Muslims, Christians and War

I’ve been wondering who would first say this. The jig is up, it’s been said and it’s now time to discuss it. Lee Camp, a prof at Lipscomb University in Nashville and the creator of Tokens, a wonderful Garrison Keillor-like show in Nashville, has a courageous new book. It’s called Who Is My Enemy?: Questions American Christians Must Face about Islam–and Themselves, and it stakes some major claims, claims that we need to discuss. Claims that might make us uncomfortable.

Too many American Christians conceptualize Muslims as our enemies so we need to develop what Camp calls “double vision” — the ability to see Islam and Muslims through their own eyes and to see Americans and Christianity through their eyes. Only in this way do we become true listeners. In fact, Christians have participated in wars and bombing and killing of thousands and thousands of Arabs and Muslims as a response to 9/11. The response, in other words, outstrips the original diabolical deed.

Is the Muslim theory of war and the Just War Theory of many Christians virtually the same theory?

Jesus and the earliest Christians, up to about the time of Constantine, were against Christian participate in war. This is a matter of historical record. This does not mean they were all consistent pacifists, but they were against Christians participating in war.

Not one early Christian writing can be found, Camp observes, in which killing in war is permitted; every time it comes up killing in war is prohibited by Christian leaders. Camp merely sketches the evidence: Athenagoras, Tertullian (“The Lord … unbelted every soldier.”), Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian, Dionysius of Alexandria, and Arnobius. The 4th Century changed everything. War became one way Christians participated in a now “Christian” nation. Soldiering and Christian-ing were not odd with one another.

Camp, a true Hauerwas/Yoder kind of theologian, contends (as I do) that Jesus’ vision was political — a third way politics. Lee Camp, in Istanbul, had some official discussions of these issues with Muslim leaders, where he saw they thought Jesus was apolitical while Muhammad was.  He disagrees.

Over against that Muslim perception, Camp contends that Jesus’ vision was a genuine politics but it was anti-violence and therefore anti-war. Therefore, he concludes that political conservatives today are genuine liberals in their restriction of kingdom of God to the spiritual and especially when they accede to the State what ought to be given only to Jesus. They have shifted authority from Jesus to the state. That’s the Western liberal democratic tradition.

Another claim: Muslim narrative of Muhammad is one from an original and brief non-violence to (after Medina) a justifiable use of violence, both as protection and at times seemingly for expansionist designs. And this leads to a major claim: The Muhammad Story and the Jesus Story, Camp argues, are two different stories when it comes to violence and war.

But here is Camp’s big claim, the one about which I was wondering when it would be said: the Christian just war tradition (JWT) and the Muhammad/Muslim stories are two kinds of the same story: just war. Leading him to this: “the Christian mainstream looks more like the Muhammad story than the Jesus story” (46). If you accept that Jesus had a nonviolent story, you will have to oppose the JWT. If you think the JWT is Christian, then you have to see that the Muhammad Story and the JWT are variants of the same story.

Well, what about the OT you ask? Camp digs in his heels with some observations about the OT and war:

1. The OT texts about war do need interpretation; it is unfair to pull texts from contexts (say Jesus on peace, Quran on violence; or OT on war and Quran on peace, etc). You may say, of course, that this point gets us nowhere.
2. The OT war tradition is profoundly different and at odds with the Just War tradition. Christians who adhere to the Just War Theory shouldn’t be simply quoting the OT. The OT is not JWT. This is an example of adhering to a theory that is not anchored in what the Bible says but moves beyond the Bible.
3. The OT war texts are about a “geographically located theocratic ‘state’ in the nation of Israel” (50).
4. From the OT to the NT there is clearly a developing politics because the people of God becomes universal and not just a geographically located nation-state. Furthermore, Jesus teaches peace.

5. Which leads to this: the messianic kingdom and the Messiah are about peace/shalom and justice and love, and they develop and move beyond the OT war texts. Leading Lee Camp to this powerful statement and claim: “for contemporary Christians to argue that the OT legitimates war-making is to argue that Jesus was not the Messiah. The interpretive move to make the OT the authority for war-making, from this [his] early-church perspective, is to reject the lordship of Jesus” (53). It’s all in italics in the book so you can’t miss his emphasis.

Editor’s Note: Patheos is hosting a Book Club on Camp’s book.

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  • phil_style

    Interestingly, Hans von Campenhausen states
    “not a single one of the Fathers doubted that, in the world as it is, war is inevitable, and consequently, they saw no reason to condemn the military profession in particular. It is of the very essence of the world to be obliged to shed blood, whether in war or in legal process They themselves, however, would have nothing to do with war service”

    Time to review Rene Girard! Why is his insight appear constantly missing from christian discussions on war and voilence? Some of the most profound christian thinking on violence since the first and second centuries – recognised by scholars both secular and religious, yet protestants seem completely unaware of his thinking.

  • DanS

    Regarding the Old Testament. Yes, Israel was a theocracy and we do not live in a theocracy (and almost no one in the conservative movement thinks we should). But the Old Testament gives us insight into what God is like and the God of the Old Testament was decidedly not pacifist. The easy dismissive removal of Jesus teaching from the context of the whole Bible is poor hermeneutics. He ministered to soldiers without telling them to stop being soldiers and at one point sent his disciples out telling them to take a sword. Paul spoke of State authorities as wielding the sword to punish the wrongdoer as agents of God.

    Is Jesus alleged pacifism tantamount to saying the God of the Old Testament was wrong? I think not. Turning the other cheek when someone strikes me is not the same as the police or a soldier standing by and doing nothing when an assailant attacks someone else. We live in a fallen world where the use of force is sometimes a necessary evil.

    But that in no way makes Just War theory and what would become violent Jihad “two kinds of the same story”. That idea is simplistic and naive and frankly insulting.

  • rjs


    Could you give a brief synopsis of just war theory?

  • Albion

    Jesus’ alleged pacifism I don’t think you’re going to win that argument, Dan. Even Reinhold Neibuhr, a Christian realist like yourself when it came to war and the use of force to achieve relative justice, acknowledged that Jesus preached nonviolence and lived it out, preferring death on a cross to the use of violence to overcome his enemies. It’s difficult to love your enemies and kill them unless you buy in to a very brutal form of tough love.

    How do you reconcile Jesus’ command to obey all that he commanded in Mt. 28 (Including loving your enemies) with the use, by Christians, of violence?

  • Susan N.

    As I know God, through the Person of Jesus, I believe that war and violence are not the way. I guess I take “Prince of Peace” literally. This is such a good and worthwhile subject for discussion; thank you, Scot, for bringing it forward. Here’s where the issue becomes complicated for me:

    In order to quit the bad habit of war (just or not), I think we need a practical education on an alternative. My adult Sunday School group is talking about “Just Peace” right now. The gist of the program is mostly about *how* to promote and sustain peace (not peacekeeping, but peacemaking), not just individually/locally, but globally. In the matter of international politics, there is “stuff” that we could do instead of war, to actually bring healing and mutual stability/prosperity. I’m thinking about this deeply.

    I am uncomfortable around the issue of supporting our troops. I am not sure how to diplomatically say that I wish not one American soldier to come to harm or to feel deserted by his or her country for their service. But I also care about the Arab people who are being hurt or killed. I wish the war(s) would end.

    I appreciated very much the illustration of stepping into the shoes of a Muslim (or anyone who is different) and imagining how he/she perceives me. I was discussing with my teen daughter a sticky interpersonal “situation” I’m currently grappling with. We were brainstorming solutions. I asked what she would do. She replied, “Well, I usually try to first think whether I am at fault and how I could improve my attitude/actions.” Such wisdom from a young person! It’s a heart issue really, you know?

    “Let there be peace on earth…and let it begin with me!”

  • RJS, which Christian just war theory? 😉 The first thoughts are on it were expressed by Augustine. I’m not sure I would call it a developed theory, per se. He was struggling in his part of the world with the real and (for him) immediate question of what to do when the nation itself is predominantly Christian and the barbarians are at the gate, as it were. His thoughts were expressed in three points.

    St. Thomas Aquinas fleshed it out more in his Summa Theologica, but as I recall (been some years since I read it) stuck with essentially the same three points Augustine used.

    Without looking them up (always a dangerous thing), I believe Augustine’s original three tenets were:

    1. War must only be waged for a good purpose, not for power or gain.
    2. War must only be waged by a properly instituted state.
    3. The central goal must always be peace, even in the midst of violence.

    More modern versions have many more points (and clarifications of points). As a former soldier and in trying to develop an understanding of historical Christian perspectives on war once I found myself one, I read all that I could find once upon a time (including a really good paper published through West Point).

    Personally, I prefer the Orthodox understanding and approach to the attempts in Western theology. The basic Orthodox approach is that Christians are called to love and killing another human being is always evil. It is never good. However, we live in a broken world and sometimes people (and states) are placed in situations where it seems the only options they have are evil (whether that’s reality or merely our broken perception is always hard to say). They can kill or engage in war, which is evil, or they can refrain and by not opposing evil with violence allow worse evil to occur.

    Regardless, killing another human being damages a person’s humanity deeply. A priest who sheds blood is deposed (though the possibility of restoration through repentance and economia remains open). A communicant who takes a life was typically restricted from communion for a period of time for repentance and restoration (traditionally 1-3 years) even though their action may have been “justified” or even required by their circumstances. The focus is always on healing the damage and not on determining whether or not it was “justified”.

    I think that’s a better approach. Within the Christian perspective, violence always runs counter to love. That was, after all, God’s charge against humanity in the story of Noah — the world was “full of violence.” If we do not act, in and through Christ, to heal and be healed of violence, who else will?

  • Richard

    “Therefore, he concludes that political conservatives today are genuine liberals in their restriction of kingdom of God to the spiritual and especially when they accede to the State what ought to be given only to Jesus. They have shifted authority from Jesus to the state. That’s the Western liberal democratic tradition.”

    BOOM goes the dynamite. I would agree with his assertion that the rhetoric of many Christian “Just” War advocates is more in line with Islam and the rest of a fallen creation than Jesus and the Kingdom.

    @ DanS, regarding Jesus not rebuking soldiers – you’re making an argument from silence that assumes that the Gospels recorded everything Jesus said. The early church, in practice and in word, expected soldiers to leave the military when they became followers of the Prince of Peace.

  • phil_style

    DanS “Is Jesus alleged pacifism tantamount to saying the God of the Old Testament was wrong? I think not.”

    I am happy to consider that the gospel stories might de-sacrilise the violence (and sacrificial scapegoating) attributed to God in the OT.

  • Amos Paul

    I only wish Camp went further (or does he?). I can only hope that your average American Christian can realize that our ‘mainstream Christian views on war’ are fed to us by *political leaders*. That is, political leaders who take the Lord’s name in vain to gain wealth and power… and we *LIKE* it. We take their word for it. We support their wars with the backing of the faith.

    Though, historically speaking, I would probably be uncomfortable if he goes so far as to say that the orthodox Christian understanding of Just War is equatable to Just Jihad. I agree with aspects of Just War–that any secular government will, at times, need to defend the rights and lives of its people… that the aim should always be peace, etc. But this Just War theory was not intended to baptize state warfare by Christianity so that Christians preach war. But merely, rather, define when a Christian can justifiably support state warfare, for what reasons, or whatever… since a secular state *should* necessarily be distinct from the faith. How does one arrange one’s responsibilities to God and society? That, at least, is what I see as the basic point of Just War Theory*.

    *And I don’t think Just War Theory ever goes so far as suppose that Christians *must* support war (Indeed, I feel like Just War’s assumption is that pacifism is a default position Christians are coming from), but only provide some framework for how far we might go in supporting war so as to fulfill our supposed duties to society while yet serving primarily our Father who is in Heaven.

  • T

    We need to talk about the difference b/n restraining evil and actually overcoming it. Even assuming that Paul’s language about human authorities carrying a sword is prescriptive and not merely descriptive concession, there is still a huge difference b/n restraining or even punishing evil and overcoming it. Jesus clearly set his goal on overcoming evil; destroying the devil’s works. It is the plot line of even our favorite modern stories and movies. If the question is “How does good overcome evil?” The answer is the Jesus-defined love. The answer is the cross. But that kind of love–cross-shaped, enemy-blessing love–and the overcoming of evil doesn’t stop with Jesus. Or, at least, it’s clearly not Jesus’ intention that it stops with him. “Unless you pick up your cross, you cannot be my disciple.” We may restrain violence and evil with violence. But we only overcome and destroy evil with good. “None of you can be my disciple unless he gives up everything he has.” We cannot love our own lives, our own nearest family members, more than him. Why? Because his vocation (and ours, if we follow) is to overcome evil with good. As long as our “following” of Jesus still contains a goal to protect “me and mine” then we cannot overcome evil; we cannot join him in his vocation; we cannot actually follow. “Anyone who believes in me will do what I’m doing; he’ll do even greater things.” We already take the charismatic works out of that statement, can we take the cross out too?

    We have thousands of years of trying to use the sword to overcome evil. Where does it get us?

  • Not terribly surprising to see a book like this come from someone who teaches at Lipscomb, considering Lipscomb himself was an ardent pacifist and, indeed, the Churches of Christ as a whole had a strong pacifist tradition until World War II.

    I think we run into trouble the more literally we take the OT war stories. Looking at them as historiography makes a lot more sense than trying to reconcile the portrayed God of the Old Testament with the portrayed God-in-flesh of the New.

  • Steve Sherwood

    Has there ever been a war that Christians were considering entering into, but applying the criteria for “just war” talked them out of? Or, has it conveniently provided “moral justification” for the wars we wanted to, and intended to fight?

    Beyond the taking of the Promised Land in Joshua, did Israel fight wars which they initiated? Did they win a war where they were the dominant force militarily? If we applied an OT model to our approach to war, would we fight with a jazz band (Jericho) and send the vast majority of our forces home to make sure we were good and outnumbered (Gideon)?

  • T

    FWIW, I have a very old post on the same topic, titled: “Muhammed & Jesus – practically twins.”

    I think the author of this book is on to some centrally important stuff. We need to ask what God’s plan is for overcoming evil, and what priority that goal is for God. The fruit and the gifts of the spirit become tactically brilliant in light of those questions, as does the necessity of picking up our own cross.

  • Phil Lewis

    While I, too, would question going to war, I must remember that we are to be subject to our government, accept where doing so would be in direct contradiction to Scriptures. Having said that, I think that pacifism is not the same as sacrifice, such as in Jesus’ case, nor was He purely a pacifist (read on below). The position of this article would also demand that we not defend ourselves or family, nor be prepared to do so; In response to this let me include this simple brief essay which relates to Martial (military) arts training:


    Is Martial Arts training legitimate for the Christian?

    – Self defense from a Bible perspective
    by Philip Lewis

    Is it legitimate for a Christian to defend himself or others? May he, or she, prepare, or be trained to do so with a clear conscience? A quick and clear answer to these questions is yes!
    Though there are much more exhaustive works available, here we will simply summarize a few clear arguments based on the Bible, which true Christians accept as the authority for faith and practice.

    1. The Bible indicates that God condones rather than condemns acts of defense which include physical force.
    a. Abraham led 318 of his capable servants into battle to rescue his kidnapped nephew, Lot(Genesis 14). Notice the blessing he received through Melchizedek, rather than condemnation.
    b. David, a man after God’s own heart, was also a great warrior. He declares in Psalm 144:1 that his ability to fight, or to defend himself, comes from God.
    2. The Bible indicates we are responsible for family and others in need. This includes physical safety. See Proverbs 24:10-12, and I Timothy 5:8. We are not to simply stand idly by while others are in danger.
    3. The Bible commends those who prepare themselves for situations. (Prov. 16:1; 24:6; 27:10)
    4. Jesus Christ Himself was no pacifist. In John 2:13-15 Christ drives the money changers from the temple with a whip. In Luke 22:35-38 He recommends that His disciples carry a sword. Though He was to be delivered for death, they were not at this time. And when He taught about turning the other cheek, He was dealing with Old Testament laws of retaliation and revenge, not self defense.
    5. Just warfare is legitimate: Ecclesiastes 3:8; Jeremiah 6:14
    6. A strong defense deters aggression and preserves peace: Nehemiah 4:9-15
    7. Refusing to fight for one’s country could be a sin against God: Numbers 32:1-23
    8. Not one of the 10 Commandments condemn legitimate self defense.
    9. The best way to end war is to win decisively: Joshua 6-10

    Martial Arts may have developed in the far orient, but most experts now agree that they
    Had their origins in the Middle East, the cradle of civilization. Martial Arts may be defined simply as the discipline of the mind, body, and spirit, with reference to soldierly conduct and abilities. Eastern philosophies and, or, religions, are not necessary to train in the Martial Arts.
    Though this is merely a quick summary of arguments, it should be clear that there is a positive case for Christian self defense. When taught from a Biblical perspective, a self defense/Martial Arts program would not only prepare a student for physical dangers, but would also strengthen him, or her, to avoid and resist moral and spiritual dangers as well. This kind of discipline is not foreign to the Bible as seen in the Apostle Paul’s writings(I Corinthians 9:25-7). And since the Christian’s life is often compared to that of a soldier’s(Eph. 6:10-18; II Tim. 2:3,4), soldierly conduct and ability are certainly not out of place.
    As long as there is still evil at work in this world, there will continue to be a need to resist and to fight it whether on the spiritual, the mental, or even the physical level. And foresight and preparation do not exclude trusting in God for the outcome; “The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the Lord”. Prov. 21:3

  • randy

    So, I’m not a Christian if I’m not a pacifist? That seems to be the gist I’m getting. And I read articles that decry Reformed types as being too judgmental and too ready to read people out of the community (and they are, sometimes).

  • Fish

    I suppose we could apply the same biblical logic to concealed weapon and full auto assault rifle permits.

  • rjs

    randy (#15)

    That’s not a particularly helpful comment. Scot knows, for example, that I am not a pacifist – I doubt if he ever questions my Christianity because of it. How are we ever to learn and grow if we don’t put things on the table and have a conversation?

  • Robin


    I assume when he talks about the church fathers he is using “fathers” to describe people in the first 500 years of the church. Does Girard fit into that category?

  • Robin


    Regarding this comment “The early church, in practice and in word, expected soldiers to leave the military when they became followers of the Prince of Peace.”

    I am having a hard time right now backing up that quote. I don’t think the NT supports it, and I am reading through the church fathers right now and haven’t come to it yet. Tertullian wanted Christians to quit the army, but it wasn’t because of the violence, it was because the Roman military salute ascribed Deity to the emperor and he believed Christian service in the Roman army was equivalent to idolatry.

    Do you have a NT quote or specific reference to a pre-Augustinian church father that supports your assertion?

  • T


    I think there can be a lot benefits to martial arts training, and not even just physical. That said, I think your comment fails to allow Christ to be the fullest and best revelation we have of God. Of your nine arguments, only one is grounded in the New Testament, even though the issue of the use of violence is arguably the biggest difference b/n the OT and NT histories of God’s people.

    In a business law class that I have taught at a local Christian university, I’ve asked the students to make the argument to me, based on any teachings or examples in the NT, that Christians ought to generally use force or threats of force to protect themselves. Every year I ask that question, all I get are a loose argument based on driving out the money changers, and Paul’s appeal to Caesar, and the cryptic “sword” discussion just before the crucifixion (which is tough to use, given the Jesus-Peter-HP’s servant interaction hours later). That’s it. That’s all that’s there for that proposition.

    When I ask them to present any teaching or example for the proposition that we ought to “not resist an evil person” the evidence, both in teaching and example, is overwhelming.

  • Amos Paul

    Phil Lewis,

    Amen and amen. Providing that, as I argued above, my default position is *still* pacifism… I’ve long been a fan of the physical/mental training aspect of martial arts. Being your average busy, hypocrtical American I’ve hardly had the time to learn and practice what I preach here–but my understanding of and experience with Martial Arts and Martial Artists has almost always been positive, including a far more level-headed and even-handed approach to understanding violence and the role of the body.

  • DLS

    Again, an easy discussion to have while hundreds of thousands of people guard us while we sleep safely in our beds. The pacifist who lives his life protected and sheltered truly has the best of both worlds.

  • randy

    RJS – I apologize, it was delivered in a snarkier manner than intended. And it was as much directed at the general conversation, than Lee or Scot, and I don’t think that either would seriously question my Christianity. I knew Lee in graduate school (a bit, we both got busy – he with much more important things than I) and while we disagreed on lots of peripheral things, I did recognize a clearly prophetic spirit and a preacher’s heart.

    But I really do think this community is noticeably more tolerant of direct (and prophetic) comments like that regarding the rejection Christ’s messiahship than pretty reasoned arguments from the Reformed types (and not defending tweets at all). There are certainly larger and understandable reasons for this (and I keep coming back because I learn something), but accusing people of rejectings Christ’s messiahship is pretty direct.

  • Rick

    “both as protection and at times seemingly for expansionist designs. And this leads to a major claim: The Muhammad Story and the Jesus Story, Camp argues, are two different stories when it comes to violence and war.”

    The issue of protection may have some similarities, but the expansionist aspect would be where similarities end (as seen in Scott M’s #6 three points).

  • Pacifist may not be the most helpful term as it implies passiveness. I prefer to say that I believe in non-violent resistance. Jesus was anything but passive and, while I like the term pacifist, it seems to cloud the conversation. I affirm Jesus’ commitment to non-violence and recognize that to follow in his footsteps requires active obedience.

  • Rick

    T #20-

    “Christians ought to generally use force or threats of force to protect themselves.”

    But what about protecting others?

  • Alan R

    Phil Lewis@14, I’m reading these texts and not seeing how they support your position. Just to mention one: I don’t think Paul was holding up “soldierly conduct” when he wrote about the armor of God in Ephesians 6. He makes it absolutely clear that he’s not telling anyone to arm themselves with carnal weapons: “for our struggle is not against flesh and blood.”

  • phil_style

    Robin “Does Girard fit into that category?”

    What category? a church father? Clearly not, Girard was born in 1923. I apologise for my ignorance, but I have no idea what you’re getting at.

  • DLS

    “The early church, in practice and in word, expected soldiers to leave the military when they became followers of the Prince of Peace.

    – This would be quite the surprise to Cornelius.

  • Robin

    The main problem I see with saying “Jesus was a pacifist, so Just War Theory is heretical” is that it doesn’t, in and of itself, provide a positive theology of politics.

    In other words, “what should a ‘Christian state’ look like?” If you take the examples of the earliest Christians who joyfully endured the plundering of their property and willingly turned themselves over to be martyred, you could conclude that a Christian state would joyfully endure military advancements by non-Christian nations against it and gladly sacrifice all of its citizens to holocaust rather than take up arms in defense of its own citizens.

    Other than that direct analagization of individual pacifism and a theory of pacifist Christian governments, I don’t see what else this perspective specifically offers as an alternative to just war theory.

  • T


    Your argument is essentially, “Soldiers give us our safety which is necessary to discuss anything. Soldiers use force to provide us with that safety. Therefore, arguments that violence shouldn’t be used are inherently hypocritical.”

    We have too much teaching and example in the NT to not discuss these issues, regardless of what soldiers and/or police do, don’t you agree? Further, if I don’t fear those that can kill the body, if I don’t love father, mother, etc. or even my own life more than Christ, if I have my greatest hope in the resurrection of the dead, and thereby pick up my cross daily, does that change anything–both to the question of who and/or what makes me “safe” and my tactics for dealing with threats from those that kill the body?

  • Robin


    It seemed to me that your were upset that Girard’s insights were not included when the preceding statement was clearly concerning the church fathers. A kind of “statement A is incomplete b/c it does not included Girard” when it deals with a group that specifically excludes him.

    Re-reading your comment I see that maybe I misunderstood your intent.

  • phil_style

    Joey #25,

    Yes! Pacifism is not a soft or cowardly stance, un-befitting of the divine. It is, in fact, a steadfast and strong commitment to a discipline/principle that is counter to many of our emotional and natural impulses.

    Weakness is to give in to the seductive lure of violent retaliation or to participate in the false hope offered by escalation.

  • phil_style

    Sorry Robin, perhaps my comment was unclear..

    I was just bemoaning the “general” lack of interaction that I anecdotally note among so many discussions on this subject (Christianity/violence).

    The first and second parts of my comment were not to be read together as a continuous line of thinking. Sorry for the confusion. 😉

  • Robin

    I think that most Christians agree that if someone slaps me I should turn the other cheek (individual pacifism).

    “What should we do when someone slaps or attacks someone I am charged with protecting?” Is an entirely different question. So if I am a father and husband and an individual attacks my family, or if a government decides to molest or execute my family, what should I do. And if I am a government official and a foreign government attempts violence against my citizens, what should I do?

    Reading the NT and early church fathers, it isn’t a stretch to imagine that if Roman soldiers showed up and started raping women and chopping off children’s heads in the middle of a church service that the Christians might have just stood by while those they loved were brutalized. If that is the case, maybe absolute pacifism from CHristian influenced governments is the solution.

    On the other hand, being under Roman rule the church didn’t really have to fear this level of violence and lawlessness. They were subject to normal persecution and could avail themselves of the legal system, so I do not know what they would have done in the face of real, chaotic violence similar to what a Christian nation could expect from its enemies.

  • Robin @ 19

    Though this is taken from church history rather than the New Testament records indicate that Christians didn’t participate in the military. The few recorded instance we do have of Christians who were in the military in the first two-three centuries have the same ending. They were killed for their faith when they converted or when their faith was discovered. Not one record do we have of a person who continues in a life of military service once they become followers of Jesus.

    Take Marinus of Caesarea, for instance. Marinus held his Christian faith secretively until he was asked to make a sacrifice for the emperor. When he refused, he was given the chance to change his mind. After meditating on scripture, however, he submitted himself to the Roman government to be executed. And Julius the Veterin, who served for nearly three decades in the Roman military. Of course, when Julius found faith in Jesus he was tried and beheaded. The reality is that when we look at those Christians who also served in the Roman military, we see a series of people who were killed for their faith because being a Christian was a direct assault on the priorities of the empire. Later in history we see Ivan the Terrrible who when baptized into the faith was fully submerged with the exception of his right arm which he used to wield his sword because even he recognized the discrepancy of following Jesus and violence.

    Origin wrote 8 books refuting a Roman official in which he passionately opposed the idea that Christians should participate in any matters of the state.

    Until the fourth century Christians really didn’t participate in state sanctioned violence. The only arguments that can be made to refute this come from silence and that is no way to build a moral or ethical framework.

  • DLS

    T@31. My point is that it’s easy to say “I don’t fear those that can kill the body”, when “those that can kill the body” are kept at bay by the most advanced national security in the history of the world. It takes virtually no sacrifice at all to be a pacifist in 21st century America.

    Do you *really* not fear ‘those that can kill the body’ or is that just something that we say as others do the dirty work for us? Has this even been tested in your own life? Had you been in Western Russia in the path of the German Blitzkrieg, would you have “feared those that can kill the body”? If you were presently a Christian in modern day Sudan, would you have feared those that can kill the body? I would have. But perhaps that makes me less of a Christian.

    Modern pacifism is a luxury that the protected enjoy. We like debating it, writing books about it, discussing it in our safe, protected communities – perhaps the corner Starbucks – where we’re born and die under constant protection from others. It’s a luxury.

  • Paul Johnston

    the current Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 2309) defines the four conditions for determining the justice of a war as:
    the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

    all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

    there must be serious prospects of success;

    the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.

    These are hard conditions to fulfill; the Church teaches that war should always be the last resort….Pope John Paul II suggested that the threshold for a just war has been raised very high by the existence of these weapons of mass destruction, and he is the source of the teaching in the Catechism.

    Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, went even further, telling the Italian Catholic magazine 30 Days in April 2003 that “we must begin asking ourselves whether as things stand, with new weapons that cause destruction that goes well beyond the groups involved in the fight, is it still licit to allow that a ‘just war’ might exist.”

  • Robin

    On that last paragraph, “real, chaotic violence” what I mean is this. The violence faced by the early church was constrained and limited by the law. Jesus wasn’t lynched, he received a trial. Paul got a trial. Ignatius got a trial. Polycarp got a trial. There was a recognized legal authority that provided some limit on the types of dangers the churches faced. So Jesus and Paul stood for their own “crimes” and we never got to see what Paul would do to defend his family physically in the event of a mob attack.

    This is very different than the situation faced by, let’s say a small rural Christian village, when the Vikings show up and start raping, looting, and pillaging. Do we really believe that the response of Christians in the face of a Viking attack should be to accept not only martyrdom, but not even attempt to raise a hand to prevent the rape, sodomization, or murder of their women and children?

  • Amos Paul


    Your continuous arguments that we are only safe in the States because of our militaristic violence abroad are un-warranted and requite cited justification. I can point to any number of pacifist and/or peaceful nations in the world today that enjoy as much, if not actually MORE, security and quality of life than we Americans do. I am loyal to my homeland community, but there are plenty of less to non-violent governments I’d rather live under with greater peace of mind and personal security.

  • @ Robin #30

    Tacticus 55-117 CE

    “Yet no human effort, no princely largess nor offerings to the gods could make that infamous rumor disappear that Nero had somehow ordered the fire. Therefore, in order to abolish that rumor, Nero falsely accused and executed with the most exquisite punishments those people called Christians, who were infamous for their abominations. The originator of the name, Christ, was executed as a criminal by the procurator Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius; and though repressed, this destructive superstition erupted again, not only through Judea, which was the origin of this evil, but also through the city of Rome, to which all that is horrible and shameful floods together and is celebrated. Therefore, first those were seized who admitted their faith, and then, using the information they provided, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much for the crime of burning the city, but for hatred of the human race. And perishing they were additionally made into sports: they were killed by dogs by having the hides of beasts attached to them, or they were nailed to crosses or set aflame, and, when the daylight passed away, they were used as nighttime lamps. Nero gave his own gardens for this spectacle and performed a Circus game, in the habit of a charioteer mixing with the plebs or driving about the race-course. Even though they were clearly guilty and merited being made the most recent example of the consequences of crime, people began to pity these sufferers, because they were consumed not for the public good but on account of the fierceness of one man.”

    Christians, historically, have not fought back. Even some who have did so repentantly (Bonhoeffer).

  • Amos Paul


    If the Christians under Nero didn’t even *try* to protect and defend their children and those under their care… I’d call them (theoretically speaking of abstract examples, of course) guilty of not defending the case of the defenseless and not protecting the weak. Yes, guilty. A sin.

  • Robin


    I appreciate your response and need to consider it, but it is not yet extrmely convincing. From Tertullian, and from the examples you cite it seems that the main problem with military service wasn’t killing people, but emperor worship. The former could also have been a problem, but the latter was the big sin.

    Also, you cut things off at the 4th century. It is easy to have a theology of pacifism when you are a persecuted minority with no prospect of having the responsibility of protecting your nation. The problem arises when Christians achieve positions where protection of citizens falls within their purview. We wouldn’t even expect that to be an issue until after Constantine since Christians were systematically excluded from service.

    If we were looking to church fathers, I would want to know what was their theology of family/church protection. Even if they don’t have to protect nations with violence, did they ever address the boundaries of father or church leaders protecting their families or flocks from physical violence?

    The only options I get from this piece are (1) Christians could live in a society where non-Christians protect them from external forces and provide a legal system to prevent their molestation by other citizens [per-Constantinian Christians or modern Amish] or (2) Christians, when placed in positions of leadership could establish a government that [a] provides no resistance to invading forces [b] provides no physically punitive legal recourses when citizens commit violence against one another (i.e. Cops cannot kill someone currently in the middle of a shooting rampage).

    Both of these alternatives seem inadequate, but maybe they really are the only options.

  • The previous comment was for #39 not #30.

    Robin, as a person committed to non-violence I have to reconcile the point you raise. Right now my thoughts are that I would react in violence to protect loved ones and that my actions would be damnable if it weren’t for the grace of God. I don’t know what else to say at this point other than I know I would react to protect, and I repent now for even saying it.

    I am open to the suggestion that self (mine or others) protection (defense) is allowable but am not convinced but am convinced that offensive violence is pure sin.

  • phil_style

    “Do we really believe that the response of Christians in the face of a Viking attack should be to accept not only martyrdom, but not even attempt to raise a hand to prevent the rape, sodomization, or murder of their women and children?”

    Well, at a practical level, a bunch of rural villagers stand no chance against a “viking raid” whether they raised their hands or not. Sorry, but a bunch of farmers are dead either way.

    You can die with, or without participating in violence. That’s the only real choice you face in that situation – if you cannot flee.

    What is the purpose of this kind of Self-defence? presumably to rebuff (as opposed to deter) as attack. The only way to ensure one can do that, is to obtain superior or equivalent military force in anticipation of such an event – which is a policy very similar to deterrent. The result is military escalation. This is exactly what Clausewitz realised over 200 years ago. Only Clausewitz thought such escalation could be contained by the state… The Revelation of St John shows us how wrong Clausewitz was.

  • DLS

    “I can point to any number of pacifist and/or peaceful nations in the world today that enjoy as much, if not actually MORE, security and quality of life than we Americans do.

    – That’s because for most part, those countries operate under the protection of others.

  • Robin

    Thanks for that last quote.

    There is another option, which is that Christians can flee. Polycarp fled and fled and fled until he was finally ratted out by a member of the church. The turncloak was abhorred by the church, it would have been better for him to suffer endless tortures than provide the location of Polycarp, at least according to Irenaeus. Furthermore Polycarp’s martyrdom was not diminished in the church’s eyes though his fleeing led directly to the torture of multiple Christians under his care.

  • Rick

    Phil #45-

    So it is wrong to try and protect the defenseless? Is that your position? I just want to be sure I am understanding you correctly.

  • Robin


    Thanks for the honesty. Even if all Christians could agree that offensive violence is pure sin and defensive violence (protection) is sometimes allowable, you would still have the practical issue that some proponents of just war theory would allow for “defensive offense.” Protecting your borders against Japanese suicide bombers through anti-aircraft weaponry might be permissible, but is going on the offense in Europe a permissible extension of that general defensive effort (I don’t think so)? Before too long attacking other countries because “they were looking at me the wrong way” becomes a pre-emptive defensive response.

  • T


    I think we need to start with more questions about what we fear, even for others. For example, Jesus says not to fear those who can kill the body. Clearly, Jesus followed this himself, but didn’t just recommend it for himself. He followed it also for the 12. He even recommends it for us all. He says to that those who live by the sword will die by it. That was in response to Peter’s attempt to protect Jesus, not himself. Peter, contrary to what Peter claimed, was actually willing to injure and kill for Jesus, but not die for him (yet).

    We need to ask what Jesus is doing and how he is doing it. I’m suggesting that the “how” isn’t going to have much to do with weapons. “Our” weapons are different.

    Let me add this too: I think “what will I do to protect others” is a way for us to not deal with what we really believe concerning the hardest call of Jesus: the cross, and the promise of resurrection. Where is our hope, really? Where is our fear, really? Do we only fear those who can kill the body because we fear what they will do to others? Is our love for others the exception to fearing them that swallows the rule (of not fearing them, and loving them?)

  • The war-making, nationalitic spirit is part of the evangelistic scandal of American Christianity. I just finished having a conversation with a non-believing friend who lives in America and travels the world as a photo journalist. He’s not ignorant of who Jesus is and what he taught (commanded). Yet he sees how much American Christianity has conveniently set aside certain teachings of Jesus that conflict with American values. We American Christians preach faith in a God we believe is sovereign, yet much of our non-liturgical rhetoric and action is more of a reacting to a fear that America is losing control of the world. We liturgically profess the Incarnate God as an “All Consuming Fire” yet our public rhetoric and action is consumed with the preservation of America.

    We can’t have it both ways. We can’t talk out of both sides of our mouth. We either believe in and live for one or the other. We wonder how we can bring an evangelistic revival in America but why would anyone come to believe when the harbingers of that faith demonstrate their own unbelief with their constant public rhetoric and action? Hence the evangelistic scandal!

    We American Christians need Jesus more than ever…and need to be converted to following Jesus again!

  • Amos Paul


    Jesus chastises the Pharisees for placing their responsibility to raising Temple funds above their responsibility to taking care of their parents. Then he chastises any believer who would place their responsibility to their parents before their responsibility to leave home and clan to serve God.

    When moral rules oppose one another, a situation may *seem* confusing, but I fully believe that, even in this fallen world, there are right-minded methods of ranking one’s responsibility to decide upon correct actions. For instance, if telling a lie protects the life of another–I’d argue that my responsibility to protect life supersedes my responsibility to not lie.

    In the case of violence, the NT and OT are filled with cautions against being quick to respond as such, patient, and forgiving. Indeed, Jesus warns us that those who take up the sword will die by the sword. But, if taking up violence presents itself literally as the only way to defend the lives and well-being of my innocent friends and family–is it not then selfish and haughty of me to choose non-violence for my own spiritual benefit above the actual and practical protection of others?

    I don’t call that a sin. I call that a hard choice, but one we may at times need to make in a fallen world filled with darkness.

  • Rick

    T #50-

    To value life is not to undervalue or underappreciate resurrection.

    I will then ask you what I asked Phil: Are you then saying it is wrong to protect the defenseless?

  • phil_style

    Phil #45- So it is wrong to try and protect the defenseless?

    That question is not addressed in what I wrote. My comment was about the practical implications of pursuing a “defensive” mentality, not about “rights” and “wrongs”.

    To remove all doubt: that is where I am coming from.

  • Scot McKnight

    Robin, the logical assumption you are making seems to be that you are asking how Christians would run a State, when that is the whole point of the anabaptist and NT orientation: they didn’t run a State. They were minorities.

    When Christians begin running the State they prove worldly, and that is why so many point to and at Constantine (though he has become a scapegoat too easily, he was still profoundly wrong and incredibly violent). It’s the wrong thing for followers of Jesus to do.

    The issue is not how to run a State, but how to live as a follower of Jesus. If given a State, I would assume the Christian would never compromise but run it under the kingship of Jesus. Which hasn’t happened.

  • Robin

    T, and others,

    Does it make a difference that the violence Jesus and the apostles were facing was a direct result of the gospel? For example, the early church might have willingly accepted martyrdom for the sake of the gospel, but do we know that they would have responded with the same passivity if someone tried to lynch them for reasons unrelated to the gospel or their profession of faith?

  • phil_style

    Robin 56 “but do we know that they would have responded with the same passivity if someone tried to lynch them for reasons unrelated to the gospel or their profession of faith?”

    Great question! and worth pondering too.

    Although, let’s be clear – pacifism is NOT passivity.

    Pacifism is an active, conscious rejection (or de-prioritisation) of certain violent courses of action.

    Passivity is a lack of action altogether.

  • Jan DeWitt

    I don’t believe the assertion that Jesus was a pacifist. My take is that He is a model of restrained violence in the pursuit of higher goals. Jesus on ocassion used violent acts, such as whips on the money changers, at his death He states that He COULD if He wanted call out armies of angels to destroy~but He restrained that possibility to carry out the father’s will. Also, the Jesus of the church as seen in Revelation comes to smash enemies. Self defense or the defense of vulnerable others, such as presented in Romans 13, isnt Unchristian. The God who created our bodies created masterful biological weopons in our immunity systems to attack and kill invasions that left unchecked would kill the body. Self defense is locked into our DNA. We wouldn’t be having church next Sunday w/out the ability of self defense. CS lewis. Is the best read on why he wasn’t a pacifist as a believer.

  • T


    You’re right. It is all too easy to say “I don’t fear those who can kill the body” when no such threats are in one’s face. Totally agree. I’m not saying that I don’t fear those that kill the body. I’m saying that Jesus clearly taught and modeled that, and asks me to pick up my cross and follow him. I’m saying that embracing our own death and the hope of resurrection is actually necessary to following the ethic Jesus teaches and models. I think Jesus said that too, though it gives me little comfort!

    I am also saying that overcoming evil with good is God’s central plan for overcoming evil. The cross is the Way. Now we follow, with Jesus’ resurrection as our sure hope that if we die for him, we will be resurrected with him. If we lose our life for his sake, we will find it. But if we try to keep our lives, we will lose them. I’m really just saying that our core fears and hopes and treasures are bound up in this issue, and it is about far more than whether we are for or against this or that war. Who or what do we fear most? Why? Is it cross-shaped? Better, is it energized by the hope of resurrection? Where is our treasure? That’s where our heart will be. This is the value of the “more than father, mother, spouse, etc.” teaching.

    And how we answer these questions, daily, does shape our lives, and how we react to others.

  • Robin


    I appreciate that point, but I think it is broader than just running a state. The two key issues for me, in the present context are (1) how Christians should protect others and (2) how Christians should behave under a Republican form of government.

    Even if the early Christians didn’t have to protect the citizens of a state, they would have had opportunity to protect their friends and families. The Amish and other anabaptists today have the same opportunity, though they avoid governmental service. Are we saying that all use of force in protection of the innocent is impermissible? It is impermissible for a Christian parent, mother, husband, constable, or magistrate to protect those who look to them for protection? Even if anabaptism prevents Christians from becoming constables and magistrates, are they still prevented from protecting their personal relations?

    The second issue is that we don’t live in an emperor-worshipping cult where we can depend on pagan authorities to protect us. We live in a Democratic Republic where each individual has the opportunity to influence policy through their votes or direct service. What is the Christian approach in this scenario? One response is total non-participation, again hoping that the pagans around you protect you, but if you participate at all, what should that look like? Should you immediately vote for the elimination of all police forces and militaries since both occasionally use deadly force (even if solely defensive)? Can Christians join the police force? Can they serve as lawyers or judges in the legal system since occasionally they might be defending or upholding the use of force by policemen against criminals or by citizens against citizens.

    Basically, I understand the theory of pacifism, I just would like to see it fleshed out for Christians who actually have to live in the world. Is abandoning society to the pagans, ala the Amish, literally the only acceptable role for Christians, or is there a more complete development which provides consistent guidance for Christians who want to participate in Representative Democracy (either through voting or active service).

  • phil_style

    T “Now we follow, with Jesus’ resurrection as our sure hope that if we die for him, we will be resurrected with him. If we lose our life for his sake, we will find it. But if we try to keep our lives, we will lose them”

    Although I’ve heard this as a child 1000 times…it’s just hit home in the context of this discussion. What a terrifying concept.. if I am to be brutally honest, I am horribly scared of death and cling to my own life in direct contradiction to what you suggest.

  • Robin

    By the way, if any of my anabaptist brethren that could recommend a tome that clearly developed what I was requesting in the last paragraph of comment 61 I would appreciate it.

    I am sympathetic to arguments of pacifism, I just can’t see (right now) how you can be a pacifist without retreating from society altogether. It appears extremely incongruous to hold that belief while voluntarily living in a Representative Democracy and participating in electoral and legal systems that countenance violence.

  • Robin, Jesus For President by Shane Claiborne addresses some of your questions about how to live in society and stay consistently non-violent.

  • T

    Robin (56),

    I see no reason to limit the ethic of the SoM (or the one on the plain) to “this is how you should treat enemies [of the gospel.]” Jesus gives his teaching and example of loving enemies (giving to them, even bleeding for them) to all. More importantly, he does not live this out for only religious sinners. How many people beat or insulted Jesus, and for how many reasons? Jealousy, worldly loyalties, ignorance, fear, etc.—He returned blessing for cursing, good for evil.

    I think Paul’s discussion of lawsuits in the Church is also instructive. Paul is clearly horrified that Christians are suing other Christians, regardless of the basis. It’s worse in front of unbelievers. He ends up saying this, after expressing shock they could not find help to settle the matter in the Church: “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” The substance of the lawsuits was irrelevant, since we’re called to love the way Christ loved, which didn’t only return good for evil for certain sins.

  • T

    FWIW, I think it’s a mistake to center focus on “pacifism” or “non-violence” or the like. I think we do better to talk in terms of Christ’s example and teachings, and of the Church’s vocation in light of those. Therefore, we do better to try to integrate the teachings and examples of Jesus under terms such as “love” and even being a “disciple.” He taught a lot about love toward hostile and even greedy people. He lived it out too. He also taught a great deal about what being his disciple would require, and it makes sense in light of the teachings and example. I think all of these are connected. Further, faith in the resurrection is the linchpin. If there is no resurrection, none of it works. If there is no resurrection, no one would do what Jesus says and examples (I don’t even know if Jesus would!). But there is . . . and that changes everything. We need to think more functionally about the (crazy) resurrection’s connection to the (equally crazy) ethic and example of Jesus. He’s crazy like a fox.

  • Robert

    Muhammad became the ruler of a small state in Medina, and had to deal with attacks on it by the Meccans. That’s the origin of the Qur’anic stuff on war. Jesus never became a ruler, and it wasn’t till 300 years later that the church had to deal with the same issues.

    To summarise Augustine on the just war; he said that war must have a just cause, and must be entered into for the right reasons. It must be declared and directed by a ruler – begging the question of how to deal with a tyrant – and war may only be undertaken where there’s no alternative. Lastly, it must be conducted justly, implying minimum violence, no atrocities, etc.

  • T


    You hit on a tricky part of this: “Jesus never became a ruler.” That’s tough to say so flatly, especially in light of the fact that the thesis of each gospel seems to be “Jesus is the Messiah” which is to say, Jesus is Lord. Is it better to say, “he never ruled” or to say “he rules, and differently than everyone else ever has.” Then comes the question of whose “rule” we trust and follow.

  • Why does your way always get to be the third way? Why can’t it be the first or second?

  • Randy Gabrielse

    My complaint with Reformed theology, and I am Christian Reformed, is that following Augustine’s rule that only a duly established state can engage in Just War, the Kuyperian Reformed tradition ends up posits self defense as a positive role for the state in its prologue to its theology.

    So I guess it is good that I married a good Brethren girl.

    Randy G.

  • T

    phil (61),

    I hear ya, there, brother. At least we have Peter’s denials and Mark’s abandonment as encouragements that failure on this very issue is part of discipleship.

    I pray daily for courage, not just for myself, but also it’s one of my regular prayers for one of my daughters. She is very kind, a real joy to almost everyone she deals with. She’s seen little harshness from the world so far. But I pray that her sweetness would be accompanied by a real and deep courage that will allow her to love and be kind, not only in the light, but in the dark shadows of death. That’s one reason I frequently tell her about how Jesus has been raised from the dead, and she needs to learn to trust him and learn to be like him: unafraid of those who can only hurt our bodies.

  • T


    Like a typical voter, I don’t see any candidates that I really love on all issues. But I will say that the tendency to lean hawk vs. dove is a factor I care about. I see voting as an extention of our prayer to be able to live in peace. I count more on my prayers, though, than my votes!

    I don’t see “withdrawal” as part of Jesus’ teaching or example, except he didn’t pursue official human office for himself. But he did not withdraw from society. He went to Jerusalem willingly and as part of his vocation. It seems it would be easier to withdraw than be a sheep among wolves, but it seems that is part of our vocation as well.

  • Robin


    I think my point is that as a subject of Rome, he bore no responsibility for the militaristic or violent actions of Rome because he had no role in their performance. If pacificism had been supremely important to him, his only options for stopping the violence would have been to violently overthrow the government himself, or arrange for some type of non-violent takeover of the political system.

    The same cannot be said for us. We have every opportunity to influence policies at the local, regional, and national levels. When we vote for political candidates, we are responsible for their actions, good and bad. Christians who voted for Bush bear real responsibility for Iraq and Afghanistan and Christians who voted for Obama bear real responsibility for Pakistan, Yemen, and OBL. If Just War Theory is heretical, then anyone who has supported the major parties, as well as anyone who has voted in local or state elections (whose outcomes continued state sponsored violence) has knowingly participated in sin.

    Anabaptists could, in many locations, abolish police departments, or eliminate the penal system. They could run principled political candidates who are firmly committed to principles of non-violence and not just “the best option in a bad lot.” They could consistently pool their money to create PACs committed to pacifism and fund pacifist candidates. Instead they seem to just coast along, enjoying all of the benefits of a non-pacifist environment, cursing it, yet doing nothing to really oppose it.

    Ask yourself this, if the pacifist/anabaptist movement had the commitment and fervor of the pro-life movement, what would it look like? I see an anabaptism that appears genuine, but bears no fruit of being deeply committed to its words. (Or it could be that the movement is doing all of the things I suggest, it is just too small to make a difference or even garner attention)

  • Robin

    Following up…it is the fact that we all bare the responsibility for supporting violent institutions through our representative form of government that makes me wonder if escapism is the only consistently pacifistic option. Otherwise voting for even a mayor is an act of sin because he will oversee a police department that is authorized to use violent force against criminals (unless his platform is removing normal powers from police departments).

    And I especially don’t see how a Christian could participate in most levels of government.

  • Robin

    I am going to have to quit demanding consistency and just read Yoder.

  • T


    (loved your progression of comments to #74!) I guess I differ exactly at the point you began and ended with: I feel no responsibility for the actions of someone I voted for, unless they actually indicated that they would do what I now regret they did, and I voted for them anyway. I didn’t vote on whether to go to war with Iraq, for example; I voted for Bush, and that before 9/11. Democracy would give the voter direct responsibility for votes, but not as easy with a republic, IMO.

    Your first paragraph in 72 illustrates why I don’t think it’s especially helpful to talk about “pacifism” or “non-violence” in absolute terms, but rather love, and that as Jesus taught and modeled. I’m not convinced, for example, that Jesus’ idea of love would prohibit spanking, for instance. A pacifist might say that’s an easy call. But my focus, the Way I’m following, isn’t pacifism; it’s Christ, and love as he defines it; and he disciplines the sons he loves, even tho it hurts for a time. I think that, on the whole, following Christ will lead to very little use of violence or weapons on my part, given how Christ taught and modeled love, but I’m not committed to pacifism per se; I’m committed to Christ.

    As another, related point, pacifists may have a very difficult time with Jesus’ own predictions of how God will treat those who cause children to stumble, or fail to forgive others, or share with the needy, etc. Because a pacifist would never even threaten such things. But Jesus did.

  • T

    All that to say, I’m probably no Anabaptist. But I still think that one doesn’t have to be one to see that Jesus is very serious about overcoming evil with good. It’s thematic to his teaching and own life. He taught it and, most importantly, modeled in an a very, very powerful and costly way, for the sake of his “enemies.” He even tied the same The contrast b/n Jesus and Muhammed is stark on that point. Unfortunately, the contrast b/n followers of these 2 is not so stark.

  • I came back and read the comments and, as often seems to be case, they seem to be a back and forth around the wrong question: When is it justified or right to kill another human being? It’s as though if a sufficient justification can be found, it somehow ameliorates the effects or consequences of the act.

    But how can that be true? In the Christian perspective, Christ joined the divine nature wholly and inseparably, but without confusion, to our common human nature. It’s through that act, joining us in suffering (though without sin), even to death, and then defeating death that mankind was redeemed and our healing begun. It is no longer the nature of man to die, which is why the NT and early Christians typically called what happens to us now “sleep” indicating its new and impermanent nature.

    This also means that when you kill another, you not only attempt to kill a human being, part of the humanity that in nature has been joined with Christ, but you damage yourself as well. Sin is like a disease, running rampant in our mortal bodies. We are either being healed or we are falling under its sway. Unless someone can explain how you can kill another human being as an act of love toward that human being (willfully acting for their good), then clearly your act is “missing the mark” — the very definition of sin in the NT. Surely no Christian disputes that point? What is the foremost command of our Lord, after all — repeated again and again by him and by his apostles?

    With that said, are there situations where our choices appear constricted to the lesser of two evils? Certainly. But a lesser evil is still evil. It seems to me that much of just war arguments consist largely of trying to rationalize evil, even the lesser evil in a particular situation, into good.

    And that’s a problem on multiple levels. When people begin to feel the evil they are doing is justified or even righteous, things can become topsy-turvy. We see that repeatedly in Christian history. The Crusades. The Inquisition. The usual litany of charges. They had convinced themselves that what they were doing was good and that’s a very dangerous place to be. We are no less subject to such temptation. We must guard against it. And when we recognize and acknowledge that it is evil and a failure of love to kill another, that’s a start.

    But it also has a more insidious effect. If we do not recognize that the perhaps necessary act of a person defending innocents, a police officer upholding law, or a soldier fighting (within the bounds of conscience) according to the dictates of his nation, is still sin, we may not act to heal the person suffering from the effects of that sin. For unacknowledged (or even justified) sin is then left free to wreak its havoc unchecked and unchallenged. One who has committed violence or killed another human being has damaged themselves. They require healing, but healing can only begin if a mirror is held in front of them so they can see that damage. And for Christians, the mirror is always Christ. He shows us as we are in his light.

    When Christians try to argue that killing others is ever “right” we have lost our way. There are times it is necessary (or at least I lack the imagination to see any way it can always be avoided). But it’s a necessity that must be covered in tears of repentance and sorrow. When we kill, we have made the world a little darker, even if it would have grown even darker had we not.

  • DLS

    “When we kill, we have made the world a little darker, even if it would have grown even darker had we not.

    – I don’t mean to be flippant, but would you utter that line to a G.I. and the prisoners at Buchenwald he just liberated? If so, I’d like to show you some pictures. In fact, I’d say he’s done a greater good, and more Christian act, than anything you or I will ever do in our entire lives sitting at our comfy desks in our comfy communities on our thousand dollar laptops with $4 coffees and safety all around.

  • Diane

    The World Council of Churches recently moved from “Just War” to “Just Peace” doctrine. “Just War” doctrine has come to justify any war any time, and relies on a “military metaphor” that equate being safe with being armed. “Just Peace” imagines what a peaceful world would be like, taking a page from Jeremiah’s image of building houses and living in them, planting gardens and eating of them, marrying and having children.

    I do believe Jesus calls on us to do the most frightening of things, which is to lay down our lives for others.

  • Dan Arnold

    Jan (#58),

    Jesus on ocassion used violent acts, such as whips on the money changers.

    While the Greek is somewhat ambiguous, It is highly likely that the use of the whip in John 2 (notice none of the other Gospels mention it) is used only against the sheep and the oxen (τά τε πρόβατα καὶ τοὺς βόας). The construct of noun + τε καὶ + noun should be understood as “both” and in apposition to “all”, clarifying what was driven out with whips. Hence, this particular example of yours is based on a misreading of the text and substantially weakens your argument.

  • DLS

    Did you just start off with pointing out that it was “somewhat ambiguous” and “highly likely that” and then proceed to conclude without question that someone else “misread” the text?

  • DLS, my Irish great-grandfather served in WWI. My grandfather was a fighter pilot in WWII. My FIL served in Korea. My father is a Vietnam vet (forward recon). And I’m a peacetime veteran.

    I deleted my closing sentence because I try not to speak in anger. But feel free to imagine it.

  • I will say, DLS, that if you don’t believe killing another person (and watching people be killed) damages you, then you’re a fool — in every sense that Proverbs uses that description.

  • DLS

    Of course it damages you. That wasn’t my point, or yours. You said that in all cases it was evil, and sin. I simply disagree.

  • That is the heart and soul of sin — acts that damage and further break human beings and all creation. If you can’t see that, then you’re not seeing reality.

  • In other words, acts that miss the mark of Christ.

  • Dan Arnold


    Languages are by nature ambiguous otherwise we would not have misunderstandings. Readings (translations/interpretations) must be understood in terms of probabilities and not certainties.

    I said “somewhat ambiguous” because the word “all” taken by itself is ambiguous. All of what or who? But if you consider that both “all” ( πάντας) and “the sheep and the oxen” (τά τε πρόβατα καὶ τοὺς βόας) are in the accusative and that there is no other verb acting on “the sheep and the oxen,” it almost certainly is being used in apposition. Combine that with similar uses of the τε καὶ construction throughout the NT (e.g. Acts 2:10, 8:12, 19:17, Rom 3:9) and there is little room but to conclude that the best reading is “he drove them all out of the temple, both the sheep and the oxen” (cp NRSV). The understanding stated in #58 would therefore be a misreading. Do you disagree? I am by no means jumping to a conclusion and I probably should have added more detail, but long blog comments are typically not the the best medium for detailed exegetical arguments. Even when accurate, they seldom get read all the way through.

    And I do think a proper understanding of this verse substantially weakens the argument since this is the only place in the NT that someone might see the human Jesus being physically violent toward others.

  • Resi Arriot

    Scott Marizot,

    You make some excellant points. I am curious to know how you view the killing of Jesus. Was that ultimately “bad” or “good”? Or___?

  • Steph

    I’m not sure we’ve yet defined the “just war theory of many Christians,” as many Christians understand it … not as Augustine (?) first formulated it (as I read above).

    In the popular mind, just war theory goes something like this: It’s totally okay to go to war if you’re doing it for a just reason, such as fighting injustice, fighting evil, spreading freedom, spreading democracy, etc. This is the view of “many Christians.” If your goal is to stop something “bad,” then it’s “just” … as long, of course, as you don’t break certain rules of engagement. So, go to war for a good cause and follow the rules, and it’s morally unproblematic.

    What you often find along with this version of “just war” is the concept that no other country on this planet practices freedom, democracy, religious tolerance. See the comments to the post above this one, calling on American Muslims to denounce religious intolerance in Muslim countries: One commenter writes that we (the US) are the only country with religious freedom. ???

    So, to compare:
    Jihad is a Muslim’s duty to “struggle” (yes?). This struggle is against the infidel world. The struggle can take many forms, one of which is violence.

    So you have one good freedom-loving nation … against the world.

    And you have one true religion … in a struggle against the world.

    Yes, sometimes, in the popular mind, that’s what you have.

    So in the end you have a strange discussion in a Sunday School class about what means can or can’t be used in pursuit of a good end. One person says that though Rahab’s deceit helped protect the Israelite spies, she only did that because she wasn’t a Christian. A Christian wouldn’t have lied. But this same person sees no logical inconsistency in that church’s very pro-military stance b/c, while a Christian wouldn’t lie for a good cause, a Christian would kill if it’s for a good cause. Huh?

    This is the reality of the “just war” ideas circulating out there in the minds of the people in our churches. Many of them.

    I think it’s a little more complicated. I think it’s when we don’t make it complicated that we start slipping into something that might be compared to jihadist thinking: what we do is good and right and necessary. It’s fine. It’s heroic. Period. End of examination. We’re good.

    I think when we go to war it’s necessary to look the facts in the face, to say, we were faced with two evils, we chose one of them. That’s human reality. Sometimes our good deeds are simultaneously bad. You’ve got to take everything that comes with war, including the moral weight of it. Even King David didn’t escape that.

    The best chance to be as different as possible from jihadists is to always remember war is a horror. When you serve, you serve also in this: that you know and feel the weight of it as others don’t.

  • Richard


    Another aspect to this is that from a pragmatic standpoint, non-violence is more effective in long-term change of both personal enemies and even governments. The increase of global non-violent movements over the last 100 years has provided us ample date that it changes things far more than regime changes through force:
    or the powerpoint for those interested in graphic representation:


  • Susan N.

    Scott Morizot (#77) stated: “When Christians try to argue that killing others is ever “right” we have lost our way. There are times it is necessary (or at least I lack the imagination to see any way it can always be avoided). But it’s a necessity that must be covered in tears of repentance and sorrow. When we kill, we have made the world a little darker, even if it would have grown even darker had we not.”

    This is my sentiment exactly. If we as a nation can find no other way but war to resolve a conflict or right a wrong, then I believe there has been a failure — perhaps not only on our part but also among the other nation(s) involved — to do the work of sustaining peace/shalom. We should rightly mourn our lack of creativity and commitment to peace, as well as the death and destruction caused by warring.

    I also echo Steph’s (#89) sentiments, particularly in her last three paragraphs. Lord have mercy on us all!

  • Tim

    Sorry I’m late to comment to this lively conversation.

    1.We definitely should be exploring the work of Rene Girard and the implications of his work for biblical interpretation and peace making.

    2. What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war? Nonviolence needs to be understood as an active, risky, imaginative, creative process– which needs to be “preemptive”

    3. I notice that, in order to defend violence, it is necessary to demonize and dehumanize the “enemy.” As I read Jesus, we are called to do the opposite. We are to actively befriend them. This requires skill and training.

    4. This site is called the Jesus Creed. Love God 100%, love your neighbor as yourself. Might the enemy be our neighbor? How do we love such enemies?

  • Resi, the crucifixion was the ultimate evil against an innocent. But we serve a God who specializes in transforming evil into good. The redemption of the cross, taking the evil of torture and unjust execution, and turning it into the salvation of humanity is the ultimate realization of that truth.