God has given me the blessing of being deeply self-reflective, though for those with whom I come in contact, it is often a curse. My reflection means I come across as a contrarian. I always question "why?" I want to understand the foundation for believing as I do. God has blessed me doubly by giving me a wife who is even more self-reflective than I am, and who is all too happy to hold me accountable and not let me get away with any rationalizing of bad decisions or positions. These are the very blessings that have kept me a Christian, changed my view to align with Reformed Theology, convicted me to reinstitute the Sabbath in my life, and the list could go much longer and cover even deeper issues than some of the aforementioned ones. And now, it is these blessings that God has given me which leads me to sift through what is for many Americans an extremely intuitive truth which, when discussed, creates a far more visceral reaction than just about anything else. Americans are very patriotic, but this patriotism sometimes approaches and even embraces nationalism. So the mere mention of the word I want to discuss, "pacifism," is likely to elicit a strong negative emotions in most readers.
Until about two years ago, I had never even given pacifism a passing thought. The idea seemed so counterintuitive that I thought there was no good reason to invest any time in it. But two years ago, certain events began to give me pause about the broad community in which I had lived my whole life. I believed my community (conservative Evangelical Christians) were right about a lot of things, but I had begun to observe what I believed to be blind spots and pitfalls in that community at large. I began to question some of the "truths" that were taught to me and modeled for me as a child. As I was doing research on the ethics of governments, voting, etc, I came across a debate about pacifism. Since I was already primed for assessing some of my core beliefs, especially as it pertained to church and state issues, I thought I'd watch the hour long video and just solidify my notions of anti-pacifism for the rest of my life, because there was no way the pacifists could win the fight. Pacifism just doesn't work in the real world.
I watched the video debate with a huge bias for the "Just War Theorists," but it didn't take all that long for me to recognize that the pacifists clearly won the debate, at least in my mind. For as much as I didn't like their position in terms of pragmatism, and for as difficult as it was for me to reconcile certain scenarios with pacifism, I thought they had the better arguments by far. I still didn't adhere to pacifism, though it wasn't because their arguments weren't far better. Rather, it was because my intuitions so strongly fought against its legitimacy.
Around this time I saw an article by John Piper come across my Facebook feed. The article dealt with guns and self-defense. While I'm not sure Piper is a complete pacifist, he advocated some pretty strong self-restraint in regard to defense in his article. He made outstanding points that I couldn't rebut. But there are always avenues one can pursue to rebut arguments, so I continued to look. I didn't yet give the victory to the pacifists. However, one aspect of the whole debate loomed over it and was an early indicator to me that my views - if not completely wrong - were at least held for the wrong reasons. The Harvard debate, Piper's article, and other material I was reading identified something that gave me the inkling that my view was wrong in some pretty significant ways - they helped me begin to see that my initial reasonings for holding anti-pacifistic beliefs were based on self-interest and socialization.
The 2016 presidential election season was a fantastic time for introspection in the Christian community, and I was no exception. There was a lot of soul searching, and many Christians began to question assumptions and traditions they had held their whole lives. They began to test their beliefs. Many facades were stripped down, revealing socialization and indoctrination many of us had been blind to our whole lives. I had come to my own conclusion that some practices and morals I had taken on were cultural and political rather than Christian. As I unpacked the arguments for and against pacifism in particular, I began to realize that this issue was fraught with a similar mire to what was going on politically. A country whose Christians pride themselves on the perceived strict religious adherence and example of the Founding Fathers, and a country whose origin is born in violent rebellion against a government have to believe not only in self-defense, but also in the legitimacy of aggression towards a God-ordained government and the importance of legislating morality to maintain a Christian appearance. We have to justify our origins and our forebears. My Christianity was birthed in this notion that we must prevail, with "we" meaning both country and Christianity (or at least the appearance of Christianity through legislation). We must control the levers of society - especially the political lever - to stay on top. I began to see the politicization of Christianity, and that my people had been conflating patriotism and politics with godliness.
This emphasis on individual freedom, self-preservation, and church/state relations seeped very deeply into certain forms of American Christianity. When the identity of a nation and a religion are so intertwined, one becomes as fanatical about a nation's ideals as they would about their religious ideals. This is why the Christianity in which I grew up was saturated with weapons. To this day, I love guns. I own guns. I'm a pretty good shot and I enjoy shooting. I love first person shooter games. In general, I don't think any of those things are necessarily wrong. But the American ideal isn't located in simple gun ownership. It's located in power and symbolism these guns represent. They represent freedom. They represent individual choice and power. They allow us, like our forbears, to blaze our own trail and live un-oppressed. I grew up hearing (and still hear) individuals in my Christian community say that if anyone enters their home, they'll blast the intruder. I hear little remorse or reservation about taking a human life. And if the intruder is running away, these same people will tell you that you need to make sure you shoot them before they make it off your property. And make sure that if you shoot, you shoot to kill so they can't sue you. Many in my community were so pro-gun that they advocated fighting back if the government attempted to take guns. They said they would attack their own government just to keep guns - something the early Christians wouldn't even do to preserve their God and their life. Such notions of power and freedom were seared into my mind and soul so early and so often in life, that to this day, when I think about what it would be like to kill someone who is attacking my family, I can't even force myself to feel remorse. I don't think I'd feel too bad about killing someone to protect my family. I'm not bragging at all. This is not a good thing. In fact, it's detestable and lamentable that my Christian community and my country has hindered my ability to empathize with and love my enemy. Even if killing in self-defense were legitimate, my Christian community and my country has made killing another human being into something humane, if the killing is done against a terrible enemy who seeks to do me or my loved ones true harm. Despite the fact that I have become an intellectual and theological pacifist, my extreme socialization makes me wonder how I'd act or feel if put in a position of defending the lives of my family with deadly force.
It is my intellectual position, then, that the notion of pacifism is biblical, while the notion of the preservation of one's own life (or another's life) by using the means of killing is something that is a cultural addition to Christ's teaching. To make my case, I will begin with laying out a brief biblical case for this. However, I actually don't want to spend too much time extrapolating individual verses, as this tends to be where everyone misses the point. Each side throws around one or two verses, which on their faces, begin a good case for their respective sides. But when you leave the discussion at a few handpicked verses, it's easy to make a case for just about anything. So while it is important to begin with laying a biblical framework, I believe it's also important to make a cumulative case. A cumulative case provides context and plausibility to the handful of verses from which I am going to lay the foundation of my case. A cumulative case cannot be countered by one verse which may be read in a particular way against it. It can only be destroyed by an obvious contradiction (e.g. God says explicitly that we should kill or that pacifism is wrong), by an undercutting of significant portions of the cumulative case, or by building an opposing cumulative case against it with a more plausible one.
Hopefully the introduction has shed some light on how I got here and where I'm going with this. Enjoy the discussion!
2. Biblical Teaching
3. Biblical Examples
4. Early Church Teaching
5. Real Life Examples
6. Pacifism Applied
7. Evaluating the Christian Alternative to Pacifism
8. Pacifism Quotes to Ponder
10. Questions for Just-War Adherents