War on Syria? No

War on Syria? No August 30, 2013

A riff on a favorite author of mine:

We call a nonviolent man “Lord” and in his name rekindle battles among the nations.

We call a poor man “Lord” and in his name determine friends and enemies on the basis of who has oil for us.

We call “Lord” a man who told us to love our enemies but in his name make enemies to promote our values.

We call a peaceful man “Lord” and then favor those who divide in order to conquer.

We call “Lord” the one who gave us a vision for life that will not succumb to broken realities and we chose instead to use pragmatic justifications.

Why do we call him “Lord” and not do as he says?

Riffing on The Priestly Kingdom, 195.

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  • Allan Bevere

    Well said!

  • And “boom” goes the mic!

  • Rodney Reeves

    “I am for peace, but when I speak, They are for war.” Ps. 120:7

  • Scot: I’m not a proponent of an attack on Syria–at this time. I know that this discussion, from an ethical perspective, is a lengthy one. Just War Theory fuels all kinds of arguments, and we turn to the example of Christ as our ultimate guide as believers. I’m perplexed, though, by this constant portrayal of Jesus as a passive, “non-violent” personality. It’s true that Jesus hardly uttered a word against his attackers, but His silence was quite purposeful to the completion of His mission, and not a sign of disinterested passivity. When we read the biblical accounts of what He intends to do with His enemies upon His return, I’m wondering how we can reduce Jesus to this weak-kneed, gaze-turned-aside guru? Oh, our Lord is no war-monger, to be sure. But, the definition of Jesus as “non-violent” will be rejected by those He slays on that last day (Luke 19:27; Rev. 19:15). To define Jesus by the manner of His journey to the cross alone is to truncate who He truly is, and what He will do.

  • scotmcknight

    Your caricatures of nonviolence, which is neither nonresistance nor weak-kneed, ruin a comparison.

  • Then help me to understand. The Jesus presented by those who readily and routinely identify with the “passive Jesus,” more commonly than not refuse to acknowledge that their Lord will one day in fact do violence to His enemies in a way that Hollywood cannot imagine. His brand of violence is of course righteous and just, and I am not arguing that His church has the authority to try to emulate what only He can do. I’m only arguing for a complete, honest view of who Jesus is as King. It feels, to me, as if this reality of His rule and reign is often set aside.

  • Phil Miller

    It seems to me that if we think that Christ will have to one resort to a violent overthrow to establish His kingdom we’re saying that the self-sacrificial love He showed on the cross and the principles of laying our lives down for others don’t really work. It’s like we’re saying, “non-violence was OK for the little while Christ was here, but watch out, next time He’s coming for blood!” That just doesn’t sit well with me.

    As far as the passages you mentioned, the one is Luke is a parable. I don’t think I’d want to go to far with that metaphor. I think Jesus was using familiarly imagery to make a point to the Jewish people. They would be held account for what they with their calling. The passage in Revelation has been dealt with by a lot of different people, but if you read that passage carefully, Christ is covered in blood before the battle begins. It’s a safe assumption that we’re talking about Christ being stained with His own blood. But even you don’t accept that, the battle is said to be won by the sword of the word coming from Christ’s mouth. So the nations warring against the Kingdom of God are defeated by the truth. The long and short of it is that I don’t see this as being descriptive of a literal battle scene. It’s descriptive of Christ final victory over all that stand against the Kingdom.

  • I agree. We do all the things you mention in this article and look what a mess we are in because of it.

  • Rory Tyer

    1. I have never seen an advocate of Christian nonviolence characterize their approach to Jesus by the phrase “passive Jesus.” This makes me wonder if you have ever read the best perspectives of those you’re talking about. When you do, read them charitably, as you would want to be read, and consider the best arguments, and then form an opinion (which may still disagree with them).

    2. You formulate your points as if those biblical texts have been ignored by those you’re arguing against (see point number one–they have been dealt with). But, to take one as an example, Rev. 19:15 cannot be used to support the idea that Jesus will physically slaughter a multitude of people. The sword coming out of his mouth is a *metaphor* for his Word, which accomplishes his purposes. These purposes do include judgement and they do include a distinction between those who are in Christ and those who are destined for an existence apart from him for eternity, and that should be accepted as an uncomfortable truth worthy of lament, with humble gratitude for the salvation we have in Christ. But those purposes do not include a millions-piled-high bloodbath. Revelation is written using apocalyptic imagery that was stock and trade in similar literature of that and preceding generations, including much that is in the Old Testament (some direct quotations in places); it is not the transcript of a movie trailer of the end of time.

  • sanctusivo

    After all it was our Lord who said to Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” John 18:39 (NASV).

    A great deal of wrangling over all facets of just war doctrine has to find ways to avoid the Lord’s own words. Christians live under different rules of citizenship.

  • Alan Rutherford

    Joshua, what this comes down to is, are we called to imitate the Christ who intends to slay people? By the way, I would hesitate to say there is a “Biblical account” for something he hasn’t done yet.

    I believe we’re called to live as Christ lived. It is true that his life gets reduced to portrayals. Can you point to the specific ways that Scot (or Yoder) reduced Christ to a weak-kneed guru?

  • Rory:

    1) I have not filled my library with those who advocate Christian non-violence, any more than I have filled it with those who would presumably advocate for Christian violence. As a follower of Christ, I’m no advocate of violence, but I do recognize that on this side of the cross, violence may not only be necessary, but ordained by God. Do we do a good job of discerning that as a nation? It sure doesn’t seem that way, and I lament that fact.

    2) I’m quite certain that those who advocate for Christian non-violence or non-resistance have considered the passages I mentioned. We simply disagree with how to handle those texts, at least in general. For example, our brother Phil, above, appears to argue for a non-literal battle, but a literal victory of Christ’s kingdom. You can’t do that with the text. Of course, the Luke passage is a metaphor, and Revelation is apocalyptic language, both given and used by God to help us understand His intentions. With that in mind, how much more glorious (for His friends), and frightening (for His enemies) will that last day be, if the only way to describe it for finite humans was to utilize violent, war-like imagery? Your point that these truths are worthy of lament are really acknowledging all that I’ve intended to say, which is again, to acknowledge that Jesus cannot be described by the language of non-resisatance alone. If we are to do justice to the entire body of Scripture, we must acknowledge that Jesus is a King who will bring His final, unredeemed enemies to account, and that for them, this will not be a pleasant experience. Lamentable? Absolutely. True nonetheless? Yep.

  • Kent Anderson

    I confess to be perplexed. I agree with what has been written but then I wonder what is the Christian response to a leader which uses horrendous weapon against his own people. what is Christian response to the death of 100,000 people? I just do not see verbal objections being effective since I doubt the leadership cares what Christians say.
    I am also perplexed on how you can be in governmental leadership and be non-violent? How can you non-violently uphold your vow to defend the constitution for all enemies foreign and domestic? It is far easier for me sitting on the sideline to hold a non-violent stance. I have not found or read a sufficient answer.

  • Phil Miller

    You seem to be equating non-violence with passivity. There is a difference between advocating for non-violent resistance and being totally uninvolved and cowardice. To actually resist in a non-violent way doesn’t mean you simply sit on your hands.

    As far as the fate of those who resist Christ, I’m not sure of how it will play out. I’m sure that Christ is powerful enough to put to rest all violence with just a word. I believe that those who insist on resisting the Kingdom will be left speechless at the last day, and they will realize that all their efforts are powerless against God. I’m sure I lack the spiritual imagination necessary to envision how it will all go down, but I do know that God is able to bring about His will in a way that’s consistent with the character and nature of Christ.

  • Alan, I’m not advocating for war or slaying people, as such. With regard to Scot’s post, I’m not even an advocate of a strike against Syria. But could I be? Most certainly. If Syria continued to cause mass casualties by the use of WMD’s. Of course, the US has been slaughtering children with chemicals since 1973, but that’s another dialogue. My description of the “non-resistance Jesus” (to use more politically correct language) as “weak-kneed” I didn’t attribute to Scot personally, but to this general feeling or sense that portrays Jesus as a pacifist. That’s what I reject, because I find no support for this as the sole understanding of the nature of Christ’s kingship. The author Scot quoted opened by describing Jesus as a “non-violent man.” I find that, and the underlying assumptions that follow, to be inadequate. As to sinful violence, Christ is most certainly lacking. As to a “violence” toward His enemies, the Scriptures portray a very active and aggressive Christ. His enemies will, as I read the word, find the grapes of God’s wrath to be quite bitter. That’s all I’m intending to say.

  • Alan Rutherford

    I haven’t found the caricatures nor the use of phrases such as “politically correct” clear or helpful to this discussion. So it’s helpful that you refocused on Scot’s and Yoder’s words. I thought “non violent man” described the man Jesus Christ pretty well. Could you point me toward the scriptural account of an active, aggressive man who was violent toward his enemies?

  • Rory Tyer

    I’m not sure that you’re handling this text in Revelation as it is generally handled in this discussion. Proponents of what might be called a nonviolent reading of that text do not argue for a “non-literal battle.” They argue that the imagery put forth uses the metaphor of a battle to communicate the truth that Jesus’ word will subdue all of his enemies. The exact mechanics of that subjugation cannot be spelled out or understood by parsing the imagery so closely that you feel justified calling Jesus “violent.” In other words, if a battle is described here in some way, is it described in a way that is intended to make us ponder the fact of a battle, or in a way that is intended to communicate something about its resulting triumph? I don’t think this is a false dichotomy; I think the latter gets at the purpose of the imagery more completely. Your original comment contained something about the final battle being “something even Hollywood couldn’t imagine,” which makes me think that you are misconstruing the purpose of that Revelation passage. We are not told the mechanics of the end. The events that passage describes may simply happen, quietly, in an instant. At this point our disagreement is hermeneutical, but the point is that you can’t build a theory of just war (for instance) from this passage. It must be built elsewhere.

    Also, your use of the phrase “the language of non-resistance” is not very careful; there is a big difference between terms like “nonviolent,” “nonresistant,” and “passive.” Nonviolent resistance is an important category and is different from “nonresistance.”

  • Ted M. Gossard

    I like this, but what I’m not sure about is just how “we” as Christians figures in to this, because the church is the church. What can the church really do in this except influence and support or oppose what the state decides to do? And is that really in the call of God to the church. Just how are we the salt of the earth and the light of the world? Only on Jesus’ terms. Terms of the Sermon on the Mount.

    I was shocked recently at a Peace church when one entire adult Sunday school class devoted its time to how America is going down the tubes, how it needs to get back to its foundation. And in the service the pastor spent the first five minutes recounting a couple of things related to that. This is a church of a tradition which is supposed to be based on the Sermon on the Mount and espousing nonresistance.

    I just can’t use “we” in this way, unless I’m missing something. I just can’t see, for example, how Paul would ever do that with reference to the Roman empire or nation, though he certainly wasn’t anti-Roman in actions, example, him using his citizenship and claiming he had done nothing against Caesar. I can maybe see this possibility a bit more with reference to America, but I still cannot cross that line.

  • Well, I apologize for my use of caricatures, and for the “PC” phraseology. Forgive me. My use of “non-resistance” was actually a description Scot himself used, so I thought that was safe. You didn’t quite grasp what I said–clearly–that to describe Jesus as “non-violent,” as if that’s all He is or was, is inadequate. And I can actually think of a great Scriptural account of divine wrath in which Jesus was an active participant–His own crucifixion. Jesus said that no one took His life from Him, but that He laid it down himself–that’s active participation in the most violent act ever committed. On the cross God the Father poured out His wrath on His own Son,so that His elect might not taste of it themselves. Crazy love. And, apparently, if I’m reading Scripture right, the wrath that was poured out on Christ for His people, will be poured out on His enemies at His second coming. And, according to Revelation, the arbiter of that pouring will be none other than Jesus Christ. As I hold to a literal, physical second coming and earthly kingdom (non-dispensational, however), I cannot discount the literal, physical, eschatological nature of this event. Whether I find it distasteful or not. Our King is coming in power, and the gates of hell shall not prevail, no?

  • I’m not trying to build a theory for just war, although I do believe one exists–in time–which will pass away on that last day, praise God. As Scot appealed to an author he admires, I will do the same, and commend Dennis Johnson’s commentary on Revelation, “Triumph of the Lamb.” In it, Johnson writes concerning the blood on Jesus’ robe, “This is the blood of His enemies, a preview of the defeat of the beast and the false prophet, with the slaughter of earth’s kings and armies (19:21). his robes are soaked blood red because He ‘treads the winepress of the fierce wrath God, the Almighty’ (19:15)…How can such an image be made winsome to people attracted by tolerant love than by strict justice?” He then goes on to quote the great Miroslav Volf, who said, “The presupposition of God’s just judgment at the end of history is the presupposition for the renunciation of violence in the middle of it…My thesis that the practice of nonviolence **requires** belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many Christians in the West…Soon you will discover that it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence corresponds to God’s refusal to judge. In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die.” Having spent 17 years working the streets of inner-city America, alone, much less war torn Europe like Volf, I am inclined to agree with his assessment.

  • I’m a Frenchman and am against any intervention from the Western world.

    Whilst the current president of Syria is a moral monster, the Islamists who will take over the country after his defeat are far worse.

    I hope Syria will remain a (relatively) progressive Muslim nation.

    Greetings from Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son


  • Alan Rutherford

    I guess I’m not being very clear, here. The man, Jesus Christ, whom we’re called to emulate, was non-violent. That’s not all he was, of course, he was many other things; but I don’t hear you refuting that he was non-violent. We’re called to imitate him, epitomized by his place on the cross. That’s what Paul is calling us to in Ephesians 5, Philippians 2, and many other places. Whether wrath is tasteful or not, however, I don’t know of a text where we’re called to imitate wrath. Do you?

  • Alan: 1) I think we have agreement, Jesus was non-violent, but that’s not all He was or *is*. I have never argued that Jesus was non-violent. 2) Further agreement, we’re called to emulate Christ. But, that would be the Christ of the Bible, not just the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount, right? I’m assuming you find Jesus in the OT, too. 3) Agreed. No where are we called to “emulate wrath.” However, we are called to defend the widow and the orphan. And, much to the dismay of some it seems, that sometimes requires overt action that takes on seemingly “violent” action. Question for you Alan: When I was a police officer for 17 years, my duties *required* that I take violent action against an aggressor to save the life of the innocent. As a Christian, I carried out my duty under the color of Scripture (Rom. 13 for example). I once utilized deadly force against a man who was trying to murder his wife. Do you find that I sinned and failed to honor Christ, or do you see shades of God’s justice in the centurion’s sword? As Volf, suggested, some of us might be too entrenched in the safety of our western suburbs.

  • Phil Miller

    As to a “violence” toward His enemies, the Scriptures portray a very active and aggressive Christ.

    Who exactly are Christ’s enemies, though? How much sin does one have to commit to be placed in the enemy category and expect a good ol’ butt whoopin’ from Christ? I’m saying that kind of tongue in cheek, but it’s an honest question.

    I just don’t see how we can square the concept of Christ laying down His life for His enemies only to rise again, return, and eventually engage in literal warfare with them.

    None of this is to say that God’s divine justice doesn’t demand that perpetrators of evil deeds be held to account. What that being held to account means, though, I’m not entirely sure. I do think it will be a dreadful thing, but I also think that it will be a healing and restorative thing. I gave up the notion quite a while ago that I could really understand the eschatological in anything but relatively broad terms.

  • Alan: I’ll be turning over to you the final word. All debates must eventually come to an end, and this one’s no different. It’s been fun, but life calls. Blessings to you, in Christ.

  • Blessings to all of you that I’ve interacted with today. It’s been fun. And, thanks to Scot, who always provokes chaps like me. Here’s to the eventual end of all violence, and the consumation of the eternally peaceful kingdom.

  • Alan Rutherford

    Joshua, I hear you suggesting that I’m confining the Jesus we emulate to the Sermon on the Mount. That would be a bad idea. I never suggested that. I’be been pointing to his entire life as a man, with special attention to his journey to the cross, as Paul also highlights. I’m not sure I find Jesus in the Old Testament, nor sure that we’re called to defend widows and orphans. My point throughout this entire discussion is who do we emulate. My contention is that it’s Jesus as he lived on this earth among us. You seem to be thinking of other examples of the Son’s and the Father’s actions where he isn’t held up as an example for us to follow. As our pastor often reminds us, he’s God and we’re not. Judging and vengeance are strictly his job, for example.

    My heart goes out to you having to make those tough, dangerous decisions as a police officer. I don’t condemn what you did. There are multiple interpretations of what it means to submit in Romans 13. We could argue about what it means to look after orphans and widows. I just don’t think the church needs to applaud our superpower attacking Syria. It’s unlikely to save any lives, so even if we decided that according to just war theory, it wouldn’t add up.

    I haven’t heard non-violence promoted as the key to safety for our suburbs. More often than not, it’s law and order, horses and chariots. Trusting in the name of the Lord would be a more effective path. Although suburban safety isn’t our ultimate goal. We can probably agree on that as well.

  • Alberto Medrano

    So Christians are to stand by with the world and watch scores of civilians die.

    Was liberating the Jews from the Nazis a horrible thing to do? A thing Jesus would turn his head and denounce the efforts?

    What if violence and war isn’t the evil, but the cruel intentions one may have in using it?

  • truthisfree4u

    There is no good side in this fight. I believe the world community’s role is to embrace the refugees and continue to pressure for peace. As for Assad and the rebels, I would refuse to become a pawn for either side, or be drawn in. The administration is trying to assure everyone this will not be another Iraq. That’s a parlor trick. The truth is, we should be afraid this will be another Eqypt, a conflict we should not have aided with money and weapons, and one in which there is also not a side with clean hands.

  • Ted M. Gossard

    On the other hand perhaps I’m misunderstanding the post. The point the post makes could be a critique of Christians who side with the state doing this and that which strikes against the heart of the gospel of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus. If that’s the case, I stand with the point made (eloquently made, to be sure).

  • scotmcknight

    1. Maybe governmental leadership positions are incompatible with following Jesus.
    2. Vow to defend the constitution — always secondary to following Jesus.
    3. “Sidelines”: I hear this as saying Jesus was on the sidelines. Why equate genuine action with participation with Caesar?

  • Jean

    When one compares the Jesus of the Gospels vs. Jesus of Revelation, isn’t Romans 12:19 relevant to the conversation? Isn’t God’s retributive justice the basis for Christian non-violence?

  • Jean

    Scot, I’ve thought about your point #1 before and I have a problem with it. In a way it sort of establishes a type of separation of church and state in a way that may not be valid. If in a democracy we vote for a commander in chief, are his/her actions imputed to us? This can be complicated when we agree with some but not all of the leader’s positions. How does the Christian vote? Should we prioritize the ethical ramification of different issues or vote for the candidate that shares the most ethical views in common with ours?
    I just don’t think we can say I am non-violent, but then vote for candidates that have hawkish military views.

  • chris2002white

    *There will be wars and rumors of wars, so go and support the side you think is best? ? ?
    *The Romans were always battling some city or territory and defeating them, killing many and making slaves; and Jesus denounced them, right? ? ?

    Believers are not here to set the world right except by one heart at a time. So let the powers that be make their decisions about war–you think you can change that? Do you think you are wise enough to know what actions a country should take?

    Pray for President Obama and other world leaders that they make the right decisions; then continue with the mission of Christ.

  • scotmcknight

    Jean, you are right: if you are committed to non-violence supporting a candidate who favors war is inconsistent.

  • patriciamc

    Thank you Alberto. I have no clue what should be done with Syria, and I’ve prayed for God to give Obama wisdom. What I do know is that the victims of the chemical attack are not the least concerned about our stand on non-violence. I’d like to see us take the focus off of us and put it on the suffering innocents.

  • I can only answer “Amen!” to that :=)

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son


  • chris

    Maybe what needs to happen is the church that is watching what is going down in Syria, actually go to Syria and put its life on the line by non-violently coming around those who are being persecuted. The Roman and Protestant church has a ton of resources to care for the displaced, the sick, the vulnerable in Syria. I think this is the closest we can get to acting like Christ in the Syrian situation. Trying to figure out whether to support our government or not seems to be leaving it in the hands of the world to do the church’s work.