My Nonviolent “Tipping Point” – How I Finally Adopted Pacifism

My Nonviolent “Tipping Point” – How I Finally Adopted Pacifism January 16, 2013

I never liked Anabaptism. In fact, I actively looked for examples of Mennonites that broke away from traditional stances like nonviolence. As a high school student, I can remember taking pride in the church my Grandpa grew up in because a bulletin from the 40’s revealed over twenty young men away fighting in WWII. As a college student (especially during the first couple of years) a serious moment for my friends and I was when we drove past a US flag. Each time we’d salute it in unison and then put our finger on our check symbolizing a prideful tear falling. Until the earlier part of my mid twenties, any Anabaptist theological positions having to do with nonviolence or nationalism made me cringe. Ironically, it was Anabaptism (amongst other things) that drew me into the Brethren in Christ Church in my late twenties.

I’ve often said that I grew up Mennonite but not Anabaptist. None of the churches that I was part of throughout childhood (and into much of young adulthood) embraced an Anabaptist ethic, especially when it comes to refusing violence like Jesus taught us and proclaiming him to be the only King worthy of our allegiance. I was embarrassed of those elements of my “radical” roots, and I wasn’t alone.

Then, I started reading books in college that hinted toward Anabaptist convictions, naming them in a positive light. By the time I entered Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary in 2007, I was already convinced that I could never join the military because I couldn’t trust an earthly authority to command me to kill – but I was still no pacifist. The biblical text seemed to point toward nonviolence but it all seemed too irrational to me: Jesus couldn’t have possibly meant that!

The summer following my first year of seminary a tour bus powered by used cooking grease showed up in Fresno. Two guys, Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw jumped out and gave a presentation about their book Jesus for President. The passion with which they spoke and the articulate biblical arguments they presented finally convinced me to let go of my fears and embrace nonviolence as normative for Christian discipleship.

I now could, as Greg Boyd (another key influence) has often reminded me, get all of my value, worth, and security from the revolutionary enemy-loving God who is fully revealed in Jesus Christ! This not only inspired a fresh wind of the Spirit in my own faith journey, but also spurred me on in my calling as an eventual church planter to proclaim this truth with boldness and humility. This “tipping point” in my theological/spiritual journey is why I write about this theme as often as I do and with the passion that I do.

For those who hold to some version of “nonviolence:” What caused you to embrace this conviction?

For those who wish they could adopt “nonviolence,” but still struggle: What is the “tipping point” that you are waiting for? What questions are still hard for you (specifically those dealing with the New Testament and the early church)?

For those interested in a Biblical Theology of nonviolence, see my series: Nonviolence 101.

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  • It appears that you are presenting your jouney as one that came to the conclusion as a result of intellectual agreement via reading. I value the ability to read and say I agree with that premise. But could you share where you have been tested and proved the value of that position in reality not just intellectual conclusion?

    Many people gravitate to certain postures of living by temperament, background, a good book or teacher etc. But how has non-violence proved itself to you in bringing about change or protecting you from violence in soul, heart, mind or life?

    Is it activism, mission or idealism?

    As a church planted in a often violent neighborhood, I want context for convictions not just good arguments. Any context?

    • I was influenced by Claiborne, Boyd and Bonhoffer to bring me to non-violence as an intellectual assent with reading the NT.

      I also have experiences that have shown me that it is the best way to live. I can’t speak for Kurt but can share my own story a bit.

      I was an outcast throughout my schooling ans was often bullied. It didn’t help much that I was passionate about martial arts and trained very hard. The tough guys would always want to fight me just to prove they could beat up a black belt and be the best. I never gave into the taunts and in every situation the bully eventually apologized for being such a jerk and I even became very good friends with one.

      I’m not completely innocent though. I have been violent when reacting in anger to a friend at one point. We fought and that was it, I lost a close friend.

      I have had only good experiences when taking Jesus seriously in His non-violent position and bad when acting otherwise.

      I hope this provides some context for non-violent convictions.

    • Marla Abe

      No one has actually physically attacked me, but I have faced threats from a cocaine addict who wanted to beat me up and threatened to kill me. In spite of all his anger at me, and the knowledge that he did beat people up, including his parents, I wasn’t afraid and could love the person.

      If you look at Mennonite books, you will find good stories of how peaceful interaction stopped crimes.

      I shared above that I have been accused and betrayed in a public forum. But I found loving back worked. I also found being non-defensive worked. The reporter said it was unlike any trial he had ever attended. My family and friends offered him friendship and food…when he is usually avoided. One person who was one of my major attackers, later said publicly that he had never known anyone with as strong a Christian witness as I had. God comes to our defense. Really. Remember that Jesus could always have called a legion of angels to his defense, and he did not. Nor did he keep John from being killed.
      We are called to lay down our lives. When one of Jesus’ disciple tried to violently protect him, that disciple was rebuked.

      But, let this continue to work in your life. You are seeking to see what God wants and keep that up!

  • Is it too simplistic to say that I became a pacifist after reading the New Testament? I grew in a Christian church that was strongly tied to Canadian nationalism (it’s about the only place you’ll find Canadian nationalism). About 4 years ago as I was steadily taking Jesus more and more seriously – and at this point I had heard the arguments for nonviolence but didn’t buy it yet – I read through the Gospels start to finish one summer. By the end I had a hard time saying Jesus held his followers to anything less than radical enemy-love including non-violent resistance.

    • That’s fine for many, I guess. I find that I am more convinced by people’s positions that have a ‘way of life’ connected to them not just good arguments. One can believe in the sin of greed but indulge in materialism, should that person teach on contentment? If you’re in debt, should you teach on finances? Can the sexually immoral expound the pure life? Ect. I am just prodding to see if this conversation is based on a journey that adds weight to it in my estimation. Not being a troll, just asking.

      • I don’t have anything dramatic like somebody pointing a gun at my wife and me jumping in front of the bullet. However, I do think nonviolence begins with the little things and I think it is an attitude of serving even those you see as enemies instead of degrading them rather than simply “don’t cause physical harm.” I do think that this shift in attitude has paid off in minimizing conflict and strengthening my own character and relationship with Jesus.

        • So this view makes us nicer? I get that, but that’s no different than Buddhism. I’ve been digging into these issues for years and what I am finding out about myself is that it’s easier to write than live.

          I appreciate Stanley Hauerwas when he honestly says:

          ‘I say I’m a pacifist because I’m a violent son of a bitch. I’m a Texan. I can feel it in every bone I’ve got …But by avowing it, I create expectations in others that hopefully will help me live faithfully to what I know is true but that I have no confidence in my ability to live at all.’

          The problem with that confession for me is it seems to build a way of living with oneself that is a lie or at least an illusion. If someone says they believe and practice fidelity to their wife and yet, they indulge in pornography, live a lustful life in heart and mind and see all relationships with women as potential fodder for their own fantasies, can one truly speak of a changed heart?

          Are we calling people to a state of being or merely a good and honest way to handle a few difficult,a nd failry circumstantial statements from Jesus?

          • I cringe at the word “nicer” because it is often associated with being a pushover. Jesus’ model and teachings isn’t to be a pushover. I would say that radical enemy-love is much more Christ-like and carries potential to actually change the world. As Jesus put it, if you just love your friends and family, that’s the same as everybody else! Enemy-love is radically different than just being nice.

            As to your main point, I agree completely! It is definitely easier to write than to live. The question to me: are we talking about an orientation or a perfection? Do I still harbour violent thoughts at times? Yes, I stumble like everyone else. It isn’t a lie; it is a goal to live out of the new creation – the radical enemy-loving new creation – that Jesus has made in those who chose to follow him.

          • I appreciate your position Ryan, but I just haven’t found that to be true in my urban neighborhood or even among Christians on my decades of pastoral leadership, unfortunately.

            I do see sin restrained little by little in some cases. People in general give up murder, rape, drunkeness, adultery etc but inwardly, hummm? As far as the moral ethic of Jesus as captured in don’t lust, don’t even call someone a fool, don’t worship mammon, etc…I have to admit these realities are perpetual travel compainions for most, if people are honest and are not just parrotting prepared answers in defense of a moral ethic they don’t live up too either.

            This issue is deeply problematic to me in reference to the idea and practice of truth, not jsut the moral nod to its rightness.

          • We definitely have a problem going from the “moral nod to its rightness” to actual transformation. My own church, The Meeting House, has been focusing on this for a while for that reason, challenging what they’ve called “bobble-head Christians”: nodding along but never bothering to follow through.

            I firmly believe that love is what ultimately changes people. If we think that violence is bad but still beat ourselves up whenever we do something even remotely wrong, we’re not changing. We’re actually living in a worldview of sin management and punishing evil instead of in a worldview of grace. That’s sadly how most Christians deal with ethics: as a Christian you must do this, this, and this, and if you don’t we’ll kick you out of the church. It’s a legal framework and it doesn’t work. We do change, though, when we start to realize that we are loved by God exactly as we are, mistakes and all. We are still motivated away from our mistakes but we are empowered by love and our new identity in Christ instead of fear and that is a huge difference.

          • Amen to that but non-violence is a discussion of actions as much as position.

          • I agree completely. I’m sorry if you didn’t make the jump in what I was saying. I admit it was a bit of a stretch. Two points I meant to convey:

            – Like other ethical issues, sometimes the old creation gets in the way even when we are striving to live out of the old creation. If the orientation is correct, the actions will follow, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any stumbling. The pacifist position is hard, just as not lusting or not being greedy is hard, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t what we are made to be like in the new creation.

            – Non-violent resistance becomes the only practical solution for changing the world in any meaningful way, challenging evil but without reducing the evildoer to sub-human. Violence at its best can restrain other violence for a time; usually it just relocates it onto the enemy until that enemy becomes powerful enough again to be violent back. Nothing really changes. Radical enemy-love, however, has the power to change people’s worldviews which can ultimately end violence, nationalism, etc. It won’t always “work” short-term since people have the choice to reject that worldview still and it definitely has its costs, but this is the radical Kingdom of God that Jesus calls us to.

          • “Radical enemy-love, however, has the power to change people’s worldviews which can ultimately end violence, nationalism,”

            How have you experienced such a grand narative to be true?

            No disresepct to you or the other commentators but being nicer, having better thoughts, reading good authors or not saying pledge of aligiance, just fail to capture me as proof of the truth of this ethic.

            Saying the world will be better because I choose to not respond to evil with force is great but I struggle with the call to the police or the tax support of a waring nation or the living perks of a standing army or 911 call away armed response.

            If we claim a posture of non-violence and then reach of the armed protection of other people, how can I truly be living out the ethic? This is the problem I ran into in my intitial infatuation with elements of non-violent ethics. It sounds good, read right but practiced poorly.

            I could feel good about my moral and ethical positions but that didn’t truly help anyone else who may be in danger. I had to draw my thinking out into practical responses and I found that for me, I would betray my convictions by leaning on other armed entities or by the infamous ‘worst case’ scenario.

          • If you want the big scale, we can look to Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. as recent examples of the changes brought by non-violent resistance. Obviously there’s also Jesus and the first 300 years of the church. Or even some like this:

            If you want personal experiences, other than myself, yes, I do know people who have genuinely changed from a mindset of violence to a mindset of non-violent love. Some are more extreme examples – former criminals, drug addicts – but all of us got there through the love and example of another. None got there through a gun being held to their head and being told to be nice (substitute gun for Hell, for jail, for being treated badly in the family or church, etc.) and I don’t think anybody ever does reach any lasting change that way.

            Some of the specifics like paying taxes are tough issues. I believe Kurt has dealt with that one before. I willingly pay taxes because I think that the state still exists for a reason. It just exists for a very different reason than the church. The state contains violence and protects the rights of its citizens. The church is the body of Christ on earth, continuing the work of building the peaceful Kingdom of God. It helps that my state, Canada, is not particularly militaristic, but even in the U.S. I would still pay my taxes. Or if you want the simplistic answer, Jesus said to pay taxes to one of the most militaristic states in human history so if it applied then it applies now.

            The oath I think is a little different. If I was American, I wouldn’t take the oath because I pledge allegiance to no-one but Christ. It doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate my country or any other country. But my allegiance is to Jesus. If the interests of my country conflict with the interests of Jesus, such as committing violence against enemy nations, I will strive to side with Jesus. So I wouldn’t take an oath that I wouldn’t follow through with.

          • Jax Teller


            I’m with you in this. I find the non-violent/pacifist stance to be fascinating and suspect that holding to it might lead to a great deal of personal freedom in day to day life. You’d just have to trust and let go of everything … including the responsibility to protect your property and family. I’m not saying that in a snarky way either … trusting God is one of the hardest things anyone can do, but also the most rewarding.

            I too would love to hear how people who claim to follow the pacifist way of life deal with things like putting an alarm on their business, calling 911, or working in a building with security. (or heck, even owning a dog).

            Setting yourself up in a situation where other people are standing by ready to do violence on your behalf, while proclaiming pacifism, seems rather disingenuous. (actually, it would be unethical, irresponsible and hypocritical). I just wonder if there are followers out there who have thought through all of this and truly live that way. I’d love to buy one of them a coffee and ask a bunch of questions!

          • If you had to choose between living with a peace-practicing hypocrite or at honestly violent abuser, with whom would you go? IMO even the imperfect attempt at living peaceably is preferable to open hostility…

          • I wasn’t talking about open hostility, what are you referencing?

          • I was responding to your accusation of hypocrisy among those who preach Christian nonviolence. My point is that praxis, even if underpinned by imperfect thought or reasoning, can still be beneficial.

          • Accusation? Far from it, I was sharing my own experience in a questioning not accusing posture.

          • Poor choice of words on my part then. All I meant is that, as I said before, I’d rather be around someone who’s hypocritically (but actually) nonviolent than someone who’s sincerely violent. There is value in doing the right things, even for the wrong reasons, especially if you happen to be one of the ones done right by. So I’m a little defensive of people who do good even if they don’t always think good while they do it.

  • Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution was my tipping point. Before that, I was pretty darned patriotic. I even got out of the car in a parking lot in a huge thunderstorm to care for a torn American Flag. I am a Gold Award Girl Scout. I know how to do the flag thing. I know how to pledge allegiance. I preached it in the public school system for six years as a teacher. Now I don’t say the pledge at my son’s Cub Scout meetings while living in a Navy town and I am a little fearful of the repercussions that someday might follow someone noticing that I’m standing but not pledging anything. I respect the armed forces. I have many friends who serve and I love them and admire their valor, but I do not think it is the way of Christ.

    • Even Jesus honored the faith of a Roman soldier.

  • adam west

    For me it was reading the Polotics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder.

    • adam west

      politics* sorry.

  • Troy

    For me, honestly it was reading the gospel with fresh eyes, meditating on the Sermon on the mount, being open to other ways of seeing things, and being influenced by people like Greg Boyd.

  • Taking Jesus seriously did it for me but probably the most formative was Lee Camp’s “Mere Discipleship” (he studied under JH Yoder but came from my old background). Now I’m a Mennonite and our church takes the non-violent thing seriously.

  • I was in college and read Matthew 5-6 too much. Oops

  • I also read too much of Matthew 5-7, plus I’ve been nourished by great books and a wonderful Church of the Brethren denomination.

  • I have identified as an almost-pacifist for several year. My two biggest hangups: 1) thinking through how one’s personals views are not always fair to impose on others, ie. Syrians, family members 2) whether or not I believe in in causing non-lethal harm to save lives

  • shsam

    My “tipping point” stands out so clearly that I have a “flashbulb
    memory” of the event. I was sitting with my husband in a Muslim country,
    watching the news on TV when the bombing of Afghanistan started after 9/11. We
    were watching an American news channel (you can probably guess which one) and
    the announcers were so gleeful and giddy over the bombs dropping. I can’t
    describe my horror at that moment and the many moments to come when I saw
    people actually getting joy from the death of others. Because we were in a
    Muslim country, Muslims weren’t a faceless block of people, but our friends and neighbors. In this case I’m not even talking about the wrongness/rightness of those events but rather how we perceive and react to those events.

    You mention being influenced by Greg Boyd, and I would agree. I would also say
    that even more than the intellectual, political, theological arguments that
    exist for non-violence, the one that stands out to me is just the simple truth
    that everyone is of incomparable worth. This makes it personal, instead of theoretical. My life and well-being are not more deserved than anyone else on earth. I think when you actually start to see others in this way and experience God’s love for them, then violence towards them becomes abhorrent and unnatural (as opposed to justified and natural).

    I want to be clear, that this “position” is not perfected in me. I think that it’s pretty common to struggle the most with feelings of anger/hate/violence towards those that hurt the people close to us (my children, for example). That’s when I have to remind myself over and over again, “incomparable worth, incomparable worth.” However it becomes less of a position, and more as an organic outgrowing of my faith the more I try to see others as God sees them.

    • Wonderful comment. Thank you for sharing!


    • I remember how facebook just exploded with joy and fervor when Osama bin Laden was killed. I started crying because it seemed so utterly wrong for Christians to be that happy that someone had died, and to feel justified in their following comments, filled with hatred and islamophobia. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to follow the Afghanistan bombings in the Mid East. But yea, seeing the ugliness of humans rejoicing in the occasion of horrible violence has been huge for me as well. Thanks for the insight.

  • I too grew up in a Mennonite tradition but the churches I attended did not preach an Anabaptist stance. My biggest problem with the non-violence practice of many is that it has become a political stance which is not played out in their own lives. So they rail against the military and for peace, but their own lives are full of broken relationships and they don’t hesitate to do what it takes to protect themselves at work. They most certainly would not carry the pack of a soldier for a mile. If Jesus’ teaching are not first personal stances that affect me personally but only political stances that influence my voting, then I don’t see the point.

  • Does anyone here have a response to Bonehoffer’s “Ethics” book? His teaching in this book has been influential in me rethinking my previous Cost of Discipleship ideas or Tolstoy thinking.

    • I haven’t read it but I am currently reading Greg Boyd’s Repenting of Religion which is pretty much a commentary/modernization of it. I’m fully behind what I’ve read so far. Our job is to love, not to judge.

    • I haven’t read it but I am currently reading Greg Boyd’s Repenting of Religion which is pretty much a commentary/modernization of it. I’m fully behind what I’ve read so far. Our job is to love, not to judge.

  • I think what influenced me was yoder. But what also influenced me is that no scholar would claim jesus was for violence unless they a) were an alleged follow of jesus b) did not like nonviolence. any sane scholar who simply studies the gospels out of pure academic interest will say that jesus was for nonviolent followers. every atheist and agnostic friend of mine can easily understand jesus was nonviolent. it is only the baal/caesar worshipping “christians” that could make such a claim.

  • For me it was reading Yoder’s “What Would Jesus Do?” and hearing the family history of my friends after i started attending an MB church.

  • AJdaltorio

    I still struggle with the scenario of someone breaking into my house and threatening my family. I can’t see how injuring that person, if it came to that, would be wrong. Seems it would either be them or my family.

    A second question I can’t answer as a pacifist is this: Should our police officers stop carrying weapons?

    • AJ, despite being a pacifist myself I haven’t fully resolved that first question either. The tension I hold for it is that I probably would use injurious or even lethal force if it came to defending my family, but I could not defend it as unquestionably right, and I certainly wouldn’t brag or swagger about it. One of the things I understand Bonhoeffer said about his participating in the plot to kill Hitler was that he came to the conclusion it was sinful, but necessary.

      Part of what disturbs me about mainstream Christianity, and particularly the Evangelical/Fundamental sides of that stream, is the vigor with which they promote and even advocate the exercise of violence by themselves, and by our government, as godly. Many of the loudest Second Amendment advocates are conservative Christians. This celebration of violence, or at least of the preparation to do violence, is unbecoming to the cause of Christ.

      To your second question, I don’t think police officers should necessarily stop carrying weapons, but perhaps convicted Christians should stop being armed police officers. Please note I said “perhaps.”

      • Marla Abe

        When faced with violence against my family, I had to face the issue: Would I want my grandchildren watch me hurt or kill someone when I had told them to never use violence? Aren’t there alternatives to protection that don’t use violence, like strong and immediate love for the “enemy”. I pray that if attacked, God would give me a super natural love for that person. I have had that prayer answered when it was not a physical attack, but an attack on my morality and reputation, and I could deeply love those who were doing that to me.

        I slowly learned to go beyond non-violence to the stance of non-defense, since then I allow God to do the defending. And God gets to decide my life or death or health or reputation.

        • Jax Teller

          I really deeply admire people who manage to hold to your philosophy and exercise it in daily life. I must admit however that it sits funny with me in a lot of ways, some disturbing. I’m not sure how ‘strong and immediate love’ for drugged out home invaders would actually look like, and fear that it stems from a naive, pollyannish view of the real nature of human violence. I’m not trying to be insulting, I’m just really confused how such a thing as ‘immediate love’ would look like in that situation.

          To be crystal clear, an attack on your reputation, your finances, or your public integrity is in no way to be equated to a violent attack where someone who views you solely as an object is intent on raping or killing you or your loved ones in the immediate moment. I find drawing such parallels rather unhelpful as I try to move towards a more non-violent stance. I’ve been in numerous situations where my personal integrity has been attacked and have chosen love and non-retaliation as my response. However, there is no ethical parallel between that and stopping someone who is perhaps mentally incompetent and intent on beating me or a loved one to death for sport.

          I find all of this rather confusing 🙂

    • Sabine Scherrenberg

      I actually find that second question the harder one. I can understand the idea of christians maybe not opting for professions like that, but it feels like with that we just place ourselves outside of a tension that is clearly there.

      The question I myself find hardest is a bit of a combination of these two. From a US perspective, where christianity and power are still so much intertwined and ‘the war’ refers to shady business in Iraq, I guess I cld understand the pacifist point of view. But I’m Dutch, and ‘the war’ here refers to the one of my grandparents, WWII, Hitler, genocide. I struggle to think of what they shld have done then. And what wld’ve happened if armed forced of the UK, USA and Canada had not come to their aid.

      The last war our own soldiers were head on involved in, was the war in Jugoslavia. Wives of the hundreds of muslim men shot in Sebrenica because UN soldiers were told not to act in their defense, still sue our state.

      The image of a non violent minority greatly appeals to me, but it doesn’t quite seems to answer these questions.

      • I used to find the question of WWII a lot more compelling, until a wise teacher once pointed out to me that it’s a little unfair to critique the life of pacifism by forcing a starting point that exists because of a violent history. Even historians who support WWII without question acknowledge that much of the environment that led to Hitler’s rise, was the consequence of the punitive reparations imposed on Germany by the Allies post WWI.

        To critique pacifism because it fails to repair the considerable damage caused by earlier violations of peaceful tenets, is hardly a coherent argument.

        • Sabine Scherrenberg

          True of course RE causes of WWII, but I’m not sure that makes it any less of a coherent argument. I’m not forcing a starting point to anything; I’m pointing to actual situations that actual, normally peaceful, people were born into and wonder what pacifism would have to say to them. Because this was their starting point. The same goes for people now born in Mexico’s drug war, or last century’s Rwanda, or Yugoslavia as I mentioned before.
          To say that’s unfair is to assume that there is such a thing in our world as a conflict without history, albeit violent, or at the very least you too seem to assume that it doesn’t go in those cases? That almost implies pacifism mainly works in a virgin world that unfortunately does not resemble the one we live in. To be clear, I don’t believe that, but I think that’s where this line of argument leads.

          So I’m left wondering if there’s limits to pacifism, or in what ways it would present itsself in such situations, and if there’s a difference between a personal layman’s attitude and the struggles of those in a leading position in conflicts like these.

          I think that’s basically the same tension you see Bonhoeffer refering to in your quote to AJ – it leaves me wondering if in a broken world, there is such a thing as sinful but necessary.


          • I would briefly say (as I’m on the go) that the limits of pacifism for the early church was martyrdom. Not an easy thing for us moderns to swallow, but it is the truth.

          • Sabine Scherrenberg

            Yet martyrdom refers to you yourself being persecuted, because of your beliefs. Which is indeed something I cannot even begin to imagine, but what if it’s not us but Jews that are systematically targeted? I know of non-violent resistence in the form of illegal food stamps and hiding folks and such, but, well, can’t deny it’s kinda nice the third reich was eventually overthrown. What if it’s your Muslim neighbor being persecuted? What if you were the guy on the bus with that girl raped in India?

          • Hard questions, to be sure. I invite you to look up my series called “nonviolence 101.” In that series, I eventually address some of the questions you are referring to.
            KURT WILLEMS

          • Sabine Scherrenberg

            Kurt, thanks, I will have a look

        • The other problem with the (nearly always smug) “What about Hitler?” arguments is that a strict reading of Romans 13 doesn’t have you bravely overthrowing Hitler. He was the ruler to whom you must remain subject. His authority comes from God. If you resist him, you are resisting God.

          I’m not saying I believe that, but if Romans 13 is your main text on Christians and violence, you don’t get to be a kickass resistance fighter. At best, and reading between the lines, you get to wait patiently for God to liberate you.

          • Agreed, Travis. I asked the same question about Saddam Hussein a few years ago … nobody came up with a coherent response there either.

    • aDvpgXtian


      I, too, am a Christian Pacifist. You said you cannot see how injuring someone could be wrong. I think there is a more core question we have to ask: What does it mean to be a Christian Pacifist? From my prospective it means to not act out of violence. I would then have to ask, in the spirit of Christian Pacifism, what is violence? It is my opining that it is acting out of fear, anger, revenge, all in all acting out of anything that is the opposite of love.

      Let’s look at the situation of someone treating your family. You choose a course of trying to stop them in a none lethal way. Thus you are motivated by love. Your are willing to risk sacrificing yourself for your family and also for the perpetrator, to show them all the love of Christ on the cross. Lets, for the sack of argument, say that you tackle the perpetrator. In doing so, the perpetrator breaking an arm, or even worse cracks his/her head on something and kills them. Were you violent? My opinion is no, you acted out of sacrificial love.

      What to make of the injury? We live in a broken world. Even when we do live out sacrificial love, bad things happen. It really, really sucks, but, well, we must live in the world, but not of the world.

      with respect to your second question…

      I never see Jesus forcing his views on anyone. With those that wanted to follow him, when he told them what it would take to follow him, he gave them the free will to follow or not to follow. My interpretation of that is that Jesus did not judge them.

      We know that God has established all authority (Romans 13). We also know that God calls us all into relationship with different people. (I think of these folks God calls me into relationship with as my ‘neighbors’.) When a authority calls us into relationship, such as myself being called as an Elder at my church, it is clear to me that God wants me to be able to speak into that authority.

      On the flip side of that, though, God has not called me into relationship with authorities that have any real say in when to or when not to use violence. If I were to be called into such a relationship, I would strive to advise a none violent path, for I know that is where God has called me, personally, to be. But in the end, the authority is going to have to take it all to God and discern for him/herself what God wants them to do. And with the decision, I must not judge them if they choose a path different than my beliefs.

      I must have faith that God is really in control. The mystery is not what God is, fore we know, he is all loving. The mystery is how he does it:)

      • Jax Teller

        Interesting take in the first half. I wonder how you equate non-violence with non-lethality. I agree, someone motivated by love would always choose the non-lethal route, but could a pacifist keep a Tazer and pepperspray handy? Or other non-lethal tools of stopping violence?

        The issue of cops not carrying weapons seems to be a silly one. Government is the force monopoly in society. They are the biggest gang and have one variable at their disposal that nobody else has- the most guns. Without guns there isn’t a government. Cops exist first to protect the state, not you and me. And the state is by far and away the most violent group in human history. Not really going to persuade them to give up their guns!

        • aDvpgXtian

          Jax Teller, First off let me be very, very clear here. You asked, “could a pacifist”… I firmly believe that The Lord has a different purpose for each and every one of us. I get that The Lord calls some to be Christian Pacifist, others not to be. I do really know my calling yet and I am 41, I cannot begin to guess at anyone else’s calling, Christian Pacifist or other. So, could someone that considers themselves a Christian Pacifist carry such a weapon? Please ask them, I cannot and will not make that judgment call

          How do I, personally, equate non-violence with non-lethality? Good question, I had never thought about it until now. Personally I start with 2 Corinthians 10:5 and try to take every thought to make it obedient to Christ. In that spirit, if I was in position of something like pepper spray or a taser, I believe my thoughts would have the tendency to be that of anxiety and fear. The anxiety and fear being the need I felt that something bad was going to happen to me, to such a degree that I needed to have such a device.

          I would rather keep my faith in God to keep me safe. That sounds naïve, but when I say faith in God, I am also talking about living righteously. In other words, using the wisdom that God has given me to keep me out of dangerous situations to begin with. When caught in dangerous situations, use the wisdom God has enlightened me with to find his path out of the situation.

          I have a huge problem with your last point about the police. My problem is that I don’t know you, nor your background. My believes on Romans 13:1-7 is shaped, in part, from the fact that I am a 41-year-old white male living in flyover country in the USA making a very comfortable living. From reading your views on the role of the police, that to protect the state not us, I get the impression you don’t have the same background as I do. Thus, not knowing your background, I don’t even begin to know how to speak into that subject and will simply assume God is working on both of us for a deeper, more truthful understanding of the authorities in our lives.

          Do I think police in the USA should have guns? I have no opinion; fore the Lord has not called me into a position where I need to have an opinion. If God does call me into such a position, then I will turn to him for enlightenment on the opinion he wants me, personally to take.

          P.S. It would not shock me that God, intentionally, has different folks take different sides of an issue to keep things balanced.

          • Jax Teller

            Adv … thanks for the reply! I appreciate your kindness and grins 🙂

            I actually just threw that point about police out there … I have no dog in that fight. It’s merely a curious point to me, and one I think there is no real answer to. It’s like asking what the world would be like if the sky were green. The state will never disarm itself, so it’s a moot issue. My background is that I have carried arms as an agent of government in the past, and came to a point where I could no longer do so in good conscience, so I quit. That’s about all I’m willing to get into at this point.

            I’ve moved much more in the direction of nonviolence as a personal philosophy in my own life over the past few years. I understand that most of it is mindset and heart stance. However I currently have more questions about living that sort of lifestyle than answers. I’ve posted a few in this article comment section. Maybe I’ll get a few answers.

          • aDvpgXtian

            Jax, Now I know a touch of your background, I can see why this would be a tough one for you!

            One thing I have noticed throughout this thread is that folks are not differentiating between pacifism and Christian Pacifism (nonviolence and Christian Nonviolence).

            It seems that the whole pacifism/nonviolence movement is
            very political. My interpretation of that movement is a political movement to change the State’s view on war and violence. Whereas I see Christian Pacifism as a way of life for the believer, a state of mind. Where I see the pacifist judging the actions of others, as a Christian Pacifist, I try to have faith that God is leading others in beliefs different from mine. I see my role as being one of loving folks. God willing, if I live out his love, others will want to join me and the world will become a more peaceful place. If that is not God’s will, at least I, personally am at peace knowing it is in God’s hands, not mine.

            What really helped shape my view was a book I read last year: A Faith Not Worth Fighting For: Addressing Commonly Asked Questions about Christian Nonviolence ( Greg Boyd wrote one chapter in it, each chapter was written by a different Christian Pacifists. The intro talks about the difference between a pacifist and Christian Pacifist.

          • Jax Teller

            Thank you aDv … I have been looking for some books on the topic and will pick that up! Much appreciate your response.

  • Gosh, I’m pretty sure it was Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Discipleship” that planted the seeds as a freshman in college. But the “tipping point” for me happened as I was just sitting in my dorm room as a sophomore, and all of a sudden the thought that God would somehow be pleased should two Christians kill each other for the sake of human kingdoms and human wars seemed so absurdly impossible that I couldn’t possibly advocate for Christian military participation. That was the watershed moment, and the reasons have just kept piling on as I’ve read the NT, Hauerwas, Yoder, Hays, and many, many others.

    This was all confusing to my mentor at the time, who was (and is) on various boards for Christian military involvement!


  • aDvpgXtian

    I started to change my prospective when I started listening to both Greg Boyd and Bruxy Cavey end of 2011. Middle of 2012 I read the book A Faith Not Worth Fighting For, and by the end I had been transformed.

    I have seen a number of folks struggle over the question of if police should have weapons. My whole world view is shaped by the Great Commandment. Since most people are not Christian Pacifists, it seems only right to not judge their views on this matter. When I look at Romans 13, it does seem to say that God does use the authorities to hand out judgement to those that are righteous.

    I can see the question being asked, “how can it be right for one and not for another?” That is a very good question, why am I passionate about photography and others are not? God’s nature of being all Loving is not a mystery, but how he loves is.

    I have faith that because of God’s nature he loves the Christian Pacifist as well as everyone else. I accept the fact that how he does that is a mystery, one that might never be relieved to me.

  • I held tenuously to an “almost pacifism” where I conceded that violence should almost always be avoided, but that there is a breaking point where it is necessary, like to stop genocide or murder, and that Jesus was more concerned about what motivates our violence than about the violence itself (don’t seek revenge, etc.) It wasn’t until I read Rene Girard and Walter Wink a few months ago that I was finally convinced. Wink’s section on nonviolence in “The Powers that Be” is particularly stunning.

  • I would not yet consider myself 100% pacifist… though I’m moving in that direction. For me Greg Boyd was the biggest individual influence. He is constantly ‘harping’ on the reality that God REALLY does call us to love our enemies and that HE really loves our enemies. He also addresses loving our enemy day-to-day, so that we ACTUALLY love them, not just believe we are supposed to be non-violent in some worst case scenario.
    Also, I find the radical enemy-love of the early church to be a compelling testimony to the idea that the NT call to love is indeed as radical as it sounds.

    • Jax Teller

      I love Boyd as well … so much good insight. I’m slowly moving more in the direction he talks about. I am currently an ardent non-aggressionist (I refuse to initiate violence in any situation), but still can’t see how you could ethically live as a practical pacifist. I have more questions than answers!

  • When I read the accounts, teachings and commands of Jesus, I’m absolutely and entirely moved to abandon the patterns of this world that demand I always look out for myself at all costs. As He, I willingly lay down my life (physical) in order to embrace true life (spiritual/eternal). All that I possess and even my family is under the hand of my heavenly Father. I choose to walk open-handed as much as I can.

    Only through Christ can one truly forsake all else in this life. But when I gaze upon His face and see how He chased me, the worst of sinners, how in the world can I ever stand in judgment of another fallen man? Aside from Christ, we’re all hopeless but oh in Him! In Him we’re regenerated sons of the Most High created to reign on this earth yet not conformed to the patterns of the world that are taking place upon it. – J

  • Jax Teller

    Can someone define ‘non violence’ in this context? That might help with some of my questions. I find this topic fascinating.

  • Jax Teller

    I have read through the NonViolence 101 on this site and it was very thought provoking, as is this article. I’m not there yet. I would describe myself as a solid non-aggressionist. I refuse to INITIATE violence anywhere, ever. However, I currently hold the belief that I can wisely choose to respond to violence initiated against me by selecting from a wide variety of options – from total non-resistance to lethal force.

    I have some questions for those of you who try to live life this way …

    It seems to me that someone who wishes to practice ‘nonviolence’ in the sense described could also never call the police. Certainly getting someone else to do your violence for you by proxy doesn’t allow you to pretend you aren’t violent. Do those of you who subscribe to this philosophy of life agree with that statement, or am I missing something?

    Along that line, it would be equally unethical to have a monitored alarm system that summoned security at your home or business. Alarms cause men with guns to show up fully intending on committing violence on the behalf of the customer. How do you deal with that?

    Nor could you have a dog, correct? At least not any sort of dog that would be tempted to bite a thief or intruder … which many (most?) dogs are rather inclined to do.

    And voting … I’m assuming voting would be considered a contravention of these beliefs? Since government is the force monopoly in society, and every law has only the power of the gun behind it, casting a ballot for one armed gang over another wouldn’t be in line with this philosophy either, I would suspect.

    I do understand how it might not be possible NOT to tackle someone who was assaulting your children, say for example, even though that action might violate your principles in theory. However, when it comes to premeditated things like monitored alarms / dogs / calling 911 do those of you who are pacifists consider stuff like that?

    Very curious…

  • Jax Teller

    The biggest thing keeping me from embracing Christian pacifism is whether or not I could even possibly embrace it in a principled way.

    It just seems very clear to me that should I embrace pacifism, I would by necessity also have to reject the use of violence by proxy. There is simply no way I could have a premeditated plan that included calling 911, or using any form of monitored security on my home or business.

    Calling armed men to do violence on my behalf should I or my property be threatened – while claiming to follow the principles of biblical pacifism – is to me obviously not an ethical, principled stance.

    Committing to embrace pacifism and then to deliberately employ violence by proxy is also entirely and obviously morally different than someone who embraces a heartfelt desire to follow a nonviolent lifestyle but acknowledges they may sinfully and regrettably lash out physically in some desperate situation.

    The biggest thing holding me back from embracing a nonviolent philosophy is this very conundrum.

    I really struggle to imagine that there are pacifist pastors out there who have monitored alarms on their church buildings to summon armed private security to employ violence against vandals and thieves. That would be quite disturbing to me and yet I suspect that it’s the norm.

    How do those of you who have ‘tipped’ over to biblical pacificsm deal with the problem of violence by proxy?

    • aDvpgXtian

      I am assuming for your question that you believe that calling 911 to get the police to responded to something is initiating violence by proxy as is having a private security respond to an alarm on a build. I have one simple question for you: Do you believe that when answering the call, the armed person (police or security person) has the desire to use lethal force? Or rather, do you believe they carry the firearm as a final result if all peaceful means of resolving the issue fails?

      For me it comes down to two basic things: I believe that everyone’s heart is good and loving, it just that we live in a broken world, the way folks live out that love often looks like it is the opposite of love. I also believe that different folks are called by God to different things, some to be moms, others doctors, fire fighters, lawyers, engineers, and even police and soldiers.

      When I combine these two things with the belief that God is all powerful, I see no other choice then to have faith that God called those to be police and soldiers is because God is moving them to seek first the kingdom and God’s righteousness rather than violence. Thus when I can in a situation where evil wants to press in on my little garden, it seems only fitting that I call upon the authorities God has established to keep me little garden safe from those I am not equipped. Again, I am not hoping for a violent end to the situation, I am hoping that through the combined effort of the training these men and women have had and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they will do everything possible to find the righteous solution.

      In the end, it comes down to where in lies the heart, not the action. God has made some folks be surgeons and be able to learn to cut folks open to save their lives. There are times the surgeons mess up and kill folks. The surgeon’s heart was in the right place, trying to save folks. I believe the police officer has his/her heart in the same place, just different tools, techniques, and circumstances. But just because God calls the police to carry arms in this country does not mean he calls me to use violence.

      There is great mystery in Romans 13, it comes down to having faith that IAM knows what IAM is doing and giving others that see it differently grace.

      • Jax Teller

        Hey aDv,

        Well, I think if you could arrange private security to respond to your business alarm and contract with them to not use force under any circumstance, then no, that would not be a violation of principle. However, I’m uncertain if that is even possible.

        When security (private or state) arrives at the scene of a violent crime, armed with a host of force options at their disposal, the objective isn’t to kindly verbally negotiate. It is to do whatever is required to physically arrest the criminal, and if sufficiently resisted they reserve the right to kill him or her. Those are just the facts.

        They come prepared, equipped and mentally ready and willing to do violence. That’s their job. If you hire someone with that specific job to protect your ‘stuff’, you are consciously and with your personal approval giving them tacit permission to use violence on your behalf. There just doesn’t seem to be a rational way out of drawing that connection.

        Does that mean they arrive every day on the job with the desire to kill? Nope – absolutely not. Are there good hearted, sincere and kind police officers who seek to follow Christ through their profession? Absolutely. I’ve met many of them. And yet every cop has to declare openly their willingness to kill another human being ‘if necessary’ or they don’t get hired. Again, just the facts.

        I can see where you are coming from if you draw the distinction between lethal and non-lethal force options when used by private citizens. That is a very helpful distinction to make. I’m under the impression, however, that Christian nonviolence – for those who adhere to it – doesn’t commonly draw that distinction. Stunning someone into submission with a nightstick or Taser wouldn’t normally qualify as nonviolent resistance for pacifists (I may be wrong about that though!)

        As an aside … I believe there will come a time fairly soon where technology will render lethal force almost obsolete. The Taser is a very primitive version of what future electric stun / neurological disruptor weapons will function like. At that point, when instead of carrying guns that fire bullets people can set them to ‘stun’ … will that technology alter this discussion?

        And yet, as you so aptly state, it won’t change the *real* issue which is the issue of the heart. Very true!

    • Jax, I hope you aren’t arguing that because violence-by-proxy is inconsistent, that therefore there is no basis for *any* Christian (or moral) position against participation in violence. I think you have a point that those who say it is categorically immoral to use violent means personally, are inconsistent when they then call on armed cops. But there are many who believe that the projection of violence in warfare, and the *assumption* of violence in self-defense, are still morally beyond the pale of the Christ-follower, while not necessarily making it all the way to a categorical rejection of force in local, immediate circumstances for the defense of life (though not property).

      My own position is that violent resistance of an attacker on an individual basis *may* be acceptable even for the Christian, but that participation in warfare is usually if not always morally untenable. My basis for this is that once a soldier is in the chain of command, s/he has abdicated the responsibility–and even the right–to evaluate the morality of the situations in which violence is called for. No soldier has the right to say “this cause is unjust, and I will not participate in it.” No soldier has the right to tell his commander “this action requires too much collateral death, I refuse the order.” Military discipline requires that certain moral responsibility be completely surrendered to one’s command structure.

      If you’d like more detail about how I arrived at my positions on this, you might be interested in this post on my own evolution, and this one for thoughts about military service in the context of Scripture.

      • Jax Teller

        Dan, thanks for the reply. I’m certainly not arguing the perspective posed in your first sentence, but good question.

        I am probably fairly close to the same place as you are – I also have come to the point where being a soldier is no longer an option I will entertain. Nor will I support the aspirations of some politician who wants others to kill or die for his or her purposes … so warfare is out. And yet I think that violent resistance of an attacker in the defense of the life of an innocent may well be a viable, ethical option even as a Christ follower in very rare situations.

        Still have a lot of thinking to do. I enjoyed your post and left you a thank you over there as well.

    • On your legitimate questions —

      Read: A Faith Not Worth Fighting For

      This book addresses the police issues from various perspectives as well as other questions you have!!!