The following is a slightly-adapted set of questions I used for a discussion with two others at Willow Creek Community Church’s TruthQuest event last spring. My responsibility was to take the pacifist side. I took the tack of asking questions, and I include here the outline I used that night. Some of the questions are more penetrating than others, but together they ask (for me) the right questions. This is an outline, not a full discussion. In light of my last post on the Sermon on the Mount, I thought it might be time to put this issue on the table.
The Christian, the State, and War
I will offer a series of ten questions below, but first the big overarching question:
How does a Christian relate to the State? What is the relationship of the Church and the State?
“State” means the “governmental system”
Respect for each Christian view; the number of Christians who have died on each side. Three big views.
1. The Roman and Reformed View: Progressive Realization of Christianity
Image: Leaven in a lump of bread
Merging of the Supreme Court and the Church
Constantine and Jonathan Edwards
2. The Lutheran View: Two Realms/Kingdoms
Image: parallel train tracks which Christians must daily cross
Supreme Court and the Church in two different locations
3. The Anabaptist (Pacifist) View: Sectarian
Image: candles growing in number
The Church is God’s concern
Menno Simons (Mennonites) and John Howard Yoder
Let me return then to the flipside of the overarching question: how does the Christian relate to the State?
The Fundamental Issue: Realpolitik vs. Christo-politik (Kingdom of God)
Dare the Christian “compromise” his/her views in the “public square”?
Is it ever morally justifiable for a Christian to reduce his or her moral stands in the public square in order to gain a public hearing?
Is God’s will for the “Church only” or also for the “State”?
Is the Torah to replace the US Constitution?
Does “life in this world”/ “public square” require compromise?
Ten Questions from the Pacifist Side
Before I get to my ten basic questions that, if answered one way, will lead to pacifism, let me suggest you read Karen Spears Zacharias, Hero Mama [you can find it through Amazon on the bright green button to your right]. For a variety of reasons, this book stunned me with what happens when daddys die in war. When it gets down to the bottom, we are dealing with humans taking the lives of other humans. The rhetoric of war enables us to transform the language from death to other things, but the Christian will never forget the role death plays in war.
Pacifism and Its Challenging Questions for the Evangelical Christian
A long, long Christian history; 2d Century AD; Reformation “Anabaptists”
Not just an individual view: a “communal” ethic
Varieties of “pacifism” (Yoder, Nevertheless, 17 “kinds”)
Fundamental theology: God is creator; Jesus is redeemer; Jesus is Lord; the mission of the Church is to “evangelize” the world; the final goal of God is shalom that is characterized as “love for God” and “love of others”.
The Church is universal and not a “nation-state”.
Socio-political stance: Christians are to be good “citizens” without ever compromising their Christian faith.
1. What is Justice and Who defines it?
US Constitution (JS Mill: happiness, freedom, and rights)
Justice: retributive, reparative, restorative
The Will of God (Scripture) and the Telos of God
2. What does Scripture say?
Conviction of a “Christocentric” and “Kingdom” hermeneutic on how to put the whole Bible together: it climaxes in Jesus Christ. Israel is de-nationalized and therefore the “military” apparatus is stripped.
Context: either “fight” or “flight”; anti-Zealots; anti-docility.
Jesus offers a “Third Way”: cruciform love that absorbs and transforms violence into reconciliation.
Luke 4:16-30 as the starting point (with Matt. 11:2-6): a kingdom vision.
Concerned with shalom and justice
Role of Sermon on Mount for Christian Ethics
Hence: Matthew 5:38-42; 5:43-48
1. Do not “resist” means “do not use violence against evil”.
2. “Right cheek” is the absorption of humiliation.
3. “Second mile” is a kindness that provokes wonder.
4. “Enemy love” is central to Jesus, and surely re: Rome.
5. Paul (Rom 12:17, 19, 21) and Peter (1 Pt. 3:9)
The “Jesus creed”
Self-denial and martyrdom: Mark 8:28-34
The “Cross” is not just an act of God for forgiveness but the “paradigm” of Christian existence.
The “sword” of Luke 22:49, 50 and John 18:36!
“Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9)
Romans 13; Colossians 2; and 1 Peter 2; the Lamb of Revelation
We have “respect” for the rule of systemic laws, but not they are not the final authority of the Christian.
Romans 13 condemns “armed/violent resistance”.
Romans 13 (ought to be) and Revelation 13 (ought not to be)
Longstanding question: “What would Jesus do?”
3. What does the Cross say for how God deals with Violence? Or, how can the gospel and violence co-exist?
Theologians now speak of the “crucified God” and a “cruciform God” and mean by that this: after the Cross, God is revealed to us as a God who embraces us through the Cross and can only be known properly through that Cross.
The theory of “mimetic rivalry”: R. Girard
Cross as the “absorption” of violence and its conversion
How does “forgiveness” subvert “justice”?
4. How can Evangelism of the World and War co-exist?
5. To whom does a Christian “swear ultimate allegiance”, to Caesar (the State) or to Jesus Christ (and the Kingdom of God)?
Matthew 22:21: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s…”
Matthew 17:24-27: “the sons are free”
6. A Practical reality: How can a Christian “put to death” in the name of “Caesar” a non-Christian who needs to be evangelized and whose death would lead that person to hell? Or, how can a Christian “put to death” in the name of “Caesar” a believer when that believer’s allegiance ought to be more to “Christ and his Church” than to “Caesar”?
7. How did the earliest Christians relate to the Roman military?
The general consensus is that Christians avoided the military, and that it was not until Constantine that the Christian enlisted in the military (though this is disputed today). (Little evidence prior to 170-180 AD.)
8. How can (so many) Evangelicals believe in the “progressive” decay of the State and, at the same time, in the Roman/Reformed view of the Church “leaven” in the society which claims a “progressive” improvement?
Often a challenge to the dispensationalist
9. How can a “nuclear” war, or a war with modern technology, ever be “just”? Or, slightly differently, How can violence bring about a good?
Leads some to what his called “nuclear” pacifism.
10. Is it consistent for a Christian to “demonize”rhetorically “enemy combatants”? Or, put a little less forcefully, How should Christians speak of the opponents?
The crucial role “rhetoric” plays in public discourse about war and its justification: we need to avoid “demonizing” the Other.
R.C. Clouse, War: Four Christian Views (Downers Grove: IVP, 1981)
J.H. Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994)
W. Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003)