Five Questions Your Pacifist Friends Are Tired of Answering

Blog — By on November 5, 2007 at 12:00 am

Folks: We had an issue ready this week, but we decided to take the week off, show you some classic articles, and generally enjoy the Fall season. We’ll be back next week!
In an effort to stay relevant to my students, I often myself frequenting message boards populated, mostly, by college students and twenty-something’s. Being a twenty-something myself, and a college professor, I exist in limbo on the “boards.” I choose to simply read many conversations rather than participate, however there is one thread I never can seem to stay out of: Pacifism.
I am a Christian Pacifist, a follower of Christ who sees it as my responsibility as such to live a life committed to non-violence. I believe Jesus’ teachings on non-violence are absolutely central to his message that the Kingdom of God is near.
Years ago, when I was a college student I had a faith crisis. I came to a crossroads where I had to make a decision to either radically transform my understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ, or get out all together. As many can attest to, my high school faith didn’t stand a chance against my college education. I prayed a lot, studied other religions, and watched the United States change in the wake the attacks in NYC and Washington D.C. A series of events as varied as a semester in Kenya, personal heartbreak, and acting as care-giver for an injured friend contributed to my decision to breathe new life into my faith by making the difficult decision to take seriously Jesus’ call to non-violence.
This decision to follow Christ in this way was not easy for me, especially not initially and it’s become only slightly easier in the years since I made this commitment. Since then I have come up against a barrage of questions and arguments from friends, family members, fellow Christians, non-Christians, just about anybody with any sense of self-preservation. The questions are often the same, though the askers can be very different.
What follows are five questions about/arguments against Christian Pacifism that I have heard over and over in the five years since I made a commitment to non-violence. I present them both for those thinking earnestly about Jesus’ teachings on non-violence, and also for those who are dismissive of these teachings, whether Christian or not. Following the questions are the answers that I’ve come up with and often recite by heart to the asker. They are by no means authoritative; rather, they are the reflections of someone still grappling with these difficult issues, trying to discover how best to live a life that is pleasing to God.

1.What if your (insert loved one here) was attacked?

By far the most frequently asked question. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why this may be the case and the answer I keep coming back to is that it is the question that requires the least amount of thought. It’s a gut reaction. We all have the sense that defending our loved ones, even defending ourselves, is not only a basic part of human nature, but also (for Christians) a Biblical mandate. This is, of course, is based on truth. Jesus does speak of defending the defenseless. But what does this defense look like? I think that Christ himself answers this question both in words, and with his life as the model. “Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Jesus certainly calls us to defend those in need of defense. But he never advocates violence. Quite the opposite; in fact, he says the key is laying down one’s life. And he modeled this self sacrifice on the cross.
The question remains a difficult one, even as a gut reaction, and most recently my best answer is a non-answer. That is, I don’t know what I would do. If I was acting in complete accordance with my faith I would throw myself in the way, take the beating myself. But if I was acting from instinct (read: my sinful nature) I’d probably punch, kick, scrap, tear, sin.
2. What about the Old Testament?
And yes, the question is often presented that vaguely. The assertion, I’ve come to find out, is actually “God commanded the Israelites to kill all kinds of people; entire nations, men, women, and children were the victims of the Israelites, enacting God’s will.” The answer to this, the right answer, may require more theological knowledge than I possess, but it may not. It seems clear to me that God telling the Israelites to violently destroy other nations falls into the category of things that existed under the Old Covenant; that is, the covenant God had with the Israelites before Jesus came to live among us. When Jesus came he said that he had come to fulfill the law. So directly did he address this very issue in fact that he prefaces his statement on treatment of enemies by saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” And then continues, “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:43-44). Jesus understood that by coming to fulfill the Law he was in fact reinterpreting. And rather than making the Law any easier to live by, he was making it much, much more difficult.
As to why this particular part of the Law needed to be reinterpreted, there are many ideas, and I have my own theory. My sense from reading of the Old Testament is that though God gave the Israelites the ability to enact his justice on earth by making them his hands and placing the sword squarely within them, they consistently messed up . Much of the Old Testament is in fact the story of how the Israelites received direction from God and proceeded to foul it up. This, it seems, is why Jesus says that only he has the authority to judge, given him directly by the father. I often conclude my answer to this question by asking if the asker believes that God has mandated any modern country to wage war on another. The answer, thankfully, is most often “No,” and the point tends to follow.

3. Didn’t Jesus mean to live non-violently in our personal lives, but not corporately?

This question follows the admission by the asker that Jesus did indeed command his followers to love their enemies, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, etc. It would seem that these directions translate more readily to people’s individual relationships with the outside world as opposed to any kind of corporate understanding. That is, I found myself answering this question frequently soon after I attended an anti-war protest in NYC in 2003. With Saddam Hussein in the sights, and he being such an obvious source of evil in our world, many of my Christian friends who had conceded me the point of non-violence in interpersonal relationships argued that certainly when it came to international affairs, sometimes violence is absolutely necessary.
There are two ways I have found to answer this question. The first is to challenge the asker to provide any evidence that Jesus intended any qualifier to be applied to this command. This proves to be a difficult task because none of Jesus’ non-violence messages or actions are followed by any exceptions. The immediate rebuttal is that Jesus does not speak about the actions of nations. The conversation is then a reduced to a series of inferences of what Jesus may have meant, though not said.
Depending on the intent of the asker, I may offer a different answer, an acknowledgement that kingdoms (or nations) of the world certainly do extend or protect their reign by violent means. That is to say it has always been this way, and it looks like it’s not going to change any time soon. However, as Christians we owe our allegiance to a higher Kingdom than any in existence here on earth. As citizens, first of the Kingdom of God, our allegiance to the kingdoms of this world is severed when that kingdom calls us to act, or support actions that have no place are forbidden in the Kingdom of God.

4. What about Romans 13?

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.” (Romans 13:1, 4-5)
These hard words from Paul are in the Bible, and must be reckoned with . And I’m reminded of them more often than I would like. My gut reaction, what I usually fire back with, is weak. I’m warning you. It’s the same kind of gut reaction that I condemned just a few paragraphs ago. But it goes like this: “What about Hitler? Did God establish Hitler’s authority? To do good? Should we have submitted to him?”
See the mess I get myself into with that one? Needless to say, I’ve abandoned that answer.
My better answer came after years of prayer, study, contemplation, and one really good conversation with my friend Jon Busch, a self proclaimed Christian anarchist. Jon reads this passage as a dismissal of the government, and his reading is rather convincing. In much the same way that Jesus answered the challenge from the Pharisees about paying taxes by all but tossing a coin away and saying “Give to Caesar what is Caesars,” he sees Paul doing the same here. Paul knew something about corrupt governments. So, for him to say that Christians must submit to governmental authority indicates that he has no intention of Christians rising up against the government, and he’s stating the obvious when he says if you do something to anger the government, you’re going to be punished. This interpretation, for Jon, who is committed to complete reluctance to participate in the government, makes perfect sense.
For me, a Christian pacifist, I also concurred Romans 13 this way. I agree that a Christian should not rise up against the government. He should submit to that authority. But today, as in Paul’s day, there is an assumed “unless.” Unless the government requires you to act against your higher allegiance, the Kingdom of God. This may make some people squirm when they first hear it until they think about it a little more. Ask any Christian what they would do if the government suddenly told them they no longer had the right to meet and worship every Sunday; they would disobey, they would not submit, as the churches in Paul’s day did not submit, and as churches around the world still do not.

5. So, you’re suggesting Christians sit back and do nothing?

“Pacifism is not the same as inaction!” I scream at the top of my lungs while flailing my arms like a mad man.
Actually, I don’t, or at least haven’t yet shouted into the face of an asker out of frustration, though I often want to. The kind of pacifism that Jesus advocated while here on earth has nothing to do with inaction. If it did, his mandate may have been to ignore your enemy. Or, instead of actively turning the other cheek, he may have suggested you stand still, smile, and take your beating. Unfortunately most Christians actually believe this is what it means to turn the other cheek. I answer this question by reiterating the numerous verses pertaining to non-violence and pointing out the action verbs used. From turning the cheek, to praying for those who persecute you, to Jesus replacing the centurion’s ear after Peter hacked it off, Jesus doesn’t just preach non-violence, he lives it.
The final and most pervasive example is His sacrifice for us on the cross. Giving Himself up to be crucified is not the same as being killed. Knowing that Jesus is God and allowing Himself to be sacrificed is an action – Jesus doing something that none of us can fathom.
***
Certainly there are more questions, others I have heard and probably many I have yet to encounter in my young life as a Christian pacifist. This list is not meant to be comprehensive. But I provide these common questions and my best answers in the hope that next time you come across a person holding to the belief that their commitment to be a follower of Christ requires they live a life of non-violence, you may spare them these questions, delving deeper perhaps to get to the center of their decision .
And if you do ascribe to non-violence, or if you’ve been thinking about or feeling drawn toward this way of life, your answers to these questions may be different, may be better than my own, but it is my hope that my struggle with these issues will encourage you and spur you on in your attempt to follow Christ in word and deed.


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    57 Comments

  • Zach says:

    This is a great article. I’ve been thinking about non-violence for a few months now and these are questions that I’ve asked myself or been asked by others that I haven’t been able to really answer. Thanks for the insight

  • Kate Lewis says:

    Clear and with passion, Fitz. If I have to be in a maleable place of worldview transition, I’m glad thoughtful folk like you are influencing me.

  • Courtney says:

    This is my first comment on the Burnside Writers Collective. And although my intentions are to keep it short and sweet, I can guarantee you that I will manage to turn into a short essay of some sort. Keeping it brief has never been one of my strengths.
    It is unfortunate that in so many of our churches we are raised up and taught to pay such blind allegiance to the American government. Once upon a time, I was the one making anti-pacifist arguments such as these. In high school, I argued with a college student that I wouldn’t attend the University of Wisconsin – Madison based on the grounds that it was too “liberal.” Fortunately, by the grace of God really, I found myself at Creighton University in Omaha, NE. In my four years there I was challenged consistently by my professors and my peers. I studied theology in ways I had never imagined before, and I found myself completely captivated by philosophy.
    Like Jonathan, my faith didn’t stand a chance against my college education, and I was forced to make hard decisions. More quickly than I was really capable of handling, my faith was turned completely upside down…and then some. But my initial and all to penetrating of a reaction was that of guilt. Deep, gut-wrenching guilt sometimes. I felt like a traitor to the church and the family I was raised in. So much so that when I went home for breaks I was too afraid to wear a tank top picturing a rose coming out of a gun barrel that said, “peace please.”
    I spent most of my college career wondering if I was “screwed up,” feeling as though I had crept over to the dark side. But I didn’t give up. I was in search of truth. My gut told me that I should keep studying, keep questioning, keep doubting, and keep discovering – that I shouldn’t retreat back to my Christian island.
    I could list strews of examples of how God prepared me for the complete overhaul of my faith as I knew it, but I’ll jump ahead to the gut of it all. I was feeling alone, hoping I wasn’t the only Christian who felt this way. Then I read Blue Like Jazz.
    I finished it sometime during the middle of a plane ride back to Omaha. I can still remember how I felt and what went through my mind as I finished the last sentence. My eyes began to water as a slight smile spread across my face, my lower lip trembling ever so slightly. Right then and there – right on that plane ride back to Omaha – I wanted to jump up out of my seat and shout out for everyone to hear, “I’m not “f**ked up!!! I’m not f**ked up!” Finally I knew I wasn’t alone (thank you for that, Don), and finally I could comfortably and openly receive the truths God wanted to impart into my life.
    The stars were aligned or something, and since then I’ve been totally dumped on with awesomeness concerning God’s truth. I took a class called “Jesus Christ: Liberator” that just rocked my world. I got to spend time in solidarity with the poor. I’ve learned about so many different Christian groups and communities that are living examples of these truths about the Kingdom of God. I experience an “Irresistible Rebolution” with Shane Claiborne, and attended the P.A.P.A. Fest -www.papafestival.org – in Tennessee. And so many other great things.
    But man do I struggle. I’ve been back in my somewhat small hometown for a while now, and I’ve been sucked down by a meaningless job and by materialism, loneliness, and the party lifestyle embodied by this town. Trying to emulate the life of Jesus in this consumerist society where self-absorption is the norm is no easy task. (I’ll take all the prayers I can get on that one.)
    Anyway…so I warned you about the likelihood of a rant turned short essay, and there you have it. I guess I’m just sharing a bit of my own experience. I just can’t explain how freaking glad I am to know that I’m not alone. And I’m grateful for the strength God has provided me to pursue (with loads of falling down) who He wants me to be. I’m trying!
    And for the record, my Mom – chair of the republican party in her city, and probably George W’s number one fan – knows that I’m an independent and loves me anyway, though she continually reminds me that someday I will grow out of it. We still hug a lot. And my Dad, well, he’s on the ride with me a bit. Though also a Republican (to each his own), he’s read all of Don’s books and loves to talk with me about progressive ideas and thoughts, especially as they concern Christianity. He’s a pretty open dude, and it’s good to have a Dad like him. We still give lots of high fives.
    Wish me luck. I’m in love with Jesus again, and this time it’s not all about me. And damn does it feel good!

  • Ryan Scott says:

    I agree with your position, although you might need some more reflection on the theological implications of #2.
    I don’t think it can be “right before Jesus and wrong after.” I believe we need a deeper understanding of the texts themselves. We have to remember that the people who wrote the Bible were just people and that they may have the same inclinations as we do when confronted by an instinctual moment.
    After all it doesn’t take much memory on our part to recall other more current nations justifying war as a command from God.

  • Stretch says:

    The past few days of my life have been rocked by confusion (No, this isn’t a bad blog entry). I keep coming back to the struggle on the marrage of the Old and New Testament. They always seem to be contradicting each-other….especially on the topic of warfare and violence; I thank you for voicing your thoughts on this. I also find myself often scrambling to defend my non-violence position against the five quesitons you challanged. I found your input on the topic very valuable…thanks.

  • Christopher McKinstry says:

    I enjoyed your article and I commend you for writing it. I myself am a Christian Pacifist and my heart is always warmed by the conversations that take place on this topic, even those that have ended badly because they taught me something about myself and forced me to re-evaluate and better understand my convictions. My comment however is geared more towards the more recent conversation about the Old Testament and its relation to this topic. I warn you from the outset that I am no expert on this topic, but simply just another Pacifist trying to better understand the calling that Jesus has placed on the people of his kingdom. But having said that I was drawn last semester to write a paper concerning this topic of War and Violence in the Old Testament and as I would not want to post that entire thing because it would be far to long and probably too laborious for many to read (and I wouldn’t blame you), there are just a couple things I would like to note. The first is that Holy war as a construct is very different than anything that we would see as war today. The rules were much different, and as is written in scripture the violent acts that are taking place in many cases are being done by God not by the Israelites themselves. Now Violence is still difficult to deal with but I feel that this offers a very interesting piece of this puzzle that we are trying to solve. Secondly it is not until the monarchy is established that we see an actual army of Israel being established, before that it was strictly voluntary, and it is interesting what God has to say to them about this idea of having an earthly King, for it seems that it was not his plan but what men wanted to do when they no longer wanted to continue leaving the work to God and the Judges. All in all I am basically trying to state that the OT is not to far from the NT and that if you analyze the OT text as a whole you can begin to see how this was never the intention of God to have an army created and this idea of an earthly kingdom that needed to be defended but that he wanted Israel to just trust him, something that they are not very good at (and neither are we), and why he takes measures to establish a new Kingdom, the Kingdom of God. I hope that this has inspired you to study hard for your own. Keep the faith and blessings to all.

  • Nance says:

    I’m not sure as of yet what my interpretation of the scripture in regards to all this is. Honestly, it’s just a subject that I haven’t looked at hard enough.
    I just wanted to ask if anyone has read the lecture that C. S. Lewis delivered during WWII entitled “Why I Am Not A Pacifist”; he is reconciling his stance to scripture and does so from a different stance than any of those mentioned above, I think. An interesting and provacative read, if nothing else.

  • Chuck says:

    This is a serious question. What is a good response to the travesties committed against other peoples. Like Serbs and Albanians, Iraqis and Kurds, the genocide in Africa.
    What is a non-violent way to help these people who are getting raped/murdered by the 1000′s?
    Thanks,
    Chuck

  • Wyatt Ramsey says:

    Jesus at the Temple
    Matthew 21:12
    NIV
    12Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.
    MESSAGE
    He Kicked Over the Tables
    12-14Jesus went straight to the Temple and threw out everyone who had set up shop, buying and selling. He kicked over the tables of loan sharks and the stalls of dove merchants. He quoted this text:
    My house was designated a house of prayer;
    You have made it a hangout for thieves.
    Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them.
    I am no expert on hermeneutics, but this action doesnt appear to be one of a pacifist.

  • Jordan Green says:

    Wyatt,
    Except that all the verse says is he overturned tables…how did you see violence toward humans in there? Pacifism doesn’t mean you you can’t be angry.
    As for hermeneutics, you’ve quoted one passage, and I’m thinking Jesus telling his disciples to turn the other cheek trumps this one in support of pacifism.

  • Bombsfall says:

    I may need to re-read The Weight of Glory, but a few years ago I was rather unimpressed with some of ol’ Clive’s reasons in “Why I am Not a Pacifist”.
    Generally his thoughts seem to make sense for one living in Britain in his time, having spent time in WWI and having his ideological and religious background. But some of his defenses of war are, to me, a bit fragile. For example, his appeal to the great thinkers in history who have been pro-war as an almost peer-pressure motivation to not be pacifist. Also, his argument that so many classical Christian thinkers and authorities have approved of “righteous wars” and that supercedes a search for different answers in the actual teachings of Christ is a bit alarming to me. He states that to refute the teachings of classical Christianity with the teachings of a “historical Jesus” is folly, as there have been many “historical Jesus”. But to be truthful, “classical Christianity” has erred countless times in very large ways and a return to the study of Christ’s teachings have often proved this.
    Or his assertion that the listeners to Christ’s call to “Turn the other cheek” were people who would in no way have been thinking about violent uprisings or war. In fact, the populace to which Jesus spoke already had many violent uprisings and factions attempting to reinstate self-rule. One of the biggest pre-conceived notions in the Jewish community of that time was that the Messiah would be a violent conqueror. So Lewis’ idea that corporate violence would be far from the minds of the hearer betrays a selective reading of the gospels, or at least a selective interpretation.
    There are a great many other problems I personally have with “Why I am Not a Pacifist”, though I will have to re-read it to go into more specifics. I, for the record, have a great affection for Lewis and his writings. They have stimulated my mind and faith for years. However, I find this to be one of his least convincing lectures.

  • Alex the Hippie says:

    Your struggle with Romans 13 seems like it need not be a struggle at all. In speaking your peace and disagreeing with current foreign policy, you are in no way stepping outside the boundaries of submission to authority. According to our Bill of Rights, you have all the freedom to speak out against violence. In fact, exercising your freedom is in accordance with the very tennants which the current authorities are subject to. You’re fine. You don’t even have to try to read between the lines on this passage.

  • Will Fifield says:

    On more thing about the Matt 21:12 reference, Jesus at the temple. It says he turned over tables and drove out all who were buying and selling there.
    How do you think he drove them out? If it was nonviolent pacifism, I wonder how it worked. I mean, what kind of fury must it have taken to drive Jewish merchants from their source of income?
    I don’t think Jesus is a bully, like many of my consevative Christian friends seem to think he was, but I don’t think the Bible portays him as pacifist in every instance either.

  • Luke says:

    First I want to say great article.
    As to point number 4, I would refer to what Daniel did when the government told him he could no longer pray to God. He did what was right and continued to pray even though the king had made the practice illegal.

  • gozino says:

    great article, i ask myself the same questions sometimes.

  • Wyatt Ramsey says:

    The reason I mentioned the turning over of the tables is because it interest me in the same way that it interests Mr. Fifield. I dont see how you can drive the leaders of the church without brute force. I recognise the word “drove” though to mean more than Jesus saying “Now, now, you ought not do that.”
    13When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”
    http://www.ecapc.org/articles/RensbeD_HS2_Temple.asp
    I read this article which states that perhaps the whipping was only applied to the cattle, but I dunno. I just dunno.

  • bombsfall says:

    When it comes to the passage on driving the money changers and such from the temple, I think that putting too much emphasis on it is perhaps a tad misguided. Given the other texts on Jesus’ life and reactions, and the plethora of examples of non-violence from the early church, even the church in Acts, it seems that taking this one passage to overturn the rest of it seems unbalanced.
    I do not say this as criticism to any who struggle with it, as indeed I do, and it is good to wrestle with all of this. Perhaps we will never be 100% sure. But seeing as Christ’s actions in the temple that day can be construed in a variety of ways, ought we not to simply match it up with the example He lived throughout His ministry, and the example His disciples obviously felt was imparted to them? The early church is rife with non-violent responses to evil, and it was remarkably effective. And if Jesus truly did eat with tax collectors, slum with sinners, and invite those without sin to cast the first stone (which was the lawful way to meet evil with violence, a method that even sinless Jesus did not take), it seems likely that His actions in the temple that day did indeed gel with His earlier actions and teachings. But I can’t say for sure.
    Then again, He was also God and could more or less do whatever He wanted… I’m not attempting to put Christ in a box. I’m merely saying that perhaps this isn’t as big a sticking point, vague as it is, as we all tend to think it is.

  • Michael says:

    I rarely get into hese conversations because they ultimately turn to US invovlement in WW2. Were we not justified in stopping the further slaughter of the Jews? Unfortunately the answer is often no, which, IMHO, is absolutely inexcusable. There are two examples of Christian disobediance in the face of the Nazi regime. One is Corrie Ten Boom, who was imprisoned by the Nazis for hiding Jews in her home, and the other is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was part of a Christian plot to asassinate Hitler, in addition to helping Jews escape through Switzerland. Corrie Ten Boom’s story is one of forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation with those who tormented her and murdered her sister, while Bonhoeffer’s story ends rather abruptly with the asassination plot being uncovered and him being hanged in a German prison. I think both people were incredibley sold out followers of Christ, but the paths taken in the face of violence most definetely provide some food for thought.

  • dj says:

    good stuff, I have never put much thought to it. now I think about it. thanks-

  • Wyatt says:

    I find it very interesting to see who Jesus was most “aggressive” towards, …the pharisees. Jesus never got to angry at the non-believers. My guess is he knew lost people should act like lost people. However, when he saw the “religious rulers” of the day making a mockery of the temple, rightous anger filled him to the top. Would it be O.K. to use violence with believers and not non-believers?
    Hmm… Something to chew on
    But away from that one aspect of this discussion, I am still curious about the whole covenant theology. How does this work? When Jesus said he came back to fulfill the law, what does that mean? Isn’t the God of the old testiment the God of the new? And revelation says when Jesus returns there will be another battle that envolves the living. What will the pacifist do?

  • wilsonian says:

    Thank you for this clear and humble article. I rarely talk about my move toward non-violence, because I couldn’t face the arguments. Your work has given me a little courage.

  • ursa smaller says:

    I recently had only recently acquired the attitude of non violence on the day that I responded to a friend’s question of “why don’t you join the army” with “because I’m a pacifist.” A random stranger walking by responded me with such anger that it knocked me back on my heels, asking me some of these very same questions, and of course I had no answers, only my instinctual repulsion to violence. This article certainly helps me to articulate some of my reasoning and formulate my own responses to people who are somehow offended by my refusal to…. shall we say…. kick ass.
    I’m reminded of what Utah Phillips said on his CD “the past didn’t go anywhere” about how being a pacifist is like being a recovering alcoholic. You acknowledge that you have a “problem,” that is, you are a violent person, but you are trying not to be that way anymore. Maybe I would instinctively resort to violence in certain situations, but that wouldn’t make me less of a pacifist, it would make me a pacifist who had suffered a relapse.
    The fact that violence has that whole circular effect…. I hurt you, so you hurt me more, so I hurt you even more… etc…. tells me that it’s not the solution to anything. Based on the logic, I don’t feel the need to justify my position from the bible. Violence simply isn’t a logical solution, unless your intent is to increase violence. Show me a passage where Jesus whips out a short sword and tells someone to switch to a democratic way of managing his household, else die, and I’ll happily change my view.
    all that is to say, good article. thank you ;)

  • Tim McGeary says:

    This is a well-written article, Jonathan, and I can very easily respect your position. This issue has been on my mind since I read BLJ last year and I was thinking about what it meant for me to be “pro-life.” If I would say I am pro-life, then I should be for life for everyone, which includes prisoners, enemies, etc. But then this issue gets very sticky in the stem-cell debate, which is another topic for another day.
    But just as much as I can respect your position, and have been thinking about what it means for me, I have just as much respect for those who serve in protecting our lives: military, police, law enforcement. I think about that a lot now as I’m stepping on a plane next week and am thankful there are people who are trying to protect me which will give me an opportunity to spend more time on this earth with my wife and baby daughter.
    Many, many of those people who serve in these roles hope to never have to use violence to keep peace. I had a long talk in an airport last March with a serviceman on his way home for a 2-week break from Iraq. He moved me with his stories, his commitment, and his motivations. Despite that I think the Iraq was wrong, I could not deny that this was a man who would lay his life down for another man.
    And I pray that much more for peace so he would no longer have to fight.

  • Vincent Aja says:

    Dear sir,
    After reading your questions and answers what really came to my mind was that you are not far from making it into the Kingdom of our God.
    Your answers were 100% right and sound but i only want to comment based on old testament times.
    Let us not forget that the Israelites never went to war they only defended wars when their neighbours attacked them so the reason God gave them command to get rid of the inhabitants of the promised land was because of their immorality sexaulity which satan tried to used to avoid our Lord and saviour from been born so that He will destroy he satan`s work here on earth . So since they settled on this promised land where our Lord wanted to extablished His kingdom on earth every other war brought to them and they have to defend themselves.
    Somewhere else i have condemned the the war in Iraq and every other places where more than 3000 lives have been lost and others were saying that they went to Heaven nobody went to heaven in a senseless war where most of them were shooting by hate while others raped young girls last night and were death the following day.
    If we choose to be christains it must be by praticality not taking part of the Bible where it soothes us.

  • graham says:

    Good article.
    Thanks.

  • Paul says:

    This may be mountain-making out of a semantics molehill, but I also think it’s important to realize that Jesus doesn’t really fall into our modern-day categories of “pacifist” and “non-violence.” Don’t get me wrong. I agree with a lot of what you’re saying in this article, and I think many pacifist and non-violent values are good. I wouldn’t call Jesus a pacifist though, because that would be trying to jam Him into something I’ve made. Jesus is Jesus–He has a way better than pacifism and non-violence, better than complete inaction, better than militarism.

  • Dan Morehead says:

    You did a good job framing this.
    ============
    #1 This question also assumes that the person who has not been formed by living non-violently has the same options as the person who has been habituated to look for non-violent solutions. This question checks character at the door.

  • Ariah Fine says:

    Great article, you guys rock.

  • Mark Ivy says:

    I’m often surprized by christian pacifist that don’t have a ready defense.
    Question #1: Defend the helpless ie Jesus vs the priest and money changers with a whip that He braided. Or Jesus vs the men about to attack the adultress (she was guilty but they were perverting justice). Or you vs the scum attacking that little girl in the alley or your wife or children. He defended the helpless but never Himself. It would be godless to walk past that alley and say “God bless you.” but do nothing else. However, defense of self is too close to pride and selfishness, the first sins.
    Question #2 The Old Testament was a foreshadowing of what was to come ie the temple was a building now it is our bodies. OT priest were not allowed to fight. NT 1 Peter 2 now all christians are called a royal priesthood, a holy nation, fighting not agaist flesh and blood but against the powers and principalities of the air. So as priest we fight but not against flesh and blood.
    Question #4 Romans 13 is about police. The soldiers of apostaic times were primarily cops of the PAX Romana. Read the NT and see how often policing was their job. The Ante Nicene Fathers over and over forbid christians from joining the military and if they were already in (there was no getting out) they were forbidded to kill. Many died saying “We will die for Ceasar we will not fight for him.”
    Let’s face it wars basically grow out of greed of the wealthy. And the christan soldier must hand over his discretion to someone who possibly or likely has evil motives. However, the sword is not carried in vain because christian police judge / execute only
    one evil doer doing evil right now to prevent the innocent from being killed and totally at their discretion. (Discretion: the power or right to decide or act according to one’s own judgment; freedom of judgment or choice) Also if the evil person is caught later but not in the act of murder then the police do not execute him but instead bring that person before a court to be judged.
    Basically a cop shooting a criminal is an emergency act to meant save the innocent from harm. Or if himself it is to protect the symbol (an officer in uniform)and judge of the government that God has ordained. Romans 13.
    War though is murder on a massive scale.

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