39 Shades of Peacemaking

01_Ge_08_11_RGPacifism. Pacific-ism. Passivism. Political Pacifism. Absolute vs. Contingent Pacifism. Maximal vs. Minimal Pacifism. Universal vs. Particular Pacifism. Skeptical and Prima Facie Pacifism. Transformational Pacifism. Consequentialist Pacifism. Active Nonviolence. Deontological Pacifism. Non-violence. Peace making. Just war. Self defense. Proactive strikes. Vengeance. Justice. Pro life. Pacification.

And the list goes on. Not surprisingly, when people talk about pacifism, they tend to paint with broad strokes. They either use “pacifism” to refer to their concept of peace making (a mistake I often make), or they criticize all forms of pacifism by refuting one particular interpretation of it (usually the extreme version, which is one of the least held).

I’m trying to find my place on the continuum. I’ve done a lot of my thinking “out loud” here on this blog. And I’ll continue to do so. I look forward to you helping me find my way, even though I doubt I’ll end up in a unmovable position until I enter the eternal shalom.


Graphic courtesy of Sweet Publishing

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?

Is our citizenship a big deal?

I shared some thoughts on citizenship yesterday. I mentioned that I view this as an extremely important topic, even as some of my fellow Christians see it as a novelty issue, a footnote to be pondered and forgotten. Others, however, see it as a vital topic, even as they take a view opposite my own. The discussion on Facebook centered around a new book and video series, done by a Church of Christ group, focusing on returning America to the principles of the Founding Fathers. In fact, it’s common to find Christian groups teaching on what America needs, how to keep America great, and how to promote the ideals of America around the world.

So is the topic of our citizenship important? I’m convinced more and more that it is. One reason why is the response I get to things like what I wrote yesterday. I’ve seen Christians literally shake with anger after hearing the suggestion that nationalism and patriotism are not Christian values. Loving believers turn hateful when I talk about churches of Christ returning to their pacifistic roots. Refusing to say the pledge or sing the national anthem are reason enough to question one’s spirituality. [As a side note, did you notice that you don't even have to explain which pledge? "The pledge" is a sacred ritual among us.]

The reactions show me that this is no side issue. This is a heart issue. It touches us deeply. It touches our churches deeply.

That’s why I’m becoming more radical in my stances. There is a very real danger of serving two masters. There is a real danger of syncretism. There is a real danger of idolatry.

And I will flee from such.

What about the second mile?

Bloch's Sermon on the MountIn discussing the issues of violence and non-violence, pacifism and non-pacifism, something comes up at times that I think needs to be re-examined. I’ve heard it said that Jesus’ comments about non-resistance to evildoers only applied to religious persecution.

In mulling this over and weighing it out, a thought kept coming to mind: what about the second mile? You know the teaching:

If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

It’s in the context of Jesus’ reframing the concept of vengeance (“eye for eye, tooth for tooth”), two phrases after the command to turn the other cheek. And it’s definitely not about religious persecution. There’s no evidence that the concept of Roman soldiers forcing non-Romans to carry their gear was a religious oppression. It was more akin to the quartering that the British Empire practiced prior to the American Revolution.

Jesus’ answer is that such oppression is not to be resisted.

Now I know that there are other ways of teaching that the Sermon of the Mount doesn’t apply to us. We’ve looked at those in a series on this blog. If you’d like to restate those views, fine. I don’t expect to spend a lot of time replying to such comments.

For those that think that Matthew recorded Jesus’ teachings for the edification of Jesus’ church, I’d like to discuss this point: doesn’t the teaching about the second mile move the conversation away from the subject of religious persecution?

Good men doing nothing

I’m wanting to spend some time this week with a much-repeated phrase: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” I mentioned yesterday that the quote has been used ad nauseum to promote this action or that one (often conflicting actions, with both sides claiming to be the “good” side). I say that not in condemnation of the quote, but as justification for spending several days looking at it.

While I’m still unconvinced of the worth of the saying itself, I will admit what others have said: much of my angst in this situation comes from the misuse of this quote, particularly by Christians. Vern commented yesterday: “It’s probably better to limit the quote to the political/social arena and not apply it at all to the living of Christians.” Much of my distress comes from the fact that the “all that is necessary” saying is frequently used to move Christians into the political/social arena! The quote is used to say, “If you aren’t active in this arena, you aren’t doing anything.”

And, in the midst of our prolonged back and forth, Nick made a couple of key statements:

However, (and I’m certain Tim will talk about this later in the week), the quote is rarely used to criticize people who are, in fact, doing *nothing*. Literally, truly, nothing.

It is used to criticize people who aren’t following the quoter’s recommended course of action. Ask any pacifist how often they’ve been rhetorically bludgeoned with this quote. Anyone who thinks that pacifism (or even QUIETISM, for crying out loud) is doing nothing has a painfully shallow view of spiritual warfare.

Sometimes, doing nothing is precisely what is necessary for one person. But that’s completely different from the idea that all men and women made good by the blood of the cross and the power of the Spirit should choose to do nothing against the forces of evil.

What I look forward to in the coming days is the shredding of the assumptions typically driving its use. Not a call to ACTION, but a call to a specific – typically nationalist – course of action. Actually, I find that is isn’t typically used as a call to action at all, but as a pejorative against indirect action, compassionate responses, and non-violence.

Nick could see where I was headed with some of this. Tying in with yesterday’s post, I want to talk about the idea that “merely” praying is “doing nothing.” (Just typing the phrase “merely praying” makes me gag a bit) That’s definitely our culture talking. Dan Bouchelle posted something the other day, quoting an African Christian who said, “You Americans sure can sing, but you don’t know much about how to pray.”

In general, we don’t believe in the power of prayer. I saw an extreme of this a few years ago. I was participating in a Church of Christ Internet group, and one member wrote something like: “We pray because God commanded us to. We know that it’s not going to change anything.” Wow! How sad.

Those who don’t believe in the power of prayer will often use phrases like “sit around singing Kum Ba Yah.” Don’t know why that poor song carries the brunt of their wrath, but it’s come to characterize someone who believes that God can and will intervene in this world… even if it’s not in the way we would want.

Maybe that’s why I’m troubled by the lack of God in this quote. It feeds that worldly mindset that says, “If I don’t do it, it won’t get done. God certainly isn’t going to do anything.”

Prayer is doing something. It is action. The problem is, relying on prayer takes more courage than most of us have. It requires a loss of control. It requires patience… some prayers in the Bible weren’t answered for decades. Decades! It requires us to accept God’s plans, rather than stepping forward and shaping our own story.

Prayer is not the only action Christians should take against evil. But it is by far the most significant. When someone says, “All we can do is pray,” it doesn’t mean all hope is gone. It means that we still have our greatest weapon.

All that is required for the triumph of evil is for good men to stop relying on God’s power.