It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything about pacifism.
I know. Poking the bear here, on this, the day before my country celebrates its declaration of independence from Great Britain all those years ago. (Probably not a good time to point out that there really wasn’t any Scriptural support for that war). The flags wave and the fireworks unnaturally fill the night sky with the light of day. This year, more than any other year of my life, tempers run hot, ready to boil over at the slightest provocation.
In this midsummer cauldron, I reflect.
In my experience, people tend to assume two things about pacifists:
- That we disdain members of the military and the police force. That we hold ourselves morally superior.
- That we are content to stand silently by and let evil run amok.
Neither is true.
Every person must deal with the big questions. Why are we here? Is God real? Coke or Pepsi? Some deal by engaging in denial, shoving the haunting inquiries beneath the carpet of their souls. Others study until their minds are mush, smug in their intellectual superiority. Still others latch on to the answers before they even ask the questions, running their mouths in breathless polemic. Some walk the thoughtful path, seeking to examine both questions and answers honestly.
Most of us run the gamut, doing all of the above at one point or another.
I was 12 when these questions began to plague my mind. My middle school journals are filled with long, rambling sentences, not-at-all elegant turns of phrase that make me smile today. No doubt God laughed as the paragraphs poured out of me, the kind of loving chuckle that bubbles up from the throats of fathers who delight in their children. I wanted desperately to understand, to know the deep truths fully.
At this time, my family attended a small Evangelical Friends church. Also known as Quakers, the Friends are founding members of the “peace churches,” groups of believers who are committed to principles of non-violence and non-resistance. (The Amish, Brethren and Mennonites are the other groups). Shortly after becoming involved with this church, Focus on the Family Radio Theater released a docu-drama on the life of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Whenever an episode aired, my ears were glued to my radio. In the end, I purchased the series on CD and listened to it so often that I could (and still can) quote large sections.
By age 14, I was a convicted pacifist. Despite my ever-wandering heart and the years I spent straying from the Lord, in this I have not wavered. No, indeed I have grown more radical. I do not say the Pledge of Allegiance. I do not sing the Star-Spangled Banner. I cannot in good conscience pledge loyalty to or celebrate any entity that way. I fear placing anything before the Lord.
But I am not contemptuous of those who have a different view.
To be a pacifist is not to hate those who disagree. It is not to loathe men and women who put on uniforms, firearms at their sides. It is not to declare that such people are not and cannot be saved. I dare not question the faith of my brothers and sisters who leave behind home and family to fight on foreign soil. I cannot, despite concentrated efforts, come to a place of agreeing with their actions, but I do not presume to cast them out of God’s hand. I have not and will not yell at or spit on active soldiers, veterans or police officers.
I understand that these men and women are attempting to do what they believe is right.
As do I.
I am a pacifist for many reasons, the primary being that I cannot shake these words:
Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. …
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. … Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. …
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
– Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 12:14, 17-21; Ephesians 6:12 (NKJV)
I am in possession of a nasty temper. Unforgiveness, grudges and bitterness are natural for me. Oh, I may not put on a grand display of wrath and thus be known as someone who loses control. My anger is expressed rather in ice and whispers. But it is real. And it is terrible. More than once have I spoken of my longing to punch this person or run that person over with a car.
Did not Christ come to redeem me from this? Did He not come to remake me into His likeness?
As Spurgeon said in his 1859 sermon, “War! War! War!”:
Be in yourself what you would want others to be. Be clean that you can hope to be the purifiers of the world; and then, having first sought the blessing of God, go out into the world and bear your witness against sin.
I can hardly preach the peace and joy that comes in knowing the Lord if I give free reign to violence, both in word and deed. (Thank Him for His great patience!)
Nor can I preach the Gospel if I am content to turn a blind eye to evil.
During the disgusting years of the enslavement of Africans across the United States, members of the Friends risked livelihood and life itself as conductors on the Underground Railroad, helping to usher thousands to freedom. Desmond Doss, whose story was recently told through the film Hacksaw Ridge, single-handedly saved the lives of 75 wounded infantrymen during the battle of Okinawa – without carrying a gun. Sophie Scholl was arrested and executed by the Gestapo for distributing anti-war leaflets in Munich.
These are but a few examples.
I must get in the way of evil I am to avoid hypocrisy. I must bring light to the darkness whenever possible. Here I will not list the ways that I have done so; such a thing would invite your applause, and that I do not need. My Father sees. My Father knows.
To accuse pacifists of hatred for and complacency toward our fellow man is to misunderstand. As the Beloved Disciple wrote,
He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
– 1 John 2:9-11 (NKJV)
One may argue that this applies only to believers – we cannot hate each other but we are free to hate those outside the Body of Christ. While these verses are written to and within the context of the community of faith, consider,
“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.
“But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.
– Luke 6:27-36 (NKJV)
These are not suggestions that we can shrug over and disregard.
These are commands, straight from the lips of the Living God.
At the 1521 Diet of Worms (a formal meeting in a German city, not a weight-loss plan), Martin Luther said,
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason – for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves – I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.
Luther himself was hardly a pacifist, but his proclamation provides a nice summary.
I will never tell anyone that love of country is a sin. Where Scripture does not bind the conscience, neither will I. Pacifists love their countries, just in a way that is not commonly expressed in patriotic displays. We want peace, harmony, prosperity – the kind that is found in a relationship with Christ. So we labor, seeking to share the Gospel message of salvation and hope, despite hostility from those in the dark and lack of understanding from fellow believers.
This is my mission.