Greg Boyd on pacifism and government

Sy-mapI posted a link the other day to an article by Greg Boyd discussing what he (a pacifist) would say to the president about Syria. He raised some interesting points. I’m not sure that I’m in full agreement, but they seemed worthy of discussion. Here are some of the main ideas:

The first thing I’ll say is that I don’t believe that being a kingdom pacifist (viz. on who swears off violence out of obedience to Jesus) means that one must embrace the conviction that governments are supposed to embrace pacifism.… I don’t believe Jesus’ and Paul’s teaching on the need for disciples to adopt an enemy-loving, non-violent lifestyle was ever intended to serve as a mandate for how governments are supposed to respond to evil.

The important point for us to see is that Paul forbids disciples to ever engage in the very activity he says God uses governments to accomplish – namely, taking vengeance (ekdikēsis). We are to leave “all vengeance to God,” in other words, and one of the ways God takes “vengeance” is by using sword-wielding governments.

I believe this teaching implies that there are “sword-wielding” offices in government that disciples simply can’t hold. But I think it’s a complete misunderstanding to think that kingdom pacifism entails that disciples should try to get their government to adopt a pacifist position. This is treating the government as if it were the church!

Since our government has (almost) always been committed to the just-war principle that violence should be used only as a last resort, I’d first press him on the question of whether or not we are absolutely certain Assad is guilty of having engaged in the atrocity he is being accused of.

Moreover, I’d encourage Obama to seriously take a careful look at what the long-term fallout of a violent intervention will be. While violence always looks like a solution in the short run, it turns out to only lead to an escalation of violence in the long run.

Finally, if Obama solicited my advice, I’d inquire if all other avenues of resolving this crisis have really been exhausted. Have we exhausted all attempts to achieve a diplomatic solution with Assad? Have we exhausted all attempts to dialogue with him and/or with his allies?

And if Obama answered “yes” to all these questions, I’d ask him if he’d allow me to ask one further, slightly more personal, question: “Brother Obama, as a professing follower of Jesus, how do you reconcile your position as Commander in Chief with your allegiance to Christ?”

I want to explore that final quote a bit more, but first, I’d like to hear your reactions to Boyd’s ideas. Is he right in saying that God wants Christians to act one way and countries another? Is there a difference in what he expects of government leaders and what he expects of ordinary Christians?

Questions about respecting the king

I’ve got questions, questions about respecting authority and respecting authorities.

  • At what point would Christians be justified in rising up in armed revolt against an existing government?
  • To what degree can Christians resist and oppose a government they view as evil?
  • Does “respect the king” leave room for us to speak about governing officials in insulting ways? Does that command apply today? Does it apply beyond a head of state?

Thanks for your input!

Speaking up when it’s too late

Several experiences over the last few days have reminded me of some terrible injustices, both past and present. Last week, Carolina and I visited the Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home, and were reminded to what degree the prosperity of the United States came at the expense of the Native Americans and African slaves.

Yesterday I was reading an article about the internment camps here in the United States during World War II. I wasn’t aware that immigration laws at that time did not allow Japanese immigrants to become citizens. Many of them, when asked to renounce their allegiance to Japan, refused to do so out of fear of losing the only citizenship available to them. And they ended up confined to camps during the war.

I recently read of the impact that harsh immigration laws are having on outreach to Hispanics here in the United States. I’ve long considered our immigration laws to be completely unjust, and I’ve wondered what the Christian response should be to such laws.

Looking back, I realize that Christians too often react too late to injustices. Now we recognize the horrors of what was done to the Native Americans. Now we decry the outrage of slavery, now we reject the racism of the past. Today we abhor the WWII internment camps, though continue to call those that created them “the greatest generation.” Kind of reminds me of Jesus’ words:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your father” (Matthew 23:29–33)

At what point would we look at a current situation and say, “This isn’t right”? I hear Christians claim that we will submit to the government unless we feel that it goes against God’s law. Yet we can look at these things from the past that were clearly wrong, and the church in general did not stand up against these injustices. What would it take to get us to say “No” to wrongs committed against those without power in our society?

Or will we do content ourselves to let future generations lament our mistakes?

Maybe the early Christians were right after all

Photo by Ove Tøpfer; from Stock Xchange

Excellent discussion yesterday. I’m always hoping for a little push back. That helps me sharpen my thinking and test my ideas.

I want to try and further explore yesterday’s topics, based on some of the discussion:

  1. There are real limitations to saying, “I don’t see _____ in the New Testament.” I do recognize that. But I expect what we do today to at least fall in line with what is in the Bible, to not run counter to the examples there (Francis Chan has an interesting video that talks about this). And if we feel the need to circumvent some biblical teaching, I’d like at least a hint that early Christians saw it the same way. There is a prohibition of eating certain things in Acts 15, yet we have several passages that seem to say that all foods are lawful for us. That’s the sort of thing I’m looking for.
  2. Our situation is different today, with Christians representing such a large percentage of the population of many nations. Does that change how we view God’s teachings? I’m asking as much as anything. I’m wrestling through that one. Here are some thoughts:
    1. As Christians, we are called to give primary loyalty to the Kingdom of God. Even as a Roman citizen, I don’t get a picture of Paul looking to promote the interests of Rome. If Christians come to “power” within a certain country, their actions should be guided not just by what is best for that country, but by what is best for the world in general. That would be a political nightmare here in the United States.
    2. As Christians, we are to live by Christian principles at all times. Imagine what that would look like in governing a country. When negotiating with other countries, we would look to serve them, trying to meet their needs. We would return all land that we have taken from other countries, be it through war, be it through intimidation. Wars would be limited, if not eliminated. There is no way a Christian nation would be in a constant state of war for 70 years.
    3. To some degree, our governments are set up to rival much of what God does. Like the men of Babel, humans today look to band together and make a name for themselves, looking to find in one another what they should be seeking from God. I’m still trying to work out in my head how Christians can effectively be a part of that. I haven’t figured it out.
    4. Even where our situation differs, our dependence on God can’t change. We can’t put our trust in horses and chariots. We need to find the courage to imitate the Christians in Acts 12, despite the scorn and ridicule of brothers who choose not to do so. We need to be willing to let nations rise and fall when necessary, to trust God even when He raises up an Assyria or a Babylon to do His will. We need to be willing to honor Caesar even when Caesar is evil. Honor, but not worship.

OK, them’s my thoughts. I’m sure today the good ideas will be in the comments, as they were yesterday.

Romans 13: Tying up loose ends

All right, let me try and tie up the loose ends from this series:

  • Paul begins a section of thought in Romans 12, speaking of how to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. This lifestyle is highlighted by an attitude of love. Love for enemies, priority of peace, refusal to take revenge… all of this is a part.
  • Romans 13:1-7 is a part of that life of love. Rather than getting caught up in the social unrest of the moment, the Christians were to submit to this evil government. Though Paul recognizes that there are sinister powers at work behind the government, God has “ordered” those powers, keeping them within prescribed bounds.
  • If the Roman Christians will eschew the rebellious attitude typical of the Jews, Paul says that they need not fear the present government. This is especially true within the big picture of Christ’s return.
  • It bears repeating that the principle of honoring authority and obeying laws is repeated several times in the New Testament. This is part of living at peace and respecting others.

I really think that, because of the misuse of this passage, our discussion yesterday of what isn’t said here is as important as the discussion of what is said. If we’d limit ourselves to what Paul is actually discussing, we could actually learn a lot.