Gleanings in Pacifism

I have a couple of thoughts about pacifism. The first is my own:

I am not a pacifist, but I do not believe that there is any killing which does not require forgiveness.

I would like to be a pacifist. But then there’s the real world. I hate living in this tension. I would like to be a pacifist, but I have an African American friend who won’t let me–because without that brutal war, nothing would have changed for the slaved.

I do believe that the Christian’s place in society is always to bear witness to another economy: an economy where defeat of the gravest powers of the world came by the defeat, rather than military victory, of a marginalized people’s prophet-king.

Within this story, I do not know that it is possible to ever claim that a war is just.

Claiming to be a part of this story, Christians must actively work for peace: blessed are the peacemakers. That should typify kingdom people.

Then sometimes you’ve got Russia and China keeping the Security Council from doing justice. What then?

Thought two. This time, a quote from Stanley Hauerwas:

I’m not a pacifist because I’m so nice. I’m a pacifist because I’m such a mean sonofabitch I need the community to keep me accountable.

Confessing the demands of the gospel story is not, at its best, to issue a claim that faithful expression of this religion is to be like I am. We confess the demands of the gospel story to set out the impossible, glorious vision of the Kingdom of God so that we can, as a people, work toward embodying that vision and seeing that vision reflected in the world.

I talk about the economy of the cross all the time–not because my life looks like one of self-denial, but because that’s how it should look in every relationship, every dollar spent, every minute blown in front of this computer screen.

Ok, so maybe that’s a good argument for being a pacifist after all…

25 thoughts on “Gleanings in Pacifism”

  1. We’ll make an Anabaptist of you yet. :-)

    To be honest, I live in that same tension. I recognize the reality of the world around me. But I find that to combat that world, rather than employing the instruments of power of the world, I prefer to employ the power that comes from sacrificial service of the Kingdom. It ticks people off all the time and I get “so you’ll just let some guy attack your wife?”

    My response: “I hope that I’ll live my life in such a way that my wife would walk the path with me…and that, should it come to that, there would be no reason for anyone except for the most base of sociopaths to attack my wife. I’d hope that my life would reflect Jesus so well that instead of attacking us, people would want to help and support us instead.”

    Idealistic? Yes…but as far as I can tell, the entire New Testament reads like naive idealistic fantasy that defies earthly logic…so, calling me idealistic sounds more like a compliment than a critique.

  2. because without that brutal war, nothing would have changed for the slaved.

    And you’re sure about that.

    With a commitment to Christian realism a la Neibuhr, it’s difficult to imagine any other possibilities. Jesus conceived of other possibilities.

    1. Yes! I think we too often shortchange God’s kingdom and what is asked of us. If Christians were truly doing as they were called rather than subverting the gospel with humanity’s will to power and pleasure, would there have ever been a need for that war in the first place?

    2. You stole my comment, except for that Christian realism part or that Neibuhr reference. I don’t have any idea what those are.

      Basically you stole my quote.

      “because without that brutal war, nothing would have changed for the slaved.”

      Nothing is impossible with God.

  3. This is a great challenge in the flesh. I love this:

    “… an economy where defeat of the gravest powers of the world came by the defeat, rather than military victory, of a marginalized people’s prophet-king.”

    And, agree with it. Then I have friends (and I myself fall into this trap) who note not just the civil war bringing freedom to slaves but also the need to stop Hitler. Maybe it’s our human short-sightedness and the deceptiveness of the spiritual forces of darkness (Eph. 6:12) that leads us to think these historical solutions were the best solutions. If Jesus ultimately defeated Rome (& the forces behind Rome) by dying on the very instrument Rome used to subjugate and terrify nations in order to dominate them, perhaps then this is how we bring about glory to God and the ultimate defeat of the powers – by laying down our lives, being dominated by their physical power – and paradoxically we bring victory to the kingdom.

  4. Oh – also: Could you reword that Hauerwas quote? Is that exactly what he said? It seemed like a typo – I just don’t get the phrasing, no matter how hard I try to make sense of it.

      1. I love this quote. Very like the Eleventh Doctor: “The anger of a good man is not a problem. Good men have too many rules.” “Good men don’t need rules. Today is not the day to find out why I have so many.” A good man doesn’t need to be a pacifist. A good man does not need to pursue the habitus of peace as a form of self-discipline. But only the Christ was such a man.

  5. I like the distinction between pacifism and non-violence. Pacifism tends to convey a tone of non-engagement with evil, turning a blind eye to it because of moral sensibility. Non-violence describes the mode of engagement with evil—a mode which doesn’t itself become evil. I remember reading a quote in Walter Wink (I believe attributed to Gandhi, but I can’t find it on the interwebs) to the effect that non-violence, unlike many forms of pacifism, is a *greater* expression of bravery and courage than violent resistance. Here’s some more of my own thoughts (and short dialogue with another position) from my own blog:

    1. I think this is more how pacifism is popularly portrayed. I like it because it connotes active peacemaking. The term I don’t like is “non-resistance,” since nonviolence and peacemaking are themselves forms of resistance.

  6. I like this honest approach, Daniel. I think the first question is whether pacifism is, indeed, opposed to the “real world” or whether it actually witnesses to the real world of God’s kingdom in the midst of counterfeits and mixtures of the two. I think you begin to touch on this as you move through this post.

    Part of the problem with many critiques of pacifism is that they assume consideration must begin “in the moment,” with the gun pointed to the head, with the war on the ground, with the dictator (or the democracy) committing genocide. Christian pacifism often begins well before that. So, with your African-American friend, for example, it might be worth noting that had the US not rebelled against Britain (another brutal war – what war isn’t?), slavery might have ended at least a quarter-century earlier in the South when Parliament outlawed it throughout the empire. With other situations, committed pacifists seek to sow seeds of peace far in advance of potential conflict, to work for justice prior to the eruption of violence. Of course, it’s rather difficult empirically to track violence that doesn’t happen, which Niebuhrian realism seems to need in order to justify a change in practice (rather than a radical commitment to the gospel). So what we have then is to trust the Spirit to not lead us.

    I think what many Christian critics of pacifism are not willing to give up is control of the situation, whether private or international. But I prefer Yoder’s take: “It’s not the job of the church to make history come out right.”

  7. “[B]ecause without that brutal war, nothing would have changed for the enslaved.” I don’t think we know that. Things were changing for the enslaved Americans of African descent – and it was largely that change that ignited the conflict. But the conflict ultimately was over whether states had the right to secede from the union. The Emancipation Proclamation followed the conflict, it did not start it. I think we can say for sure that the enslaved Americans of African descent wouldn’t have been freed in the same time period, under the same circumstances, but I don’t think we can be sure they wouldn’t have been freed. Your statement reminds me again that slavery has not been eliminated in the world, not even in America, not yet. And that there is no war we can declare to eliminate it, but we can take action by shining a light on it and working to free its captives.

  8. “Then sometimes you’ve got Russia and China keeping the Security Council from doing justice. What then?”

    … I don’t want to be too much political, … but this phrase is nothing but a proof that the mainstream media did a very good job at putting the “right” type thinking in the mind of most American (and Westerners at large).

    It is the so typical American mainstream way of thinking that we can produce peace with war.

    The political reality of Syria is far more complicated than “let’s just get this guy – Hassad – killed like Sadam, … and then everything will be fine.” … It seems too me that after Afghanistan and Iraq, American people should be far more humble about trying to play the police around the world, with a far too simplistic “bad guy” vs “good guy” type of mindset.

    a good video somewhat related to this:

  9. Kurt Willems made a helpful point that took care of one of my last lingering reservations about pacifism. Namely, what would pacifists have done about Hitler? Kurt’s response was that Hitler’s rise to power wouldn’t have been possible if the German church had done its prophetic duty from the start.

    I think we can make a similar point about the Civil War. If Christian leaders in the South had put the teachings of Jesus ahead of economic self-interest (instead of using the Bible to rationalize the enslavement of others), then slavery would have been abolished without bloodshed — and probably long before 1863. It was the failure of the church (well, part of the church) that made war the only recourse to end slavery. Christians in other countries, particularly England, managed to abolish slavery through peaceful means. And they got around to it a lot sooner than we did.

    That said, the Civil War is about as close as you can get to a “just war,” in my opinion. But if the Southern church had spoken up for the oppressed, instead of rationalizing their oppression, slavery could have been ended and war averted.

    1. The problem here is that of endless retrospective hypotheses. If only… Well, if only Adam hadn’t fallen… The uncomfortable fact is that we have to know how to behave in the situation in which we find ourselves now, whatever and whoever has failed before us. We need not to add to and augment past failures. Accept that the locomotive is off the track and act to get it back on.

      1. But this goes to my point, John. We’re speaking of a way of thought and practice here, not just an emergency (Daniel’s post isn’t about what to do in a particular situation he’s currently experiencing, but what to think and practice overall). And the point I think Ben and I share is that we should not be governed in our thought and practice by the emergency situations, but rather by an identity, mission, and lifestyle that help prevent such emergencies from occurring in the first place.

  10. I ran into Hauerwas walking across the Duke campus and asked him he was that much of a “sonofabitch” and he just chuckled. I was with others that like Hauerwas more than myself, but I wonder if non-violence has really been tried. Have we allowed non-violence to be used to the last stand or did people ok with violence intervene? The cross itself is taking violence onto ones self.

    At the same time, many past wars were fought without our developed sense of just war or pacifist theologies. We cannot undue that but we can try what they did not. We can take seriously the fact that the cross is taking violence into/onto ones self. I’m violent in a verbal way towards those that think physical violence is the means to peace but I’m not, nor ever will be physically violent towards any other (whatever hypothetical situation you come up with). So, in that sense I’m not a pacifist.

  11. In relation to the ‘real world’, a comment from Barth CD IV/2:
    “there are other possibilities, not merely in heaven but on earth, not merely one day but already, than those to which [the world] thinks that it must confine itself in the formation and administration of its law.”

  12. “…without that brutal war, nothing would have changed for the slaved.”

    Did it require a war in other countries?

  13. Daniel, my thoughts on your two thoughts:
    thought 1 mostly an argument for pacifism with hesitation for pragmatic reasons. Since when does God do pragmatism?
    thought 2 all an argument for pacifism.
    Conclusion: next step (of logic? of faith? of both?) – become a pacifist.

  14. After reading these comments I reaffirm what I have observed over the past decade — there are far more *ultra pacifist Christians in the “western world” than I have previously been led to believe.

    I wonder at times why in this ever increasingly perverse/violent world, that there are *ultra pacifist Christians watching these violent movies. As a person who is not a pacifist, I can watch movies like the Avengers and find my spirit not troubled. I watch as ‘Captain America’ who is portrayed as a Christian – ends up defending the populous from a alien threat. I know that as a ultra-pacifist, there shouldn’t be an acceptance of a warrior (physical) Christian – and that by watching such a movie in acceptance of what is being portrayed – that in fact the *ultra pacifist is becoming a hypocrite!

    Even more troubling (because it is seen/experienced more close at-hand) is Jesus’s command that all too many ultra-pacifists and other christians, dump in the back of the mind, in that they do not pay much attention to it — this command is about not committing adultery! I mean this with reference to Luke 16:18 “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

    My views are simple… I accept the whole Bible (that includes the old) and accept Jesus is the son of God, my Lord, who is in a triune like concept. I accept the Bible as it is and try not to add anything or take away. I am quite aware that every Christian needs to deny himself and not wish to preserve his life for his own sake. I believe every Christian needs to be a pacifist…. just not a *ultra one.

    Anyways peace to you all and as for those who love violence and hate me… [dust off feet]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.