My granddad was a ‘conscientious objector’ in WW2, meaning he refused to be conscripted for religious reasons, believing it is always wrong to kill. He was harassed and ostracised for it but he held to his pacifist beliefs, whatever the personal cost. I admire his conviction and courage but am not convinced that pacifism is innately Christian.
Don’t get me wrong – Jesus was not a violent man. When the authorities came to arrest him in Gethsemane, Peter attacked one of the soldiers, cutting off his ear, but Jesus rebuked him. Matthew 26:52,
‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.’
The love of violence, or reliance on violence as a regular recourse for solving problems opens the floodgates to all kinds of threat and danger. We are right to resort to violence as little as possible, but it remains an important fall-back position nonetheless.
Most of the time, Jesus dealt with difficult situations by using his considerable brainpower. Mark 12:13-17,
‘Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”
But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
And they were amazed at him.’
That is a stunningly smart answer. Not only did he evade the trap (which could have led to his arrest as an agitator) but he highlighted to them that they bear the image of God, and that they should give themselves to him. It is no wonder they were amazed.
Among Jesus’ many titles is the Prince of Peace, and his ultimate aim is to unite, not to divide. Ephesians 1:8-10:
‘With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.’
This is the dream, the goal, the intent of God – to bring all things into unity in Christ. This is the whole point and purpose of the Gospel. All people, all nations, every tribe and tongue, united in him! Hallelujah! That said, Jesus differentiated between how we protect the Kingdom of God and how we protect earthly kingdoms/nations. When being questioned by Pilate, he said this (John 18:36):
‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.’
The clear implication, at least for me, is that although the Kingdom of God is not to be protected by force (as it is not of this world), earthly kingdoms/nations are.
One of the key differences between the Old and New Testaments is that the Nation of Israel was an earthly Kingdom, and the Kingdom of God is not. Israel had borders, land, and an army, but the Kingdom of God has none of that in the earthly sense. The Kingdom of God is global and isn’t defined by genetics, politics, language, national identity, or territory. Israel existed in a war-torn region of the Middle East, in constant danger from feuding neighbours. They were held as slaves for hundreds of years by Egypt, and once freed from bondage needed to protect their identity, bloodlines, and land.
I know plenty of Christians who struggle with the bloodthirsty nature of the Hebrew scriptures, but for me it’s not hard to understand why war was a necessary part of life, and that sometimes even the harshest decisions were the right ones in the long term. In Jesus’ time, the Jews were waiting for a military messiah to free them from Roman Rule – something even Jesus’ disciples were hoping for – but he had a grander goal.
Jesus’ refusal to defend himself with violence was radical, but it also made sense. His fight was with sin and death, not with those who put him on the cross. More than that, he was fighting for those who put him there, along with all who clamoured for his blood.
For this reason, I cannot buy into the idea of a Christian theocracy. I dislike what I see in swathes of the US church today, talking of politics and faith in the same breath, announcing which candidate is ‘God’s man’, campaigning to legislate based on perceived Christian ideals, and associating reverence for God with guns and violence. The American church is not Christianity and Christianity is not American. I don’t believe in making war or committing acts of violence for religious reasons, and I don’t support the idea of a Christian nation with Christian laws. The Kingdom of God is not of this world.
However, that doesn’t mean I’m a pacifist. I’m with Jesus – I won’t condone violence to defend the Kingdom of God, but I do condone it to defend earthly kingdoms/nations. Relying on this distinction Jesus made, let’s put the Kingdom of God aside for a moment and focus on the current worldly crisis.
Putin is a menace. He’s spent the last decade or so interfering in Western democracies. He’s been orchestrating political rumblings and divisions through social media, meddling in other nations’ affairs for his own gain through campaigns of hate and disinformation – if you can influence hearts and minds you can change the course of history. Russia stoked up division during Brexit, pushing the population towards isolationism. He drove ordinary, decent people on both ‘sides’ of the debate towards a ‘them and us’ view of their neighbours, family, and friends.
Russia messed with the 2016 US election, pushing for a Trump-led administration, and he got what he wanted. I’m not saying the other side would have been better, but the democratic process was undoubtedly and unduly influenced by foreign actors in bad faith.
In 2014, Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, and the West didn’t do much about it. Since then he’s been biding his time, stoking division and supporting isolationism in every European country he can, funding populist movements and leaders that would further division in the West, including the Tories in Britain, Le Pen in France, Salvini in Italy and the AfD in Germany.
So now we come to it. He has committed a flagrant act of war, considering us to be weak, divided, and lacking the resolve to stop him. If we look the other way, there is a strong possibility that Western Democracy will never recover. Putin and other despots will be empowered, and his natural alliance with Xi Jinping of China will only deepen. Make no mistake, Russia and China want the same thing – to end the global dominance of Western democracy – the earthly kingdom I (and probably you) live in.
Ecclesiastes 3, 1-8:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
A time to search and a time to give up,
A time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to tear and a time to mend,
A time to be silent and a time to speak,
A time to love and a time to hate,
A time for war and a time for peace.
War is horror, war is hell. It is not glorious, it should not be celebrated, but war is also necessary. If the unprovoked invasion of a peaceful neighbour isn’t enough of a reason to declare war, what would be?