I found this article “Five Questions Your Pacifist Friends Are Tired of Answering” from the Burnside Collective. The article, written by Jonathan Fitzgerald, is an easily accessible article on specific questions that pacifists often get asked.
Fitzgerald introduces his article by saying,
“What follows are five questions about/arguments against Christian Pacifism that I have heard over and over in the five years since I made a commitment to non-violence. I present them both for those thinking earnestly about Jesus teachings on non-violence, and also for those who are dismissive of these teachings, whether Christian or not. Following the questions are the answers that Ive come up with and often recite by heart to the asker. They are by no means authoritative; rather, they are the reflections of someone still grappling with these difficult issues, trying to discover how best to live a life that is pleasing to God.”
Five Questions That Often Get Asked of Pacifists
1.What if your (insert loved one here) was attacked?
2. What about the Old Testament?
3. Didnt Jesus mean to live non-violently in our personal lives, but not corporately?
4. What about Romans 13?
5. So, youre suggesting Christians sit back and do nothing?
I appreciated this article because of its clarity, passion and simplicity. Hopefully if you’ve wondered about why people believe in “non-violence” this article can give you some food for thought. And if you already ascribe to it, hopefully it gives you some new or refreshing insights.
A Couple ‘Non-Violent’ Reflections
Either way it made me reflect on my own thinking on the matter a bit further. Here’s a couple reflections.
The first question I receive by a majority of people who don’t understand the pacifist position is definitely Fitzgerald’s #1. I often get asked about what I’d do in the case of someone raping my wife or killing my kids. And while I am not interested in making a full argument here, I appreciate what Fitzgerald says,
“Jesus certainly calls us to defend those in need of defense. But he never advocates violence. Quite the opposite; in fact, he says the key is laying down ones life. And he modeled this self sacrifice on the cross.”
And I share his conclusion on the matter,
“The question remains a difficult one, even as a gut reaction, and most recently my best answer is a non-answer. That is, I dont know what I would do. If I was acting in complete accordance with my faith I would throw myself in the way, take the beating myself. But if I was acting from instinct (read: my sinful nature) Id probably punch, kick, scrap, tear, sin.”
The Problem With Hypothetical Ethics
But I wanted to add another thought about this. As Christians we aren’t called to base our ethics on hypothetical situations, but the concrete message of the Gospels and the life of Jesus. In American culture, we are used to basing our ethics, and our responses on gut reactions, our preferences, what feels right, and what serves ‘me’ best. But the Gospel calls us to entirely different mode of engaging this world, a different way of thinking about everything. ‘I’ am no longer the primary concern if the greatest commandment is to “love one another.”
Trying to figure out what might happen in these hypothetical situations undercuts the basis of our very faith. It removes the ‘way of Jesus’ as the primary location of how we discern right from wrong and places it within a very specific situation. Our faith, when taken seriously, is not something that locates itself in hypothetical situations or ‘what ifs.’ Rather it is relevant in everyday life, something that guides every choice, and every reaction.
Peacemaking is A Way of Life
That is why peacemaking is a practice that requires daily practice. It’s a lifestyle and needs a community of people who try to live peaceably if it is to make sense. The church is called to make peace. I don’t, in the heat of the moment, decide I ought to become a peacemaker. I live my life as one and in the heat of the moment believe that my faith, and choices I’ve made up to that point will be acceptable in God’s sight. I don’t know what I would do, but I believe that by “practicing” peacemaking I will be able to make the right choice no matter what. This flips the question around, from one that is hypothetical to one that is concrete. The Question: “How ought I live everyday in light of the Kingdom of God, regardless of my context and situation?” Answer: Peaceably.
If I am pro-active in loving my neighbors, sharing my life with others, and am trying to promote peace in every sphere I come in contact with then we begin to understand it when Christ says, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
Sidenote: Expect a few more posts on this topic, as I’d like to share some resources and other thoughts on living non-violently in a violent world.