Jonathan Fitzgerald: A Quieter Voice

From Jonathan D. Fitzgerald:

The most inflammatory voices are always the loudest; this is a fact of our contemporary media landscape. Threaten to picket at the funeral of innocent children killed in cold blood and you’ll make national headlines. Suggest that these killings were the result of expelling God from the public school system, and you’ll get people’s attention….

But there’s another voice, softer even than the others, crying out in response to the murder of innocents. It is a voice that reaches back far into church history, has its roots in the life and teachings of Jesus, and finds its ultimate exemplar in his death. That is, the Christian pacifist response….

But beyond the ultimate sacrifice of the moment, what does a Christian pacifist response look like going forward? What role can it play in preventing further tragedies?

Obviously, sacrificing one’s life to save another is a worst case scenario. It is the action taken when all else fails, when the world that Christians hope to create — a peaceful Kingdom of God on earth — fails to materialize as it so often does. But that doesn’t mean that we stop working to create that world. Here we look to examples of what Jesus suggests the Kingdom will be like. The Sermon on the Mount gives us an idea of what we should be striving for: a world that offers hope to the poor, food to the hungry, joy for those who weep. It is a world in which we do not repay evil with evil, in which those who are without clothes are clothed, mercy reigns over judgment, and enemies are loved and prayed for. In the peaceable kingdom, we treat others as we would like to be treated….

The voice of the Christian pacifist is a quiet one, a patient one. Rather than make grand pronouncements, it sets itself to the work at hand. It speaks love, mercy, and hope, and, when all else fails, it makes the ultimate sacrifice — the kind of sacrifice that the teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary school made last Friday, the same sacrifice that Jesus made on another dark Friday, two millennia ago.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • mason

    AMEN..

  • nathan

    Man! I love Fitzgerald. Been reading him for a while and he’s an incredibly honest writer.

  • John

    I admire pacifism, but I cannot completely embrace it.
    What are the practical implications of a pacifist Christianity transported from the person to the state? Is a peaceable kingdom possible with unredeemed peoples and power structures? If a believer must work for a pacifist government, would such a change connect with Scripture that implies government carries a sword?

  • Kenny Johnson

    @John #3,

    I think pacifism (though I prefer the term non-violent) can be impractical, at least from our human perspectives. But that shouldn’t be the question. The question should be whether or not that is what we are called to be as followers of the Prince of Peace and citizen of His Kingdom.

    Certainly, you can determine that we aren’t called to that (as many — most? do) and that’s fine — but I don’t think practicality should be why we decide to follow a path of nonviolence or not.

  • John

    Can we reject the practical implications of our theology and be sustainable in living it out in an unredeemed world?

    Are there not violent images of the Messiah King, as well as pacifist ones? I speak not just of the OT prophets, but also of horrifyingly nightmarish pictures in Revelations (regardless of how we interpret these passages). How does a pacifist theology digest these images? How does a non-violent theology understand the Moses and Joshua/Canaanite and the Davidic kingdom very violent commands? Even as a non-pacifist believer, I struggle with the implications of a Deity who seemingly commands these things.

  • Kenny Johnson

    While I lean towards a theology of non-violence, I’m certainly no expert. I did find these teaching from the Meeting House to be helpful, though:

    http://www.themeetinghouse.com/pageid/1700/

  • Diane

    We are fools for Christ. Allegiance to ‘Jesus’ example of nonviolence means we trust that even if we and our children and our town and our countrymen are massacred, love will triumph, Jesus will triumph. However, pacifism is not cowardice. It is the courage to die for your beliefs.

  • Diane

    Even for me, it is difficult to embrace complete, cross-driven pacifism. Do you not fight Hitler? Dorothy Day said no. I imagine my fear roots in my worldliness, my lack of faith.

  • Mark h

    Agree with much of what is said here, although to align what the teachers and administrators did while trying to intervene as pacifism is most likely a stretch.

  • Rick

    You don’t have to be a pacifist (I’m not) to believe that our country is awash in guns, and that we need serious restrictions on the sale and purchase of a number of weapons. Even today, in the moments before the NRA’s outrageous press conference, a mass shooting took four lives in Pennsylvania. (It is literally a weekly thing now). The NRA has done everything in its power to ensure that people can get their hands on guns, even very powerful ones. And they’ve succeeded. The rest of the world sees us as insane for not regulating this. Meanwhile in America, Christians are writing pseudo-thoughtful-touchy-feely pieces on pacifism and how human evil is everywhere. I too believe evil is everywhere — it’s also present in countries like Japan where people almost never get shot. That’s the point; pass laws to protect our children. After 20 kids in Newtown have been slaughtered, its time to make guns less available. Stop pontificating, and if you believe in peace you’ll work to end violence and death. Period.