Friday, November 28, 2008

Christian Pacifism

I will be adding to this post. I don't know what to make of this, it does not seem to justify a pacifism, but it does provide perspective of an impossible hope... but still, how dangerous the line between the means and the ends. I only say confidently, I do no know the answer.
I will be adding to this post over the weekend:

Christian pacifism rests not on a naïve belief that if we would only lay down our arms, the other side would do the same. It does not deny that sin has distorted the world; it does not presume that the enemy will be moved by our gestures of peace. It does not suppose that we can always reach a peaceful solution through diplomatic channels. It doesn't deny that in the face of genocide peaceful diplomacy may only provide time for the aggressors to carry out their evil plan. Christians do not become pacifists because they believe it will "work" better. In fact, it will likely make the world more violent, because in some instances it is only the threat of violence that holds violence in check.
The only reason for a Christian to be a pacifist is that one truly believes that God has made peace with the world in Christ and that God
is making peace in the world through our faithful nonviolence. Only if God is actively guiding the world to its harmonious end can Christians risk imitating the nonviolence of Jesus. The point of renouncing violence, then, is not as a strategy for peace but as a witness to the world of the peace that is coming.
One of the books recommended by my professor and Melanie deals with the spiritual and pragmatic responsibilities of Christians in their social settings, particularly those of privilege. There is, of course, a lot of justification for violence across all classes; and it seems to follow that when pacifistic, or at least the nonviolent, argument ensues in scholastic (and by nature privileged) circles, it often comes from a young group of idealistic, educated men and women who never have, and probably never will, face a situation where violence seems a reasonable or even urgent as a course of action. We are just simply too well insulated to engage.
I want to be careful that I am finding my answers to the question of Christian action in the Word - NOT (exclusively) in extra Biblical sources, NOT in my limited & privileged experiences, and certainly NOT in pragmatism - however, these books examining Christian hospitality (the topic of my thesis) expound on the themes of violence across the OT & NT by virtue of addressing human and societal interaction and, in context to Scripture, provide an picture of the relationship between God to humanity and humanity to humanity.
What killed was not irreligion, but religion itself; not lawlessness, but precisely the Law; not anarchy, but the upholders of order. It was not the bestial but those considered best who crucified the one in whom divine Wisdom was visibly incarnate. And because he was not only innocent, but the very embodiment of true religion, true law, and true order, this victim exposed their sacrificial violence for what it was: not the defense of society, but an attack against God... His arraignment, trial, crucifixion, and death also stripped the scapegoating mechanism of its sacred aura and exposed it for what it was: legalized murder...
...The God whom Jesus reveals refrains from all forms of reprisal. God does not endorse holy wars or just wars. God does not sanction religions of violence. Only by being driven out by violence could God signal to humanity that the divine is nonviolent and is opposed to the kingdom of violence. As twentieth-century mystic Simone Weil put it, the false God changes suffering into violence, the true God changes violence into suffering. To be the true God's offspring requires the unconditional renunciation of violence. The reign of God means the elimination of every form of violence between individuals and nations. This is a realm and a possibility of which those imprisoned by their trust in violence cannot even conceive.
From "Breaking the Spiral of Violence" in The Powers That Be
This, like the previous quote is just some food for thought. The following chapter in book addresses some more solid answers.

Matt & I have often had a hypothetical discussion that begins like this, "What would you do if a person with a gun was trying to kick in the door of your neighbor's house?" The premise tries to set up the person being questioned to face the dilemma of resorting to violence to save their neighbor. It creates and equation that assumes that violent action against one saves another and asks, is this worth it? What does a Christian say to this? Are we having to choose which person is more deserving of life? Could we go so far as to even question the eternal state of the perpetrator with a gun and desire to extend the invitation to Christ to them? Is that still important in this very moment? Is it even our place to interfere? Does the potential victim have a specific place in the Kingdom that calls us to action? Do these Christian "obligations" (although they are not, they are choices) conflict?
The agony I allow myself to feel over this situation I can only hope might prepare to act in wisdom should I ever face it. But the only rest that I can find in any answer is that of martyrdom - but should that fail to stop the oppressor from pursuing his or her victim then I choose action NOW, in prayer and in light of and in spite of whatever outcome I could hypothetically foresee. Matt and I have resolved to call on God in such cases, call for intervention now and for the future. We call this "the third option" and it is the topic of Wink's next chapter.


Wendy said...

The timing of your post and the timing of my reading it has been amazing. I just watched "Australia" today. I don't know if you know the premise of the movie but takes place in 1939, right after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Any war-based film brings out the pacifism in me because, though dramatized, it reminds me of how messy war is. War ruins people. It kills people. It ruins countries. It ruins futures. It robs people of hope. It decides that lives are not worth as much as pride or power. The excerpt from that book spoke with such eloquence and truth to the essence of pacifism. We have seen when violence and fighting back may have proved "effective" for the communication of a message or as defense. But that is not the point, is it? To stand in peace, to choose not to fight... that takes so much more strength and power than any machine gun or bomb can do. What if more of us stood up for pacifism? How could the world look then? Sigh. Good post, Danica. Let's talk more about it in person sometime.

ashleyjones said...

What if more of us stood on behalf of Jesus Christ?

Danica said...

Wendy, it's funny that you said that in light of seeing Australia! I wrote this after watching the "Thin Red Line." I feel the same way when I watch war movies - a really interesting one and a favorite is "To End All Wars." It's about a group of soldiers taken by the Japanese who endure to continue learning while in camp (philosophy, history, and scripture). What that kind of self-giving, enduring action does for both the captives AND the captors is pretty amazing. It's a true story, too.

I know you didn't get a chance to read the second half of the post, but I hope you do! I have such a difficult time with pacifism for two reasons. First, I do not want to call myself a pacifist because it is an ideology and, in being a specific system of beliefs (however true and even Christ-like I find it), it can and is often used to bind people and judge. By bind, I mean we are held accountable to yet another system (which is not always a bad thing) that is inevitably corruptible. The second reason is I DO find a dilemma in what I feel is a necessary and chosen course of actions I have committed myself to - and this is subjection to suffering with the sufferers, bearer of hope for the hopeless, healer of the wounded, feeder of the hungry, and, especially as a person of privilege in both class, health, education, mobility and (someday, probably) money, a defender of the defenseless.
That last one is where I find problems with unwavering non-violence. It is not a question of what would I if someone were harming me; but what would I do if someone came to harm the defenseless? Would I defend then or would I stand down? Do choose not to step up would be to subject them to suffering, to ultimately fail at the responsibility, the action I have set for myself.
As children of God we do no concern ourselves so much with failure - but we do strive to be the miracle of providence. This is to provide for the "marginalized and ignore," the hungry, the suffering, the defenseless. We provide life, too. What then to we do when evil & oppression comes to wreak havoc?
And what more, what do we do when a person is bringing this havoc? They too are called to life, offered provision. Do we withhold? Do we allow them to take?
I am not sure I can answer "yes" in the name of the defenseless, I defend them so they may make that choice.

But you are right:
"War ruins people. It kills people. It ruins countries. It ruins futures. It robs people of hope. It decides that lives are not worth as much as pride or power."

ashleyjones said...

In response to some of your questions at the end of your comment: I don't think that "defense" needs to mean "retaliation" or "physically fighting back" when the poor (or whomever) are being attacked. "Defense" can mean giving of your physical body (and at this point, probably everything that makes up your entire being!) to cover the one being attacked. As I re-read, though, I realize that your concern was that you wouldn't stand up, that you wouldn't cover the one being attacked, and I don't think that any of us can know until we do it. I suppose that's one of the amazing things about Jesus, that He knew and still went--giving of His body to cover protect us from give us life!

I don't know if I can really provide anything...but I know a God that can provide everything.

Danica said...

Yes, you're right, Ash - that is the dilemma. And the problem with covering someone, too, is that it's not necessarily effective because the pursuer could, perhaps, go through you and onto the person you are trying to protect.
So then, one has to wonder if it is the appropriate time to give up an ideology or to the time to maintain it - in either case, we can only hope (in the most real sense of hope) that God works through our actions. Thus, the necessity of the guidance of the Holy Spirit!

(PS per a comment Matt made, I am qualifying "pacifism" with "Christian" - not the other way around)

ashleyjones said...

Yeah...I don't think that we're "called" to be effective, but rather to be obedient--to be a truthful witness of the Gospel to the point of death, which might mean that the one you're protecting dies too. I think that that death would speak of a greater love than retaliating against the perpetrator. I would never ask someone to kill another for my sake. But of course, this is all lofty speculation and not action...and then, there's always the "Hitler" problem.

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