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?

Leaving Meshech, abandoning Kedar

dronesBombs going off in Boston. Stabbings at a college in Texas. Bullets ending the lives of children in Connecticut. Unmanned aircraft dropping bombs on unsuspecting Afghans.

Heads of state threatening to unleash nuclear war. Terrorists calling for murder on a grand scale. Nations attacking others over land disputes that go back hundreds and even thousands of years.

Holy men calling for jihad. Christian leaders calling for the death of other human beings. Men taking up swords and guns in the name of the holy God.

“Woe to me that I dwell in Meshech, that I live among the tents of Kedar! Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. I am a man of peace; but when I speak, they are for war.” (Psalms 120:5–7)

The first psalm in the Psalms of Ascent states the problem well: we are living in Meshech or in Kedar, far from God’s holy city. The third psalm in the group reminds us of where we want to be:

“I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.”” (Psalms 122:1)

We don’t want to live in Meshech any more. We’re sick of Kedar. We long to go to the presence of the Lord.

Then let our songs abound,
and every tear be dry;
we’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground,
we’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground,
to fairer worlds on high,
to fairer worlds on high.

We’re marching to Zion,
Beautiful, beautiful Zion;
We’re marching upward to Zion,
The beautiful city of God.

No more speaking up for evil

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAOK, I want to go back to a recurring theme on this blog, the idea of speaking to the political system from outside the system. I admittedly wrestle with terminology a bit, for I tend to think of politics in terms of partisan struggles, while others think that anything affecting the public (the polis) is politics.

What I’m talking about is Christians refusing to align themselves with human groups, be they liberal or conservative, Republican or Democratic. At some point, those groups begin to exist with the aim of winning elections and guaranteeing their continued existence. Ideas begin to be judged more in terms of practicality, feasibility, and electability, rather than in terms of right and wrong.

So we Christians speak out on the issues, but not with the same talking points that our non-Christian friends use. If your political views line up with a non-believer’s political views, your views probably aren’t Christian. It’s as simple as that.

One area where I’d like to see Christians take a firm stand these days is on the topic of life. We need to be pro-life, far beyond what those who merely oppose abortion are. We need to be anti-death. We need to stop saying, “Well, this form of killing is worse than that form of killing, so I’ll oppose it.” I read a Christian blogger who said that the conservatives are wrong for supporting overseas wars, while liberals are wrong for supporting abortion, but he’d support the conservatives because of “body count.”

No! When we choose the lesser of two evils, we are still choosing evil.

Let’s be known for saying, “I don’t care who gets elected. I don’t care if this idea has public palatability. I’m going to speak the truth.” Let’s be known as the people who won’t compromise their beliefs just to be able to identify themselves with a popular movement. Let’s be known as those who unwaveringly seek the truth. (imperfectly, yes, but relentlessly)

Let’s stand up for life. From womb to the tomb, as they say. We oppose abortion. We oppose war. We oppose humans causing the death of other humans.

Once we start speaking out against ALL killing, people will realize that we aren’t just another partisan voice in the political maelstrom. As long as we choose the lessor of evils, no one will believe that we are really speaking out for good.


photo from my old friend,

Stop supporting the “war” on terrorism

Cartoon by Glenn McCoy

Some of my Christian friends support war when that war can be defined as a just war. Not everyone who holds this position is versed in “just war theory,”so I guess we can’t expect all wars to meet those criteria in order for them to receive general approval from the Christian community. But I think we need to examine the so-called war on terrorism.

Most recognize that this is not a traditional war. It’s not always easy to define who the participants are. Some would compare it to the war on poverty or the war on drugs, that is, the term war being used to describe something that isn’t exactly war. But this war sure looks like a war. It’s the regular troops being sent out. The deaths are real. The destruction is real.

There are real dangers in allowing something to be “like a war,” without being an actual war. Exceptional powers are being given to those in government, to those in the intelligence agencies and to those in the military, all with the justification that “we are at war.” Such powers would normally be granted until the end of a war; who will declare the war on terrorism to be over?

Ten years ago, Stanley Hauerwas wrote an excellent article on these ideas. Hauerwas wrote:

The good thing, moreover, about the war on terrorism is it has no end, which makes it very doubtful that this war can be considered just. If a war is just, your enemy must know before the war begins what political purpose the war is to serve. In other words, they need to know from the beginning what the conditions are if they choose to surrender. So you cannot fight a just war if it is “a war to end all wars” (World War I) or for “unconditional surrender” (World War II). But a “war on terrorism” is a war without limit. Americans want to wipe this enemy off the face of the earth. Moreover, America even gets to decide who counts and does not count as a terrorist.

Two very important points right there:

  1. There is no defined end to this war. What are the objectives, beyond obliterating the enemy? Who can sign a peace accord for the opposing side? When will the world be able to say, “That’s it… no more terrorism. The war is over.”?
  2. There is no clear definition of who the opponents are. The U.S. government determines who is and who isn’t a terrorist. It defines what nations are state sponsors of terrorism, with those decisions sometimes being made on the basis of other political motives. When one side can decide for itself who its enemies are and continue adding to that list as the war goes on, there’s nothing just about the war.

On that second point, Hauerwas wrote:

Which means Americans get to have it any way they want it. Some that are captured, for example, are prisoners of war; some are detainees. No problem. When you are the biggest kid on the block, you can say whatever you want to say, even if what you say is nonsense. We all know the first casualty in war is truth. So the conservatives who have fought the war against “postmodernism” in the name of “objective truth,” the same conservatives that now rule us, assume they can use language any way they please.

That Americans get to decide who is and who is not a terrorist means that this is not only a war without clear purpose, but also a war without end. From now on we can be in a perpetual state of war. America is always at her best when she is on permanent war footing. Moreover, when our country is at war, it has no space to worry about the extraordinary inequities that constitute our society, no time to worry about poverty or those parts of the world that are ravaged by hunger and genocide. Everything—civil liberties, due process, the protection of the law—must be subordinated to the one great moral enterprise of winning the unending war against terrorism.

Christians who believe in just war need to stop supporting the so-called war on terrorism. There is nothing just about it. It’s just war, plain and simple.

Righting historical wrongs

As we look at questions of justice on a global scale, we quickly come to see that situations are very complex. For example, disputes over territorial claims aren’t easily resolved. (Anybody remember The Google Maps War?)

To illustrate, imagine a school where the teacher leaves the kids alone at lunch. A couple of the bullies go around and steal everybody’s lunches. The other kids being to fight back, and at that point a teacher comes in. The teacher tells everyone to sit down, stop fighting and eat what’s in front of them. The bullies generously offer to take the food they’ve stolen and sell it back to the other kids. Does anyone think this is just?

Now imagine the same school fifty years later. Every day, at lunch time, the teachers take the food away from certain kids and give it to others. “Your grandparents were bullies who took the food from these kids’ grandparents; now we’re righting that wrong.” Does anyone think this is just?

Silly examples, I know, but to some degree they show how ridiculous simple solutions to historical border disputes are. Look at the United States, for example. We have some land that belongs to us because of signed treaties, treaties that are now disputed by the countries that ceded us that land. (It’s funny to me how few people question why the United States has Guantanamo Bay, for example. It’s not like we’re on good terms with Cuba) The United States also owns land that shouldn’t belong to us because we gave it away under signed treaties. There can be no call for consistent application of “treaty law” without the United States losing a significant amount of land.

Argentina went to war with Great Britain over the Malvinas Islands. Those islands belonged to Argentina until they were taken in the mid-1800s. Britain argues that 150 years of ownership gives them the rights to that land. Argentina, not surprisingly, doesn’t agree and still doesn’t recognize Great Britain’s right to have those islands.

There are myriad stories around the world. If you go back far enough, your land probably belonged to someone else, even in ancient lands like Egypt and China. It’s not easy to sort through all of those claims.

And territorial disputes are merely one aspect of the world’s conflicts. If you live in a country that has benefitted from colonialism, wars, etc., you favor something like the first scenario, where everybody just keeps what they have right now. If you live in a country that isn’t at the top of the pecking order, or if you are one of the powerless people in a powerful nation, you’d like to see past injustices corrected.

An excellent article that looks at the effects that past colonialism still has in today’s world is Why Can’t People Feed Themselves? by Frances Moore Lappe and Joseph Collin. It’s worth a read.