The following post was originally published on September 20, 2010. As I am currently working on a second post on the subject, I thought I would revisit this one.
Carson T. Clark’s latest blog post has helped to crystallize some thoughts that have been rolling around in my head for a while, particularly this portion:
“I specifically have in mind childhood conflict. (Isn’t this the reason Lord of the Flies is so powerful?) A college friend of mine recently put up a facebook status about how his kindergarten daughter defended herself by slugging a bully right in the eye on the playground. As a loving father, his gut response was to be delighted that she stood up for himself. “That’s my girl!” But he later got to thinking about whether or not it’s right to encourage that. He didn’t say it publicly, but I suspect he got to thinking about the incongruity of his response with his professed theological beliefs.”
These thoughts that I’ve had rolling around center on the idea that a devoted follower of Christ has received a call to lay down the sword. This can particularly be seen in Christ’s statement in Matthew 26:52,
“Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
As I work through some thoughts on pacifism, let me start by addressing several things.
1) I have nothing but the utmost of respect for those who serve our nation through military service. My father and uncle both served in the Navy, as did my brother-in-law. My wife’s grandfather was a decorated Naval officer who dove into the water during the attack on Pearl Harbor to swim out to his ship, and didn’t see his family again for close to two years. One of my best friends currently serves in the Army. Whatever conclusions I may personally come to regarding war and Christians will in no way diminish the respect I have for the courage and convictions displayed by the men and women who serve in our armed forces. I am very mindful that they are risking their lives for my right to even write this blog post and that Jesus also said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
2) The Church, since the time of Augustine, has struggled with the concept of “just war.” The Church’s struggle has been to find a balance between the simple truth that Christians should not take part in a war that is obviously plainly wicked versus the fact that some wars are considered justified even by Christians in order to prevent greater evils.
3) In the United States, church denominations such as the Quakers, the Mennonites, the Hutterites, and (at least up until World War II) the Churches of Christ have historically maintained pacifist positions. The cost of their convictions for some members of these denominations should be troubling to all Christians. During World War I, around 2000 conscientious objectors from these denominations were imprisoned in Federal prisons, where they received solitary confinement, short rations, and in a couple of cases physical abuse severe enough to result in death. Conscientious objectors fared slightly better in World War II, when the Civilian Public Service was established as an alternative to military service (although the cost of the program was placed on the conscientious objectors and their congregations).
One of the difficulties I have personally had in sorting out my thoughts at what I see as Jesus’ command to lay down the sword is that defining pacifism can be a bit like nailing Jello to a tree. There are those who approve a nation going to war, but not participation by Christians. There are others who would approve participation in a war that resists invasion. Then there are those who call themselves pacifists who might agree to a non-combat support role in a war, but would refuse to kill an enemy soldier. Going even further than this are those who object to any violence, whether by police or military personnel. Still others might say they would agree to participate in a just war but not an unjust war. Traditional Christian thought holds that no Christian should participate in an unjust war, but it seems to me that this is something more honored in thought than practice.
As I share my thoughts, I’d love to get a dialogue going. What are your opinions and thoughts on this? Do you agree that Jesus calls us to lay down the sword?