Recently, my youngest son punched another boy in the playground.
I was absolutely mortified. But it was worse when I was told “I’m sure your boys settle their problems with fists at home, but it’s just not done here.” It’s not done here, either! While we certainly never claim to any sort of perfection, I am very much a Christian pacifist.
This week I want to look at Christian pacifism.
Plain people are pacifists. We were most certainly attending a Plain church at the time, too.
It’s kind of in the definition, if you want to be honest.
Amish, Mennonite, Quaker, Hutterite, Brethren or other, those who commit to following a Plain lifestyle also turn away from violence.
The Salvation Army, despite the military structure and name, tends towards pacifism, although this does vary around the world. The founder of the Salvation Army stated quite plainly about war that “This cannot be the will of God” and called to all members to cry out daily against it.
Christian pacifism is the belief that any form of violence is incompatible with Christian faith. The phrase ‘turn the other cheek’ really, honestly means that if someone strikes you on one cheek, you are to offer them the other cheek to strike, without any resistance.
But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also [Mt. 5:39] – Jesus
This is sometimes tied in with Christian anarchism, the belief that Christians do not owe any allegiance or obedience to human governments.
Plain people do not tend to be anarchists, believing instead that God has placed governments and rulers over us for a reason. This sometimes creates difficult situations when Plain people are called to obey an injust government. Quakers, for example, took an active role in The Underground Railroad even though it was in direct defiance of the law.
Amish, Mennonites and Quakers, as well as Salvation Army do not typically take an active role in the military although they will often perform supporting roles as medics and other valuable non-combat aid.
Of course my children are not encouraged to “settle problems with fists”! My mother assures me that the difficult, strong-willed, fists-flying little boys turn out to be the nicest young men, but I think she’s just trying to make me feel better! I certainly have a strong-willed little boy – he wears his heart on his sleeve, is quick to fly in with fists and feet, but melts into cuddles and hugs in a moment.
One of the most common arguments against Christian pacifism is that God obviously condoned war and violence in the Old Testament.
The Bible, though, is an unfolding revelation of God, and we no longer stone adulterous women, kill disobedient children or take the people of neighbouring states as slaves.
Even within the Old Testament, there is change and growth as God guides His people out of a violent, tribal life. The message of the New Testament, the message of Jesus, which we Christians believe is the fulfillment of Scripture, is overwhelmingly one of non-violence and non-resistance.
Another argument is that Jesus told his disciples to go out and buy swords.
When people take a Bible verse out of context, it reminds me of a television show where the main character, expecting he was being broadcast over the radio, shouted “I am NOT a man who puts up with treatment like this!” He didn’t realize that he was cut off immediately after ‘man’. It changed the meaning dramatically!
Jesus had already sent his disciples out on short trips, equipping them with absolutely nothing – not even sandals. But now he tells them to arm themselves to fulfill the prophecy that he would be with criminals. And when the group of men said they had two, he said, “It is enough.” If they were arming themselves for defense, then it certainly was not enough, but if it was only to make them look, at a casual glance, like a band of brigands, then it was.
No, he was not telling them to arm themselves for battle! Over and over, he told them that living by the sword meant dying by the sword, that peacemakers would inherit heaven, that they were to turn the other cheek, and always, always, always repay hatred, hurt and abuse with God’s love.
On October 1, 2015, an armed man entered a community college in Oregon, USA. He asked each person if they were a Christian. Those who said no were shot in the leg.
Those who said yes were shot in the head.
Throughout the history of Christianity, there have been martyrs who bravely stood against violent people and chose to accept evil rather than perform it.
How many of us could stand in front of an armed murderer, having already watched another person die for their faith and say, “I am a Christian”?
To our most bitter opponents we say: ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you.’Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), “Loving your Enemies” in Strength to Love
Of course, Plain people do not have a monopoly on pacifism nor on being martyrs for their faith, but it is a defining characteristic.
Most of us will never have to face death for declaring our faith, but we do face violence – and choose our response to it – every day.
People are violent.
It is in our nature.
Listen to the way we often talk to each other.
“Oh, I could throat punch him for that!”
“Makes you want to reach through the TV and wring his neck!”
“Get over here. I’m gonna kick your butt!”
“If you do that, I’m going to kill you! Oh, I mean it!”
We laugh about it, we relish movies in which people are killed in horrific ways, we become numb to it on the evening news.
And in my home, a little boy, one raised around Mennonites and taught to be nonviolent from birth … hits another boy on the playground.
“He was on the seesaw I wanted.”
It is in our nature.
But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. – Jesus
No, at our home we do not settle our problems with our fists, nor with loud voices and insults, but we do recognize that none of us is perfect. And if I have trouble at times controlling my temper and my voice, how much more difficult is it for a little child?
Shortly after we moved to our mountain property, we had problems with a neighbour issuing threats against us over a disagreement about the property line.
We ended up going to court against him, not to take any punitive action but to get a peace bond and stop the escalating violence.
Then, last winter, the same neighbour fell on the ice, cracking his skull open, and we were the ones to call 911 and wait with him, keeping him warm and safe until they arrived.
It was a weekend of freezing rain, temperatures hovering just about freezing, and there is no doubt he would have died had I not seen him fall and had EJ not rushed immediately to check on him. Even then, the ambulance got stuck on our icy mountain road and took an hour to arrive. We brought blankets from our son’
His life was saved. Surgery, over a month in the hospital, and a great deal of recovery, and he is now able to return and enjoy his cabin in the woods at least occasionally. We rejoiced the first time we saw him back! Praise God that we had seen him.
The response from him and his family?
Last month, we found a hunting target on our shared property line with “F*** You” and EJ’s name written in large letters.
I think it is safe to say that they still hate and curse us.
If called on to save his life again … we would still do it. Of course we would, and without a moment’s hesitation. His life is no less precious and valuable because he hates us.
Love your enemies, do good to those that hate you, bless those that curse you … Sometimes it is very, very difficult, but truthfully, no one ever said this Christianity thing was going to be easy.
(Okay, people have said it, but they were Biblically wrong. Christianity is not supposed to be easy.)
Would you save your enemy’s life, knowing that they will continue to curse and hate you?