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?

Shalom Builders

Yesterday, I was pointing out that “peace” in the Bible has a broader range of meanings than merely the absence of conflict. This is especially true in Hebrew. We have to feel that the Hebrew meaning influenced the New Testament writers; this is especially true in the gospel sayings, since Jesus spoke Aramaic, not Greek.
So think about some of the parallel ideas with the word peace:


If we are peacemakers, we are actively working to create these things. We can see some of this in Jeremiah’s words for the exiles in Babylon:

“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:5–7)

The word which the ESV translates as “welfare” is the word “shalom” — peace. The NIV inserts the word prosperity (“seek the peace and prosperity”), trying to convey the idea that peace is much more than absence of war.

As exiles, as strangers and aliens, we live here in Babylonia seeking to be shalom builders, seeking to create good and not ill, seeking to build and not destroy, working for all that is life and opposing all that is death.

As Rex pointed out in a comment yesterday, that’s a far cry from a passive lifestyle. Yet it’s a life of waging peace

Waging Peace

In English, the word “peace” conjures up a passive picture, one showing an absence of civil disturbance or hostilities, or a personality free from internal and external strife. The biblical concept of peace is larger than that and rests heavily on the Hebrew root slm, which means “to be complete” or “to be sound.” The verb conveys both a dynamic and a static meaning”to be complete or whole” or “to live well.” The noun had many nuances, but can be grouped into four categories: (1) salom [l'v] as wholeness of life or body (i.e., health); (2) salom [l'v] as right relationship or harmony between two parties or people, often established by a covenant (see “covenant of peace” in Num 25:12-13 ; Isa 54:10 ; Ezek 34:25-26 ) and, when related to Yahweh, the covenant was renewed or maintained with a “peace offering”; (3) salom [l'v] as prosperity, success, or fulfillment (see Lev 26:3-9 ); and (4) salom [l'v] as victory over one’s enemies or absence of war. Salom [l'v] was used in both greetings and farewells. It was meant to act as a blessing on the one to whom it was spoken: “May your life be filled with health, prosperity, and victory.” As an adjective, it expressed completeness and safety. In the New Testament, the Greek word eirene [eijrhvnh] is the word most often translated by the word “peace.” Although there is some overlap in their meanings, the Hebrew word salom [l'v] is broader in its usage, and, in fact, has greatly influenced the New Testament’s use of eirene [eijrhvnh].

Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

OK, it’s one of those things that makes everyone around me say, “Really? You never realized that?” But I’ll go ahead and admit it: I’ve been wrong about peace.

That is, my image of peace has been way too limited, even when I knew what is quoted above, that the biblical concept of peace goes beyond absence of conflict.

But I hadn’t applied that thought, for example, to Jesus’ statement “Blessed are the peacemakers….” I was merely thinking of stopping war and stopping fights between people, a concept that is certainly included. But when you think about the fuller meaning of “peace” in the Bible, suddenly Jesus’ words take on a whole new dynamic. It’s actively creating something, not merely trying to stop something.

Help me flesh out this new understanding. What does “peacemaking” look like in light of the Bible’s use of the word?

Talking about values

Germania--War and PeaceIn 2007, the Pew Research Center released the results of a survey about “Trends in Political Values and Core Attitudes.” It’s a topic they regularly research.

There are encouraging findings, like:

About eight- in-ten Americans say they have no doubt that God exists, that prayer is an important part of their lives, and that “we will all be called before God at the Judgment Day to answer for our sins.”

And I’m encouraged by the growing realization in this country that war does not create peace:

In the summer of 2002, less than a year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, 62% agreed with this statement: “The best way to ensure peace is through military strength.” But a year later, that number had fallen by nine points, to 53%. In the current survey, 49% say they think that maintaining military strength is the best way to ensure peace – the lowest percentage in the 20- year history of Pew values surveys.

Vengeance is also becoming less popular:

In 2002, with memories of 9/11 still fresh, 61% of Americans agreed with the statement: “It is my belief that we should get even with any country that tries to take advantage of the United States.” That marked a 19-point increase from 1999, and was the highest percentage agreeing with this sentiment in the 20-year history of the values survey.
But this proved to be a temporary rise in the public’s desire to “get even” with countries that have taken advantage of the U.S. Just a year later, 48% supported the idea of getting revenge against adversaries, and in the current survey it has declined to 40% – the lowest number in favor of getting even against other countries in 20 years.

Here’s the one that really worries me:

Overall, 50% agree with the statement: “We should all be willing to fight for our country, whether it is right or wrong”; 45% disagree with this statement. In values surveys since 1994, roughly half of the public has expressed agreement that one has an obligation to fight for his or her country whether it is right or wrong.
Republicans and Democrats differ in their views about whether a person has an obligation to fight for the U.S., even when it is wrong: Most Republicans (63%) believe people have such an obligation while most Democrats (52%) disagree. Independents are fairly evenly divided, with half agreeing that people have a duty to fight for the U.S. whether it is right or wrong.

If I could somehow believe that these were non-Christians holding that attitude, I could feel more at ease. But these values held true in large numbers with whites (53%); the white Republican base at that time was strongly Evangelical. Despite that fact, country took precedence over justice. You fight for your country, right or wrong.

Or am I reading that wrong? I haven’t yet found the complete data that might have that info broken down according to religious views. But don’t you agree that, if that really does reflect the outlook of many churchgoers across the country, we have a serious problem in our pews?

Survey results can be found here

Addendum: Found the 2012 results on the same issue:

About half of the public (51%) says that “we all should be willing to fight for our country, whether it is right or wrong,” 43% disagree. Opinions on this measure have fluctuated only modestly over the past 25 years. In the first political values survey in 1987, 54% said people should be willing to fight for this country, right or wrong, while 40% disagreed.
Republicans (58%) are more likely than Democrats or independents (49% each) to say that everyone should be willing to fight for the U.S., regardless of the circumstances. Among Democrats, a majority of conservatives and moderates (55%) say everyone should be willing to fight for this country, right or wrong. A majority of liberal Democrats disagree (56%).