September 23, 2008

Christians and Pacifism - Part II

Traditional Christian Pacifism

The Christian pacifist takes as his starting-point Jesus' statements: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God," "Do not resist an evil person" (Matt. 5:9, 39). He argues that these statements by Jesus rule out the possibility of a believer taking up arms to resist evil, whether on a personal, national, or international level. Jesus taught nonviolence in the Sermon on the Mount, says the pacifist; he practiced nonresistance to evil in going to the cross. The consistent pacifist teaches that if we want to remain "in the perfection of Christ" we must never be involved in the use of physical force to restrain evil. The use of force is regarded as essentially carnal and worldly; and Christians (it is argued) are called as individuals and as communities to show the world a different way.

The early Anabaptists understood that taken consistently this position meant that no Christian ought to accept any office in the State, for all States back up their power and laws by force. The Anabaptist Articles of Schleithiem (1527) state that the office of magistrate is "carnal" and "outside the perfection of Christ." The Anabaptists also totally rejected war and taught that rulers of nations should not resist sedition or invasion.

Modern Pacifism

Some modern pacifists take a rather different position. They accept the need for the use of force within nations: law enforcement, the police, magistrates, judges, juries, and punishment by fine or imprisonment. Some insist, however, that the only "forms of coercion" that can be used are those that are "fully compatible with love and respect for the other person as a free moral agent.... Lethal violence is different. When one engages in lethal violence, one cannot lovingly appeal to the other person as a free moral agent." The only form of justice Ronald Sider will allow on the human level is justice which is restorative rather than retributive. This means, of course, that the modern pacifist, while accepting some forms of nonviolent coercion within the State, will continue to insist that war can never be right. Kenneth Greet, for example, writes: "War is contrary to God's will. These are the basic convictions with which the Christian sets out to discover how he responds to the vocation to be a maker of peace." Successive Lambeth conferences of Anglican bishops have endorsed the statement, "War as a method of settling international disputes is incompatible with the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ." However, the writers of the recent report to the Anglican Synod, The Church and the Bomb, seem to be somewhat inconsistent in quoting this as "unquestionably consonant with Christian faith," for elsewhere they admit that "armed force in self-defence is of course an inherent right of any State."

Later, the claim that "war is always contrary to God's will" will be examined in light of Scripture, but here it needs to be pointed out that this type of pacifism is inconsistent and basically unreasonable. If one concludes that the use of force to protect citizens against criminal aggression within a nation's boundaries is not only allowable but a duty of the State, and if one also concludes that it is entirely compatible with the teaching of Scripture for the Christian to be involved in such law enforcement, then it seems absurd to deny that the State (and the Christian) has a duty to protect citizens from criminal aggression from outside a country's borders. Unless one comes to the strange conclusion that only internal evil can ever be bad enough to require resistance by force, or unless one concludes that the principles of justice only apply between individuals and not between nations, one must inevitably accept that the use of armed forces and the waging of war will sometimes be necessary to protect people against evil. Once it is acknowledged that justice within a nation is important, to be consistent it must be agreed that wars fought to uphold justice are justified. Any other conclusion is either irrational, or hopelessly romantic about human nature.

One might say the same about Ronald Sider's demand that the State be only allowed to use nonviolent means of coercion. This demand needs to be tested against Scripture, as also does his more basic claim that human justice can only be restorative.

Who Are the Peacemakers?, Jerram Barrs

No comments:

Post a Comment

No personal attacks. No profanity.

Please keep your comments in good taste. Leave a name so we know who you are. Your comments are welcome, but anonymous flames and sacrilege will be deleted.