Tension redeemed: Pacifism

Tension redeemed: Pacifism July 27, 2011

Inconceivable! (Image from obscureprotest.com)

War, war, what is it good for?

…I don’t really know.

I’m opening up my series on tension and doubt (read the intro here) with the subject of pacifism. I consider myself a pacifist, but I can’t answer all the questions people ask me when they find out that I am a supporter of non-violence.

So, here’s what I know:

Jesus said, “Love your enemies.”

Killing a person isn’t very loving.

Violence almost always leads to more violence. 

Paul told us to “overcome evil with good.”

Until Constantine, the early Christians were mostly pacifists.

Love wins.

But, here’s what I don’t know:

Is there such thing as a “just war?” Though I’m a pacifist, I must admit, the criteria for “just war” seems pretty reasonable- all nonviolent efforts must be exhausted, innocent lives must be at stake, the goal of the war must be to bring peace. Sometimes I wonder, is belief in a “just war” a sign of one’s doubt of the power of love? Or is “just war” really necessary to defend innocent lives in a fallen world? Does love sometimes have to be tough to the point of violence? I don’t know.

If God controls governments, does that make it okay for governments to go to war? God set up governments to punish the wicked and reward the good. Does that include war? And if so, does that mean Christians should be okay with war? I don’t know.

Why does God command the Israelites to go to war in the Old Testament? I’ll admit, it’s difficult for me to reconcile in my mind the violent Old Testament stories with the peaceful love of Jesus. I could write a whole post on that topic (and I probably will for this series). God tells the Israelites, not just to kill, but to completely wipe out their enemies in the Old Testament, then he turns around and says, “Love your enemies,” in the New Testament. Why? I don’t know.

Should a Christian who feels “called to protect” join the military? I’ll be honest- I can’t even fathom how a Christian could join the military without feeling guilty. But Christians do it all the time. And many say that it is God’s calling for them. They don’t do it out of hatred or a desire to kill. That would obviously be wrong. They do it out of love for their families and their home. Can I argue with that? Can I really speak for another person and say that he/she is not really doing God’s will by joining the military? And how can I complain when the only reason I can even be a pacifist without suffering persecution is because others have fought for my rights? I don’t know.

And most importantly…

If someone broke into my house and tried to kill my cat and rape my grandmother, would I really react non-violently? I wrote about pacifism last week and one commenter brought up an excellent point. She said, “pacifism is an exercise in academics.” None of us really know how we would respond in every situation. I know how I’d want to respond: I’d want to distract the attacker and sacrifice myself so my cat and grandmother could escape. I’d want to disarm my attacker, or throw him/her off guard with a crazy act of love.

But I also know how I have reacted in the past.

I grew up in Sunday School. I heard about Jesus telling us to “turn the other cheek.” And I always thought I would. But when I got into an abusive relationship at age 16, I eventually got tired of turning the other cheek. I gave up on non-violence for awhile. I fought back. That usually only worsened the violence and made my abuser angrier, but that’s what I did.

I’d like to think that I learned my lesson from that relationship- that violence leads to more violence. But have I? Would I really be able to respond non-violently in every situation? I don’t know.

There you have it, folks. My doubts and questions about pacifism, exposed for you all to read. I don’t know everything.

But I do know that no matter how much dissonance I have in my mind because of this topic, one day everything will resolve. One day we’ll beat our swords into plowshares and live in peace. Somehow, someway, no matter how much apathy or violence tries to get in the way, love wins.

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