Musings on Pacifism

pacifismThis summer I’m leading a couple of seminars at New Horizon. One is on Jesus’ radical call to pacifism.

So, first up – any top recommendations on Christian pacifism / just war? Glad of suggestions for a bit of summer reading.

Second up –  do you believe that to follow Jesus authentically means you must be a pacifist?

Third up – what do you think of these imagined typical questions / critical problems facing those who espouse a Christian pacifist position?

‘A non –violent response by Christians to aggression is perhaps required and maybe even possible at an individual level, but it is unrealistic and even unloving at a community level. Where there is a threat to life it is moral to use force to protect the innocent. To stand by and let evil triumph would be immoral.’

‘Pacifism is idealistic. It is rooted in an eschatological theology of redemption, where the future hope of the kingdom come is brought right into the here and now. But we don’t yet live in the future. Our theology and praxis needs to be realistic, taking into account a theology of creation, sin and the Fall.’

‘Pacifists aren’t the only ones who want peace. At times a just war is just as much a route to peace as non-violence.’

‘Pacifists are purists who, when push comes to shove, opt out of the harsh realities of a fallen world. War and violence are part of being human. Pretty well every nation that exists was created through some sort of violence. National security depends on having armies and police forces. Pacifists conveniently let others do the dirty work of fighting to overcome the horrors that violent men habitually resort to.’

Comments, as ever, welcome.

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7 thoughts on “Musings on Pacifism

  1. Unfortunately, I do not have any recommondations for good books concerning that matter – but would be very interested in some hints, too! It is without doubt a very relevant question, which you raise here.

    Personally I am deeply convinced that followers of Christ are called to non-violence and pacifism. This must be the guiding principle – in private and public life. For me this is very clear from Jesus’ teaching and example. I admit that there can be situations of moral dilemma where both – violent resistance and non-violent passivity – may seem wrong. But I guess there are always forms of non-violent resistance, too – which of course often need a lot of courage and faith, because they cost a lot and have – at least from a human perspectice – very little chance to change anything.

    In international politics there are the principles of sovereignty and non-interference and the possibilty to follow a policy of neutrality which together could have avoided many wars in my view – if more states were ready to let go of imperialist ambitions.

  2. thanks Holger, always good to hear from you.

    I’m on the same page as you in terms of Jesus’ teaching.

    And when you say “I admit that there can be situations of moral dilemma where both – violent resistance and non-violent passivity – may seem wrong.”

    Using violence is very difficult, however much just war theorists try, to square with Jesus’ teaching on non-violence within the kingdom of God.

    Yet, should a pacifist be willing to put aside his/her own conscience for the good of others in danger of being killed by violent men? Is that ultimately an imperfect act, but one which is just and morally defensible? Or is it a failure of faith to trust in God and follow Jesus’ way of weakness and apparent foolishness all the way to the cross?

    All Christians, whether just war or pacifists, should surely be passionate supporters of peacemaking and reconciliation – for that is the explicit and unambiguous calling and identity of the body of Christ.

  3. “All Christians, whether just war or pacifists, should surely be passionate supporters of peacemaking and reconciliation – for that is the explicit and unambiguous calling and identity of the body of Christ.”
    Amen. That is one point, perhaps best as the first point, that should always be clearly made.

    The first book that John Howard Yoder recommended to me was Cadoux’s classic, free online, linked here: http://christianpacifismblog.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/early-christians-and-the-sword/

    Most Christians are unaware that D.L. Moody and C.H. Spurgeon were pacifists. Spurgeon spoke out unambiguously against Christians bearing arms.
    http://christianpacifismblog.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/early-christians-and-the-sword/

    The question of the role of the Christian and the role of government is best brought into focus by reading Romans 12 and 13 in context, keeping clearly in mind the sovereignty of
    God. http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/romans-13-in-context/

    One inevitable question is always, “What about Hitler?” Of course, there were many who resisted without bearing arms, e.g. Corrie Ten Boom. But the point that I try to make is that l WWI prepared the soil for the rise of Hitler with its unmerciful treaty terms. And, of course, If Christians had refused to kill their fellow Christians, there would not have been a WWII. Without Star Wars there is no Return of the Jedi. (which does not mean ‘no more wars’ but the seedbed for Hitler would not have been prepared. (I deal briefly with this with a few remarks in my book on the Christmas truce of WWI. Would be glad to send you the pdf.)

  4. thanks very much Michael. I’ll read Cadoux and Spurgeon with interest – didn’t know that about Spurgeon and Moody. And would be glad of your pdf.
    On my list are Hauerwas The Peaceable Kingdom and just in is his recent book War and the American Difference. Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the NT. And some Yoder.

  5. My apologies, I see that I pasted the same link twice. This is the link for Spurgeon on war
    and Christians http://spurgeonwarquotes.wordpress.com/

    I did not note a contact link here; I have one at http://mikesnow.org or I think that this comment will show you my email address.

    The short book on the Christmas truce has only a few incidental comments regarding WWI preparing the seedbed for a Hitler. But you might find them food for further thought.

    I have Hauerwas new book and look forward to reading it.

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