I am not a pacifist. Even in the depths of my Candler-inspired apostasy from orthodox Christianity many years ago, I never completely made the leap that thinkers like Stanley Hauerwas wanted me to make: to extend Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount against personal vengeance (“turn the other cheek”) to a complete rejection of violence in the cause of justice in the world.
Even when I was reading Hauerwas in Christian ethics class (taught by a professor who himself wasn’t a pacifist, but a proponent of “just war” theory), I thought Hauerwas’s was a cheap kind of pacifism. After all, Durham, North Carolina, isn’t exactly Rwanda!
No… Even then I thought that Hauerwas’s pacifism freeloads off a police force and a military that he doesn’t support except, presumably, through his taxes—which, by the way, are ultimately paid at gunpoint. Not that you’ll hear me complain. I’m merely pointing out that the rule of law and our systems of government and justice—far from perfect though they are—are made possible in part by the use of coercive, sometimes lethal, force. From Hauerwas’s perspective, this kind of force is never Christianly permissible because God, he says, is perfect non-coercive love.
Good thing so many heathens in our country disagree with him!
Even many years ago, I saw this inconsistency. Today, I have the Bible.
Which is why I can’t go along with Christian blogger Zack Hunt when he argues that the cross of Christ means that we as a nation shouldn’t use force to stop ISIS terrorists from continuing to do what they did last weekend—beheading 21 Egyptian Christians because they were Christians—and have done with too little resistance across Iraq and Syria: murder indigenous Christian and other minority religious populations.
No matter how righteous our cause may be, as Christians the cross remains in front of us a stumbling block on the path to vengeance. Which, I think, is why so many of us in the Church are so willing to go out of our way to justify our dismissal of the cross as a way of life. Killing our enemies is just easier. It’s quicker and more satisfying than finding a non-violent solution. And it doesn’t require the struggle that comes along with loving and forgiving people that want us dead.
Why is military intervention necessarily a “path to vengeance” rather than a path to justice and, yes, love? Is it not loving to intervene, even with violence, to prevent violent men from murdering unarmed civilians when we have the power to do so? If we would support a similar police action within the borders of our state or municipality, by what logic would we oppose it outside of our borders? Because we don’t love non-Americans as much? That hardly seems Christian, either.
If you want to argue that intervening militarily is wrong because it would only lead to more violence and bloodshed, that’s fine… But it’s also a pragmatic and utilitarian consideration. No one ought to support Christian pacifism because it works! We’re talking principles here: we don’t resort to violence because, Christian pacifists say, the cross of Christ proves it’s wrong, not because it doesn’t work.
That’s what Hauerwas would say, and I’m sure Hunt would agree. Except, surely he’s being inconsistent when he says this: “Killing our enemies is just easier. It’s quicker and more satisfying than finding a non-violent solution.”
So there is a non-violent solution, he says, it’s just a matter of working harder to find one? We resort to violence out of laziness—because it’s “easier”? In other words, he says we should be pacifists because pacifism works. “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” In meantime, how many people will die?
Besides, who is he to say that “killing our enemies” is easier? Our troops put their lives on the line—indeed, sacrifice their lives—in order to save the lives of the weak and innocent. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Hunt speaks of vengeance, but why would that necessarily be our motivation to intervene militarily? I would be happy for our troops to swoop in and arrest all the terrorists without firing a single shot so long as it stopped their campaign of murder. But I’m pretty sure that ISIS wouldn’t “come out with their hands up.”
Hunt writes: “Paul, of course, famously echoed Jesus’ call to the cruciform life, declaring in Philippians 2 that as his followers, our lives should be like that of Christ who emptied himself, took on the form of a slave, humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”
This same Paul wrote, in Romans 13, that God’s duly appointed ruler “does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.“
The point is, both Jesus and Paul speak against personal vengeance, not against a nation’s justifiable use of violent force. Indeed, as Paul says, such violence accomplishes God’s will.
As for God’s use of violence, see, for instance, this post. God’s love often is coercive, as it will be, especially, in final judgment.