What I Write About

I write about the infinite number of intersections between every day life and the good news of the God who has come to get us.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why I'm Not a Pacifist (or Socialist)

During my time at UNC, I had several conversations with students who either were pacifists or who were seriously considering it. They were really thoughtful students, often studying a combination of Jesus' teaching (particularly the Sermon on the Mount) and the history of (and current expressions of) Christian pacifism.

Of course, just last week I was at UNC visiting a staff and a random middle-aged woman invited me a to socialist convention in Chapel Hill. There's about twelve socialists left in the world--most of them reside in France, I believe (please, no Obama comments)--and one of them lives in Chapel Hill.

But anyway, I was listening to an N.T. Wright podcast last week. And he had a brief aside on the issue of pacifism that sparked some better ways to articulate my own half-baked response to the invitation to cross over the pacifist side.

To briefly sum up, he argued that if there is nothing in place to enforce rules, then "the bullies and the bad guys always win."

He didn't elaborate much, but I think that gets to the core of it for me. Apart from a willingness to take on those that abuse power and exploit people (the orphan and the widow come to mind as the biblical poster-children for who needs protection and is most likely to be exploited) then we are conceding too much ground in the work given to us to do.

The command in the Garden of Eden was to tend to the Garden, to exercise dominion, to bring order out of the created order that teemed with life. This was good work, untainted by the fall.

Post-fall, the call to help bring order is no less in place. Anarchy and pacifism are vaguely related in that in either context, the victor will inevitably be whomever can connive, bully, and over-power the weaker, the needier, the ones who are more disadvantaged.

And so I believe that there are times (and certainly they are less often than our American history books would have us to believe) when military force is necessary to exercise holy and healthy dominion over the world.

Of course, the problem is that all those in power (even and especially Christians) are as much a part of the problem as anyone else. No one is "clean" when it comes to the question of sin impacting motives.

But to absolutely remove the option of military force, as sophisticated and thoughtful as the arguments are, seems to ultimately be overly-simplistic. The proper use of force to help keep or enforce moral order is a complex and weighty matter that I think calls us to draw upon the all the depths and breadth of the gospel.

We are commanded to care for the orphan and the widow. Is this only inclusive of acts of mercy and service? Does it not demand that we take on those who are committed to systematically exploiting the weak in ways that in some rare cases will require force?

Again, I recognize this is complicated The 'myth of escalating violence' means that responding to violence with more violence often complicates rather than solves the problem. And as Americans we are particularly indoctrinated with those myths.

But it's also a myth that providing bread to people as they march to gas chambers is finally more faithful than taking decisive action to end the oppression.

This whole thing is complicated. And that's not a bad thing. And this complication is part of why I think it has to stay on the table as an option: it demands of us as Christians that we wrestle with the truths and commands of Christ in a complex and challenging world...one that even includes those dozen or so socialists.


kwhite said...

hmmm...myself, I'm torn on the issue. But it seems to me that maybe there's a difference between "pacifism" and "passive-ism"? What I mean is, I don't think pacifists would say that we ought to just sit back and let the vulnerable be oppressed. Often, it's a difference of opinion about what will "work" the best. What I mean is, you stated "Anarchy and pacifism are vaguely related in that in either context, the victor will inevitably be whomever can connive, bully, and over-power the weaker, the needier, the ones who are more disadvantaged." But approving of the use of force doesn't get rid of this problem...in fact in some ways it actually sanctions this very problem.

The pacifist position, as I understand it (or at least, the specific position that I am drawn to), tries to find nonviolent ways to step in to protect the orphan and the widow and to eradicate the powers that would seek their exploitation. It's not the case that the pacifist position just wants to had out bread to those marching toward death. It wants to step in to protect, just not with the use of violence.

I'm not sure that's what you are meaning to say, but that seems to be in there.

And like I said, I'm torn in some cases on this issue, and I'm not sure what the answer is (I'm more sure of what the answer is not!).

just my $.02...

Alex said...


i thought i might get someone of your caliber commenting on this post--thanks for your two cents!

i think that my bottom line is that i would concur with 90% of the pacifist's approach--but in the end, i'm just refusing to take force off the table as a last-resort option.

i would heartily agree with the average pacifist that we are too quick to pull the trigger on violence. i just think that there are some situations that will require use of force.

kwhite said...

I don't have a definitive answer to this, but is there a difference between "using force" and "using violence"?

It seems to me that there may be, and if so, I think the (tenable) pacifist position would draw that distinction and say that one can use "force" to protect, but not "violence"...

perhaps I should be posting on facebook with everyone else, instead of the actual blog...?

Alex said...

interesting distinction, kevin. can you elaborate on how you'd differentiate between force and violence?