In a world torn by violence, the distinctive vocation of Jesus’ followers is to renounce violence and seek where there is strife to make peace. No other issue is more urgent. But on hardly any other issue has the church so massively failed to embody the promise of the resurrection. In the wake of the Constantinian settlement, the church has found ways to baptize violence, to construct theories of “just war” so called, that have no basis whatever in the teaching or example of Jesus, and generally to provide rationalizations for violent practices that imitate the Roman crucifiers of Jesus rather than imitating the way of the crucified one.
This short satire will surely cause you to think about how you should pray in war time. To set the context a bit, it may be helpful to keep in mind that Mark Twain lived through the American Civil War when nearly every combatant on either side, both north and south, would happily self-identify as “Christian.”
War Prayer|Part 1
War Prayer|Part 2
I wrote this paper for a theological conference in 2009. You may listen to the audio, which merely gives a brief overview of the selected topics or read the actual paper available as a pdf. Essentially, I argue for a proleptic ethic whereby the Christ-follower seeks to embody the lifestyle of the kingdom in the present in anticipation of it. The idea is that although, strictly speaking, the kingdom is not yet here, Christ and those who follow him have already begun to live the way it will be then. As a result, Christians have already beaten their swords in plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. We live the way of the future in order to testify as prophetic signposts of God’s beautiful coming kingdom. In addition to explaining a cohesive New Testament theology this paper defends the notion of Christian pacifism biblically and historically.
In 1870, shortly after the American Civil War, Julia Ward Howe, composed this poem calling for the establishment of Mother’s Day. It is chilling to read the effect of war on mothers and inspiring to see the courageous spirit of such a visionary. Though most people never call war into question as a legitimate method for settling matters of State, Howe was able to imagine and promote something more reasonable.
Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
“We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.
Below is one of the most enduring and inspiring Martin Luther King Jr. quotes of all time. Not only does it expell once for all the absurd notion that non-violent enemy love is cowardly but it also shows that such self-sacrificial love is even practical.
I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say:”We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, but we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.
The following was excerpted from an untitled work by Drew Ayers, which he sent to me in 2009.
Doesn’t the fact that soldiers in the New Testament are never expressly told to leave the military damage your peace position? Shouldn’t this be taken as an indication that it may be allowed to be a “Christian” soldier? Many try to make this point but I believe it’s wrong for two reasons:
1. This is an argument from silence. Actually in these passages neither Jesus nor any apostle either condemn or endorse military participation. They aren’t advised to be born again either for that matter. Is being born again also not required for soldiers? In a similar instance, Simon the sorcerer isn’t told to stop practicing sorcery in Acts 8. Is sorcery allowed too? (if not specifically forbidden?) If failure to mention a sin condones it, then slavery is now okay. Nowhere in the New Testament is there a command, “Thou shalt not have slaves.” Silence in this case is simply silence and proves nothing.
2. If we rightly conclude that “Do unto others…” discourages slavery, then doesn’t “love your enemies” put military service in a negative light? Isn’t it self-evident that if all men must love their enemies and do no harm (Romans 13.10), then military participation is impossible?
Posted in Difficult Questions | Tags: anabaptists, bible, biblical, biblical christianity, Christ, Christ Jesus, christian, christian peace witness, christian view of war, christianity, historic christianity, Jesus, Jesus Christ, Love, love your enemies, military, non-violence, nonresistance, nonviolence, pacifism, peace, peace church, violence, war
We might put the problem this way: the Constantinian cataract results from a very basic case of false identity. The cataract not only clouds our vision, but psychologically and culturally shapes our understanding of our most basic identity. While biblically informed discipleship requires us to give ourselves in absolute allegiance to the kingdom of God, the Constantinian cataract threatens the purity of that allegiance by mixing it with an allegiance to the empire or nation-state. Or, perhaps more accurately, we begin to believe that a pursuit of the agenda of the empire or nation-state may be placed comfortably alongside our pursuit of the kingdom of God, even though the ends and goals of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world are clearly different, and clearly at odds with one another.
Consider a thought experiment in order to get at the difficulty. Using contemporary garb, a key question might be put this way: do we American Christians see ourselves as American Christians, or as American Christians? Do we fundamentally envision ourselves as U.S. citizens who espouse the “Christian religion,” or as disciples of Jesus who happen to live in the United States? What is our fundamental identity? Citizens of our nation-state, or citizens of the kingdom of God?
Most Christians, one might conjecture, would immediately respond that our first allegiance is undoubtedly to the kingdom of God. But our debates often appear to assume that the fundamental identity, the primary lens through which we must make decisions about how to act in our world, it that of the nation-state. One might find ample evidence that we do envision our primary identity in terms of the nation-state by simply examining the question we often ask: “What should we do about terrorism?” The we in that question is most often, one may safely assume, the United States. “What should we do about Saddam Hussein?” “What should we do about inner-city poverty?” “What should we do about homelessness?” “What should we do about the threat of nuclear war?” “What should we do about peace in the Middle East?” “What should we do about welfare?” “What should we do about abortion?” And so the questions go, always assuming that the all-important we is the nation-state.
Consequently, discipleship—defined as taking seriously the way of Christ in all our affairs and concerns—gets shelved as irrelevant to the real concerns of the world. But what might happen if we took such questions seriously from a biblical viewpoint? For instance, what should we, as disciples of Jesus, do about homelessness? What should we, as the body of Christ, do about the threat of nuclear war? What should the church do about Saddam Hussein? What should we believers do about peace in the Middle East? What should we who bear the name of Jesus do about inner-city poverty and the plight of single mothers? What should we followers of the Way do about abortion?
Does the word of God incarnate in Jesus Christ not have something to say to the injustices and oppression of our world?—or are the people of God simply to accept the claim that the only appropriate response to injustice is the ethic of nations, the ethic of power checking power? Christians appear often to assume that to make significant cultural change we must approach change from the “top down”—that until we can get those who hold the mantle of power to use that power to bring about change, there can be no real change. But Jesus taught and practiced something quite different: “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:42-44). That is, Jesus called his disciples not to get hold of empire power—this is precisely what some of his disciples wanted, to get hold of the rein of command, and use it on behalf of the good guys, on behalf of righteousness, justice, and God’s purposes. Instead, he called them to an altogether different route of bringing about the radical change of the kingdom of God—that of servant
But since the time of the Reformation, it has been assumed that “religion” is “private,” and that matters of the “state” are “public.” Or, to put it differently, it begins to be assumed that the church worries about souls, and the state worries about bodies. This “privatization of religion,” this move to make religion a “private” matter, results in a profound change of thought: when we ask the “What are we going to do about…” question, we of course assume that the we is the nation or government, because we have long been trained to think of the church as having no social or political significance. To ask, “What are we Christians going to do about terrorism?” sounds ludicrous!—Nothing! That’s the government’s job.
So “What are we going to do?” Respond with the way of Christ. The world may think that way irrelevant, even foolish. But what the world takes as foolish is actually the wisdom of God and the only hope for the world. We do not need more “effective” kingdoms of men; we do not need more “responsible” kingdoms of this world; we do not need more “realism” among the kingdoms of a fallen order. We need the kingdom of God.