Saturday, October 07, 2006

Lessons from the Amish-- the Power of Pacifism

Marian Fisher was only thirteen. She had a lot to live for, and probably many years yet to live. Yesterday she was buried in a cold steady rain in a little farm graveyard near Georgetown Pennsylvania. When Marian went to her little Amish school last Monday morning she had no idea what she would face, certainly not that her faith in her Christian principles would be tested to the max earlier this past week. After all, she was thirteen, and like most Amish girls her age was wrapped up in farm life, and perhaps beginning to think about the period of time when she would be allowed to 'experiment'. During the teen years the Amish allow their children to go out and experience the world for a few years, date, go to movies, and the like, so they can make up their mind whether they want to continue to faithfully live the Amish life or be like the 'Englishmen' as they are sometimes called--- the outsiders. I should know. I lived in the middle of the Amish for eleven years and watched their witness. It puts most other Christians in the region to shame.

Picture a small one room Amish school house. Picture Emma Mae Zook, only twenty, and yet already for three years the school teacher of these children. She ran from the school house to alert the police, while her fifteen or so boy students were escaping or being allowed to go. Ten girls remained, between 6 and thirteen, and Marian Fisher last Monday stood up first to a crazed and tormented man named Carl Roberts a 32 year old milk man who shot the girls and then turned the gun on himself.

Marian sister, Barbie who was wounded, reported what happened next. The girls asked 'Why are you doing this?' Carl Roberts replied 'I am angry with God'. Angry that God had not stopped him from molesting some children in his past. But as it turns out, he was delusional. He had not molested those children. Was he driven mad by pornographic images of young girls? Did he imagine himself at the scene having sex with such girls but never managed to do it? One thing for sure. He was sane enough to realize that a school full of Amish young children was a vulnerable place, and he was a predator. His plan apparently was to have sex with some of those school girls and then kill. But Marian Fisher intervened.

She said to Carl Roberts in somewhat broken English "Shoot me, and leave the other one's loose." She knew the Amish way. She knew Jesus' way. She was prepared to die for the others. And some of them are still clinging to life and it appears some will survive. Roberts of course escaped human accountability by killing himself as police stormed the building hearing shots, but there is a God in heaven who is not deaf to the cries of the saints and martyrs.

But that is not all of the story coming out of Nickel Mines Pennsylvania. Carl Roberts had a wife and three kids who live right there on the edge of the community. Marie Roberts, the wife has been embraced by many of the Amish. They have invited her to please stay, in fact to come and mourn together, because the Bible says we should mourn with those who mourn. She has been told that everyone is forgiven by the Amish, even Carl Roberts who did this hideous thing.

This friends is real Christianity. Christians do not retaliate. They do not seek revenge, for the Bible says that vengeance should be left in the hands of the Lord. In fact they do quite the opposite. They offer forgiveness even to their tormentors. They seek peace at the least and reconciliation at the most with those who revile them, harm them, kill them. And there is another side to this as well. Richard Gelles is an expert on violence and children. He says that psychologically the practice of forgiveness will help the Amish themselves heal far faster than others would. Forgiveness also heals the forgiver.

Somewhere out there, there is someone who is muttering about meekness being weakness. There is someone out there suggesting that violence is the way to answer and silence senseless violence. There is someone simply ignoring the words of Jesus that those who live by the sword die by the sword.

But it isn't Marian Fisher. She passed the test of her Christ-like faith. She was braver than a hundred men with guns in their hands. She gave the last full measure of her devotion to God by giving up her life for others, and some of them appear likely to survive this tragedy. In fact, if we really knew the heart of Jesus, we would know that he himself died a little once again last Monday when those girls were killed. It was Jesus who said "inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me". It was Jesus who confronted Saul on Damascus Road, Jesus who was dwelling securely in heaven, and asked Saul "Why are you persecuting me?" There is a deep, spiritual connection between Jesus and his people, like a head attached to a body, such that what happens to us, in some mysterious way, happens to him, though he be in heaven. I do not understand it, but I know this is true for he said so.

So I stand with the Amish and I stand with Jesus. Not all the armies who ever marched have had the power or effect on history of that one single and solitary life, the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, on all of humankind going on now for over 2,000 years.

Long ago Jesus said to me and to us all "take up your cross, and follow me". The Amish understand that that is an invitation to lay down your weapons and be prepared to die rather than fight for what you believe. They understand that love and forgiveness are stronger forces than death and destruction. They understand that forgiveness breaks the hideous cycle of violence. That's what a real Christian life can and will do. And yes friends, it takes a lot of courage to stick by these principles in the age and culture and world we live in. Make no mistake. Revenge and retaliation come natural to fallen human beings. Forgiveness however comes from God. It is surpernatural and it transforms both the forgiver and the forgiven.

Some years ago, Mother Teresa was crossing the Allenby Bridge into the Holy Land from Jordan. She was stopped of course by Israeli border guards, who troubled to search this diminuitive little nun. They asked her "have you any weapons?" --a ridiculous thing to ask a nun.

"Oh yes" she said boldly. "I have my prayerbooks." And she held them up. The Amish have said this week that they have felt uplifted by the prayers of millions who have been told about this story. Prayer--- now there's a dangerous weapon that can change the landscape of the world.

This story about Marian Fisher will stay with me for a long time. I hope that if it comes to that, I someday will have the courage she did to confront the violence and absorb it by giving a life. I hope I will continue to 'stick to my guns' which are my prayers and continue to forgive those who would do me and mine harm in any form.

This I know for sure. This world is run by a God who answers prayer, not by a God who calls us to other sorts of arms. This world is run by a God who died for me on the cross and shouted out with his dying breath about those who were tormenting and killing him "Father forgive them, they know not what they do." If we could only see with Jesus' eyes, we would know that suffering love and forgiveness is what saves and heals the world. The Amish know that. And they have borne witness to us all this week. May the memory of Marian Fisher be seared into our hearts for a long time to come. It is a portrait of our Lord.

66 comments:

Keith said...

Great post, thanks so much!

Ted Gossard said...

Thanks so much for sharing that, Ben.

Robin Dugall said...

the last couple of days, your posts have been powerful...I was moved by that story! You are right, that is what Christianity is!

Wayne Leman said...

Ben, not only would our personal and group relations be better if we followed Jesus' teachings, as you have so truthfully posted, but relationships between countries would be better as well. I hope that all of the world is gaining a lesson from the Amish of Lancaster County.

Dave said...

What a powerful story. Thank you for sharing that with us. May it be an inspiration for us.

Matt said...

Dear Dr. Witherington,

Thanks for your reflections on the recent tragedy in PA. I am truly astounded at the depth of maturity in her faith shown by Marian Fisher, and Christ-like attitude of the Amish community over in Nickel Mines as a whole. What a wonderful witness of Christ's power in their lives.

It does bring to mind a tragedy which took place in India several years ago. Graham Staines, an Australian missionary who had worked among tribals in Orissa for over three decades, was burned to death in his vehicle along with his two sons, by an angry mob of Hindu fanatics. Yet his wife, Gladys, chose to forgive them, and continued her husband's work.

"Deeply ingrained in Gladys Staines are the teachings of the Bible. Even after the brutal murder of her missionary husband, Graham Staines, and their two sons, in Orissa, India, she forgives all to start life afresh

It wasn't something I had thought about. But when I heard that the family was dead, I told Esther, my daughter: "We'll forgive those who killed them, won't we?" And she said: "Yes, Mummy, we will."

Two weeks later someone approached me at her school and said: "I can't understand how you can forgive." My daughter later told me: "Mummy, I can't understand how they can't understand why we have forgiven." That was when I understood how deeply the teachings of Christ had penetrated within my daughter.

Forgiveness brings healing. It allows the other person a chance to start life afresh. If I have something against you and I forgive you, the bitterness leaves me. It also allows you to accept the forgiveness and move on. Forgiveness liberates both the forgiver and the forgiven.

How was I able to forgive? The truth is that I myself am a sinner. I needed Jesus Christ to forgive me. Because I have forgiveness in my own life, it is possible for me to forgive others. I had also read much about the power of forgiveness. For instance, the Church in China had been much persecuted during the earlier regimes and many had suffered terribly. Even so, many had publicly proclaimed their forgiveness of their tormentors, and this fact had inspired many more to become Christians.

The Bible teaches you to forgive. Jesus Christ set the example. When crucified and suffering, he asked God to forgive those who had killed him for they "know not what they do".

I have forgiven those who killed my family, but I still have to heal fully. I still have to go through the grieving process for the people whom I loved who are not here. I feel their absence deeply. And it has affected my sense of physical well-being. There is no anger but there is a deep sadness."

Peace,

Matt

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Ben,

My comment is kind of long so I posted it elsewhere

Skinheads for Jesus.

David Johnson said...

This is what trusting in the Lord our God--instead of in chariots and horses and tanks and machine guns--looks like. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."

Ben Witherington said...

Thanks for the link Stirling, I have read your post, and my answer is no. You don't have to become a skinhead to administer the grace of God to them. There is a difference between an empathetic approach and 'identifying' with them.
Blessings,

Ben

Jamie said...

For those of you that don't know, the Amish do not carry insurance and this tragedy has affected them financially as well. To help with the financial needs of the medical care regarding this incident as well as travel costs, etc. contact Scott Sundberg, director of communications for MDS, at (717) 859-2210, (717) 917-8827 or ssundberg@mds.mennonite.net, or contact Larry Guengerich, media/education coordinator for MCC, at (717) 333-2826 or lrg@mcc.org. Tax deductible donations can be made online at mds.mennonite.net or mcc.org. You can find more information here.

Ben Witherington said...

Thanks so much for this info Jamie-- it is a very worthwhile cause to support these people.

Blessings,

Ben W.

Alex said...

Fantastic article. All the theological writing and historical Jesus research will never come as close to understaning his message as this little child did.

ClydeG said...

"She was braver than a hundred men with guns in their hands."

Well said my friend.

Clyde G

Dave said...

That sounds lovely, and it has its applications, but such principles cannot be universalized. The pacifism and instant forgiveness of the Amish is not a model for the state, which must at times pursue justice in the form of retribution. It's not even something that works very well for the Amish themselves. I cannot help but think that if those poor kids, as well as others who have been murdered in schools by maniacs, had been protected in some way by an armed guard, this may not have happened.

Seeing the Amish so willing to reach out to the family of the man who murdered some of their own children is indeed touching and impressive, but these sentiments die away when I think of the fact that these same people would not and will not bear arms to defend innocent lives. They would not do it during World War II. They would not have done it when these students were being threatened. There is virtue in being willing to die for one's principles, but when those principles force you to let others die, the principles are vicious, not virtuous.

I hope that our society learns something about compassion from the Amish, but may their message of pacifism fall on deaf ears.

Ben Witherington said...

Dave:

Yours is certainly a different point of view. But I am wondering, since we live in a diverse culture whether you could not see that there is both a need and a place for the voice of the Amish in the American choir. Frankly innocent lives are normally destroyed more than combatants in war. By not participating in war we are indeed defending innocent lives. Take the Iraq situation-- the ratio of non-combatants to combatants dying in Iraq is 10 to one. This was not the case before our invasion of that country. There are in fact lots of ways to defend innocent lives other than killing people. One way is substitution, or the use of human shields. The Amish are quite ready to take a bullet so someone else will not have to by stepping into harm's way. There just not going to kill anyone doing it.

My point is this. We desperately need the voice of peacemakers in the choir of our country. They are in any case drowned out by other voices, so you need not worry too much. There's no danger of most Christians becoming like the Amish. They don't really believe in the teaching of Jesus that strongly, unlike the Amish.

We need to hear, again and again the voice of diplomacy and peace, for war, on any showing ought to be a very last resort. Why? Because as General Mark Clark said in WWII--- "War is Hell". It is the destruction of societies, and it is deleterious to the morals not only of its victims or the vanquished but also of those who practice it, even if they happen to be on the more just side of the argument.

Blessings,

Ben Witherington

jacksons said...

Ben, your exhortation seems to fall rather into the unfortunate path of a sort of reductionism or over simplification. I have no doubt that Jesus offered us a paradigm in the sermon of the mount – but is pacifism always the Christian way? What would you have done Ben, if you were there, and had the ability to stop this man with force – would you have just let him do what he did? I know in this case the question is hypothetical and you could answer me that, that’s not how God decreed it to happen (it happened as it did, after all) but there have been historical cases where righteous men, choose to use force to stop evil – believing it was their duty from God, and any sane person analyzing the scenario would agree that their fight was for the good and true. Is God playing a game with us, to lie down and let evil walk over others. I can as a Christian, let evil walk over me (and I have literally turned the other cheek) but, when it walks over an innocent helpless girl? You know, a funny thing happened in history, I heard from an anecdote that Ghandi advised England to use pacifism against Hitler, to let him take what he wanted and then to reason with him – imagine that. Ghandi’s pacifism worked with the British, because like game theory, they were playing by the same rules – but against Hitler?

There is a time for pacifism and a time for righteous, quick and accurate apprehension of evil with what force necessary so that we can retain the basic moral sphere that makes life livable on God’s earth.

jacksons said...

Ben, sorry, I just read your reply to Dave and I think I now get where your coming from. Sorry, I should have read the comments as well.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Jacksons:

My point is that if you are a Christian, and even if you are not a pacifist, a bare minimalist adherence to the teaching of Jesus makes perfectly clear that those who live by the sword die by the sword. This being so, violence, particularly the use of deadly force for any Christian should be an absolute last resort. And before it is taken, if there is time and opportunity all other options should be exhausted.

Had I been there on that day, I would have done the following things (I hope); 1) I would have gotten in the man's way and would not have left the room as many did. 2) I would have screamed bloody murder and told the girls to run for their lives. Its much harder to hit a moving target, and he can't hit them all at once any way. Remember he wanted sex first. 4) a pacifist is not passive, nor does he think there is no place for the use of some force short of deadly force that does no irrevocable harm to a human life (cf. Jesus in the temple)

I have no problems with tackling the man and trying to subdue him. But if I kill him in cold blood I am no better than many another murderer. Perhaps you have forgotten that the ten commandments do in fact say 'no murder'. I take it that Moses was deadly serious about that (pardon the pun).

As the Amish say, if you return violence with violence, murder with murder, you become exactly what you hate instead of what you admire.

Blessings,

Ben

David Johnson said...

I had no idea, Ben, of your apparent commitment never to take your enemy's life into your own hands.

Craig Moore said...

Constrast the attitude and response of the Amish to the Islamic fanatics who riot, burn down churches and murder innocent people because of what the Pope said or a cartoon about Muhammed

José Solano said...

As a Mennonite I am thoroughly in the Amish theological camp. As you may know the Amish are an offshoot of the Mennonites. Your statement, "There's no danger of most Christians becoming like the Amish. They don't really believe in the teaching of Jesus that strongly. . . ," cuts to the chase of the problem.

I was deeply moved by a statement I think one of the mother's of the slain children said: "All I know is that God allowed this to happen." This for me is such a powerful confession of faith and of understanding that it causes me to gasp, to choke up. My mind is numbed in pondering it.

I open to the Book of Job who can best grasp this personal catastrophe. I turn to Ch. 1 v 8 in God's dialogue with Satan and read with minor alteration:

"Have you considered my servants the Amish, that there is none like them on the earth, a blameless and upright people who fear God and shun evil?"

And Satan answers (v. 10-11): "'Oh sure. Have You not made a hedge around them, around their household, and around all that they have on every side? You have blessed the work of their hands, and their possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch our Your hand and touch all that they have, and they will curse You to Your face.' So the Lord said to Satan, 'Behold, all that they have is in your power; . . .'"

You know how the story goes. Calamity befalls their daughters. In v. 21 they respond "'Naked we came from our mother's womb, and naked shall we return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.' In all this they did not sin nor charge God with wrong.'"

Amen.

The peace of Christ be with you.

José Solano

Ben Witherington said...

If we really want to show why Christianity is a superior religion to Islam, then it needs to have to do with the issue of the death of Christ, love and forgiveness. It is of course the doctrine and work of Christ which distinguishes Christianity from Judaism and Islam chiefly.

But if our behavior is in no way different from that of other monotheists, how then are we exhibiting the character or mind of Christ? This is the ethical question every Christian must answer for themselves.

It is not enough to ask-- if they look at me will they see a devout believer in one God, an honest person, someone who loves their family and so on. None of this is sufficient and it in no way distinguishes us from devout Jews or Moslems. The question is-- do we model the mind, teachings, lifestyle and character of Christ, as well as his life trajectory in that he said "take up your cross and follow me"?

This is the question we all must wrestle with. Different Christians will answer it differently. But if there is nothing distinctively Christian about one's behavior then the old canard applies-- if you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence for a conviction? There is hardly anything more devastating to a Christian witness than a talk which is orthodox, but a walk which doesn't even vaguely resemble Jesus.

Blessings,

Ben W.

Ben Witherington said...

Jose:

Thank so much for sharing. The analogy with Job's family is powerful and I will remember it.

Blessings,

Ben

Shawna Renee said...

Ben, your article is wonderful. I have been in awe of the love and grace I've seen from the Amish this week. I know I have seen Christ in action. I've linked to your article. Thank you.

Shawna Renee

José Solano said...

For the earth centered pragmatists we have a most significant effort for peace from Archbishop Celestino Migliorie, the Holy See's permanent envoy to the United Nations. Go to www.zenit.org/english/ "Holy See Address at the U.N. on Disarmament."

Shea said...

Ben,

I totally agree that we should stop settling for less than what Christ has by pursuing a route of violence. Peace is the only way of the Kingdom. But I was just wandering what you would say the reason for God permitting and even ordering violence in the OT. This is really bothering me and I have not gotten a satisfactory answer yet from any one. Different Dispensations just doesn't do it for me, it sounds to much like open theism to me. God is always the same. So what would you say?

Michael Martin said...

Mr. Witherington,

Thank you for the thought provoking post. I have a question: If we are to forgive as we have been forgiven, how can we forgive someone who is not seeking forgiveness? It would seem that there is a biblical distinction between offering forgiveness, and giving it.
The Amish cannot forgive a dead man for something he is suffering eternal damnation for. I think that offering a relationship with this evil man’s family displays the power of our true religion, but it is not forgiveness because they have done nothing to warrant vengeance. The widow and her sons are victims of this man’s evil too.

Christ asked the Father to forgive his tormentors from the cross, but on his way to the cross he warned them of the coming judgment for their sin, and it did come. We are to offer forgiveness and peace to our enemies, but they must repent for us to actually forgive them. God does not forgive us if we do not repent, but he is patient and long suffering with his offer of love. We must be patient and long suffering with our enemies, but how can there be a true giving of forgiveness without the acknowledgment and repentance of the wrong committed. If God holds them accountable, how can we not?

Shea said...

Repentence on the part of the wrongdoer is never a precondition to us forgiving another.

Ben Witherington said...

Shea and Michael:

Thanks for your posts. In regard to the OT my answer is this-- first you might want to look at Peter Craigie's little book on War in the OT. Secondly, Jesus said that the old covenant rules about divorce were given due to the hardeness of human hearts. In other words it is not about God being different under the two covenants, it is about us being in a different condition. God requires more under grace than he did under law because we now have both Christ and the transforming power of the Spirit.In other words-- the new covenant rules are what God wanted from the beginning, but God knew that the patriarchs and fallen people couldn't handle the pre-fallen will. For example, the law of the tooth "an eye for an eye... etc.' was an attempt to limit revenge, limit retaliation, not license it, since God knew that we would do that sort of stuff anyway. If you want to see what was closer to God's heart, and not just an attempt to limit the effects of the fall see the 'no murder' clause in the Big Ten.

Now as for the forgiveness question I quite agree that forgiveness offered is not the same as forgiveness received, but it the obligation of the Christian to offer it, and not just to those who have repented. Notice that Jesus asked God to forgive the tormentors and they were doing the opposite of repenting at the time. So you are wrong--- Jesus actually forgave them. Whether they received it or not does not change that he forgave them--- period. Their reception of that forgiveness is a separate matter. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the unrighteous....." That friends is already forgiveness enacted, not merely offered.

Blessings,

Ben W.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Shea and Michael: A few quick points: 1) check out Peter Craigie's little book on War in the OT; 2) Jesus said the Mosaic divorce laws were due to the hardness of our hearts. There were plenty of other OT rules like that as well. God requires more under grace than he does under law, and his perfect will is more perfectly revealed in Christ. It is not a question of God changing-- the issue is that we are different now in Christ, empowered by the Spirit. 3) Forgiving someone is not just a matter of offering forgiveness and then waiting for them to repent. No, we must forgive them and be done with the matter. As you noted Jesus forgave them from the cross whether or not they responded. Now whether they got the benefit of that, does depend on their response, but that in no way changes the fact that Jesus has already forgiven them. It is not conditional on repentance. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly...."

Blessings,

Ben W.

Michael Lynn said...

Dr. Witherington,

Surely there is more to say here, that is Christian, than has been said. And some of the implications of previous posts are truly disturbing:

-Given the postings on this issue, is it a sin for a Christian to be in the military? (That's the easy one to say yes to.)

-Are my friends in the military chaplaincy living in sin by having their ministry?

-Can a Christian, in good conscience, serve as a police officer? A police chaplain?

-Can a Christian dial 911 when witnessing a crime, given the fact the the officers responding will bring deadly force with them? And, being human, might make a mistake in its use, even allowing an errant shot to hit a bystander? Or, what if the use of a Tazer or pepper spray interacts with a perpetrator's unknown health condition and causes death?

I agree completely that we need the witness of the Amish. But we only have the opportunity to share such thoughts in relative safety because brave men and women drive the patrol cars, carry varieties of force--deadly and lesser--and come when we call 911.

Either we tell the police officers in our churches to leave their lives of sin or we adjust the thinking represented in the majority of these posts. If that does not happen, I hope that others of a different opinion are around if I am assaulted by an armed attacker and need help in a hurry.

If I have been unnecessarilly harsh in my engagment of this issue, I hope that others are able to sift the wheat from the chaff, forgive me, and consider the relevant issues I raise.

Thank you.

ML

Shea said...

ML,
Romans 13 does talk about the government restraining evil "he does not wield the sword in vain." I don't have an answer but I would suggest that we not see what Ben is saying as a call for total pacifism in the sense of no restraint of evil. But also remember what the chapter before in Romans 12 says about how we should treat our enemy! Governments are in place now but only until the Kingdom of God comes fully "on earth as it is in heaven." We are here as ministers and ambassadors of Christ to the creation and through the Spirit!

Gordon Brown said...

Dear Dr. Witherington,

thank you for your message, one of hope brought to us from the actions of 13 year old girl who understood her faith much better than I do mine. Despite living in Northern Ireland I am part of a small but growing number of those who would advocate non-violence.

I do not wish to use the death of these children as a point of theological debate, but, perhaps of where I live, I wonder how much of this message will be remembered? To paraphrase lines from the film Hotel Rwanda, how many people watched television as news of the events became clearer, perhaps felt a pang of sympathy, and then went back to their dinner? After the Enniskillen bombing, words of genuine forgivenness were given by a man who lost his daughter, Gordon Wilson. He was criticised by his own people for forgiving terrorists.

Yet it remains a witness to hope. It is a powerful testimony to a Christian community that a 13 year old girl displayed actions more genuinely Christ-like than even our own Protestant saint, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is like she took the words he wrote in the Cost of Discipleship, and just simply lived them out.

"The only way to overcome evil is to let it run itself to a standstill because it does not find what it is looking for."

Bill Barnwell said...

To Michael Lynn and others, I hardly think the problem throughout Christian history is Christians using too little of force, rather the opposite has been true on a whole if we take all of church history and measure it up against the teachings of the New Testament. And I think a lot of your questions were answered in an earlier post of Dr. Witherington's where he refers to proportional force short of deadly force. Even when deadly force is necessary that should be seen as the lesser of two evils, or at least an exceptional condition that is not the starting point for forming our ethical principles.

As far as military chaplains go, I'm sure there's many of them who are doing some great things but the issue has its problems. Chaplains have been able to get away with being overtly Christocentric for a long time but there are many who are trying to change that and clamp down on the religious expression of chaplains to make them conform to a more non-denominational, non-sectarian framework since they are employees of the federal government. In a growing pluaralistic society this is what you are going to run into. This same dillema has to be faced by those screaming for school prayer. What good is school prayer if it is led in some feel-good Oprah fashion that may not even be able to be explicitly Christocentric? Or even as a Protestant, I surely wouldn't want my kids praying to the Blessed Virgin or what have you. When you become an employee of the State, it carries certain strings. Churches getting tax exempt status has its own benefits and problems too.

In any event, if a Christian wants to serve in the military, that's fine. But Christians who feel morally compromised by the prospect of serving because of their theological convictions should not be criticized. I like the idea of "national defense" but I'm not as keen on the idea of playing Globocop which lately has been more destabalizing at home and abroad, at least in the short term. Also, if a Christian were serving and felt morally compromised he is not allowed to quit of course, because then he is charged with the federal crime of going AWOL aka desertion. In the private sector, we call this "quitting your job."

José Solano said...

The teaching of Jesus Christ is extremely difficult to live up to. Our faith is generally very weak and our immersion in the "world," in the flesh, is very great. But, we want to feel good about ourselves so we find all sorts of rationales to circumvent the very explicit teaching of Jesus. Just contemplate what Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount and see how quickly we generate all sorts of alibis for why we need not do what he clearly calls for. We are fully focused on the temporal rather than the eternal. But Jesus communicates from the eternal and calls us to trust Him and open ourselves to the eternal, to free ourselves from the power of the flesh and the fleeting.

We believe in Jesus, we do well. We do best by not making excuses for our failures and weaknesses. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." But we prefer to justify our sins rather than confess them.

So, it's not Jesus' sermon that we should be watering down. It's our propensity to sin, our amazingly weak will and weak faith that we should recognize and confess when we fail to answer His call. Jesus is not some foolish idealistic dreamer. He's the Son of God.

Dave said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dave said...

Dear Ben,

I don't know how different my point of view is. I've heard Dennis Prager articulate the same view. I think that most people who share my views on things like war and self-defense would probably come to the same conclusions if they thought about them enough.

As an agnostic who has difficulty making up his mind on lots of things, I appreciate the existence of the great variety of viewpoints in this country on every conceivable issue. There's value in both Christian and non-Christian views in religion, liberal and conservative views in politics, and so on. There's even value in wild fringe conspiracy theories about 9/11 or the moon landing. There is value in any point of view if it forces us to think outside the box and keeps our minds from getting stuck in a rut. However, I don't think there's much value to many of these views beyond this. The conspiracy nuts who deny that we landed on the moon may sharpen our wits and keep us from getting intellectually lazy, but their views contribute nothing to the culture.

I'm afraid that the Amish view of violence, the pacifist view of violence, isn't much better. Indeed, it keeps some of us from seeing the clear difference between those who deliberately attack civilians and those who may accidentally kill civilians in order to protect them. It forces some of us to treat all lives, both the lives of murderers and the lives, as moral equals. Hence you resort to numbers which blur these distinctions.

I can respect your point of view, but I find it very hard to take seriously the notion that non-participation in war is a way to defend innocent human life. One can only come to such a conclusion by a rhetorical sleight of hand in which the meaning of "defend" becomes so twisted that it means its very opposite. Someone who refuses to go to war is not saving any lives. He is simply refusing to take actions which he fears may inadvertently take innocent lives. Sadly, in doing so he is helping to ensure that innocent lives will be killed and murderers will go unpunished. The same is true of acting as a human shield. It won't stop the killing. It will only force the murderers to use more bullets. To "defend" a life in this way is like trying to chop down an oak tree with a butter knife. We know what's truly effective in war and what isn't. Standing in front of a bullet isn't. Firing one back is.

Standing for life and justice, tragically, involves risks and calculation. We cannot guarantee that good actions will always bring about perfectly good results. If I use deadly force against someone enters my house and threatens to rape and kill a loved one, I may succeed in protecting my family, and I may, accidentally harm the very loved one whose life I wished to protect. How sad and ironic that would be. But if I didn't do it, then my loved one would definitely be raped and killed, and that would be much worse, both for my family, for me, for society, and even for the criminal.

I do not wish to minimize the great tragedy involved in civilian casualties. We take steps to avoid them as much as we can. However, the alternative is to allow evil men to have their way. That's worse.

Biblically speaking, you're the expert and I'm not, so I hesitate to get into an argument with you. However, it seems to me that for any Christian who listens to the witness of the whole of the bible, both old and new testament, as the word of God, then pacifism simply is not consistent with its teachings. In the old testament the death penalty is sanctioned by God (Genesis 9:5-6, Exodus 21:12-32) for a variety of offenses, murder included. War itself is commanded by God as his method of cleansing the promised land and securing it for his chosen people. Indeed, someone who kills a thief who is breaking into his own home is not considered guilty of murder if it is done before sunrise (Exodus 22:2-3). In the new testament Paul himself said that the government does not bear the sword in vain (Romans 13:4).

Some pacifist Christians may try to come up with all sorts of reasons, theological and exegetical, for why these principles don't apply in the way that the greater majority of Christians have always thought they did. However, the majority of Christians who have taken seriously the teaching that all scripture is inspired by God and is useful for doctrine and practice (paraphrasing II Timothy 3:16) realize that these positions entail ignoring large portions of the whole old testament. And when you consider the fact that there is little textual reason to think that Jesus' teaching on turning the other cheek, the meaning of which is far from clear, was applicable to government as well as to individuals, it becomes clear that the bible really isn't much of a pacifist document.

Regards,

Dave

Matt said...

Perhaps worth noting in connection with the whole discussion on the legitimacy of either the use of force by governments for law enforcement or retribution as well as Christian employment as soldiers, police officers, etc (vis-a-vis an understanding of an obligation to complete pacifism) is John the Baptizer's response to soldiers who asked what they should do in repentant response to the coming King/Kingdom: "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely--be content with your pay." Nothing about changing professions from what I can see. Perhaps this is also where an already-mentioned reference to Romans 13 fits in, too. I wonder if there is a distinction between individual action (defending myself) from national action or even action on behalf of others (e.g., the aforementioned example about protecting one's family members). And yet, Marian Fisher sought both to protect others and to uphold the principle of peace.

I agree that violent force, even on a national level, should be seen as a final resort, though not to the point where we begin to resemble those who carried umbrellas and boasted emptily about "peace in our time", mortally endangering the entire world in the process. As is the case in many such things, this is an issue with no easy answer.

Matt

Bill Barnwell said...

I'd say there's a pretty huge difference to using force to restrain a home intruder and soley the home intruder and the destructive practices of modern warfare that kill thousands upon thousands of innocents. Today we call them "collatoral damage." And the modern Christian approach to Romans 13 has been most interesting. When Clinton led the charge to go into Serbia in 99', and when he earlier launched attacks in July of 98' against suspected terrorist targets, conservatives for the most part went nuts in protest (not all did, some supported it, but most did not). Back then it was OK to oppose the war but the support the troops. Back then you didn't have Romans 13 thrown in your face when you "questioned your Commander-In-Chief during a time of war." Back then you weren't rebellion against God's annointed authority on earth for questioning the President's use of force.

Fast forward a few years later. Now it was a Republican dropping the bombs. Not only that, he had said some nice things in public about Jesus, and more aggressively courted conservative Evangelicals. Suddenly, the rules completely changed. Now you hated your country, the troops, cute small puppies, etc, if you spoke against against the President's use of force. Now you were violating Romans 13 and were in sin. This is a cariacture to some degree but there are many Evangelical and Fundamentalist rightists who have displayed basically this type of logic.

Romans 13 was not a blanket pardon for everything the emperor and authorities would do, including their use of force or violence (the provision was not intended to sanction aggression or unneeded violence). Romans 13 should be balanced with the later and more negative views of human government in Revelation. Neither should be read in isolation or we wind up with attitudes similar to the Jehovah's Witnesses on one hand who consider all human government "worldy" or wicked or those on the other extreme who would basically sanction someone like Stalin's crimes since he was in a position of government power.

Romans 13 isn't a simple answer to the Christian's view of war, violence or vengeance.

Shea said...

I never said that Romans 13 justifies violence all I mean is that we can't just ignore some passages and be total Pasifist and we also can't go to the other end and hold to Just Violence. I think that Walter Wink is getting somewhere when he says that there is a third way that Jesus teaches.
And yes I agree that we should look at all of scripture together, not in isolation. I just don't think that it is needed to give a full exposition of everything that the bible has to say about war and peace. I was just trying to give something to think about.

Shea said...

But I do agree with your points. Thanks for the insight Brother!

Matt said...

I certainly wasn't bringing in Romans 13:4 and Luke 3:14 as some sort of blank check for military action of any sort. My point was that pure pacifism may not be the only legitimately Christian way, particularly on a national level. These passages aren't meant to be a simple answer to an issue which, in my opinion, has no simple answer. And while I would concur that Romans 13 has at times been used inappropriately as a "stick" to beat whoever the political opposition is, it nonetheless represents something which must be included in the mix in order for us to attempt to grasp the fullness of what God would say to us.

Peace,

Matt

Ben Witherington said...

Thank you so much for keeping this thoughtful discussion going. You will not be surprised to hear that I agree with various points made by Bill and Jose, but Dave you have raised a number of good points. I must tell you, you are quite wrong about what you are saying when it comes to the necessity of deadly force to effect positive change in the world. Two examples will suffice. Lets take Ghandi in India. Why did the British finally leave? The answer is simple as Ghandi said (I am paraphrasing from memory here) to the chief commander of the military there-- "there are 250,000 of you and millions of us, and we have come to the point where we are not going to cooperate with your rule any more. You can continue to bully us, jail us, shoot us and the like, but you will not accomplish your aims." The end result of such massive non cooperation was that the British left. There was no American style Revolution. And Ghandi's forces basically practiced non-violence. We could equally well point to how Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement dramatically changed the law and practice of our land when it comes to equality-- without firing a single bullet. So yes Dave I am saying pacificism is a viable and powerful force for change in the world. I am saying it can work if enough people do it. I am saying that every single person is created in God's image and is of sacred worth.

And I am also saying that Rom. 13 does indeed say that a secular government has a right to collect taxes, and indeed to use some force, though that passage certainly provides no warrant for the use of massive force ,like bombs. I am also saying Christians are not in any way called to be part of a secular military--- we have another job in society, we are the peace party.

Blessings,

Ben W.

Dave said...

Ben,

You'll get no argument from me about non-violent methods for effecting social change. Not only are they to be preferred over violent ones, but in situations like the two which you described, they alone may be acceptable. That's because what British India and pre-civil rights America were very different from Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and Taliban Afghanistan.

It's true that Romans 13 mentions the sword and not the bomb, but I take it that the reference to the sword is symbolic of force in general and not necessarily meant to imply that this weapon alone was acceptable. Indeed, even in those times, weapons of "mass destruction" which were capable of inflicting collateral damage existed in the form legions of archers, ballistae and catapults.

That aside, once one grants in principle that the government has the right to use the sword on some occasions, I think one has relinquished the heart of pacifism. The debate then switches to questions of when to use force and how much force to use.

Finally, as for Christian participation in the military, if it were inconsistent with the Christian life I think one would expect to find some indication of it in the new testament. Yet I cannot find any. When a Roman centurion who clearly had some sort of faith in Jesus asked him to heal his servant, Jesus did not take the opportunity to admonish him to quit the military. Peter never tells the Christian soldier Cornelius that his military career is inconsistent with his Christian life. Indeed, Paul seems to have had no negative view of military things since he used military metaphors like putting on the armor of God to describe the correct way to live the Christian life. Surely if military service is so clearly contrary to Christian living, it's reasonable to think that Paul would have been sensitive to that and chosen less martial language.

Regards,

Dave

José Solano said...

Romans 13 was written at a time when the nations were ruled by absolute monarchs. They had the power to do essentially as they pleased. There were, with rare exception, no democracies. The power that they had was given (ordained) by God who appointed the authorities for the purpose of ruling and regulating societies. Unlike the Zealots neither Jesus nor Paul were advocating revolution or war with all of the chaos that that produces. Jesus' kingdom is not of this world. Christians would not participate in revolutions against Caesar or Nero, and therefore, certainly not in the American Revolution.

It's important to ponder verses 3 and 4. "For rulers are not a terror to good works . . . . For he is God's minister to you for good." But, were not Jesus and the apostles slaughtered by the authorities? Hmm. "He bears not the sword in vain"?

Without a greater understanding of where Paul is coming from in this teaching we see here simply a contradiction between the fate of Jesus and the claim of Paul.

Paul is offering a way in which to relate peacefully to the authorities. Nothing in his perspective allows us to engage in war or to pick up the sword. How the centurions that converted to Christianity behaved is not known. Were they plagued with guilt and continually pleading forgiveness? Did they leave the army or were themselves slaughtered in the arenas?

What Paul recognizes is the God given authority of the monarchs to punish those who do evil. But God separates from the world a select people to try and live by the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. Such are the Amish and other Christians who refuse to lift up the sword.

[Metaphors, symbols are used to refer to something that is not itself the symbol. That Jesus is the "Lamb of God" cannot possibly mean that Jesus is a lamb.]

Terry Hamblin said...

Ben,

We have debated this issue earlier on your blog. Offering forgiveness is a Christlike thing to do. It is certainly not an easy thing. I would never blame someone who could not find the grace to forgive. I pray that were I in those circumstances I would be given this charismatic gift.

Pacifism is another matter. Too easily it becomes an excuse for cowardice. It seems to me that the international inaction in Bosnia and Rwanda were more down to cowardice than any Christlike love of peace. Unfortunately, persuasion is often not enough to restrain the evil-dower. I think the Romans 13 passage is really about such restraint. It is not about retributive justice, but about the need to use restraining force on occasion. Sometimes the threat of force is enough - as with the MAD idea of mutually assured destruction that prevented what seemed a likely WW3 from the 1950s to the 1990s. Of course, such a threat was only believable because America had already dropped the bomb on Japan.

You described what you would have done had you been present at the attack on the Amish. But the real test comes when you are armed and you stumble across the assailant about to pull the trigger to execute the child. This is a situation that sometimes occurs when armed police are on the scene. The question is, "Do you pull the trigger and save the child even if it means killing the assailant?"

There is no cop-out here. Saying you would not be armed or would not put yourself in that situation is not allowable. We have soldiers. Jesus recognized that soldiers did exist and would continue to do so without condemning their existence. Here is a soldier with exactly that dilemma. Should he pull the trigger? My answer is that in the last resort he must save the child and once that line is crossed the point of principle is made and all argument thereafter is about degree.

José Solano said...

I do not speak for Dr. Witherington but that particular moral dilemma came up in my Bible study class last Sunday. My response was very simple. "If someone threatened my daughters I would just blow him away if I could." I would fight tooth and nail for their well-being. But I quickly added that I in no way justify this action as being in any way related to following the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles. This is the human weakness that I referred to in my earlier comment. I do not see myself as having the strength and great faith of the martyrs, especially not in the sacrifice of my children. I do not see myself as an Abraham prepared to slaughter his own child for God. May God bless me with such faith but not put me to the test. So I pray and confess, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner."

David Johnson said...

I think one ought to raise the idea that, while soldiery is never condemned in the New Testament, it is certainly far from the heart of Jesus' life and teaching. You could use the same argument about violence to say that slave-owning (where legal) is no sin--it's not condemned by Jesus in anyone he meets, it's not in any of the lists of "the works of the flesh," and Paul even gives instructions to "masters" that do not include freeing their slaves. The reason I bring this up is that the teaching against violence is much stronger in the New Testament than anything we can get out of Philemon against slavery, yet most Christians long ago rejected the institution of slavery. Further, assuming that violence is necessary and allowing for the possibility that war can be averted is precisely the opposite of the Biblical position.

For example, in Matthew 5, Jesus talks about both divorce and enemy-love/rejection of violence; in both cases, he reframes the questions. With regard to divorce, everyone had been asking, "For what reason may we get divorced?" Jesus' words turn the question around: "How can I stay married?" He does the same thing with violence; the law allowed a person a certain amount of revenge (and certainly the right of self-defense), and the question was, "What is the proportional response?" Jesus' words point us to the eschatological vision of Isaiah 2:2-4, direct us to God's own attribute of "graciousness toward the guilty," and encourage us to consider different questions: "How can we in our time be signs of the coming peaceable kingdom? How can we deal with the guilty in Godly ways? How can we love even those who seek our lives?"

The trouble with arguments against pacifism is that they assume that it pretty much entails only a rejection of participation in the military. One is constantly reminded of Hitler--yet if post-WWI Europe had known "the things that make for peace" and not insisted on punishing Germany after that war, it is likely enough that Hitler would never have come to power. If you want to fight "Islamofascists" (as they are currently being called) in a misguided attempt to secure the lives of innocent people, be my guest, but be warned: violence only begets violence. If you trust to the bomb and the bullet for your deliverance, you shall become their slaves; always you will be hungering for the next advance in weapons technology. Ultimately, you will reap the same violence that you sow. As long as there are people who read the Koran as the absolute will of Allah, there will be people who cannot live while Israel exists. If your aim is to defend innocent people, you had simply better move Israel, for how can you begin to consider yourself or anyone else safe unless every one of these "Islamofascists" have gone to their graves--and how can you be sure that they've all gone to their graves without extinguishing the faith that breeds them?

Truly, the world does not know the things that make for peace, and there can be no peaceful end to the paths currently being pursued. That is why the Christian peace witness is so essential. We must be the light of the world whose witness shows the great sacrifices (and of The Sacrifice) that are at the foundation of peace.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Terry: Here is where your logic fails. You can't make an ethic out of an exception to your basic principles. This simply will not do. It is not logical or appropriate to do so. Let's say for a moment I grant your scenario you paint. You seem to have totally eliminated the possibility that the assailant could be wounded, rather than killed, say shot in the shooting hand. Did you even consider that option. He could be threatened. He could be jumped. There are a lot of options short of killing the man, but you mention none of these. And why exactly should I assume, even if I must decide on the spur of the moment that the only way to solve this problem is by shooting the man??? Do I know this person? Usually a policeman does not know the person? Do I have any idea what is going on in his brain? The answer is no in most cases.

But lets just grant for a moment that killing this person is the lesser of the two evils. Even if this is true, the deliberate killing of the assailant is a sin that still needs to be repented of. It may be the lesser of the two sins in this situation, but for sure it is a sin. And I for one am not about to build my Christian ethic on the basis of sin. Neither did Jesus or Paul.

As for soldiers we know for a fact that when persons became Christians they quite the military in the early Christian centuries for two reasons: 1) the teaching of the church; 2) because pagan armies required sacrifices to pagan Gods. Christians could not serve in the military in those days for both reasons.

And as for slavery---- see my forthcoming commentary on Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians. Paul's goal is to alleviate the harmful effects of a fallen institution on Christians. It is a de facto situation which he is trying to change, and as both 1 Cor. 7 and Philemon says--- "no longer as a slave but as a brother" is the best case scenario he is working towards in all that he says and does.

Blessings,

Ben W.

preacherman said...

Ben,

Great post.
It is amazing the forgiveness that they have displayed and shown during this crisis. I think we can learn alot from their willingness to forgive.

Marc said...

Great post Ben,

I was thinking about how most of us evangelicals (especially myself) ususally look down our noses at the poor, semi-Pelagian theology of the Amish. But here we have the Amish looking more like Jesus than most of us. This is humbling. I frankly need to repent. I seem to have the "right" theology, but I don't look nearly as much like Jesus as our Amish friends do. I wish I was more like them, hence I would be more like our Savior. Blessing my friend on such a thought provoking post. Jesus is being glorified here (and by our Amish friends).

Shea said...

Matt,

I totally agree!!

Alex said...

But can one of the anti-war types please answer the specific question, were our grandparents wrong to join the global "war on Hitler"? Ben, to go with your analogy, I don't think wounding, threatening, or jumping Hitler would've worked. I agree with the premise though that if we had understood the things that make for peace, namely justice, compassion, love and sacrifice, in the first place, then he never would've arisen, but let's say it's 1939. In that SPECIFIC instance, what do we do?

yuckabuck said...

I think some people are perhaps arguing past each other here, due to unspoken differences in their understanding of biblical ethics. So as not to do the same, I will start right out with what I believe is a good take on ethics: Dr. Norman Giesler's book on Christian Ethics.

He looks at various ethical systems and sees some as relativistic, and some as based on one or more absolutes. Obviously, Christianity is a religion of absolutes, so all essentially relativistic ethics are rejected. But Giesler goes on to show that absolutes sometimes do conflict. He therefore prefers what he calls a "graded absolutism," where in situations where two absolutes come in conflict, one must obey the higher absolute. For example, it is wrong to lie, but right to show mercy. When Nazis showed up at Corrie Ten Boom's door while she was hiding Jews, it was right for her to lie in order to save lives. (Geisler traces this view of ethics back to Augustine.)

What we are arguing here is whether the absolute "Thou shall not murder," trumps the absolute to show mercy in saving other lives.

I would say that usually it does. But not always. When I was at Bible College, I came up with something called the "sovereignty curve." When we would argue over euthanasia, some in the class would quote some OT verse that "Life and death are in the hands of the Lord," meaning that humans had no part in ending someone's life. My response was that God is ultimately sovereign, but He accommodates His sovereignty in many ways to allow for our stewardship. For example, "Life" may be "in the hands of the Lord," but He determined that life wouldn't come into the world without our ..um.. stewardship regarding the birds and the bees. :-)

As the situation becomes more drastic, my responsibility vis-a-vis God's may increase or decrease. If I see someone shoot someone else and then run away, there is no conflict. I must help the injured and inform the police of what I saw. But my responsibility grows in more dire situations. If I am in the Amish school house, and I am armed and a good shooter, I now have the duty to shoot the hand (as Dr. Witherington said) of the gunman. The absolute to show mercy and protect the innocent is higher than the absolute to not harm another, but not higher than the absolute against murder.

But there are conceivable situations where the absolute to show mercy may even take precedence over the murder prohibition. If I spot a terrorist on a roof killing innocent people, it may not be enough to shoot to try to disarm him. While I keep missing, he is killing more innocents. If I shoot him in the legs, he keeps shooting others. I can only jump in front of one bullet and show mercy to one person, but my sacrifice is not merciful if I have the ability save the rest. (It is a "sin of omission") To save lives, I have only one option left. I must kill the murderer.

One can see in the Bible times where God determined that some other principle was higher than the prohibition on taking life, eg. in the Mosaic Law where the death penalty was instituted. (No, I do not think such laws are still in effect.)

(Note- the terrorist on the roof idea was inspired by a reference from the postscript to "Curtain," the last Hercule Poirot mystery written by Agatha Christie.)

Terry Hamblin said...

I think Yuckabuck has put his finger on it. Of course I have considered the alternatives to killing. If restraint were possible it would certainly be preferable, but the fact is (and it really is a fact not an idle conjecture) restraint is sometimes not sufficient. Ben, I think you have been watching too many Westerns if you think that shooting him in his gun hand is a feasible option.

In any case, whether or not the assailant is killed is a (regrettable) side issue. I think the argument is between passive resistance and force. Any form of forceful restraint justifies the need for policemen and soldiers.

There is, of course, great danger in giving people weapons to use to restrain wrongdoers. Might is not right. Even with excellent training these people will make wrong decisions. I support very strongly the decision here in England that policemen go about without guns. But the police are there to protect the weak against the strong, and in my experience a surprising number of them are evangelical (a term that has a slightly different meaning in the UK to that in the US) Christians.

My experience of the British Army is similar. I am sure you remember the speech by Colonel Tim Collins before the Iraq war.

Jose Solano's response about 'blowing the criminal away' is a very human response that contains not only the need to protect his daughter, but also an element of retributive vengeance that such a man should attempt to violate his daughter. That is very natural, but it also explains why we have a police force to protect us. Few of us can contain our own anger when we see our own family violated. But as Christians we are not supposed to exact vengeance. We do have a responsibility to protect the weak and we delegate that duty to the police, except where only we can make a difference. Delegation does not equate with abandonment of responsibility.

In many ways I am sympathetic to the pacifist position. For myself. I may chose to passively resist evil perpetrated against me. Intellectually it is a fine thing. Whether I could meet the challenge in the heat of the moment would be a test. However, I believe I have a duty to restrain evil being committed against a third party. Such restraint may involve violence.

I think that you too easily buy into the myth of Gandhi in justifying pacifism. Clearly he made a contribution to British relinquishing control of India, but the history is much more complex than that. I shan’t even emphasize the fact that Nehru was sleeping with Mountbatten’s wife. Remember that Britain had just fought a war against the greatest tyrant the world had seen, and from May 1940 until June 1941 had faced Hitler alone. Hitler’s defeat required the entry of America into the war. America had been a long term opponent of the British empire (since 1776). Britain also employed large numbers of Indian soldiers. Survival of Britain itself demanded compromise. It was clear to British leaders that the old model of Empire could not persist. What Britain had given to India was not all bad. It included a belief in democracy and the power of reasoned argument. In 1945 in a free election Britain elected a government that would give India freedom. Gandhi and Nehru had won the argument.

I find it hard to imagine passive resistance prevailing against Nazi Germany or the Stalinist USSR, regimes not noted for their ability to listen to reasoned argument.

Terry Hamblin said...

And on the question of logic, the scientific method demands testing a theory to destruction. There is no point in giving it only gentle pitching to cope with. In designing an experiment, scientists ask the toughest possible questions of a theory; it must be robust enough to cope with most difficult questions.

It seems to me that pacifism fails on the question of protecting the weak against a stong evil-doer.

Of course, in absolute terms, Jesus laid down his life for just such a cause. Perhaps we might be given the opportunity to interpose ourselves between bullet and child, or between oncoming truck and baby carriage, but even then the analogy breaks down; we are not sinless.

A more likely scenario would require us to stand up against the bully, to speak out against evil when it will cost us advancement, popularity or employment or in extreme situations to take a life to save a life.

A pacifism that refuses to shoot back leads to occasions like that of the Dutch soldiers in Srebrenica or the Belgian soldiers in Rwanda.

Romans 13 tells us that evil-doers should fear the sword of God-ordained authorities. Abuse of that authority is a constant danger which we should always be on guard against.

To my mind we have witnessed such abuse in Iraq and in the rendition of prisoners to places where torture is rife, even in what seems to be domestic torture to all apart from President Bush's administration. In arguments against pacifism I detect an undercurrent of wishing to justify abuses like this. I will have none of that, but nevertheless force or the threat of force, even lethal force, is sometimes required to restrain evil.

Bill Barnwell said...

One of the problems with the Hitler analogy, which is almost always pulled out whenever these sorts of discussion come up is that first of all, it was needless violence and agression that led to the "Great War" (World War I) and the post-war reconstruction efforts plus Versailles Treaty that gave us a climate for Hitler to rise to power. Had there not been a first world war, which accomplished nothing except giving carving up empire here and adding to an empire there, there probably never would have been a Hitler or a Stalin.

In Germany's case, you had a post war enviornment of utter hopelessness, a monetary unit that was worth practically nothing, sky high unemployment, etc, etc. This created resentment and hopelessness and paved the way for someone like Hitler to exploit it. Much of the same can be said today in backwards Middle Eastern countries where Jihadism seems appealing to people who feel they have nothing to lose. So we should not act like these unfortunate events of the 20th century absolutely had to happen. But once they did surely something had to happen in response. I'd rather not get too heavily in World War II revisionism or "what ifs" but we should not act the evils that were committed during this supposed "good war" were in fact good things, even if much that was done was the lesser of two evils.

For further reading on some aspects of the broader issue see my column today over at LewRockwell.com where you'll find my blog link here and an archive that has a good number of war related columns.

Marc said...

I really like the nuance and balance of Terry's last post. I frankly am moving away from the Just War docrine because of what is happening in Iraq, as well as the sticky issue of religious violence. I would rather err on the side of pacifism that on warmongering.

José Solano said...

We need to observe that in these discussions on war and peace, pacifism and "violencism," there are two points of departure. We are either communicating from a Christ centered world-view or a world centered world-view. To see where we are or wish to be as Christians, we ask the simple question, WWJD? We know perfectly well what Jesus and the Apostles did. They did not reason or teach from the save-the-children-at-all-cost perspective. Knowing that Herod was about to slaughter the innocents what did the Jesus family do? They fled! Jesus did not teach a just war strategy and He had lots of opportunity to do so, as the Zealots did. Nero and Caligula were every bit as tyrannical as Hitler and the early Christians accepted martyrdom and rejected violence.

One approach trusts that God is the real sovereign and has true control over life and death. The other assumes that God has certain degrees of impotence and doesn't quite mean or understand what He is saying or asking of us.

Most eloquent arguments can be made for the just war perspective, but, we are not about to solve the disastrously violent direction of humanity by doing more killing. It simply hasn't worked. The way of Christ will also not work in eliminating violence from the world or for that matter eliminate poverty. In as much as it is true that we will always have the poor with us so will we always have violence with us. This is so because human beings as a whole will not accept the teaching of peace and of love. At best only a few will step out of the world-centered approach, faithfully accept Christ's teaching and make some effort to live by it. Such are the Amish. So, I would have to say it's time for the real altar call. Will we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, accept His way and forsake all others? It's our choice. Maranatha.

Terry Hamblin said...

Jose

I'm not sure that your analogies are valid. The Holy family were in no position to do anything but flee, and in any case they were fulfilling prophesy. Nor were the early Christians able seriously to resist Nero and Caligula. But Paul stood up for his rights as a Roman citizen and commended the magistrate's duty to use force to maintain order.

Jesus did use violence to clear the Temple courts.

We also have the strange situation of Peter's sword. Can we imagine that Jesus did not know about Peter bringing a sword to Gethsemane? Surely a pacifist Christ would have taught his followers not to go about armed? Jesus told Peter to put his sword away (but not to discard it). "Shall I not drink the cup the father has given me?"

In other words this was a special occasion of particular significance. We should be careful of drawing general conclusions from particular events.

It's not that I dissent from the idea that in almost every situation what Jesus would do would be to take the peaceful option. What Jesus did when confronted with violence was to touch the man's ear and heal him. I am unable to do that. Perforce I must resort to violence - holding, felling, hurting, wounding, even in the last resort killing the attacker if I am to save the victim.

José Solano said...

Hi Terry,

Being unable to "seriously" resist has not prevented many people from resisting being slaughtered? The Jews certainly did not just sit back and let the Romans slaughter them during the destruction of Jerusalem. But, all of the evidence is abundantly clear that the early Christians did not resort to killing anyone. Everything in the New Testament repudiates the use of force to kill people.

So, those opposing the emphatic peace posture of the New Testament must resort either to Old Testament practices or extremely gray areas in the New Testament, often argumentums ex silentio.

Jesus overturns the tables at the temple. He ties a cord of knots that some interpret He used to beat out the cattle. No killing here. Peter's sword at Gethsemene. Some interpret that the Greek word for sword in this instance was for a large knife used for cutting food that Peter brought along. Whatever. The unequivocal response of Jesus is, "Put your sword in its place for all who take the sword will perish by the sword." Mt. 26:52 This is followed with His clear statement that He could command "twelve legions of angels" to fight if He wanted to. I know you quote from Jn. 18:11 but this is fully in harmony with Matthew. Mark leaves out this whole communication and Luke records Jesus saying "Permit even this" in response to the disciples question, "Lord, shall we strike with the sword?" Taken all together the message is clear: Jesus does not want us to kill. He doesn't need our killing and His death fulfills prophesy.

My earlier comment addresses submitting to the "authorities" as "God's minister to you for good." Rom. 13:4 In Paul's situation there is no killing involved nor did Paul call for the soldiers to rescue him. They came because of the riot. Paul merely saves himself from a scourging by invoking Roman citizenship.

Certainly at times forced may be used. If someone is drowning in panic you may have to knock him out to bring him safely to shore. The intent is to save, not to kill.

We can go and on with examples of how the pre-Constantine Christians were continuously adopting the way of peaceful resistance or non-resistance. Dr, Witherington mentioned that "when persons became Christians they quit the military in the early Christian centuries."

Our effort is to live by the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' direct instruction. Our effort to find some "nuanced" interpretation to support killing and war appears merely as a rationalization to justify our world centered world-view. It's all going one way or another; our lives, our children's lives, all of our loved ones. Lord have mercy.

Many blessings to you.

David Johnson said...

I'm disturbed by the resort to logic. There is no logic in, for instance, "accept[ing] joyfully the seizure of your property" (Heb. 10:34) or in the words, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink..." How does logic even enter the picture? The reign of God in people's lives is often marked precisely by them doing things that would appear illogical: tending to victims of the plague in 3rd century Rome, for example. Christians are never counselled to take up arms in defense of justice or to return violence for violence in 'protecting the innocent.' That may be the right and responsibility of the state, but Christians are not counselled to do such things, but to "overcome evil by doing good."

I see also a lot of hypothetical situations that put "the good" (i.e., the Christian, peace-loving individual) in a position of power (he is the only person who can do anything, and there is ONLY one thing that he can do to stop the madness, and he's armed, and he's a good shooter) and of situational omniscience (i.e., not only is there only one way, but he knows exactly what it is). I should point out that in a given situation there are a variety of options, some of which have only to be tried to be successful. I should also point out the presuppositions a.) that such power is worth seeking, and b.) that such power is to be used (one might use the phrase "stewardship of power" here). What of meekness?

Rebecca said...

"I see also a lot of hypothetical situations that put "the good" (i.e., the Christian, peace-loving individual) in a position of power (he is the only person who can do anything, and there is ONLY one thing that he can do to stop the madness, and he's armed, and he's a good shooter) and of situational omniscience (i.e., not only is there only one way, but he knows exactly what it is). I should point out that in a given situation there are a variety of options, some of which have only to be tried to be successful. I should also point out the presuppositions a.) that such power is worth seeking, and b.) that such power is to be used (one might use the phrase "stewardship of power" here). What of meekness?"

I was once a non-resistant pacifist. I would have probably written something similar to what I quote above. The Amish were my heroes. My heart in many respects is still there.

But...

As I've written elsewhere:

Men like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi had garnered my respect. So had a young man I knew, who once protected some friends by standing between them and a would-be assailant. He believed so literally in “turning the other cheek” that he allowed the assailant to slug him several times in the face, to the point of destroying his glasses. He never even lifted his arms to block the blows. I wanted that sort of courage, that sense of strong conviction, that level of commitment to peace and nonresistance.

But then a violent child rapist was released into our neighborhood, within short walking distance from our home. He had announced, upon his release, that he couldn’t wait to return to raping young children. His favorite targets were tiny girls—-toddlers and babies. He didn’t care whether they were out of diapers or not. He had served his jail sentence for an attack on a two-year-old girl in her backyard.

Miriam was two years old then, a tiny little wisp of a girl, halfway between baby and child. I was horrified and afraid to have such a monster living close to us, especially as I learned details about his previous attacks. One day, when I was standing in our kitchen, watching little Miriam play happily in the Tupperware drawer, I suddenly realized that I was no longer a pacifist and certainly not a nonresister. Such philosophies were luxuries reserved only for those who didn’t have precious little girls who might be targeted for heinous torture. How could I not do anything to protect Miriam? Anything. So I began formulating plans, desperate plans. What if he surprised us in our back yard, as he had done with his previous victim? What if he broke into our home, as he had done with yet another victim? How would I arm myself? Would I be willing to stab him, hit him over the head with a rake, even kill him if need be?


It would be easy to argue that I should have simply decided to offer myself in the place of my daughter. However, the violent child predator could have then incapicitated me and then been free to turn his attentions to my child--the very child God had entrusted into my protection. If laying down my own life would protect hers, I would gladly do so. However, I would not, will not, abandon my duty to protect her, or any of my children.

For some, this is just philosophical, as it used to be for me. But when a child torturing maniac moves to your neighborhood, and your husband is unwilling to allow you to flee with the children, these issues suddenly become a lot, lot more real.

Amish Furniture said...

The Amish are just unbelievably virtuous. Its hard to imagine such people in this day and age. Hats off to them. God bless them.
Chris
Amish Furniture

Amish Furniture said...

The Amish are truly amazing. Great post. I actually felt compelled to read it again.
Chris
Wholesale Amish Furniture

Sir Chuck said...

Scenario 1: Ben the pacifist theologian enters the Amish schoolhouse just as the intruder brandishes the weapon. He bravely moves in front of the girls and begins to reason with the attacker, all the while thinking of his next move. The attacker calmly fires a bullet into Ben's skull and then proceeds with the maniacal shooting of the Amish girls.

Scenario 2: Ben the Christian police officer enters the Amish schoolhouse just as the intruder brandishes the weapon. He raises his weapon, yells "drop it!", and fires the instant the intruder begins to turn his weapon in his direction. The intruder is killed, all the little girls live.

Which action is more richly rewarded in heaven?

And which is more celebrated by Satan?