Words I never thought I would say… or write.
First, lets be clear. I am speaking of ‘Christian Pacifism’, which is different from ‘Pacifism’.
Pacifism is generally understood to mean: “The belief that war and violence are unjustifiable under any circumstances, and that all disputes should be settled by peaceful means.”
Christian Pacifism “is the theological and ethical position that any form of violence is incompatible with the Christian faith.”
There are a couple of key differences here- Christian Pacifism is saying that violence is incompatible with following Jesus. It’s not saying what non-believers or governments should do. I’m not even going there right now. It’s also not necessarily saying that pacifism is most ‘practical’, as ‘regular old pacifists’ sometimes say.
So, why would I come to the conclusion that violence is at least generally incompatible with faith in Jesus?
Reason #1- The testimony early Church. As far as I’ve been able to see, it was almost entirely non-violent. There was no revolution or fighting for their rights (‘rights’ which were being grossly violated as they were fed to lions). That speaks to me. Those closest (in time, culture, and physical relationship) to Jesus, took Him to be teaching non-violence. It wasn’t until Christians had the power and a ‘Christian Empire’ was formed, that violence and just war theory became more normative within Christianity.
Reason #2- This is the crux of the issue. I am an almost-Christian Pacifist mostly due to all that stuff in Matthew 5 about loving your enemies… and honestly, that love stuff is spread throughout the New Testament.
Love. Your. Enemies.
Not just a grumpy old co-worker or a snotty neighbor. But real live enemies.
Romans. Those occupiers. The people who use you and generally treat you like bugs. Who crucify and terrorize your people and everyone else they dominate.
It would be like the Taliban taking over America and Jesus telling us to love them.
I’m not saying love is always dovey-gentle.
But love IS genuinely concerned for the other person.
Love isn’t seeking an eye for an eye.
Love is certainly not looking to get revenge on the one it loves.
It’s actually willing to sacrifice itself for the good of another.
And here is the thing about love:
Sacrificial Love isn’t just another command.
Love is THE command.
It’s why God saved us, it’s how He saved us, and it’s what He saved us for.
So that said, I’m not going to claim to be a ‘100% Christian Pacifist’ for one simple reason- I can easily imagine situations in which the most loving thing to do for everyone involved is use some degree of force or violence. And since the whole point is LOVE, then I can’t claim total non-violence because I can’t put non-violence ahead of love.
That said, love actually cares about ‘the enemy’. Love cares about the home intruder, about the terrorist, about the thief. When you care about someone, you don’t look to use force and violence as a basic, simple answer. You tend to look for creative answers. You look for ways to win their heart. You are willing to put yourself in harm’s way. Love doesn’t look at the other person as an evil stranger, but as a prodigal, loved, infinitely valuable, child of God.
Ultimately, love looks like Jesus. Jesus who could of come in and given all of (us) evil doers the ass-whooping we deserved, but didn’t. Instead, He laid down His life, and won our hearts.
If we are imitators of Him, that should be our heart for our enemies too.
An immensely helpful and thought provoking video on loving enemies.