There are different degrees of pacifism. Some pacifists think there should never be force used, some think that restraint is ok, and some think that non-lethal force (biting, kicking, etc) is ok. The Amish, in this case, did not use any force at all. Now most will look at what they did and condemn their action as inexcusable inaction. What might have happened if the adults and boys would have resisted? Perhaps nobody would have been killed. Maybe the article printed the next day on page ten would be "Amish Fight Back and Save Lives." The few who read it could have breathed a sigh of relief at the almost tragic story.
For anyone that says the Amish, or that pacifists in general are characterized by inaction, they are mistaken. Pacifism requires the greatest discipline and self-control and the greatest characteristics and virtues - faith, hope, love, forgiveness, generosity, etc - to all be exhibited. Pacifistic thought refuses to trade love and forgiveness now for security and the avoidance of pain. Violence towards another puts love and forgiveness to the side until the action that makes someone unlovable and unforgivable is complete. When you kill someone, you're not loving them or forgiving them in the moment. But the Amish chose to love and forgive even as tragedy unfolded. And the newspaper headlines the next day - front page headlines - broadcast a vital message that the Amish preserved when they refused to preserve their own lives and the lives of those they hold most dear. They preserved the message of the gospel and the message of love. The world got to see that message only because the Amish exhibited enemy love. They didn't just display the love of martyrdom and loss, but the love of unimaginably disciplined action, as they reached out for restoration and reconciliation. You don't get to broadcast that message when you kill someone. The message of love and forgiveness loses it's validity and power in violence.
Pacifism is so compelling because it isn't just a disposition after a tragic fact. It's a value system that is embraced before tragedy. Someone could shoot a mass-shooter and still extend hospitality and love towards their enemy's family. But you don't see that very often. Why? Because a value system that says "I should kill my enemy before he kills me" is far less likely to exude love for one's enemy and their family. If your enemy doesn't deserve love and forgiveness in the moment at which they do evil against you, why would you extend love to them afterwards? But on pacifism, your enemy deserves their life, your love, and your forgiveness even when they are performing their worst deeds. When even your enemy is deserving of their life and your love, it just makes sense that your generosity and forgiveness are going to be extended to them and their family after their evil act is finished. Most pacifists will never face a time when they need to put their pacifism to the test in terms of whether or not they enact violence to counter violence. But that's not all pacifism is. Pacifism is an ideology that embraces a certain view on the value of all human beings, regardless of their actions. That valuing seeps into every action and every facet of life, and shines forth like it did in the Amish after the greatest tragedy of their lives.
Likewise, most of us will never have to face the decision of whether or not we will kill another human being. Knowing that, what would embracing a notion of pacifism look like for Christians right now? It's easy to talk about ideology and the action of others, but it's much different to figure out what we'd do in particular situations or how an ideology should impact us. In my mind, at least in the States, embracing non-violence would have a significant impact on the gun debate. To be clear, I own guns. I love shooting guns. But I am very put off by the Christian Right's embracing of violent means to end confrontations.
As a case in point, I see many Christians on the right who are advocating that teachers carry guns or that we hire more security guards for schools to neutralize any threats to students. This seems like a perfectly wonderful solution, as any perpetrator willing to harm others deserves to be shot. More guns in the hands of good guys means a better chance the shooter will be put down. Why should we feel bad? In fact, we could save a lot of taxpayer money by avoiding court costs. Guns are pretty cheap. It wouldn't be that expensive to put a few guns in the hands of teachers. But what kind of reaction is this for Christians to have? Doesn't it seem more fitting to pursue avenues that protect all life, even the life of any potential shooter? What about metal detectors? What about a national mental healthcare discussion? Why is it illegitimate to talk about paying for someone's healthcare (mental, in this case), but it's legitimate to talk about taxpayers paying for teachers to carry weapons and obtain training in order to kill those who go off the deep end? Why not implement safe rooms like this? Why not pursue all the non-lethal means before we consider pursuing lethal means? We say a lot when we talk about what we are willing to pay for or not pay for, and we say a lot by what means we choose to pursue as our primary focus.
But schools aren't the only consideration. What about the home. If a Christian values all life, why should they feel validated in having a weapon at the ready for an intruder? Rather than buying a gun, buying a safe, practicing at the shooting range, etc - if you're truly concerned about your safety, why not put that money towards an alarm system, a dog, a fence, a safe room, a taser, or any other number of nonlethal or nonviolent means for protection? Do you know anyone who owns a gun for self-defense in the home who has exhausted all their non-lethal options? If we truly value life, even an enemy's life, under what circumstances would we ever consider shooting another human being?
But of course, the best laid defenses can be assailed, and we also know that when we are out in public we must leave our strongholds. Evil will inevitably befall some people. But is it my job to meet violence with violence? Is it my job to ensure that evil cannot ever happen to me, my loved ones, or the innocent anywhere in this world? Or is it my job to submit to the means God has given us to live by in his Kingdom, and submit to his sovereignty should he allow evil to befall me? If I have exhausted all of my moral means of prevention, what more do I have to do than submit to God and trust in his provision for endurance, love, and forgiveness? If I have loved all and I have done my best to live peaceably with all, yet evil accosts me, then what can I do but submit to my suffering, use the means of Christ, and lovingly endure? My job is not to defeat evil in the world, though by ministering the gospel of Christ I hope that evil in the world is subdued as men and women change allegiances from their kingdoms to the Kingdom. Rather, my job as a Christian is to see evil defeated within me - to be sanctified unto God as a holy offering - and to trust in his sovereignty as I employ the means he has given me to use to bring about his Kingdom.
Means aren't the only important thing, though. While I think Christians who embrace violence get the means of God wrong, I also think they get the ends of God wrong. We are not to use the means of violence because as Christians, we seek love as our end - even the love of an enemy. I heard Greg Boyd give a fantastic example in a podcast I just listened to. Most Christians will say that the loving thing to do when an aggressor breaks into a home is to protect one's family by shooting the aggressor. But Boyd asks us to imagine that we have a son who snaps because of drugs, some psychosis, or whatever else. Now, our own son comes into our home seeking to do our families harm. What do we do? Maybe we still end up shooting him, but this situation looks a lot different. Rather than killing being the primary means we use, it shifts to the bottom of the list. And if we do end up shooting, we don't have the feeling of justified relief. We would be devastated and wrought with guilt, doubt, heartbrokenness, etc. Why? Because we loved our son. We loved the aggressor.
Boyd says that Christians have turned the idea of loving our enemies into simply loving our grouchy neighbors. When the people of Christ's time heard "enemy," they immediately thought of the Romans - the godless, bacchanal, terroristic, warmongering, illegitimate, thieving, corrupt, Romans. Enemies are those who truly are our enemies. What would it look like to love that kind of enemy? Look at the early church. And what would it look like to love our enemies now? It would look like viewing them as our sons and daughters, just as God viewed his enemies when they still hated him. God has made us sons and daughters before we loved him, and we must do the same with everyone - even our enemies. We must love them so that in every situation, we seek their good just as much as our own good or the good of our family.
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