, our political ethics will more and more affect our political leaders — because some of them are Christians and all represent Christians. Our poor political theology has been one significant cause of our poor politics.
I don’t know. It just seems to me that if the government is God’s agent of vengeance against evil, it’d be better at doing God’s bidding if there were some people in government who’ve studied God’s bidding. But that’s just how I’ve got it figured.
Finally, as I said at the beginning, I have the greatest of respect for many pacifistic theologians and other Christians. While I disagree somewhat, they take a difficult and courageous stand. Those who scorn and ridicule them have not really paid attention to the Sermon on the Mount. Theologically, pacifism is at most a speck of dust in their eyes. Scorn is a 12 x 12 beam. Indeed, the pacifists among us often come much closer to the ideal than most of the rest of us — who often ignore the Sermon on the Mount altogether.
And I greatly respect those who risk their lives to defend their neighbors, whether as police or in the military. I recently had a class member share how her teenage son, in signing up for the Navy, avowed how he was prepared to die to protect us against evil. I get choked up … It reminds me of someone.