As far as I can remember, I have been a lifelong pacifist, at least since I was in second grade. It was then that the first War On Iraq interrupted my morning cartoons to bring the U.S. American audience updates. Upset with the generals that were wasting my time, taking away “Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes” and what was once known as the “World Wrestling Federation,” war just never sat well with me. In college, I was an outspoken critic of the second Iraq War, and even gave speeches in Political Science classes on how aggressive imperialist foreign policies were incompatible with conservative notions of “humble” approaches to international relations. I will admit that for a time during my senior year, I do not recall why, I assumed that ideas such as Bill Clinton’s realism + multilateralism were more politically expedient than my “unrealistic” pacifist idealism.
It was in seminary that I was introduced to Peace Theologies, that I began to take the politics of Jesus seriously; rather than an irrelevant autocrat stuck in the sky, Christ became an ever-present Teacher. Where there had once been a disconnect between my pacifist Christianity and my moderate politics, I experienced what can be described as a radical conversion, a recognition of not only Jesus’ “spiritual” authority, but also His Lordship when it comes to the public sphere as well. Christian witness is always political because it was designed from the earliest churches to be public. Because this testimony should be first and foremost Christ-centered and Spirit-led, the idea of a Free Church is necessary for the congregation of the faithful to work out their faithfulness with trembling. This is why for many nonviolent Christians, the separation of church and state is of utmost importance. The neat thing about being a Christian pacifist is that it is an ongoing process. I mean, we are all persons in process anyhow, and my understanding of what it means to be nonviolent has grown considerably.
Recently, Rachel Held Evans (a writer who I have learned a lot from) reiterated her sentiments from a 2011 on the War On Libya, about being a “terrible pacifist.” Actually, I think the post is an example in taking steps of being a TERRIFIC pacifist. I especially liked the list on how Rachel (and really, how we can all) become better pacifists: “I can meditate on the teachings of Jesus”; “I can pray for our nation’s enemies”; “I can educate myself on foreign policy”; “I can study the imaginative work of peaceful activists like Mother Teresa and [Reverend Dr.] Martin Luther King Jr.” For me, pacifism starts as a process of discernment, raising questions, and not trusting nationalistic propaganda we are fed by the media. Christian pacifism starts with the teachings of the Jewish rabbi Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus’ sermons, sayings, and ministry are dismissed by mainline and evangelical Christians, much to the shame of the Church. The only way forward to a peaceable religion is to take Jesus seriously, The Word at His word. And not only should we as Christians study well-known peace activists from the last century, but also go back and read the anti-war arguments of the first Christians, the Church mothers and fathers, and ingest these teachings as beneficial for today’s world.
Recently, a fellow MennoNerd, Ted Grimsrud gave Evans some constructive feedback from her facebook page post on ISIS, war, and pacifism: Is Pacifism For when life happens?”. I have so many points of agreement with Grimsrud’s thoughtful and thought-provoking post that I do think it really challenges what we consider to be “realism.” Grimsrud accurately points to European imperialism as the cause of the First World War, and the Second World War, and thus finds the question of “What about Hitler?” to be suspicious.
“I’ll just say here that one big “option” specifically for the British would have been to abandon their empire. The conflict between Britain and Germany actually was mostly initiated by the British through their treaty with Poland that required them to go to war if Germany tried to take Poland by force. This treaty did not originate in Britain’s commitment to humane, democratic values (ask Indians and Kenyans during the colonial era about those values), but in the fear that the on-going viability of the Empire required it. Germany did not attack Britain because the Nazis wanted to conquer Britain and make the British Empire part of the Third Reich. The Nazis hoped the British would be their allies in a fight against the Soviet Union, and only attacked Britain through the air (with no intention of trying a ground invasion) to buy time until they turned east for the Soviet war.”
It is this kind of power analysis that is required (in my opinion) to practice pacifism. Unfortunately, many persons do not apply this same power analysis when examining situations of interpersonal violence such as domestic abuse. The possibilities that Grimsmud offered for these potential situations are limited by a lack of power analysis, the very same observations on power that were applied on the national scale of Great Britain versus Germany. More important than “developing skills at de-escalating conflict, learning better to detect danger signs that could prevent the violence from happening,” how about the Church teaching men that sexual and gender violence are not okay? Placing the onus on the individual without doing the preventative work of educating perpetrators comes awfully close to victim-blaming. In cases such as this, as a last resort, IMO, non-lethal, and if possible non-injurous forms of self-defense should be employed in case of an attack. Such a commitment to nonviolence means having a vulnerable space for victims, while retaining the Imago Dei in both the abuser and the abused. For advocates of Christian nonviolence, the sanctity of life, and the biblical idea that the human body is a temple of the Most High God takes priority over abstract notions of what it means to be pacifist.
For more posts similar to this, I would recommend checking out our #TheNewPacifism Synchroblog from last year, as we plan to bring it back next month, so stay tuned!