Rejecting the Straw Pacifist
*Editor’s note: When this series was written three years ago, I wrote it for my friend Craig who at one point identified as Christian Just War disciple, and I being a Christian Pacifist. The series was entitled The God Of Peace. I decided for the New Pacifism Synchroblog, I wanted to both update and reboot this series, and then complete it as a constructive AnaBlacktivist theology of God.*
My mission’s first task must be to eliminate the commonly held straw persons launched against pacifism, and for that I turn to Blue Collar Todd’s comments on Craig’s post from November 2010.
“What are you going to if you are walking down the sidewalk and you see a man, maybe two, harassing a young girl, even starting to beat her. What is the pacifist solution? Seems like physically inserting oneself into the situation is called for and even violence in order to stop a woman from being beaten or worse. What if you see a gay man in the same situation. How are you going to show love in this situation? I would suggest that showing love to the oppressed person in both cases would require forceful intervention, bring the wrath on oneself, so the victim in question could get away, then you could apply turning the other cheek. Someone breaks into my house and threatens my wife and children, I will do whatever I need to defend them, showing that I love them by protecting them.”
Like many critics of pacifism/nonviolence, BCT’s thought experiment is to challenge the presuppositions of a pacifist, who he believes, believes in inaction. The love of doing nothing, it is assumed, is nothing more than a mask of hatred towards the neighbor. However, it does not occur to BCT, that the so-called “thought experiment” in question is not without it’s flaws. In fact this year (2014) I and my friends had a very contested Twitter discussion about the differences between The New Pacifism, traditional pacifism, and just war theory. One must ask, should Christian ethics begin with questions related to situations, and should these situations, in this case violence against an innocent victim be the prevailing norm for Christian responses? If so, what are the limitations?
That WISDOM is prioritized in the ethical decision-making process has precedent in the Hebrew Bible. Violent systems must be first NAMED, identified, and exposed. This requires an appropriation of some of the social analysis of Liberation Theologians have provided.
In addition, I question the wisdom of such overly simplistic situational approaches to morality such as Just War Theory, for in the end, there is a slippery slope of anything goes that comes with if restrictions are not in place. For one thing, Christian pacifism is not the absolute moral rule of condemning all violence, for not all violence is the same. Rather, New Pacifists, if they wish to be faithful to Scripture and tradition, believe that self-defense is a pre-supposition that most biblical authors hold. The problem is not defending oneself or others with non-lethal force; the problem is that the logic of lethal self-defense has been made the default before any non-violent activity is considered.
In my next post, I will give the Christian pacifist answer of “confronting evil in a way that stops it” by examining the heart of Christian peacemaking: The Triune God.
John Howard Yoder. The War Of The Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence And Peacemaking, 2009.
James Hal Cone. The Cross And The Lynching Tree, 2013.
from the AnaBlacktivist Seminary Tumblr: towards an #AnaBlacktivist conversation: The Bible Or The Bullet?: A dialogue between Pilgrim Marpeck and Malcolm X