I got an e-mail from someone recently who wanted to discuss issues related to pacifism and I wrote him a quick response, which I figured that I’d post on my blog as well. Perhaps this can stimulate some discussion here, so here’s my response:
Mr. Richard Dawkins (name changed to prevent exposure of identity),
Well I was raised in Mennonite Brethren circles where absolute pacifism was the rule. This included non-resistance and opposition to any and all uses of violent force for any reason on any scale, and even people who were policemen were looked down upon. My study of scripture has led me away from my theological upbringing. As I understand the scripture, there are some ethical distinctions between the rules for personal violence/force and governmental/national violence/force:
1. On a personal level, there is a biblical expectation that Christians be people who are not marked by violent lifestyles. We see this passages like 1 Peter 2:18-25 where we’re told to endure unjust treatment by corrupt masters without rebellion or revilement, for such is following the example of Christ. We see this in the requirements for a biblical elder in 1 Timothy 3:3 and TItus 1:7, where part of the list of moral requirements for an elder includes him not being violent (one who strikes with the fist). We see this in Romans 12:14-21 where Paul admonishes the believers in Rome to live as peaceable lives as possible, repaying evil with good and leaving personal vengeance up to the Lord. Christians are to be marked as persons of peace, characterized by grace and compassion (even to those who hate and persecute them).
2. On a national/corporate level, there is a biblical understanding that God has established the law (and those who uphold the law) for both cultivating fear in the wicked and the dispensation of justice to them (1 Tim. 1:8-11; Rom. 13:1-4). God honoring justice purges evil from a society by punishing criminals for their wickedness (Deut. 19:15-21), and it is the Christians’ duty to support the right dispensation of justice in the form of paying taxes (Rom. 13:5-7). The courts are not to be places peace, characterized by grace and compassion but rather justice. As far as military action goes, it’s pretty hard to look at the Old Testament in a broad scope and suggest that somehow God doesn’t utilize national conflict unto similar ends (punishing the wicked and defending the righteous). One sees that even the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites was actually both God giving the land of Canaan to the Israelites and God punishing the Canaanites for their idolatry; he warned the Amorites and gave them 400+ years to repent (Gen. 15:12-16).
So, I have no problem with Christians being police officers or soldiers, simply because applying personal ethical rules to the government, or any arm of the government, is a naive flattening out of the ethical teaching of scripture; the ethical standard of the pastor isn’t the same as the ethical standard for the paratrooper. Yet, the Bible holds both pastor and paratrooper to an ethical standard but the Bible also has nuance to it’s ethics; for example it’s sinful for people to lie and yet in a time of war, deception is permissible (i.e. deception in the form of an ambush – like Joshua 8:1-9).
I hope that’s a helpful start to the discussion, and maybe that gives you a helpful hook to hang your thoughts on.
Longing for the day,
So, there are some quick thoughts about the issue. I’ve often heard that Jesus’ ethic in Matthew 5 is the universal Christian ethic for all times, people and places, but the Bible doesn’t paint such a simplistic picture of people, government and the sword. Either way, feel free to chime in with comments and questions.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “The Armchair Hulkamaniac” Unger
P.S. – (Old school, mid 80’s TV wrestling was fully pacifist, right? It was all acting!)