Dear Reader… "Wrestling" With Nonviolence

Dear Reader,

There is an area of theology that I have wrestled with in new ways for the past four years or so: war and peace.  I have a friend who pushed back on areas of nationalism and just-war theory for quite some time, and it seems that we have found consensus in the last year and a half or so.  This friend has contributed to this blog and you can read his first article here.  Through much reading, reflection, and prayer; I now hold to the view of nonviolence.

Nonviolence is a word that has more benefits than using the term pacifismPacifism often communicates inaction or helplessness.  A useful observation that was made by my professor recently was differentiating between the language of – nonresistance, pacifism, and nonviolencePacifism’s weakness is that it seems to relate to withdrawal from conflict.  The other terms (“non_____”) are also a bit frustrating because they define themselves around what they are not, rather than what they are.  The difference here (which is a key difference for me) is that nonresistance is just as much of a “withdrawal” word as pacifism.  Traditionally, the Mennonites (my tradition) have preferred this term, but I am not sure that I am fully against “resisting” someone if justice is threatened; I am however against doing violence to them.  Now this is where the dialogue gets a bit interesting for me because this logic begs a question: what qualifies as violence?

The above question can surely become one that is relativistic because it depends on how one perceives violence.  Some, would be against violence to the point that football is too aggressive of a sport (this doesn’t work for this former team captain 🙂 ).  Others would say that killing is the line that must be drawn, but everything up to that point for the protection of the innocent is justifiable.  I am not comfortable with either of these extremes on the spectrum (well, extremes within the nonviolence/pacifism/nonresistance conversation).  As I continue to wrestle with this tension in light of Scripture, I have found that it is helpful to think of violence as anything that dehumanizes the ‘other.’  Using some forms of restraint to hold back a person who is violent does not have to be dehumanizing.  Force and restraint, when done for justice without the use of actual dehumanizing techniques seem to be consistent with the Sermon on the Mount’s nonviolent witness.  This is very much a circumstantial approach, but always within the parameters of avoiding anything that would treat a person as less than a human created in God’s image.  But, this also leaves the passage in Matthew 5.39 as seemingly “resisted” as it says, “do not resist an evildoer.”  This would be problematic if we did not look at the context a bit closer.  Jesus follows this saying by adding that someone who is slapped on the right cheek is to show them the left cheek as well.  As Walter Wink and others have demonstrated, this was an act of subversive resistance.  Not through violence, but through demanding to be treated as a human equal.  The first backhand slap to the face on the right side would be the way a master would hit a slave (superior to inferior), and Jesus says to turn the other cheek in a way that makes the attacker have to choose to punch you with a closed fist as a man would strike another of equal status.  This is a new kind of resistance, not with the fist or sword, but with creativity that causes your attacker to consider his actions once more.  For this reason, I am more comfortable with placing myself on the nonviolent part of the larger spectrum of war and peace from a Christian perspective.  I believe in resistance without violence.

It should also be noted that Mark Baker’s insight in his article about his own journey towards embracing pacifism (his language) also allows for there to be the restraint of evil through violence, but that this is to come from the state.  Taking the lead from Ellul, he separates the role of the governments to carry out justice through the sword from the role of the church in the midst of conflict.  The church must not expect the state to operate as though it were ‘Christian.’  To impose such makes this position illogical in light of the broken relationships the world has at the present.  All this is the say that the church is invited to resist violence in all its forms, while recognizing that in a fallen world, God allows for a “plan b” (nations) in order to restrain this planet from becoming completely chaotic.  Mark’s perspective raises important questions about the level to which a Christian ought to be involved in military/police force.  Perhaps at times it may be appropriate to live in the “gray” on this question rather than create solid black-white boundaries of a bounded-set ethic (although my personal conviction is against all military service, but not necessarily police).

Finally, I was really helped by Richard Hays’ chapter on violence in The Moral Vision of the New Testament.  I do not think that there is a single moment in which I found myself disagreeing with him (except his choice word of pacifism, which is mostly semantics).  His exposition was insightful and clarifying for me.  The section that helped me the most was the one that dealt with the questions of the Roman soldiers in the New Testament.  Just-war folks always bring up: when soldiers became Jesus followers, they were not told to quit their job. Hays took this on in a section of his chapter and made the following observation: “…precisely as Roman soldiers, they serve to dramatize the power of the Word of God to reach even the unlikeliest people” (335).  God reaches to unlikely places and peoples to reveal his grace, which serves to illuminate that military participation is similar to tax collectors and other sinners.  It would be an argument from silence to claim that the rest of the NT texts about peacemaking are revitalized because soldiers are not specifically told (in the text) to quit their jobs.  I think, as faithful readers and ethicists of the NT, we must listen to where Scripture speaks and not give a louder voice to the silence.

What thoughts have you been wrestling with in the area of Christians and violence?


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  • It seems to me that violence is basically a manifestation of power, not necessarily it’s misuse per se. God seems to do violence and thus it cannot be wrong by definition. The issue, as with all power, is it’s abuse. We can use violence to establish justice or we can use it to get what we want. Some would say Jesus “used” violence (i.e. violence done to himself) to redeem mankind.

    • Amy Stone

      You are equating using with perpetrating. Arguing that God perpetrated violence in order to redeem humanity is like saying, I caused a snow storm in order to spend a day at home getting to know my kids better. I may have “used” the storm, but I certainly did not cause it. God “used” violence, but did not necessarily perpetrate it.

  • Emily

    I had a member of my youth group ask me this general question (in 6th grade terms of course) this week. Being politically and theologically liberal in a congregation that is markedly politically and theologically conservative, I had to take a big deep breath. But, we discussed ideas of what God might think of war or “killing for a good cause”. It was fascinating how kids could take these tough theological concepts and understand them. I was proud. I think in the end, we came to a place close to this. Well, minus the big words and book references. Grins.

  • Anne Deneen

    Dear Kurt, it’s always a gratifying to read your blogs. This morning’s Memorial services in our town brought the same issues before me, pondering nonviolence, just war theory, the role of church and state. I’ve always used Gandhi’s term: satyagraha–truth force, even sometimes translated a militant non-violence. Very useful. Another essay very useful: Simone Weil: The Iliad–The Poem of Force. She discusses the objectification of the “other,” relating to persons as “things,” and Buber’s I and Thou is wonderful, too. Thanks for thinking and writing. your far away friend, Anne

  • I don’t think we should surrender the word pacifism so easily. Just because people sometimes mistake it for passivism … well, lets take the opportunity to educate.

  • In agreement and supplementation to Matt Stone’s comment, I’ll add these:

    “True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power, as Niebuhr contends. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflicter of it, since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart.” — The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., p. 27.

    “Pacifism is not passivism—it is not sitting idly by while evil gains ground in this world. Pacifism is not being nice—it is an all out assault on systemic oppression and ill-conceived notions of human responsibility to police other states and adjudicate others interests (especially when it is to our own economic advantage). Pacifism is not a spineless resignation—it is a deliberate methodology which calls attention to the injustices of this world. Pacifism is not quiet or nice—it is deliberately aggressive ideologically while refusing any right to retaliation; it deliberately provokes response (often violent) to force the “enemy” to put all his cards on the table for the watching world to witness. Pacifism is not an absence of anger—it is furious at the injustice of this world…So what is pacifism? It is the uncompromising realization that we as humans are incapable of bringing about justice through violent retaliation. Hence, we relinquish all such acts to God in his sovereign and eschatological plan of judgment, justice, and mercy.” —Mark Moore

  • Hey Kurt- as you know I am also in the camp of non-violence. I have not spent much time parsing out the semantics of the words used, but I agree that violence is fundamentally opposed to the Kingdom of God. A term you didn’t mention in this post that I gravitate toward when describing my own theology ‘peacemaking’. As you said, it does not avoid conflict- it finds ways to resolve conflict nonviolently and redemptively.

    I have so many thoughts on this topic that I wouldn’t even know where to begin, but one thing strikes me as particularly worth noting. I am not sure who first coined the term “myth of redemptive violence”, but it has led me and many I know to a significant paradigm shift. Most of us operate with the assumption that violence can be trusted to solve problems, that violence is effective. Alot of our anxiety about nonviolent theology comes from the sense that if violence is taken off the table as an option, we will have no way to way to solve our problems or to address evil and injustice.

    However, this way of thinking is backward and I believe a manifestation of the fall. In fact, violence is not effective. This is a lesson that humans have been taught each generation but somehow consistently failed to learn. Responding to violence with violence escalates the situation, engenders a retributive response from the enemy, and leads to more violence. Soon, an outside perspective can no longer tell who is the aggressor and who is the victim. Think of this in international terms- the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, our current war on terror, etc. And even on the personal scale. We think that if we keep loaded guns in our house we will protect them from invaders, but the more likely scenario is that seeing a gun will prompt the invader to fire his own, and a robbery turns into a murder.

    I was discussing this with a friend who believed that violence was the only way to effectively resist evil, and he challenged me to name anyone who actually achieved positive social change on a large scale without committing violence. The more I thought about his challenge the more convinced I became that nonviolence is the only way to achieve positive social change. The first person that came to mind was Jesus, and many other more modern examples followed- Ghandi, Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, and many others.

    All of which is simply to say that we need to rethink our assumptions that violence leads to peace, and that nonviolence can not effectively oppose evil.

  • Also, to briefly comment on the issue of quitting the military, and this may not be news to you, but even though it’s not mentioned at all in the New Testament, there are many recorded instances of early church communities for decades or even the first two centuries after Christ explicitly telling new converts to leave their positions in the military or they would not be allowed to join.

    As for my personal views on violence, how is it defined, etc., I do struggle with all of the parameters. Firstly, I have to say that if, as is often brought up in “worst-case scenarios,” usually by advocates of violent resistance, if someone were attacking my wife in front of me, I’d probably do my best to kick their ass, quite frankly. But that doesn’t mean I actually believe it’s the best way to resolve the situation, or the one with the best outcome. I’m a firm believe in the idea that violence begets more violence, in all cases. I also believe their is violence beyond our simplistic conception of hitting or killing another human being. I think violence moves into the verbal, emotional, spiritual, and so forth. Therefore I think a true advocate of nonviolence is much more careful with how they use their words and in what ways they may be affecting the world around them emotionally and spiritually. This is why I my wife and I chose to be vegetarians over a year and a half ago and this is why, silly as it may seem, I rarely even willfully kill insects or other crawly things. Life is life and violence is violence. Violence against any life is wrong, as far as I am concerned, and it indicates a level of irreverence toward creation and the preciousness of life.

    Some of the more nitpicky aspects of this argument that I have also dealt with are violence in art (i.e. literature, film, music, etc.) and violence in sport/sport activity, more specifically, Eastern martial arts. I haven’t really found sound answers to all of these questions, but at this point I accept violence in my art and even in martial arts as long as I do not believe that the message being portrayed is one which condones real-world violence as a means by which to solve problems or assert your power over another.

    • I just want to affirm and agree with these points. It is so easy to get hung up on questions o physical violence or of political institutions like the military. But keeping with Kurt’s definition of violence- there are so many ways we dehumanize ourselves and others that entail no physical violence. Verbal violence, intellectual violence, emotional violence, economic violence. I have known people who referred to themselves as pacifists and who renounced military service but had no qualms at all about verbally harassing and diminishing another person. Thanks for calling us to continuity and consistency in a nonviolent ethic David.

  • Tim Gray

    Excellent posts ..
    Pacifism is not passivism…
    As Frank Zappa once said, “There’s a difference between kneeling down and bending over.” Gandhi took down the British Empire without firing a shot, Dr Martin Luther King’s non violence shook the foundations of our society. Growing up in a rough section of Oakland, I have had to apply non-violence to to some dicey situations. And as a Christian committed to the Gospel of non-violence, I look to Jesus’ own reaction to violence (including his own torture and death); and to his invitation to do the same.

  • Thanks, Kurt, for another thought provoking article. It is an issue that I have struggled with at least since High School (way back in the dark ages of the late 1960s 😀 ). Back then, I registered as a ‘conscientious objector’ with the draft board, and was granted a 1-A-O classification. My ‘number’ never came up for the draft though, and I certainly didn’t volunteer! It has throughout the years since been a real problem, though, in determining what is appropriate in ‘self defense’ and defense of family and friends.

    I particularly liked the way you handled the idea of ‘non-resistance’ in Matt. 5:39. I am reminded that the Biblical writers seemed to like to use seemingly contradictory statements at times to force us to think. For instance, though Jesus said “Do not resist the one who is evil”. James famously said (James 4:7), “Resist the devil and he will flee from you”. I compare this to Proverbs 26:4 and 5 – “Pro 26:4 Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
    Pro 26:5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” “The Skeptics Annotated Bible” actually lists this as a blatant Biblical contradiction ( ). I would think that the placement of 2 seemingly contradictory statements next to each other would rather be a tool to get a person to think about what is being said, as it’s not likely a writer would flagrantly contradict himself in two consecutive statements. The plain meaning of those proverbs is: don’t answer a foolish person in an equally foolish manner, because that will just make you equally a fool. But answer a foolish person in a way that exposes his folly, in order to deliver him from that folly which he considered to be wisdom. In the same way, one could say: don’t resist one who is evil in an equally evil way, because that will make you just like him; but nevertheless resist one who is evil in a way that will expose his evil, in order to deliver him from the evil that he perhaps thinks is ‘righteous’ (or at least get him to ‘flee’ or leave you alone). “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

    I also appreciate the comments of Anne Deneen and Matt Stone. Pacifism comes from a word meaning ‘peace’. To me it means ‘resisting’ evil by means of the way of peace (not ‘withdrawing from conflict’), as opposed to the way of violence. It allows me to use a ‘positive’ term to express my attitude and way of life, rather than simply the ‘negative’ term of ‘non-violence’. I’m actively in favor of peace, not just opposed to violence.

  • “pacifism.  Pacifism often communicates inaction or helplessness.”
    The frustration as to what word to use is common. Whichever word you choose will mean something different to everyone that hears it. You just have to be sure and define your terms (tell them what you mean) when you use them. You’re right, ‘pacifism’ does have a bit of a stain from a Christian perspective due to it’s overuse and negative connotations in the secular realm. And for some reason people associate it with ‘passivity.’ Pacifism = ‘peace-ism’ /= ‘passive-ism.’ Pacifism is a very action oriented word. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ Jesus says.
    The phrase Jesus and Paul use is ‘resist not’ or ‘do not resist’ depending on your translation, hence ‘biblical nonresistance.’ But like you said, that’s a strange word. It doesn’t mean ‘do not resist’ the way it is being used, but ‘do not resist in by the same means’ (namely, through force/violence). I think the traditional Anabaptist verbiage is ‘nonviolent nonresistance.’ How about that, LOL?
    I often use the word ‘pacifist’ in conversation because it is easier to say than ‘I’m an adherent of biblical nonviolence/nonresistance.’ Of course you know they always respond, “What about Jesus in the temple?” LOL. But the problem with just using the word nonviolence is that each of the others are essentially subcategories *of* nonviolence with different emphases and nuances. It may help to qualify the word with the addition of ‘biblical’ (e.g. ‘biblical nonviolence).
    “All this is the say that the church is invited to resist violence in all its forms, while recognizing that in a fallen world, God allows for a “plan b” (nations) in order to restrain this planet from becoming completely chaotic.”
    This is something I basically agree with. It seems to me that nations are, to some extent, around for this purpose. Even though Satan is, in effect, their acting CO, God perhaps can/does still use nations to this extent. This is one HUGE reasons I don’t believe Christians should have any role in earthly governments. Also, would a citizen of Kazakhstan be able to ‘serve’ in an governmental capacity in America? Of course not. So why should a citizen of the Kingdom of God? It’s not our country. We just live here.
    And so it can’t be said that God is ‘totally’ against the use of violence, because He has, to some extent, made use of violence to achieve His ends. This does not, however, give Christians the right/ability to do so. Our commitment is to follow Jesus and do what He said to do. Jesus unequivocally and unjustifiably taught nonviolence. Greg Boyd has a small article about this at, noting that we always feel ‘justified’ in whatever use of force we think is necessary to protect ourselves. He says, “It is ‘normal’ to feel this way–but the Kingdom is radical and beautiful precisely because Jesus commands us not to act in accordance with this ‘normal’ sentiment.”
    Also, the strand that says they are against ‘war’ but okay with using force/violence to defend one’s family (for example) are, I think, missing the point. For if anyone is truly *my* enemy, it is the person trying to bring harm to me or my family.

    stay salty,

  • Brad Davis

    Watch out Emily… I was fired from my first youth pastor position because those in power found out I marched in an anti-war demonstration in1968 (10 years before they hired me).
    Kurt- thanks for the piece, it is especially timely… we live in a season when few evangelicals ever question the use of force… could it ever be ethical to use a drone to kill civillians in Afganistan? Most give the government a blank check when it comes to war and aggression. One question, do we need to use scripture to back up our ethical ideas? Christian ethics are not neccessarily biblical ethics. If I use the Hebrew scriptures I could pretty much bomb the *%#t out of anyone who disagrees with me…. just go ask the Amalakites about that… oh wait, there aren’t any Amalakites around to ask 🙂 I would also add, before we say the sermon on the mount is not for nation states, perhaps we should wait for some nation state to actually try it first. To my knowledge no government has ever responded to its enemies by loving them. The US responded to Pearl Harbor with Hiroshima, we responded to the Twin Towers by killing 500,000 Iraqi’s. Both are literally overkill.

  • Richard Wendt

    I agree with you for the most part that we need to do all we can to find a peaceful resolution to a conflict. This is something that almost all police officers and members of the military would agree with. And as Tucker stated violence does not bring about peace. But I think you make a false dichotomy when you try to say that it is alright to be on law enforcement but not in the military.
    While many will disagree with what I am saying there is really no difference between being in law enforcement and in the military. Both entities do their best to insure the protection the safety and security of the country. Both would much rather use peaceful means to end a conflict and both at times must use force to achieve and end to the conflict. And all members of those entities are changed when they take another life. Regardless of what you see depicted by Hollywood or read in books there is a fundamental change within a person who has had to take the life of another.
    I also believe both are better when they have Christians within their ranks. The influence of the Kingdom message works to make what they do better.
    I believe that the biggest problem with the “pacifist or non violent” movements is that those who are the most vociferous tend to come across as if they are attacking the individual than the idea of violence vs non violence. I know this partly from being in a community where I have been the “minority” as someone who believes that at times violence in necessary to protect others. In fact I have has fellow seminarians come across to me that if a person serves in the military or in law enforcement that are violating scripture.
    I like what Dr John Toews said in a conversation about this very controversy. His position is very much in the non violence camp but he also thank God that their are men and women who are willing to protect others. As he put it this is a personal choice we all have to make.
    As someone who has been in law enforcement and has been a tactical medic I know that there are situations that no matter what you do you have to use force in the protection of others. As much as some would like to think otherwise there are people out there who are bent on hurting others. These people would like nothing more than to have free reign to do what they wished to others and they must be stopped.
    I will never agree with the use of excessive force and I believe that every means needs to be made to find peaceful and non violent means to end the conflict. I also believe thought that at times force is necessary in the defense of others.
    I also believe that this needs to be a conversation we have within the church and one that needs to be kept civil. We should never question the faith, courage or patriotism of those we disagree with. As Kurt says there is is a lot of silence in the NT on this subject and we should not shout where there is this silence.

    • Richard… I would say that I do not present a false dichotomy but tension.

      Police protect the innocent… that is the bottom line.

      Military protect the interest of the empire… that is the bottom line.

      Serving ones country and serving the Kingdom of God do not work together, they are in antithesis. This is isn’t to say that there are not true Christians in the military, but rather that they have failed to recognize the roots of Christianity. Lets remember the undeniable facts here: Christianity was NEVER pro military until Constantine. Then, Augustine created a pet theory that gave those who had sold out to empire some comfort for their fallen compromises…

      On the topic of police, I think that they are too quick to violence. Like the situation in Fresno a year or so ago when they shot a young man who had a silver cell phone in his hands (mistaking it for a gun). I say, if they were shooting with bean bag guns, the kid would still be alive. Lets try and de-violence our police force where possible. Lets use alternative methods such as stun guns and bean bags, etc; rather than turning to dehumanizing violence as a natural impulse. Jesus gives no warrant for such!

      • Richard Wendt

        Kurt, You have to understand that a police officer often has literally seconds to make a decision between shoot or not to shoot. Yes in an ideal world it would be nice to use bean bags, tazors, etc. and then if the suspect is still a danger then move on to deadly force unfortunately most of the times there just is not time. I am not sure if you realize it but a police officer dies in the line of duty approximately every 48 hours in the US. It is an unfortunate reality that to have the security that you enjoy, the ability to live without fear of harm there has to be both a police force and a military that is willing to sacrifice themselves to insure it.

        You say that there is not a false dichotomy but a tension and that the police exist to protect the innocent but the military exists only to promote nationalism. Respectfully I disagree with this. Personnel from both take an oath to support and defend the constitution of the US from all enemies foreign and domestic. Both have a mission to protect others. The military exists to protect you and to allow you and me and all the rest of us the ability to have conversations like this without fear of reprisal from the government.We have the right to worship as we please and to live, within reason, as we please. And whether you agree with it or not we are able to live this way because of the military. I know that no matter what I say you will not really change your stance and I think that is great. I love and respect you and support your right to disagree with me, and to be anti military.
        Just remember that those of us who have taken an oath to support and defend the constitution and to lay our lives on the line, and are followers of Jesus, have wrestled with this issue also. We just happen to come down on the other side than you. I also have a strong faith and belief in the Imago Dei of every person God has created. When I have had to use force in the protection of others I did not do so lightly.

  • Josh Wise

    Great post. It’s really timely on a day when we have a tendency to celebrate our fallen soldiers. I don’t know how to respond to that. Yeah I mourn with those who have friends and family who aren’t coming home, but I can’t really support this idea that their sacrifice should inspire the rest of us to support the war effort. If anything it inspires me to want them to come back home. Anyone listen to the flobots. The song Whiteflag Warriors really speaks to this.
    Peace ya’ll

  • John Tencza

    I think this view denies reality and history. If this view was prevalent lest say during World War 2, then Hitler would not be stopped and the Jewish genocide would have been complete. The Japanese would have attacked Pearl Harbor, and our nation would have not responded. Our nation and the world would be fundamentally different, if pacifism was prevalent. We could be under Communist, Marxist, and Nazi influence. If there was no war in the World freedom would be extinct and freedom of speech, or freedom of religion would be non-existent.
    We live in a fallen world where evil is prevalent, and evil seeks to destroy, murder, and encourage chaos. I for one am a Pastor and prior to this I served in the military for 22 years. Those in the military place there lives in jeopardy for all of us to be able to have this discussion.
    In Romans Paul states the following:

    Romans 13:2-4 2 Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority1 does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. (emphasis is mine)

    Here in this verse that God gives government the sword for our own good, since authority/government is a servant of the Lord.

    Later in the severs Paul states the following:
    Romans 13:5-8 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is due them — taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. 8 ¶ Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

    So without violence in our world we would be slaves and have no freedom whatsoever. God has given us freedom, and given us the responsibility to protect it. That responsibility sometimes includes violence. Again if we look at our history we see that this is true.

    • Amy Stone

      If there was no war in the World freedom would be extinct and freedom of speech, or freedom of religion would be non-existent.

      Just think about that statement for a moment. If there was no war, there would be no threat to freedom, and there would be no need for violence at all. What I think you actually mean is: If we do not use war to defend ourselves against threats to our freedoms, then we will become enslaved.

      Your assumption is that engaging in warfare is the only way to resist enslavement. History doesn’t bear that out.

      God has given us freedom, and given us the responsibility to protect it. That responsibility sometimes includes violence.

      Where does Jesus fit into this picture? How did he defend his God-given freedoms?

    • Daniel

      So without violence in our world we would be slaves and have no freedom whatsoever. God has given us freedom, and given us the responsibility to protect it. That responsibility sometimes includes violence. Again if we look at our history we see that this is true.

      Jesus taught that “everyone who sins is a slave to sin”… He revealed that bondage has less to do with the outer, physical world, and much more to do with the unseen, spiritual dimension. God DID give us freedom, but He did it through the cross. He achieved it by laying down His own life. That freedom cannot be protected by guns or bombs, not by the police or the army… We DO live in a world where evil is prevalent, because it lives in the heart of everyone of us. The only answer is to be washed clean by Christ.

      It should be remembered that Kurt is not advocating that all or most of America, (or the rest of the world for that matter), should become “Pacifists”… He is not speaking at all towards what the broader population should or shouldn’t do, because they do not all claim to follow Christ and take His commands seriously… This discussion revolves around the question of a follower of Christ using violence… Also, those verses in Romans 13 do not equate Christians (His servants) with the sword being used as His “servant”, those are two basically distinct concepts which shouldn’t be confused…

      There are plenty of places where Jesus spells things out very clearly for us on this matter, on of them being Luke 12:4-6:

      “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.

      If you are more afraid of the Hitlers and Stalins and Saddams of this world than you are of God Himself, then you do not have the same perspective on things that Jesus does…

  • Good post, Kurt, and good conversation, here. I like peace-making, and really all the terms. Pacifism gives people a general idea of one’s stand, though it carries unhelpful baggage with it.

    I want to study this further, especially in terms of how we Christians can be peacemakers in the worst of situations. One way as seen in the life of Jim Elliot and company is martyrdom. God used that to bring his peace in Jesus to this tribe. Indeed this way of life is a living out of the gospel itself. It surely must have a redemptive aspect to it. Like what Paul was referring to when he said that he carried on through his sufferings something of the redemptive work of Christ, as in the application of Christ’s once for all saving work through his death.

    • Hi Ted!

      I like the language of peace-making as well for the most part. Sometimes “peace through strength” mentalities can corrupt such a beautiful concept/lifestyle choice. But again, semantics don’t matter as much as our actions do!

      Thanks for the reminder about Jim Elliot. Simply excellent

  • Calleen

    I depends on how and what you percieve as violonce. I do not enjoy watching football or UFC fights because they make me nervous. (I know I am a wimp) it may not bother an other. Violence make me nervous I personally choose to take the stance on non-violence. In my opinion viloence is form of obligating an other human to submit. God never obligated me and gave me free will, so who I am to obligate another, but I can appreciate the need to protect oneself, yet again where do you draw the line. David was quite violent with Goliath! If someone came into my home and attacked I can’t say I would not act in violence. I too struggle with where to draw the line. All i can do is to pray for discernment and have faith that God with protect me. The story is a great example of God’s protection and resisitng a King without violence

    During his reign, Nebuchadnezzar II erected a statue of himself (or possibly of the Babylonian god of wisdom, Nabu[4]) and made a decree which commanded all to fall and worship the monument when the instruments played. The consequence for not worshiping during the music was death by burning in the city furnace. During the dedication festival as the music played certain officials noticed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego not bowing down to the idol and alerted Nebuchadnezzar.

    Enraged, the king questioned the three. He provided one more chance for them to bow to the image and they refused. They cited their reason to refuse as,

    “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” [5] Nebuchadnezzar ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than average and had the three tossed into it. According to verse 22, it was so hot that it killed the soldiers who threw the three into the furnace. “Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste: he spoke and said to his counselors, ‘Didn’t we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?’ They answered the king, ‘True, O king.’ He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God. .'”[6] Nebuchadnezzar then ordered the three men to come out of the furnace, addressing them as ‘servants of the Most High God.’ [7] When they came out the next verses say that “the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them”. [8]

  • I really enjoyed reading the posts on your blog. I would like to invite you to come over to my blog and check it out. God’s blessings. Lloyd

  • Tony Ward

    i agree with the author’s appeal to nonviolence, especially in lieu of using the term “pacifism.” i do believe in the necessity of physical force in certain cases. my namesake saint, St. Thomas Aquinas, did much to develop the doctrine of Just War for the West. the strong have a duty to protect the weak, and the Church can – as She has before – hold the… See More sword which protects the helpless. when a separation of Church and state was unthinkable (the Middle Ages, specifically beginning in the 9th century), the temporal arm of the Church (the Holy Roman Empire and its kingdoms) held the mantle of Protector of the Church, and it did so with incredible efficiency.

    if Jesus didn’t at least expect His followers to reserve some sort of protection for their lives, He would never have commanded them to carry swords (Luke 22:36-38).

    • “So without violence in our world we would be slaves and have no freedom whatsoever. God has given us freedom, and given us the responsibility to protect it. That responsibility sometimes includes violence. Again if we look at our history we see that this is true.”

      while the Hebrew children were slaves, GOD knew that He would raise up Moses to lead His children out of slavery. GOD gave Pharoah several non-violent chances to do His will, which was to let His children go. The Hebrews NEVER had to resort to violence as The Creator of the Heavens and Earth was, is, and always will be able to execute His will without our violent intervention.

      i believe it is pride that says God needs me to protect myself and the others around me.

      as for myself, i will love and have pity on my enemies because they have no idea that my father is the Redeemer of the World, Maker of the Stars, and the Creator of the Day and Night.

  • jason

    Hey Kurt… great post! We should talk about this sometime =)

    In regards to the whole “non_____” or the issue of the term pacifism, that is why gandhi used the term “satyagraha”. The word has an action meaning.

    I think that is what we need in english… a term that is not a about the absence of something (i.e. violence) or a term that conjures up inaction (pacifism).

    What I believe in (and I would guess you to…) is action for justice. And, violence by definition is injustice.

    Anyways… good post… great conversation…

  • Travis

    Jesus, when talking to the centurion in the book of Matthew (chapter 8) made a comment to that man and to whoever else who was listening… he didn’t rebuke his military service or military leadership… even though He could have…. In fact, He could’ve said something like “what are you doing? don’t you know I’m the Son of Man ? and I would much rather you concentrate your efforts to bring ‘social justice’ to My earth like I spoke about when I preached the Sermon on the Mount (chapter 7)”? Instead he says, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel”! To me… the Social Justice movement is just a way for the church to tell the world… “hey look we’re just like you”… kinda like when we started Christian rock bands (even though I do like some Christian rock bands)

  • Ryan VanderHelm

    I enjoyed reading this a lot. I was engaged in a pacifism (non-violence) debate this last semester, and you brought up a lot of the tougher issues. I enjoyed seeing how you dealt with them, and might borrow some of your points the next time.

    • Awesome Ryan! Glad to see you are engaging these issues brotha!

  • Calleen Bonilla

    This looks like an interesting documentary
    The film is the true story of Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who overcame ridicule for his refusal to carry a weapon, then distinguished himself as a fearless saver of lives on the battle fields of the Pacific…… during the Second World War. Will be aired on NBC June 13

  • Jrabbott81

    I liked your thoughts on the subject–very thought provoking! As a pastor and a USMC combat veteran, these are issues I have given a great deal of thought to myself. I am not convinced of the nonresistance/nonviolence/pacifist position, mainly because I believe it is necessary to violently oppose injustice, and sometimes even kill. However, I deeply appreciated your thoughts on resisting without dehumanizing and subversive resistance. The biggest disagreement I had was that on the one hand you seemed to support the state weilding the sword to preserve order and justice, but on the other hand opposed Christians weilding the sword as agents of the state (at least the military). While I agree that we shouldn’t expect the State to act like a ‘Christian’, it seems problematic to me that the military is justified to preserve order, but Christians shouldn’t become those agentI liked your thoughts on the subject–very thought provoking! As a pastor and a USMC combat veteran, these are issues I have given a great deal of thought to myself. I am not convinced of the nonresistance/nonviolence/pacifist position, mainly because I believe it is necessary to violently oppose injustice, and sometimes even kill. However, I deeply appreciated your thoughts on resisting without dehumanizing and subversive resistance. The biggest disagreement I had was that on the one hand you seemed to support the state weilding the sword to preserve order and justice, but on the other hand opposed Christians weilding the sword as agents of the state (at least the military). While I agree that we shouldn’t expect the State to act like a ‘Christian’, it seems problematic to me that the military is justified to preserve order, but Christians shouldn’t join the military. That seems like a double-standard to me. It also would ensure the opposing side is dehumanized. Even so, Christians like me, that believe in some form of Just War Theory, ought to seriously consider whether the military conflicts our military engages in are just before they join. We may not see eye to eye in some areas, but I found this post thought provoking. Also, as a non-pacifist, I appreciated that you were still rather respectful to the military. Some preachers of non-violence are very condemning.