The Big Picture Podcast 45: Pacifist vs. Peacemaker


Welcome to the Big Picture Podcast. I’m Joel Fieri, and this podcast seeks to begin and hopefully sustain a conversation about current trends and issues in the Church and greater society. On The Big Picture Podcast, our motto or tag line is “separating the forest from the trees”, and there’s no subject that blurs that distinction more than today’s topic. And that topic is war – specifically the Christian attitude towards war.

Now what got me thinking on this topic was a recent crop of Super Bowl commercials. Among them was an interesting contribution from the Coca Cola Company. No doubt many of you saw it. The ad featured footage from security cameras around the world, catching people in random acts of kindness like stealing kisses and dealing in potato chips, among others. All these acts were harmless and fun until near the end of the ad when they showed footage of what they called a “peace warrior”. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t a military soldier; it was a hooded graffiti artist spray painting the word ‘peace’ on the front of a building.

Now, assuming the artist didn’t own the building, this is usually called vandalism. But in the mind of Coca-Cola, or at least its advertising company, it was an act of war, for the cause of peace.

If you’re confused, so am I. If you’re disturbed, so am I. But in our morally backwards culture, I’m not really surprised.

But as I said, it did get me thinking about the notion of peace and how it’s brought about.

So I want to contrast this with another notion of what constitutes a “peace warrior”.

In 1941, in the early, dark days of the worst war in human history, two world leaders sat on the deck of a battleship, agreeing to fight together the great evil of Nazi Germany. To mark the agreement, they and the crowd of dignitaries and seamen were led in singing the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers”.

Now in today’s world and Christian culture, we may find that hard to believe. But it’s true – the greatest victory against evil in all history began by Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt identifying Jesus Christ as the royal master leading them against their foe.

There aren’t a lot of people who would argue that our participation in WWII wasn’t a just cause, and that aren’t thankful we prevailed against such obvious evil. But was it right for them to call themselves ‘Christian Soldiers’, embracing the war and even proclaiming Jesus as their leader in the killing of millions of human beings created in God’s image?

This has been a fundamental argument among Christians for centuries, Christian Pacifism vs. the Just War Theory. So I’d like to examine a little of what the Bible says in regards to war.

First, the most obvious – Jesus said “blessed are the peacemakers”. In our world and understanding today, that would seem to indicate a pacifist mindset. But are pacifists really peacemakers?

Back to our WWII story for a minute. Before Mr. Churchill was prime minister of Great Britain, a pacifist named Neville Chamberlain held that office. In 1939, before the war began, he met with Adolf Hitler and promised him that if Hitler would just agree not to invade any more countries, then Great Britain would not fight him. Hitler agreed, and Chamberlain famously held up the agreement proclaiming that it meant “peace in our time”, after which Hitler, sensing weakness in Chamberlain and Britain, promptly broke the agreement and invaded Poland. Churchill, and Roosevelt, neither one of them pacifists, were left the gigantic task of making peace through four years of total war.

This is the harsh reality of pacifism. It is seen as weakness by those bent on evil. It’s even been said that weakness is a provocation to war, not a deterrent, and history proves that.

Jesus also mentions turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, and even feeding them. But is he talking about war here? I don’t think so. A slap on the cheek is traditionally not an act of violence, but instead symbolizes an insult. Jesus was speaking, I believe, in the micro sense, about interpersonal conflicts and relationships. He’s saying don’t lower yourselves to the level of personal insults, even if you’re insulted. There is an obvious contrast in scripture between our personal and public responsibilities as Christians.

A peacemaker, I believe, is one who is prepared to fight, but who does so not for evil but for righteousness and against evil. Jesus himself used military parables. In Luke 14:31, he equates counting the cost of following him to a king deciding whether or not to go to war against another king. If he doesn’t think he can win, he makes peace. But that would imply that if he could win, he should go to war. If Jesus were a pacifist, this parable wouldn’t fit his message. Nor would telling his disciples to carry swords to protect themselves and their money later in Luke.

The apostle Paul, in Ephesians, uses a well known military illustration of the armor of God. A helmet of salvation, breastplate of righteousness, even the sword of the spirit. Military conflict was a reality in Biblical times and neither Jesus nor Paul challenged its validity.

The popular sentiment today (or at least the trite little bumper sticker) is that “war is not the answer”. Well, not exactly. No doubt throughout history there’ve been wars fought for no good reason, but war has been the answer, and really the only answer, to our independence, the ending of slavery, and the defeat of Nazism, fascism, Japanese imperialism and communism. It’s also dealt a severe blow to terrorism, but I’ll grant that the jury’s still out on that fight.

The book of Ecclesiastes tells us that there’s a time for peace, but also a time for war. So how do we know the difference? I don’t have a good answer, other than to say that the closer we hold as individuals and a society to Biblical truth and obedience, the better we and our leaders will recognize true evil and be prepared and willing to fight it. The further we get from Biblical truth into the morass of our post-modern, politically correct notions of peace and morality, like embracing vandalism for peace, the more confused, weak and ‘passive’ we’ll become. And the more passive those with the truth become, the more emboldened those who lie and do evil become.

The last time Western Civilization made that mistake, the world suffered and was nearly destroyed.

In closing, it’s time for the Great Cloud Of Witnesses, the segment of our podcast where we meet and hear the stories of those who have given, and some who are still giving, their lives by faith in the promises of God, and of whom the world was and is not worthy (if you don’t know that reference, please check out Hebrews chapter 11-12 in your Bible). And keeping with our subject, today’s witness was a man who faced the question of war in his own time and country like few people ever have. His story needs to be heard. Here’s just a little of it:

As Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seduced a nation, bullied a continent, and attempted to exterminate the Jews of Europe, a small number of dissidents and saboteurs worked to dismantle the Third Reich from the inside. One of these was Dietrich Bonhoeffer—a well-known pastor and author, who in 1945 was executed in a concentration camp for his part in a failed plot to assassinate Hitler.

Bonhoeffer gives witness to one man’s extraordinary faith and to the tortured fate of the nation he sought to deliver from the curse of Nazism. He was determined to do the will of God radically, courageously, and joyfully—even to the point of death. Bonhoeffer’s story is the story of a life framed by a passion for truth and a commitment to justice on behalf of those who face implacable evil. He could have been a pacifist. He certainly had done enough before joining the plot to kill Hitler. He had resisted the Nazi hold on German society and even the German church, which was on board with the governments anti-Semitic agenda. He established the Confessing Church, which stood against the Nazis and for German Jews. That would have been enough courage in anyone’s eyes. But he didn’t stop there. He actively assisted in the assassination plot, with the goal of killing Hitler and other leaders, knowing that failure would mean his death. He said “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Now to be fair, Bonhoeffer didn’t say his path was the only righteous path. He never claimed moral certainty or even absolution for what he chose to do. But that’s really the nature of the question of war. War really is hell, as the saying goes. But in Dietrich Bonhoeffer we see a faithful, Godly man who’s conscience wouldn’t allow him to be passive in the face of evil, even when those around him were appeasing it. And for that he is nominated to the great cloud of witnesses, of whom the world is, and was, not worthy.

Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed this week’s Big Picture Podcast, please go to my web site at and also check out our other podcasts and points of view on the E-Squared Media network at Wherever you go, leave a few comments and tweet your friends and your pastor about us. See you next time on the Big Picture podcast. Be blessed!

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