The Long Journey of a Christian Pacifist

It has been said that ‘life is strange, and then you die’. There is some truth to that aphorism. I am 60 now and I’ve seen a lot of life. Some of the strangeness comes from one’s individual life experiences. Consider my childhood. I grew up in High Point N.C. playing Civil War soldiers with my Jewish girl friends down the street. I read books about the Civil War (ranging from Classics Illustrated to Bruce Catton, when I got older). I went through the Pictorial History of the Confederacy more times than I care to count. I still have the book. I was a Southern boy, the son of a ‘patriot’, as my father served proudly in WWII in the European theater.

Something was in the air however in the 60s, with the rise of the Jesus movement. I will never forget the Sunday that a ‘radical’ from High Point College came to Wesley Memorial Methodist Church, and took over the pulpit during the 11 o’clock service (much to the shock of everyone there), and ranted and raved about how unchristian the Vietnam War, an undeclared war I might add, was. The thing is, though I didn’t really like the man’s rudeness and interrupting of worship, I actually had begun to agree with his message.

Actually reading the Gospels as a High School student required to read the Bible for my God and Country award, it began to dawn on me that: 1) the Sermon on the Mount was rather important when it came to Christian ethics, and 2) I came to the conclusion Jesus would not have agreed with Richard Nixon about the moral nature of the Vietnam war. Indeed, he would not have agreed with the idea that any of the wars fought by the U.S. in my lifetime were examples of ‘just wars’ or even ‘justifiable wars’.

Jesus, as it turns out was a hard core pacifist and he was serious as a heart attack about that non-resistance, turn the other cheek, take up your cross and be prepared to die at the hands of your enemies stuff. He was, to use an oxymoron, an adamant even a belligerent pacifist. ‘Those who live by the sword die by the sword’ was his warning, and when his disciples tried to take up swords for the sake of the Kingdom Jesus not only told them ‘enough of that’ but he then repaired the damage to the ear of the high priest’s slave. Jesus was in deadly earnest about being the Prince of Peace.

So where did that leave me? Well, I had Quaker friends like Allen Haworth and for them it meant conscientious objection to the Vietnam War. So….. I decided that is what it meant for me as well. As you might well imagine, when it came to my being old enough to be draft eligible and I told my father I intended to go get the ‘papers’ (i.e. the conscientious objector forms), he was none too pleased. He tried to argue me out of it. He failed.

One of the things I will always admire about my father is that when he saw he couldn’t convince me, he went with me to the big Post Office to the Selective Service Office on Green St. to get the papers. He wasn’t happy, but he respected my right to make up my own mind. It showed me how much he loved me. I will never forget that.

As it turned out, my draft number was 192. So I was convinced to wait and see how things played out. My birthday was December 30th, so perhaps they would never get to my number by the end of the year, and I wouldn’t have to file those papers. So I waited, and waited, and waited, and they got into the 170s in the Fall. I was as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof. The moment of truth seemed imminent.
As it happened however, they never got to my number in High Point, and I am sure my father and mother were relieved that I never filed those papers. Not that either one of them wanted me to go to Vietnam and come back in a box. But they also were not going to sing along like I did to Country Joe and the Fish when they sang at Woodstock:

“And it’s one, two, three
What are we fighting for,
Don’t ask me I don’t give a dam…
Next stop is Vietnam.

“And it’s one, two, three
Open up the pearly gates
Ain’t no time to reason why
Whoopee we’re all gonna die.”

And then I went to Carolina. The very first day on campus I saw them collecting money for the Kent State fund. National Guardsmen had shot our own American college students for protesting the war. That was my wake up call to just how much a pacifist could be an endangered species if they protested too loudly or long in public. Note to self—- ‘be careful, people will see you as unpatriotic and un-American’ (further note to self— ‘they still do when you stand up for pacifism in America’).

I never saw myself as unpatriotic or a coward, indeed it took a lot of courage to take the stand I did. I profoundly loved and love my country. I just saw myself as the loyal opposition suggesting there were better ways to settle our differences. I was pretty sure when Jesus insisted we love our enemies he didn’t mean love them to death at the point of a gun. I became especially clear about this reflecting on the Lukan Passion narrative where Jesus prayed for his executioners “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Clearly this Gospel thing was deadly serious about forgiving instead of killing, or retaliating, or doing bodily harm. And I am happy to say that thus far, I have kept my bargain with Jesus on that score. I have never done violence of any kind to anyone. I hope I never will. Moses was also right when he said “no killing”.

Killing leaves blood on your hands, whether it’s manslaughter or pre-meditated murder or vehicular homicide. Killing is forever. If I ever did that, even by accident, or even while just intending to protect someone else’s life, I’d still have to do some serious repenting afterwards. All human life is sacred, and I have no right to take someone else’s life away. Ever. And BTW, the Bible says leave vengeance entirely in the hands of the Lord, he will repay.

What makes the journey of a pacifist long and hard is because of course you are swimming upstream in America, and sometimes you are swimming against a torrential flood in the other direction. You get used to being called a coward, unpatriotic (and a few unmentionable things), and this is all the more likely to happen to you, because you feel like that deer in the Far Side cartoon (see above). The Amish in one sense, take the easy way out. It would be one thing to live in a conclave of like-minded pacifists. That would be easier (see the movie The Witness). It’s harder to be in the world whilst not being of the world. It’s harder to be a non-sectarian, non-monastic pacifist. It just is.

There is some consolation in all this from consistency. In my book, to be truly pro-life across the board, one needs to be opposed to abortion, capital punishment, and war. Period. That is to be totally pro-life. I don’t much understand what the disconnect is for people who at the same time are adamantly pro-birth, nevertheless are some of the strongest advocates for guns, capital punishment, and war. I realize that war, capital punishment, and abortion are not the same issue, but they are very much related life issues, and one’s life ethic, one’s worldview approach to them should be broadly the same, or so it seems to me.

One of the things that has shocked me most about the youth today is how readily they line up as lambs to the slaughter in Afghanistan or Iraq with never a single protest, or even ‘on further review….’. Never. Where is the moral outrage against the hideousness of war, which as General Mark Clark rightly called it is “hell….on earth”? It is MIA. Where are the good debates about whether Afghanistan is a righteous cause or not? They too are missing in action. We will hear nothing about this matter in the Presidential debates I would wager. Nothing. Both candidates will wrap themselves in the flag while claiming to be Christians. And they will lose no sleep over it either. It’s very disappointing. Even if there was just a little wrestling with the moral issues I might feel better about voting for one or the other of them. But we don’t even see that.

Clearly 2012 is not 1968 in America. Can you imagine George McGovern running now for President? Or Eugene McCarthy? We are in a far more brutal stage of American history now, where even the rhetoric becomes abusive and violent, with shock jocks on the radio spewing venom of all sorts from the right and the left. We don’t talk to or dialogue with one another any more— we just yell at each other in twitters, tweets, emails, bumper stickers, rallies, on the radio, on TV, with the help of PACS. It’s almighty depressing, frankly.

Some days I feel like moving to Switzerland, but then I remember, I am the loyal American opposition, and even if my voice is drowned out I still have a vote and a right to be heard. If America really wanted to be a more Christian country it would study war no more, learn how to beat its swords into plowshares, and spend its military billions on the peaceful work of disaster relief in Haiti, Africa, wherever instead figuring out new ways to more easily destroy other human lives.

Some days I feel like John the Baptizer— a voice crying in a brutal wilderness. I wonder how many of you out there feel this way, but having gotten the beat down, at least verbally, have been Limbaughed or O’Rileyed into submission once or twice for being a pacifist? And so you have kind of gone silent and deep, gone underground, pulled your hat down low on your head and walked on by. But at home you listen again to Bobby Dylan’s ‘Masters of War’ or Joan Baez’s ‘Blowin in the Wind’ and weep.

This much I know for sure. I am proud to be a follower of Jesus Christ, and if that puts me at odds with my country’s official policies about abortion, capital punishment, or war, well then— so be it. I want to be totally pro life until the day I die. I don’t want to be like Lady MacBeth with blood on her hands which she curses again and again saying ‘out out, damned spot’ but she never can wash herself clean.

For me, part of being holy, being pure, being clean, being like Jesus, is being a pacifist. And whatever the cost, I do not regret it….and I doubt I ever will. And dat is all I got to say just now, about dat.

  • skip johnston

    Dr, Witherington,
    Except for the fact that I was born to Northern parents and fought the Civil War’s centennial as a Yankee, you’ve pretty much told my story. Well, that and my draft number was 108. I filed the papers. After 2 1/2 years the SS relented and gave me a “health” deferment. Ancient history. Still. living life as a patriotic pacifist in contemporary America has been, as you offer, a constant challenge. I’d like to make excuses for “just” war and so on. I’ve tried. Sure be easier if I could. But Jesus’ pacifist “commandments” are in my heart. I’m so saddened by the last 10 years of war. What if we’d spent the untold billions we spent on war on diplomatic or social or economic or peacemaking efforts? Hopelessly idealistic? Unrealistic? Dangerous? Maybe. Would there be any more dead today if we’d tried? And who knows where we might be spiritually?

  • Mike Mitchell

    Dr. Witherington,

    I do not believe it makes one holy and pure to refrain from defending the weak and innocent from the evil people in our world who seek to molest and destroy them. Jesus demands we always refuse to retaliate against personal insult, not that we refuse to stand up and protect those who are defenseless. Had all Americans taken your indiscriminate view of pacifism in the 1940s, then likely we would all be speaking German right now, and we would probably be more familiar with the swastika than with the cross.

    I am also compelled to say in response to your insistence on political pacifism as a nonnegotiable Christian stand that the greatest Christian leaders and scholars in history (of which I would count you one) have not held a consistent position on this. Many, in fact, of the greatest saints of the Church have indeed not been pacifists. I would like to hear your thoughts on C.S. Lewis’ essay “Why I’m Not A Pacifist.”

  • Tom

    Very thoughtful article, but I’m not sure why you would want to move to Switzerland. Every male is conscripted into the army and keeps their government issues semi automatic weapons in their homes.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IaxOZ-fbe6M

  • Ben Witherington

    Hi Mike: There are many ways to defend the weak, and they do not necessarily require violence. We must not be myopic and think violence is the only or even the best way to protect the weak. The best way to get rid of crime, for example is to make it possible for all persons to make a living wage, and live a decent life. The best way to get rid of drugs and drug addiction is to remove the need for it, none of which require violence. Rather it requires lots of love and mercy, and good medicine, and patient counseling. If you remove the causes of violence, you are indeed protecting the weak. And of course the best way to fight evil is by converting the wicked persons in the first place, and changing their character. I love C.S. Lewis, but in my judgment he is wrong. As Romans 4-5 say very clearly, Jesus died for the sinner, for the ungodly, for the enemies of God, including people like Hitler. There are many Christian causes worth dying for, but none worth killing for, because in the killing we violate the very heart of the commandments and demands God makes of us— to love even our enemies, which I am pretty sure does not mean to love them to death at the point of a gun. Either we do, or we don’t believe the Scriptures when it tells the following kinds of things: 1) love ultimately conquers all, because the God of Love ultimately conquers all; 2) violence is best responded to by absorbing its worst and triumphing over it, not by responding in kind; 3) vengeance is the Lord’s he will repay. It’s not our job. Either we believe God is sovereign over all, or we don’t. We as Christians are to leave final judgment in God’s hands. But let’s talks for a moment about historical contingencies like WWII. What do you suppose would have happened to Hitler if all the churches in Germany had refused to support Hitler, had in fact adamantly opposed his regime and been prepared to die for their convictions by the millions? I’ll tell you what would have happened— it is exceedingly unlikely there would have been a WWII, as the uproar of the families of the slain would have prevented it! I imagine you have read Bonhoeffer, who was a pacifist, then became persuaded he should help with the bomb plot, then the plot failed, then he went to jail and was finally executed, and now his Letters from Prison and other earlier works and his martyrdom speaks far louder as a Christian witness than any failed attempt to assassinate Hitler. Or consider the story of Peter Storey, a Methodist Bishop in South Africa, who’s son refused to fight in the Afrikans army and went to jail. The day came when the Bishop and Desmond Tutu were taken out in the woods to be shot by two young Afrikans soldiers. As they were about to fire, Storey exclaimed— ‘Are you Christians???’ and when they said yes, then Desmond yelled “Then you cannot do this, for at a minimum no Christian should ever be trying to kill another Christian—ever!” And they lived to tell the tail. There is a reason why early Christians in the first through fourth centuries did not serve in the military, indeed refused to do so, and preferred martyrdom. It wasn’t just because legions had pagan patron gods. It was because as Isaiah 53 says about the suffering servant— he had done no violence, and his followers sought to emulate his witness. Blessings, BW3

  • rumitoid

    Forgiveness in advance, please. I see things differently and these view may sting. I have a tendency to take such discussions (debates? arguments?) as if engaged in brain-storming, fully open-minded to find the best course and ready for any critique. In other words, I forget human beings are involved and act like we are just doing a suduku together or something like that; I get too calculating. too cold, too something that often upsets. So, proceed with caution.

    I was on track scholarship in 1965 to the University of Maryland (home of SDS) and it took till my second year to realize, for me, that the only true protest was to volunteer for the draft, go infantry all the way, and be prepared to die without a fight. I excelled in the war games, well-practiced from killing so many “Japs” and “Krauts” in my childhood. There was no indication I was anything less than a real patriot and good soldier. God said “Not yet” and I was stationed in Germany, in a very cush intelligence job. Was this meant as a test? was my first reaction to the posting.
    The real dilemma started and nearly put me over the edge. Do I desert? If I do, someone will take my assignment and possibly not have to kill. If I do, my family will face intense disgrace and break my mother’s heart. If I don’t, are my convictions real about pacificism? If I don’t, am I not honoring my parents? Is staying so far from the frontline no different than being on the firing line? One day on pass I was heading to Frankfurt to meet with some activists that would get me to Sweden and then turned back. A week later I was in the Re-up office, ready to sign for another four years if I got assigned to Viet Nam. God put a recruiting sergeant there, just back from the fighting, who took me to the non-com club for drinks and dissuasion. It worked, for it really boiled down to wanting to be back with my family again, a big brother to my younger siblings. That was cowardly, yet I bore the shame and was honorably discharged at the end of my tour.

    I do not love my country today and not for anything it did or failed to do but because I find it wholly unnecessary to functioning as a good citizen and a danger to faith. If patriotism is not an outright sin, it is a grave temptation. There is a great deal more to this stance but I’ll let this suffice.

    There is what I see as the best insight into non-violent civil disobedience ever written by Thomas Merton; perhaps you’ve read it. It is to come from a place of stillness, not protest; it is not being against ideas, governments, oppressors, or anything; it is being for love of neighbor. He says it far better and I am writing from work; not accessible.

    The difference I see it that the Beatitudes are not an ethical code but the simple description of a saint who has found a great measure of freedom from worldliness. I cannot strive for the things noted; these things come from Spirit. In the heart described, there is no sacrifice–no loss, burden, or suffering endured–for the joy of being at-one with Christ makes such as nothing.

  • rumitoid

    Forgiveness in advance, please. I see things differently and these view may sting. I have a tendency to take such discussions (debates? arguments?) as if engaged in brain-storming, fully open-minded to find the best course and ready for any critique. In other words, I forget human beings are involved and act like we are just doing a suduku together or something like that; I get too calculating. too cold, too something that often upsets. So, proceed with caution.

    I was on track scholarship in 1965 to the University of Maryland (home of SDS) and it took till my second year to realize, for me, that the only true protest was to volunteer for the draft, go infantry all the way, and be prepared to die without a fight. I excelled in the war games, well-practiced from killing so many “Japs” and “Krauts” in my childhood. There was no indication I was anything less than a real patriot and good soldier. God said “Not yet” and I was stationed in Germany, in a very cush intelligence job. Was this meant as a test? was my first reaction to the posting.
    The real dilemma started and nearly put me over the edge. Do I desert? If I do, someone will take my assignment and possibly not have to kill. If I do, my family will face intense disgrace and break my mother’s heart. If I don’t, are my convictions real about pacificism? If I don’t, am I not honoring my parents? Is staying so far from the frontline no different than being on the firing line? One day on pass I was heading to Frankfurt to meet with some activists that would get me to Sweden and then turned back. A week later I was in the Re-up office, ready to sign for another four years if I got assigned to Viet Nam. God put a recruiting sergeant there, just back from the fighting, who took me to the non-com club for drinks and dissuasion. It worked, for it really boiled down to wanting to be back with my family again, a big brother to my younger siblings. That was cowardly, yet I bore the shame and was honorably discharged at the end of my tour.

    I do not love my country today and not for anything it did or failed to do but because I find it wholly unnecessary to functioning as a good citizen and a danger to faith. If patriotism is not an outright sin, it is a grave temptation. There is a great deal more to this stance but I’ll let this suffice.

    There is what I see as the best insight into non-violent civil disobedience ever written by Thomas Merton; perhaps you’ve read it. It is to come from a place of stillness, not protest; it is not being against ideas, governments, oppressors, or anything; it is being for love of neighbor. He says it far better and I am writing from work; not accessible.

    The difference I see is that the Beatitudes are not an ethical code but the simple description of a saint who has found a great measure of freedom from worldliness. I cannot strive for the things noted; these things come from Spirit. In the heart described, there is no sacrifice–no loss, burden, or suffering endured–for the joy of being at-one with Christ makes such as nothing.

  • http://www.hearjefftalk.com Jeff

    Professor Witherington,

    Thank you very much for your words of encouragement.

    I’m a United Methodist Pastor in the North Carolina Conference and I remember a few years ago during Annual Conference, we spent a great deal of time arguing about “life” issues. Of course, by “life issues,” I mean that these conversations centered around abortion, resolutions about abortion, and whether or not we should have health insurance that paid for anything that could even be remotely considered an abortion. After all that time spent talking about life, a man in military garb took the stage to talk about military chaplaincy. He received a standing ovation because of the uniform he wore.

    I was struck by the paradox… the paradox of ensuring that we’re “pro life” in one sense, but not in another sense.

    Moreover, I didn’t stand during this standing ovation. This led to dirty looks and a lecture after the session was over by an older gentleman (though an ordained elder, I’m only 28) about how me and my generation don’t appreciate the sacrifices that are made on our behalf. “Freedom isn’t free” I was told. I’m saddened that in the shadow of a cross on which Jesus died for our freedom, we look to the tombstones of soldiers more appreciatively. The cross of Christ that ensures a deeper freedom than we will ever know until we enter the New Jerusalem.

    I love America, but it offends my conscience to salute a flag and pledge allegiance to it. I love America, but our wars offend my conscience. When I say this, it sounds ungrateful. Thank you for giving folks like me a credible and wise voice.

    J

  • Tom

    “What do you suppose would have happened to Hitler if all the churches in Germany had refused to support Hitler, had in fact adamantly opposed his regime and been prepared to die for their convictions by the millions? I’ll tell you what would have happened— it is exceedingly unlikely there would have been a WWII, as the uproar of the families of the slain would have prevented it!”

    The problem was that that didn’t happen. Now, what was the responsibility of Christians in Poland, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Norway, Denmark, Britain, and the United States when the Nazis came a-knocking?

  • http://www.insearchofthecity.com Josh L

    Wonderful article, brother. Thanks for sharing your story on this very important subject.

  • http://thesidos.blogspot.com/ Arthur Sido

    You certainly are not alone. As someone who for a very long time saw no inherent contradiction in claiming to follow Christ but cheer on the death of America’s enemies, I am a fairly recent convert to a position of non-resistance. I have found that of all of the “controversial” positions I hold none gets such a universal negative reaction from so many fellow Christians. How odd it seems to me now that few issues are more likely to get a vitriolic response from within the church than suggesting that we take Jesus seriously.

  • http://drgtjustwondering.blogspot.com Diana Trautwein

    Powerful words, Ben. Thank you. My husband was raised in an historic ‘peace’ church and was allowed to register as a 1-W – a conscientious objector – during the Vietnamese war. He was drafted, like nearly everyone else, but was allowed to do alternate military service. So we went to Zambia and taught school for two years rather than shipping him off to southeast Asia to be engaged in war. I had never heard of such a position before and by the time we returned from Africa, I was a pacifist as well. It is only the question posed by Tom just above that makes me wrestle. Perhaps because the church failed to be the church in WWII, our options became slim. And I don’t know the answer to that dilemma. Your answer speaks to what we should have done. But we didn’t do it. What then should we have done once the war was in full, horror-charged operation?

  • John Inglis

    The issue of killing a brother or sister christian in a war has been the single biggest issue for me. It’s a hurdle I just can’t get over no matter how justified a war seems to be. With Christians spread all over the world, it is inevitable that we would end up killing a brother. I just cannot fathom how one could do that to a member of Christ’s body and then face Jesus Christ. Every war in Europe involved disciples killing disciples. So did the American wars of independence and civil war. So did the War of 1812.

  • Katie Wehrheim

    What an awesome article….thank you for posting this. It’s really refreshing.

  • http://thepersistentkog.wordpress.com Andy Zook

    Ben, thanks for your testimony and example. I too want to be completely pro-life all my life – no matter what comes our way. Together we shall, with God’s help, rise above the world’s violent fray.

  • Rupaul

    I don’t see things the same way as you on abortion. I don’t want to start a debate about that, and I agree with you about war and capital punishment. All I really want to say is that you are wrong when you talk about our nation’s “position” on abortion; that is like saying that the US has a position on religion. Many religious people have different positions on the morality of abortion, and the government is agnostic on the morality of this. This is quite different from its active role in war and capital punishment (both of which are monopolies of the government).

  • jerry lynch

    “Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” Dostoevsky’s Father Zossima. I found this out one morning at the Full Gospel Businessman’s breakfast. Everyone stood, as usual, to say the Pledge of Allegiance and I could not. It was almost as if two strong arms were on my shoulders and pinning to my chair. This was not well-received by those assembled. I had not had the boldness at last month’s meeting to take my, well, sit, when asked to stand for the flag. As the looks went from stern to angry, I squirmed a bit, then a sudden peace came. A prayer started seemingly on its own for the peace of Christ to radiate through the room. No one accosted me or said an ill-word afterward but just before I got in the car, a Nam Vet came striding up to me, stopped before me, saluted, and walked away.

    The reality we are all in—and this is literally, not figuratively—is citizenship in heaven. This is our country, our homeland, our governing authority. Our weapons are not the weapons of the world. The sword we know is only the one of discernment, dividing soul from spirit, the temporal from the Eternal. Peacemaking is not a protest against the ways of violence and those that practice it but “an inner realization of spiritual unity” within ourselves. We are not looking to achieve this unity; it is “the fruit of inner unity already achieved.” Unless this is so, a form of violence remains in our hearts. The enemy must be as dearly loved as the ones who suffer from their injustice. In God’s kingdom, the warmongers are counted among “the least of these.” “The least of these” are all those who have yet to realize the peace of Christ for whatever reason.

  • Rupaul

    @jerry lynch,

    thank you for your words, “the enemy must be as dearly loved as the ones who suffer from their injustice”.

  • jerry lynch

    @Rupaul,
    No, no, thank you for your kind words.

  • Keith Pavlischek

    Prof. Witherington, I know you are a professor but your response to the hypothetical in which a police officer or a public official determines that the application of lethal force is the only way to prevent a grave evil is rather weak. In effect, you say that NONLETHAL means (e.g., tear gas) should be used instead of lethal force and you suggest that this would be just as effective as lethal force. Are you serious?

    First, your claim is based on the rather implausible assumption that criminals and aggressors who ARE willing to use lethal force for evil ends can be deterred by those they KNOW are unwilling to use lethal force. To put this in theological terms, you are saying that original sin and the extent of evil in the world is real, but it isn’t all that deep and extensive because those who are willing to kill to advance their evil can be deterred by non-lethal force. Come to think of it, that isn’t merely implausible, it is preposterous.

    Second, those of us who reject pacifism on Biblical, theological and historical grounds are not opposed to using less than lethal means if such means are effective in such situations. If a merely verbal shout “stop lynching that black man” will do the trick, then by all means, give it a go. But you chose to dodge the difficult question that public officials and police officers confront daily–what if ONLY the threat and use of lethal force will prevent or stop the evil?

    Third, How do you justify the application of non-lethal violence? What you are saying, in effect, is that while the Sermon on the Mount, would not allow a Christian police officer to use lethal violence to stop the KKK from lynching a black man, it does permit a Christian police officer use violence (tear gas) as long as it isn’t lethal. So much for turning the other cheek, huh? Where does the Gospel as you interpret it, give the go-ahead for violence, as long as it isn’t lethal?

  • Ben Witherington

    Keith you have rather badly misunderstood what I said. I said, that the police should use alternate means when possible and lethal force should always be a last resort. Kapish? I’m not asking the police to be pacifist. I am asking for there to be a spectrum of possible responses with lethal force being a last resort. BW3

  • Ben Witherington

    P.S to Keith. You are also confusing apples and oranges. I don’t expect a city police force to live by Christian principles anyway. I do expect them to behave with restraint where possible. Me personally I wouldn’t use anything that seriously harms another person. BW3

  • Keith Pavlischek

    Ok–According to you it is permissible for public officials and police officers to use lethal force.

    Your position, then is very similar to that of the Schleitheim confession. it is good and proper that non-Christians wield the sword in order to punish evil and promote the good, but it is EVIL and WRONG for the Christian to do what God expects non-Christians to do.

    So, for you, the office and calling of a police officer (or a soldier) is INTRINSICALLY IMMORAL for a Christian (akin to a Christian serving as a pimp in a whore house) but is not intrinsically immoral for non-Christians, in deed quite to the contrary, they are described as God’s “ministers.” (Rom 13)

    Does this accurately describe your position? If not, please explain.

  • Ben Witherington

    This is basically correct, though I would say there are elements of the ethic of the NT which are specifically Christian, and other elements which are not. In other words, there is an overlap between a general ethic the elements of which could be applied outside the Christian community without expecting a person to become a Christian to follow it, and a Christian ethic. Take for instance the issue of theft. One does not have to be a Christian or subscribe to some uniquely demanding Christian ethical standard to agree that theft is wrong, and we can expect the secular legal authorities to enforce laws about theft without accusing them of ‘imposing Christian ethics’ on the general populus. BW3

  • Cliff Hutchison

    Thank you for writing this well thought out article, and I especially like that you wrote it specifically for the boomer generation that has not fully come to terms with the social split and shame caused by the Viet Nam war.

    I was born during the last year of US deployment to Viet Nam and don’t have any of my own memories about it, only memories of what few conversations my parents and older people at church had years later. I believe it was so emotionally charged that very little of real meaning was ever discussed for me to truly understand more than the vaguest “for and against” opinions, which were almost never backed with clear scriptural support.

    My father is a thorough pacifist, never wielding a gun, never serving in the military, never supporting any war our nation has fought during his lifetime, even though he’s run for public office a few times.

    I am in support of the Just War theory which requires that the lawfully delegated authority (in the US it’s the Congress) declares war, naming the enemy and the enemie’s actions that already put them in a state of war with our country, and requires that sufficient force is used to end the enemies aggression in the least amount of time with the least number of lives lost. This has not been used in the past 65 years even though our nation has fought many armed conflicts during that time, and that is why our world is unraveling in violence before our very eyes.

    Even while allowing our civil government that power, we must also require that the government be kept to their other lawful limits and also follow the rest of their required duties. So often it’s the other things that unscrupulous government officials do or neglect to do that would help prevent wars from being started by other countries as well. Too often people view things in a narrow categorical prism and don’t see how other variables affect the subject at hand; involvement in previous wars (Germany in WWI), trade embargoes (Japan in 1930s), the petro-dollar monopoly (Middle East 1970s – now), neglecting immigration laws (9/11), etc. have led to the out break of violence leading to wars as well.

    I am adamantly opposed to wars that are not defensive in nature, including the ongoing Afghan War (which the Congress didn’t authorize to overthrow and install a new government) and am absolutely horrified that the ongoing US drone attacks in Yemen, Pakistan, Sudan and elsewhere are almost never mentioned anywhere on the news or in our churches. The deaths of hundreds of civilians without any justification and the violation of rights of even US born citizens (in addition to other innocent people) should be of enough importance to Christians in the country whose government is committing these killings for us to speak out in no uncertain terms.

    We have lost our hearts and souls in this cold and unfeeling computerized world, even as our friends at church become more and more sensitive to even the most remote possibility of hurting anyone’s feelings at any time for any reason. As CS Lewis wrote so prophetically, we are “men without chests”.

  • Eric John Sawyer

    Stephen have you ever considered that the size of your weapon is not what frightens your enemy, but the one who stands at your shoulder who carries a swords that could run him/her through endlessly. Yield to the greater heart, and you will no longer fear your enemies. Love them and pray for them. It is a weapon, that not only deals with evil but will free our world from it. In the end, we who put up the sword, do it not to disengage but to allow the Prince of Peace to engage his victory in our lives and in history unto his kingdom. Peace.


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