It has been several months since I posted the post “Why I’m A Pacifist”. If you have not read that entry I recommend that as an important starting point for this conversation. I would also recommend reading the ensuing comments as they raise several questions that I will attempt to answer (most likely, not satisfactorily) here. For the sake of readibility I will attempt to summarize the questions I have been asked followed by my own answer.
Q: What do you actually even mean by pacifism? Does this include violence? Of any kind?
A: When I claim to be a pacifist, it is important to know that I claim it within my context. I am a Christian, a Christ follower. As such it is impossible to be simply a pacifist – rather, I am and consider myself to be a Christian pacifist. As such, pacifism for me involves embracing the Kingdom of Peace that Jesus has inaugurated and will return to complete. Does this include violence? Yes. Of any kind? Yes. However the specificity and reliance of my view upon Christ brings up the interesting and very real scenario that not all people in the world are Christians. As such, I do not find them to be under any obligation to be pacifists.
Note: The questions in the comments did not proceed much further than this but for further explication of what I believe to be true I have included questions that have also been commonly posed.
Q: If not all people are called to be pacifists then how can war be bad?
A: As a Christian I have an interesting tension between what I believe to be the call upon my life and the call to submit to the government (see particularly Romans 13). Because of the latter, I do not participate in protests or even argue strongly against current wars (although I do believe that there are alternatives to war that are generally not explored prior to its happening). I do not believe all people are called to the Kingdom of Peace, but I do believe all Christians are. Because of this, I anticipate and look forward to the day when all peoples are submitted to Christ and the Kingdom of Peace finds it culmination in his Reign. War is still not a good, and I will never participate in it. My hope comes not from condemning war but rather from hoping in the One who will abolish it.
Q: Concerning your views on violence, what would you do if someone attacked your family?
A: Let me preface this by saying that generally this view is brought up as a first argument yet it is almost ridiculously extreme. Few people ever even experience this as a reality. Nevertheless, the question warrants an answer. Recently I was talking with a professor of mine and he said something like, “My struggle with non-violence is not with not defending myself – I trust God to vindicate me for that. It’s with not defending my children.” The question I posed back was “why is it that we are so willing to trust God to vindicate us but are not willing at all to trust him to vindicate others (particularly our loved ones)?” My answer, I am perfectly aware, likely leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of anyone who reflects on it. I too pray that I am never subject to the situation where my belief is tested in this extreme. However if I am not willing to trust the lives of my loved ones to God then am I really living a life that follows closely after Christ?
Q: Does this mean you would simply stand by and watch your family die?
A: Let me qualify somewhat. I do believe there is something that could be considered “non-violent” force. It is impossible to define exactly because I believe it varies based on our context. However, given the choice between acting violently or watching my family die I would choose the latter. Jesus led his followers into watching him die and if his call upon my life is the same so be it. The Christian pacifist lives in the confidence not of this life but of the next, of the Kingdom as it is promised to be. These are the realities I live in light of and as such, death has lost its sting.
Those are a few brief answers to some heavy hitting questions. Indeed my heart is heavy at the thoughts of some of the issues that are always raised. At times, it causes me to doubt. Yet I always return to the example of Christ:
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. – 1 Peter 2:21-23
May we entrust ourselves to the one who judges justly.
Grace and peace,