I recently started a podcast with some acquaintances. The podcast focuses on the issue of CHristian nonviolence, exploring the case for a nonviolent position as well as discussing rebuttals against the position. Check it out here!
1. Introduction: My journey to pacifism
2. Biblical Teaching: A foundation for pacifism using scripture
3. Biblical Examples: Examples of explicit non-violence in the face of aggression from the Bible and Apostles
4. Early Church Teaching: Quotes from the early church fathers about their beliefs on war, soldiering, vengeance, violence, punishment, etc
5. Real Life Examples: Examples of non-violence, its implementation, and effect
6. Pacifism Applied: Explores what the process and action of pacifism look like
7. Evaluating the Christian Alternative to Pacifism: A look at a Just War theory of morally using violence as a Christian and asking how it isn't even more idealistic than pacifism
8. Pacifism Quotes to Ponder: A reflection on non-violence and violence from those who journeyed through persecution
9. Counter-Rebuttals: Rebutting the greatest criticisms leveled at a pacifistic position
10. Questions for Just-War Adherents : Returning difficult questions to Just War adherents about their ideology
*13. Addendums - Additional arguments and ideas I'm putting here until I reformat the site or figure out where I can include them.
*14. My Poetry - Poetry I've written in trying to work through various issues of the Kingdom, including nonviolence.
*15. My Book - While the book isn't specifically about pacifism, it deals with the consequentialist (ends justify the means) morality which my culture taught me that prevented me from living as Christ desires, which includes a nonviolent life. I think this inculcated morality is what must be addressed before many can hear Christ's words. I'm happy to share this document for free as well, just contact me.
The full, original article (not updated with more recent editions) can be downloaded in PDF format below:
In Stanley Hauerwas's book, "War and the American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity," he summarizes some very profound thoughts from Martin Luther King Jr. Hauerwas says,
Nonviolent resistance therefore is not directed against people but against forces of evil. Those who happen to be doing evil are as victimized by the evil they do as those who are the object of their oppression. From the perspective of nonviolence, King argued that the enemy is not the white people of Montgomery, but injustice itself. The object of the boycott of the buses was not to defeat white people, but to defeat the injustice that mars their lives. The means must therefore be commensurate with the end that is sought—for the end cannot justify the means, particularly if the means involve the use of violence, because the “end is preexistent in the means.”This is particularly the case if the end of nonviolence is the creation of a “beloved community.”
I want to pull out three basic ideas from this quote which I think are vital to understanding the position of nonviolence. While you can read the rest of the material I've provided and glean many of these concepts, I think it is succinctly stated here so well, I wanted to make sure it was grasped.
Those we tend to identify as our enemies are fellow image bearers of God:
While no Christian will ever say it, we tend to group terribly evil individuals in a subhuman category. Murderers and despots are not worthy of life. They deserve to rot in hell. They are animals. Often, we loathe these depraved individuals, and rarely do we seek to love and weep for them. King rightly identifies that those who opposed him, while technically his enemy, were fellow human beings worthy of love. If Jesus Christ could and did love those who murdered and tortured him, and if Jesus loved me while I was at enmity with God, than surely I am called to love even those image bearers who are at enmity with me. If we are not better than Jesus, than our enemies are not below us.
Our war is not with flesh and blood:
I think King identifies what so many of us forget - that our war is with evil. Yes, humans often ally with and embody evil, but our war is not with our fellow humans. Many of us wrongly believe that by defeating human embodiments of evil, we are defeating it. But such is not the case. Conquering and killing - even those who are evil - simply creates more evil, or extends the evil. We are very familiar with this in regard to our habits. We recognize that the "killing" of some of our bad habits is not the end of our inner warfare, as true change and reform requires a positive creation of good habits. As Hauerwas says at the end of his quote, the end we seek isn't simply the abolishment of evil, but rather the thriving of a loving community.
Means must be commensurate with the end:
The last sentence segues nicely into the third point Hauerwas makes. Christians who choose violence and those who choose nonviolence both claim that their end goal is the creation of a loving community. But one has to ask how the means of violence are commensurate and logical if the end being sought is a loving community? Such means and ends seem antithetical to one another. If my enemies are image bearers, and if my goal is reconciliation and loving community, how could I justify the use of violence as a consistent means to accomplish my goal?
- "Fight" (book): This is a good, comprehensive book (by an Evangelical who is also Reformed) which begins in the OT, goes through Revelation, discusses church history, and ends with common objections. Because it covers so much and is directed for regular people, it's not as in-depth as some of the other resources below. It digs pretty deep, but you'll definitely need more. Nevertheless, it's a wonderful aerial view that will help the rest of the sources to fill in the gaps. You can also check out an interview the author had with the Gospel Coalition where he addresses some questions.
- "The Early Church on Killing" (book): This book compiles the early church documents and quotes with references to violence (abortion, murder, warfare, capital punishment, soldiering, being a politician, etc). It references quotes that could also be questionable for the case of pacifism.
- "The Crucifixion of the Warrior God" (book): I recommend this book above all others for a comprehensive look at non-violence, but only if you want a heavy, long read. I heard a lot of negative things from my conservative community said about the author of this book, Greg Boyd. After reading the book, I am ashamed my community seems to have failed at being thoughtful. You can't just dismiss the things Boyd says as "Liberal" or "misguided." We can't make Christianity like we've made our moral schemes and politics - packaged platforms with an all or nothing choice. This book comes in two volumes, and sits at about 1500 pages. There are references galore. Even if you end up dismissing Boyd's explanation for violent attributions of God in the Bible (volume 2), you have to deal with the 600 pages Boyd spent tearing down modern hermeneutics in volume 1, which are often shown to be incomplete, shortsighted, and culturally influenced hermeneutics. Boyd explores how the NT writers handled OT scriptures, he explains the moral problems with divine violence and the character of God, he attacks modern notions of empiricism and the historical approach to the Bible as stand-alone hermeneutics, and he just rips Christian hypocrisy and syncretism to shreds in his call for us to be consistent. Even if Boyd's positive assertion in volume 2 ends up being wrong, his attacks on what we think we know are powerful and require the Christian community to do a lot of work if they want to maintain some of the views they currently hold. Wherever you land, this book gets you to think. It is extremely academic, but extremely powerful. You don't have to latch on to all of Boyd's theology to appreciate what he has written here.
- Tim Mackie from the Bible Project (podcasts): Tim Mackie is a brilliant theologian who I believe does a great job putting the Bible into its historical context, and faithfully works within the Bible's tension of it as both a human and divine work. There is an interview where Mackie works through both Revelation and the Old Testament violence, and an extended podcast where he fleshes that out in a six part series.
- "It's Just War" video debate (Youtube): This is the debate that kicked off my inquiry into pacifism. It's a great discussion and I think the pacifists win pretty handily. If I didn't think they won, I wouldn't be in their camp today.
- Pacifism, Just War, and Peace (Youtube): A video with three speakers who explore the early church context of non-violence, what that looks like in the real world, and an evaluation of the Just War Theory in contrast to pacifism.
- Pablo Yoder's Testimony (Youtube): A wonderful testimony of how this regular Christian has prepared for and implemented non-violence, the impact it's had on him and his family, and the influence it has had on the lives of others.
- Naked Bible Podcast (or Youtube): This particular episode is on the two swords of Luke, referenced in my counter-rebuttal to the idea that Christ validated self-defense in telling his disciples to arm themselves. While the episode is on that specific passage, I think it not only undercuts the initial rebuttal against pacifism, but shows how Christ was instituting an expectation for non-violence through the passage. It's a good reminder about how we can insert interpretations into the text because of tradition or misunderstanding, and the speaker points out a number of ways that we have done this in such an obvious manner (e.g. Christ being numbered with the transgressors so obviously has nothing to do with the thieves on the cross in context, yet that's how most interpret it today).
-Unbelievable Podcast: "Unbelievable" is a fantastic podcast for tons of Christian issues. You always get to hear a proponent from each side argue their position. In this episode you can hear Hauerwas and Biggar - Duke vs. Oxford - have a cordial discussion on the topic. They're two of the greatest minds for their respective side and the podcast will fill you in on the main points and contentions in about an hour.
-The Christian Humanist Podcast: While I don't think any of the speakers on this episode are full-fledged pacifists, they do a pretty fair job explaining the positions and elaborating.
- The Politics of Jesus Book: John Howard Yoder writes a phenomenal book that explains why we need to take Christ's words and commands seriously rather than metaphorically. He really focuses on the two kingdoms and explains what allegiance to the Kingdom means for our subordination to our kingdom (nation). I recommend the book, but if you want something a bit shorter, I pulled out the best quotes and summarized this book here.
- The Anatomy of a Hybrid Book: While there are better sources for the history of individuals or time periods, I think this book does a good job of making a case for the problems we get when the church and state are married. It helps to explain why a Europe run by professing Christians can be such a horrendous place to live - why there were tortures, wars amongst Christians, etc. Whereas "The Politics of Jesus" focuses on Christ and his teaching, this book focuses on how an allegiance to nations and kingdoms along with or over Christ plays out.
Telling the Truth About the Sacrifices of War Article: Stanley Hauerwas explores how war is a secular religion and idol that Christians ought to avoid. He delves into the role of the church, the Lordship of Christ, and the City of God vs. the City of Man. I believe he does a good job getting Christians to think about their role in this world and how war is antithetical not only to our Christian ethic, but to the Lordship of Christ and the vision of the Kingdom we are supposed to be spreading.
- Letters from a Birmingham Jail: This isn't specifically about Pacifism, but it's a fantastic document to read from a man who implements non-violence. There is some talk about non-violence, but I think the main thing it does is show how non-violence is not inaction. It can be a very active path. Martin Luther King Jr. is so eloquent here, and this is one of the best pieces of prose you'll find in the English language.
- The Case for Christian Realism Article: Stanley Hauerwas is an influential, intellectual who happens to be a pacifist. In this article he assesses the Just War position and explains how it is as unrealistic (or more so) than pacifism. Pacifism can be lived out, but there has never been such a thing as a just war. It seems an impossibility to implement.
- Does ISIS Prove Non-Violence Wrong Article: This article takes a modern day issue and discusses non-violence. It also provides a good list of successful non-violence campaigns from around the time of Christ until today.
- Love Your Enemies Audio by MLK: Martin Luther King Jr.'s voice is a treat to listen to in and of itself. He is so well spoken, genuine, and compelling. But hearing about enemy love from him with an understanding of his persecution and ultimate assassination just infuses this sermon with meaning. I have nothing to say to a man who preaches love and embodies it at the cost of his own well-being, and ultimately his life. While you might say that King is a fallible man and could have embodied the wrong ethic, what then do you have to say to Christ who unarguably preached and embodied the same ethic? The ethic isn't only for God. It's for us too. Jesus is a living example, and so is MLK. But sometimes its helpful to see a more contemporary example and actually hear their voice. I hope you will see Christ through MLK's example and words.
- The Upside Down Kingdom Book: This book isn't really about pacifism at all. It does have one chapter on it, but it can easily be skipped. The first time I read this book I wasn't even thinking about pacifism. I found the book to be extremely profound and applicable to anyone's Christian life. I highly recommend this book for every Christian, even if you want to skip the chapter on pacifism. The reason I'm recommending it here is because I have been arguing that pacifism isn't inaction (or passive). Pacifism is a mindset - a theology. It's a foundation for living. "The Upside Down Kingdom" is essentially a layman's version of Yoder's "The Politics of Jesus," which looks at what a Christian's life should look like in light of Christ's teachings. It's a fantastic book.
- Christian Pacifism Article: This is a pretty long article, but it does a good job highlighting some of the main theological grounding for Christian pacifism. It's not so much an argument as it is a framework for understanding how pacifists come to the conclusions they do. It really gets at the core of pacifism and is a good jumping off point to research more.
- Why Civil Resistance Works book: Modern research which indicates that non-violent movements are far more effective than those which are violent.
- Quotes 1, Quotes 2, Quotes 3: These are some quotes from the early church fathers. While I included a lot of these in the tradition section, there are more here I left out.
Christ's commands for non-violence aren't just a metaphor or hyperbole. Even if you explain away Matthew 5, you have the full force of the rest of the New Testament behind the ideology presented there. The Bible tells us to love our enemies, submit to authorities, bear our crosses, bless those who persecute us, and do not repay evil for evil. Jesus and the Apostles really mean it! We can see this not only in Christ's life, but also by the way Paul, Peter, Stephen, and Jason conducted themselves and the way they advocated for other believers to act under the threat and harm of others. We can see this in the way the apostles died at the hands of others, never picking up a weapon to defend themselves. And we can see this ethic lived out by and large for the first three hundred years of the church - a church which at the first ecumenical council even wrote this ethic into the records (Canon 12). This was a church universal notion, not just a notion from a few famous church fathers like Tertullian, Origen, etc, though that alone would be impressive. Jesus truly meant what he said in regard to enemy love.
It's really easy to ask hard questions from a competing viewpoint without providing a positive case of your own and defending that. Hopefully I've proven that I have been willing to address the hardest questions anti-pacifists have to throw at me. But now I want to take a turn to ask some of the hard questions. If you aren't a pacifist, I hope you'll look at the questions below and think about how you would answer them. While uncertainty about any one of these questions doesn't prove your position wrong, the more difficulty you have in bringing all these questions under the umbrella of your ideology, the more likely it is that your ideology just isn't coherent enough to warrant your adherence. I hope you'll accept the challenge!
I tried to compile all of the best rebuttals I could think of and find, and then refute them - or at least supply a reasoned alternative. I'm sure I have missed some arguments, but I believe these are pretty representative.
The following quotes are not intended as proofs that pacifism is true. They are, however, an undergirding of the truths already put forward. In these quotes you will find individuals who have thought deeply about their experiences with evil and love, violence and non-violence. Most on this list had to confront violence head-on. Some, like Ronald Skirth, were actually converted to pacifism because of his use of violence and his experience with it. Some, like Bonhoeffer, were pacifistic, but gave that up when facing an evil they felt they had to address with violence. And others, like MLK, held on to non-violence throughout life.
These quotes express what some great minds have contemplated and learned about non-violence. These quotes aren't just sayings by idealists, but ideas from great people, most of which endured enormous horrors. I think you'll find these quotes insightful, as they bring to life some of the ideas and implications of violence and pacifism that may seem a bit more esoteric. I hope to grow this list as I come across good quotes.
Despite Christ's words, biblical examples, early church teaching and leanings, as well as extra-biblical examples of pacifism, most Christians still aren't pacifists. Why? With such a weighty case for pacifism, what is it that negates all the evidence for it? I believe it is our intuition. Most just can't bring themselves to believe that restraint against evil is a good thing. And if we can bring ourselves to acknowledge that it may be a noble thing, at times, we still can't bring ourselves to believe that it's a practical thing. It may be noble to lay your life and the life of your family down for an enemy, but what good will that bring about? Isn't that just a waste of life? Pacifism is idealistic, and in the real world, idealism just doesn't work.
I don't think you can find a much better example of pacifism played out in modernity than when you look at the Amish. I remember when I was a junior in college, I heard about a mass shooting at an Amish school in Pennsylvania. A lone gunman had entered the school, told all the boys and adults to leave, then tied up and shot ten little girls. The gunman killed five and severely injured the others, leaving some emotional and mental scars on others in the community.
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.