Ronald Sider, in his new book If Jesus is Lord makes the case for pacifism. Today I want to post his simple, clear opening introduction about the Three Options (not Two):
C.S. Lewis makes the point vividly: “Does anyone suppose that our Lord’s hearers understood Him to mean that if a homicidal maniac, attempting to murder a third party, tried to knock me out of the way, I must stand aside and let him get his victim?” Just war Christians regularly charge that pacifists fail to love their neighbors who are threatened. Pacifists, they allege, take no responsibility for history. In fact they prefer tyranny to justice.
I think just war Christians are correct that if there are only two options (to kill or do nothing to defend neighbors), then faithful Christians should kill. Lewis is surely right: Jesus would not want us to step aside and passively watch while an aggressor brutalized others.
The problem with this critique of pacifism is that there are never only two options (to kill or do nothing). There is always a third possibility: to intervene nonviolently to oppose and seek to restrain the aggressor. Nor is nonviolent resistance to evil a Utopian, ineffective approach. In the past one hundred years (and especially the past fifty years) nonviolent resistance to injustice, tyranny, and brutal dictatorship has again and again proved astonishingly successful. Gandhi’s nonviolence defeated the British Empire. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent civil rights movement changed American history. Solidarity’s nonviolent campaign defied and conquered the Polish communist dictatorship. A million nonviolent Filipino demonstrators prevailed against the vicious dictator President Ferdinand Marcos. A recent scholarly book examined all the known cases (323) of both major armed and unarmed insurrections from 1900 to 2006 and discovered an amazing result: “Nonviolent resistance campaigns were nearly twice as likely to achieve full or partial success as their violent counterparts.”
It is simply contrary to the facts of history to say that there are only two options: to kill or to do nothing in the face of tyranny and brutality. I agree that to stand aside and fail to resist evil is cowardly, irresponsible, immoral, and blatantly contradictory to Jesus’s command to love our neighbor. But the historical record demonstrates that there is always a third option: vigorous, nonviolent resistance. And it frequently works—in fact, it apparently succeeds more often than violence.
But not always. Sometimes, at least in the short run, nonviolent actions fail. What then should Christians do?
That is the central question of this book. Does Jesus ever want his disciples to kill in order to resist evil and promote peace and justice? When Jesus commanded his disciples to love their enemies, did he mean that they should never kill them?