This is the 7th (actually, the 8th) post on Christians and violence, and for better or worse, it’ll be the last. We’ve covered lots of different sub topics within the issue, including what Jesus and Paul say about violence (blog 2), how the Old Testament’s view on violence fits in with the New Testament (blog 4), and we’ve even wrestled with what to do when a killer breaks into your home and pulls a gun on your family (blog 5). For this last post, I want to do three things: 1) sum up my view, 2) sum up some of the others, and 3) point out a few areas where I’ve changed over the course of this series. (That’s why I blog, by the way. I want to sharpen my thinking, not just to show why my thinking is correct.)
So, what is my view? Again, here are the four views I listed in the first post:
View 1: Pacifism (non-resistance). Christians should not kill people, but they can join the military (or police force, etc.) as long as they serve as non-combatants (psychologist, medical doctor, etc.)
View 2: Pacifism (total non-participation). Christians should not join the military or any other institution that endorses and participates in violence.
View 3: Just War. Christians can participate in a war that is waged on a “just” basis. The seven-fold criteria for a “just” war include: (1) Just cause, (2) Just intention, (3) Last resort, (4) Formal declaration, (5) Limited objectives, (6) Proportionate means, (7) Noncombatant immunity.
View 4: Self-defense and justice. This view focuses on the individual’s encounter with evil, as opposed to his/her participation in national warfare. The view says that a Christian may use violence when defending oneself against evil (i.e. being attacked in a dark alley, etc.) or to achieve justice for someone being oppressed (i.e. executing Hitler, etc.).
In the previous posts, I defended view 1 (while allowing for view 4 in some extreme cases and with qualification; see part 5). As far as the other views go, View 2 (total non-participation) doesn’t make sense to me, since if you pay taxes, or work for a company that makes springs that go into making M-16s that go into the hands of combatants on the front lines, or if you work for a plastic company that makes water bottles, some of which are sent to our soldiers in Iraq—in other words, if you’re a citizen of America—then it’s impossible to completely divorce yourself from the military or many other societal evils. (Every bite of chocolate you take helps fund the use of slave labor in picking cocoa beans in Africa.) For this reason, I actually think that Christians can participate in the military. I only think that Christians should not serve as combatants for the reasons stated in the previous blogs. But Christians can and should, I think, serve as psychologists, doctors, and cooks in the military. Yes, you’re still part of the machine that’s waging unjust wars (see below)—but in a sense, aren’t we all? Why not serve in a capacity that can help reverse the tide of evil and show off a glimpse of the shalom that awaits us?
I’ve already considered View 4 in part 5 of this series. In some extreme cases, we may be forced to choose between killing or letting our families be killed (for example), and I’ve argued that killing the killer and thus preserving the life of your family can be considered the “higher law” since you are preserving life. But this is only as a last resort.
Now, what about the Just War theory? The problem with this view is immediately exposed when you look at their own criteria and ask the question: has there ever been a just war? Has there ever been a war that has adhered to non-combatant immunity? The answer is no, by the way. WWII, often hailed as a just war, fails by the position’s own criteria. Non-Combatant immunity was violated on a nuclear level, as America incinerated over 250,000 Japanese non-combatants at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And—we don’t often hear about this—some of these were Christians. Nagasaki had a growing Christian population, which was annihilated by Americans with a nuclear bomb, which stunted the growth of the gospel in a largely anti-Christian country. What about just intention? Would Jesus say that retaliation or a preventative strike is “just?” Or who gets to define what “just” is? (Jesus does, right?) The issue of “just” when speaking about “war” becomes very convoluted once you look into why countries go to war. Our intentions for war raise a lot of questions. Why didn’t we fight for justice when 800,000 Rwandans were being hacked to pieces with our full knowledge of what was going on?
And who are the “we,” and who are the “them?”
Think about the war in Iraq. We were the good guys taking out the bad guys, right? Well, that’s how the story goes, but the story doesn’t like to talk about the fact that Iraq also had a growing Christian population before America invaded the country. There were some 800,000 – 1.2 million Iraqi Christians during Saddam’s reign who were able to worship in relative peace, but after we invaded, Christians have been vigorously persecuted, exiled, and killed. Today, the number of Christians has radically dwindled to a(n unknown but) small number. So when we talk in terms of “us” invading “them,” which citizenship are we referring to with the pronouns?
Many of us have heard of the famous “Christmas Truce” held on Dec 24-25th, 1914, in the middle of WWI. Both sides—the Germans and the Brits—decided to break from war so that they both could observe Christmas in peace. And on Christmas eve, when temporary peace was being enjoyed, the British troops broke out in unison: “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…” only to hear an uncanny echo across “enemy” lines, “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht, Alles schläft; einsam wacht.”
Again, how are we defining “us” and “them?” The nations will always war, but war never brings shalom. Only Jesus through His Spirit-filled, peacemaking, enemy-loving church can. We cannot confuse our mission with theirs.
So, lastly, where have I changed over the course of this series?
First, I no longer like the term pacifism. I began the series using it, but I don’t like it because it’s not a distinctively Christian label. (You can be a flag burning drag queen, who hates Jesus and America, and be a pacifist—not the crowd I want to be confused with.) I’m not fond of any labels, so labels that aren’t distinctively Christian are worse! So—I’m no longer a “pacifist,” and if rumor gets out that Preston Sprinkle is a pacifist, you’ll know that the rumor starter didn’t read the entire series. I’m not sure what else to call myself. Non-violent shalomer? Too long, and too weird. Christ-follower (Jesus acted non-violently, and so do I)? Nah, too loaded and imprecise. Anyway, I’d love to hear any suggestions.
I believe that Jesus promoted and demonstrated non-violence as a means of confronting injustice. I believe that we should love our enemies and not kill them. I believe that the church as kingdom outposts should be well-known as peacemakers and not warmongers. (And if you’ve traveled or lived overseas, by the way, you know that Christians are usually known as the latter.) There may be extraordinary circumstances that allow for the use of violence (again, see part 5 of the series), but this is not the norm, this is not our posture, and this doesn’t reflect the passion behind Jesus’s ethic and practice. I believe that Jesus established a non-violent kingdom, and his followers should be known as being against violence in the same way that they are against homosexuality, fornication, and drugs.
Second, my view on Matthew 5 has been modified a bit. I still think that Matthew 5 supports Jesus’ non-violent ethic, but I think we need to pay very close attention to the details of the text before we quote it to make sweeping (and sometimes rather aggressive) claims (as I did in a couple posts). I no longer think that Jesus was correcting Moses’ liberal allowances for violence (thanks to Adam F), since Moses himself discouraged violence more often that we realize.
Third, I think we (for those who hold the same view that I do) need to be pastorally sensitive in how we discuss this issue. (If I was too insensitive throughout the series, I genuinely am sorry and didn’t intend to be so.) Many believers, who are passionate for Jesus, have fought in wars, have had kids who have fought in wars, and have lost kids in war. It’s a delicate issue. So treat it as such. This doesn’t mean that we ignore what the Bible says about violence, but it does mean that we proclaim truth in a way that shows love to our hearers. I would say the same thing, in fact, regarding issues surrounding homosexuality—we shouldn’t make stupid, non-Christians jokes about the gay community, nor should we simplify the issue, only to slam on homosexuals. 10-15% of Evangelical Christians struggle with same-sex attraction. Making unloving and degrading comments regarding these brothers and sisters could actually push them further away from Jesus. The same goes for those who have been divorced (biblically or unbiblically), those who have tearful battles with weight, eating disorders, self-perception, or even those who make a ton of money and haven’t grown up in a culture where greed, idolatrous comfort, or radical generosity has ever been addressed.
Point being: we need to be pastorally prophetic; we need to speak truth in love; we need to work hard at figuring out when to be bold and in your face, and when to walk gently with people through tough issues.
For those on both sides of the issue, my plea is that you would look not to the view itself but to the texts which are used to support each view. At the end of the day, I would love it if Christians would stop having a knee-jerk reaction against non-violence (cough, cough, “pacifism”) and would be honest with that fact—and I do think it’s a fact—that the promotion of non-violence and peace has a good deal of New Testament support. Disagree with it you may, but considering it an absurd, weird, or unbiblical view cannot be sustained.
Let’s continue the dialogue, shall we? Set aside our presuppositions, our cultural baggage (yes, we all have some) and our anger, and let’s continue to dig into the text in a healthy, cordial, Christ-exalting dialogue about His view of violence.