May 23, 2009

Pacifism (version 2)

Objective: peace and justice.
Mission: Impossible.

There is a lot that I don't understand about pacifism. Here is a probably ugly, hopefully logical, and doubtless a little dry hashing out of my thoughts. (Essentially, expect this to be boring, but I had to post it since I already wrote pacifism version 1.)

People are sinful, and injustice will be committed.

To start at the most basic level, I know that humans are sinful. I can't pretend that injustice does not exist.

Should individuals deliver retribution?
When evil is done to us, we should respond with peace. (Matthew 5:39: But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.)

When evil is done to others, we should respond. (Isaiah 58:6: Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?)

What principles should guide our response?

Do not take vengeance. (Romans 12:19: Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.")
Can we avenge others? Since vengeance is the Lord’s, I don’t think so.

Avoid murder. (Exodus 20:13: You shall not murder.)
But what is murder? Is killing always wrong?

Love our enemies. (Matthew 5:44: But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.)
I believe that it can reasonably be concluded that if those who persecute our brothers and sisters in Christ are still our enemies, and thus we should love them and pray for them. I’m having a hard time seeing how killing is loving.
A thought from William M. Swartley: “Of all the strategies that we may advocate for response to the powers, this command to love our enemies must ever be kept in view, since it is easy to absorb the very evil we seek to resist.”1

Can we love our enemies and the oppressed at the same time?
The command to love is so very unclear. J. Daryl Charles presents a position for pacifism as self-defense, but coercive force for the defense of society:
“When people such as Augustine and Aquinas and Luther argued that one can be a soldier and a Christian, that one’s duty may include the protection of others, that indeed one can even use coercive force to achieve such and be motivated by charity, then contemporary Christians—pacifists in particular—need to consider the moral consistency of their position. And while pacifism as self-defense is morally legitimate, pacifism as public policy is not. Someone must protect society.”2
Furthermore, the Bible presents authorities as a legitimate obstacle to injustice. (Romans 13: 4: But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.)

Again from J. Daryl Charles,
“In the hands of the governing authorities, however, justice is not only permitted, it is required. Moral-social order depends on it, based on the propensity and social ramifications of the “evil-doer”. Not to wield the sword is to be delinquent in terms of the role designated by the Almighty for the magistrate."3
What principles should guide governmental administration of justice?
It’s hard to find specific Scripture references for this area. Do no principles apply? Is our guiding goal simply to minimize suffering?

C. S. Lewis also argued in his essay “Why I am not a pacifist” that claiming that war just “seems wrong” is simply relying on unfounded (and largely disagreed upon) opinion. "A mere unargued conviction is in place only when we are dealing with the axiomatic.”4

An area that was bothering me was the fact that the people in government are still people who should adhere to moral principles. But I believe this can be responded to with the understanding that their role allows violence, and their authority is set up by God to deliver His wrath. And, there has never been a command not to kill, only one to be a peacemaker. To reach peace, one can conceivably sanction war. Finally, there are numerous Scriptural analogies of war and examples of godly people who did fight in wars.

Then there’s also the issue of rights, that we should not harm others’ liberty. By that logic, one could fight only if the people had chosen to go into war. That gives a reason why killing can be acceptable, but killing innocent civilians is not.

When is war called for?
This is a huge area. It’s hard to predict what would have happened, and there are many things that can be done to prevent war. I believe that there must be some criteria for a just war, but a quote from Catholic writer Richard McSorley gives me pause.
“The [just war] theory was formulated to show that some wars might be an exception to the law of the gospel; it has become a theory used to justify every war that comes along. Instead of justifying an exceptional war, it is used to make all wars acceptable…”5
Here is where what I say degenerates into a bunch of questions. I cannot reject all war categorically, but I don’t know when preventing war becomes impossible and a nation must fight in self-defense. How can we know if peaceful measures have failed? How can we predict how much a security threat endangers lives in our nation?

I would not like to be working in the government, having to answer these questions. But at least I think I understand more clearly my role as a human being who seeks peace.

Matthew 5:9: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

1. William M. Swartley. Covenant of Peace: The Missing Piece In New Testament Theology And Ethics. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2006
2. J. Daryl Charles. Between Pacifism and Jihad. InterVarsity Press, 2005. p. 92-93.
3. J. Daryl Charles. Between Pacifism and Jihad. InterVarsity Press, 2005. p. 86.
4. C. S. Lewis. “Why I am not a Pacifist.” The Weight of Glory. p. 70-71
5. Richard McSorley. Kill? For Peace?


Micah E. said...

I can agree with McSorly, the whole concept of just war uses the brightline of hindsight, making every war just until proved otherwise. And yet, there seem wars which appeared just when started and when finished, what brightline was used to decide on those?

(food for thought)

Michael said...

Yes, those are the questions that need asking, What is the standard (I, for some reason, don't like the word "brightline") for a just war? WW II to me, seems like a war that needed fighting, and that without it the results would have been awful. I'm hoping that typing will yield some idea or insight about what wars are just, but it isn' it the harming of other human beings? But there are peaceful ways to stop that...perhaps if we are provoked we have the "right" to defend ourselves and our countryman, but then why countryman and not other country's men? Is having another country provoked reason to go to war on behalf of that country? Such as the Allies of WW II? *sigh*