A Pacifist View of Syria that You Might not Expect

A Pacifist View of Syria that You Might not Expect September 5, 2013

I really appreciate Greg Boyd’s clarity and wisdom on the issue of Syria. Here’s an excerpt from a recent blogpost:

The first thing I’ll say is that I don’t believe that being a kingdom pacifist (viz. on who swears off violence out of obedience to Jesus) means that one must embrace the conviction that governments are supposed to embrace pacifism. Many people assume this, and I’ve found that the implausibility of this position is one of the main reasons some people reject pacifism… I don’t believe Jesus’ and Paul’s teaching on the need for disciples to adopt an enemy-loving, non-violent lifestyle was ever intended to serve as a mandate for how governments are supposed to respond to evil.

To the contrary, in Romans 12 and 13, Paul explicitly contrasts the call of disciples to swear off violence as they love and serve enemies with the way God uses governments… The important point for us to see is that Paul forbids disciples to ever engage in the very activity he says God uses governments to accomplish – namely, taking vengeance (ekdikēsis). We are to leave “all vengeance to God,” in other words, and one of the ways God takes “vengeance” is by using sword-wielding governments. This doesn’t mean that God wants governments to be violent. It just means that, since the governments of this fallen world are going to be violent, God is willing to get involved in them by “ordering” (tassō) their violence to bring about as much good as possible….

So what do I think America should do in response to the Syrian crisis? The most important thing I would say in response to this question is this: whatever my opinion on this matter might be, I couldn’t consider it a distinctly kingdom opinion…

And if Obama answered “yes” to all these questions [various questions about the wisdom of using violence in Syria], I’d ask him if he’d allow me to ask one further, slightly more personal, question: “Brother Obama, as a professing follower of Jesus, how do you reconcile your position as Commander in Chief with your allegiance to Christ?”

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  • hehe… I just reblogged pretty much the same quote. “Great minds…” 😉

  • Julie Monroe Bastuk

    So, just for clarification, does that mean that followers of Jesus employed by those governments are off the hook? I’m not being snarky, just trying to figure out how all of this works out practically.

    • Insofar that they do not use or command/endorse violence, yes they would be “off the hook.”


      • Jeremiah Johnson

        Couldn’t some say that a governmental employ, by very definition, endorses the governments agenda? Governments are for their kingdom, right?

        • Richard Worden Wilson

          Some make this same argument about paying taxes: isn’t that an endorsement of the government’s agenda, values, actions? Actually, no it isn’t; otherwise Jesus’ approval of, and actually paying the Temple Tax, would have been a participation in the very sinful system that falsely condemned and crucified him, and we agree with scripture that he was without sin.

  • Stephen G. Parker

    I hesitate to make a comment, since I feel very strongly on the subject of Syria and my statements might be considered ‘inflammatory’. However, I’m just going to be ‘bullheaded’ and go ahead. 😀

    I agree with Greg Boyd that it’s not a ‘kingdom issue’, and for me the question of ‘pacifism’ is irrelevant on this issue. If the US Government does decide to attack the Syrian Government and people, they’re attacking the wrong people. It was not the Syrian Government who used chemical weapons in this instance or the previous ones; it was the ‘rebels’ in ‘false flag’ operations designed to draw out a military ‘response’ from the USA. If the USA just HAS to attack someone, it ought to join with the Assad Government and put down the ‘rebels’ and those who support the ‘rebels’.

    But then, the USA is one of the primary supporters of the ‘rebels’; so I guess it doesn’t have the option to attack the supporters, does it?

    In previous instances of chemical weapons usage in Syria, the UN investigation came to the conclusion that it was the ‘rebels’, not the Government, who were the culprits. But the lying US and “Israeli” Governments just keep on ignoring that conclusion and claiming that it’s a ‘sure thing’ that the Assad Government attacked ‘its own people’.

    This UN recognition that the ‘rebels’ used chemical weapons is obviously a clear recognition that the ‘rebels’ have access to those weapons in order to use them; but the USA again keeps right on lying, saying that the ‘rebels’ do NOT have access to chemical weapons. The USA knows better. Apart from the UN recognition, the USA knows that the ‘al-Qaeda’ terrorists whom it supported in Libya have brought Libyan chemical weapons to the Syrian ‘rebels’. In addition, Saudi Arabia has supplied chemicals to the ‘rebels’, and probably others like the UK and the USA (secretly) have done so also.

    Back in January, email correspondence, between two officials in the Britain based group known as Britam Defense, was leaked. The officials spoke of a US authorized plan to supply Russian origin chemical weapons – similar to what Assad would have – to the ‘rebels’ so they could use them and then place the blame on Assad.

    Added to this, interviews with victims, ‘rebels’, and their families in the area of the most recent chemical attack produced evidence that this particular attack happened ‘accidentally’ when the ‘rebels’ improperly handled the chemicals supplied from Saudi Arabia through Prince Bandar. Supposedly the handlers weren’t even aware that they were handling chemicals; and even if they had been aware they didn’t have the knowledge and training to handle them properly. The ‘rebels’ had the weapons, though, and were obviously planning on putting them to use (as a false flag) even if the timing wound up being accidentally early.

    Assad would not use chemical weapons – especially with UN inspectors and his own military present within 10 miles – knowing that it would just provide the excuse the USA and “Israel” wanted in order to ‘righteously’ launch an open attack against his Government. But consider how ‘convenient’ it was for the warmongers that within a year of Obama’s ‘red-line’ statement, Assad (supposedly) played right into his hands (and the hands of the ‘rebels’ and the illegitimate state of “Israel”). Wow! What a ‘stroke of luck’ for the ‘rebels’ and their supporters!

    No, the Syrian Government and military did not use chemical weapons; but the “Israeli” – and – US – supported rebels did. Attacking the Syrian Government would be extremely improper, even if one’s views about pacifism allow for legitimate Governmental use of “the sword”. But whenever did the “Israeli” and US Governments let propriety, legitimacy, morality, and even Constitutionality stand in their way when they wanted to do something?

    • Chad

      Well said!

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    And here is a great quote by Spurgeon on war that you might not expect.

    “I wish that Christian men would insist more and more on the unrighteousness of war, believing that Christianity means no sword, no cannon, no bloodshed, and that, if a nation is driven to fight in its own defence, Christianity stands by to weep and to intervene as soon as possible, and not to join in the cruel shouts which celebrate an enemy’s slaughter.”

  • Tim Nafziger

    Tyler Tully offers a detailed Anabaptist challenge to Greb Boyd here that I think is well worth considering: http://thejesusevent.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/brother-boyd-i-think-youre-wrong-on-syria/

    • Richard Worden Wilson

      Tully’s challenge is detailed but perhaps not concisely stated. I think he was trying to say something like this:

      I think Boyd goes too far in saying that a Christian’s protesting a war is wrong. Christians can use Kingdom values to help guide “governments” to amend their practices in the direction of greater justice–even when a government is involved in a war. This is what John Howard Yoder said in a variety of ways and places throughout his career.

      I really appreciate Greg because he is one of the few significant vocal Anabaptist presences today. He is still developing as an Anabaptist thinker, however, since it wasn’t that long ago that he explicitly condoned Christian participation in the military and police forces, however reluctantly; he seems to have moved beyond that, thankfully.

      • darnellbarkman

        I’m working as a Peacebuilder in the Philippines right now and we’ve seen God calling us to engage the government and show them time and again that the nonviolent option is better for all people involved in armed conflicts. Some governments are motivated, for various reasons, to keep the killing machine going.

        We need to be bold and hold to Kingdom values as we engage the people who are holding political power, because some will listen and make God honoring decisions. For example, Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:29. I’m against state sanctioned religion in this passage but my point is the change of heart in the king.

        Jesus is Lord and we are called to teach and instigate his way even to people in government when they will listen. I bet Boyd believes that but is trying to be realistic in his situation.

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    I really appreciate Koinonia blog posting the Atlantic Monthly interview with Stanley Hauerwas, titled “What Makes America So Prone to Intervention? Stanley Hauerwas Answers – which you can see here:

    and which tiny-ed is:

    in which he responded to the issue of Syria and US engagement in the conflict in a quite Anabaptist mode (I don’t think he always consistenly does, but in this case YES) which you can also see here:

    which made tiny is:

    You GO Jesus!