It is no accident that we are almost at the end of our peace-theology series, and are only now addressing the situational, philosophical, and historical objections. We have intentionally done the hard work of wrestling with the text: the 'exegesis'. The word exegesis literally means “to lead out of.” In this method the interpreter of scripture is led to his or her conclusions by following the text. The opposite approach to exegesis is eisegesis, which literally means “to lead into,” which means the interpreter injects his or her own ideas into the text, making it mean whatever he or she wants. In my own experience as a former advocate of Just War, I believe that Just War theory is primarily an argument from eisegesis. Here is Bruxy Cavey reflecting on why we should start with the text first:
How we ask our questions.
It is important that we examine the assumptions we bring in how we ask questions about peace-theology. It is often the case that when we ask questions of peace-theology the underlying assumption(s) are:
1.Use violence (and be successful)
This is a false dichotomy and a tragic misunderstanding of the peace position for a couple reasons:
(1) There are more possibilities: tragedy, martyrdom, miracle, another way out (either “natural” or “providential”), or attempted killing (either “successful” or “unsuccessful”). There are a million possibilities between 'doing nothing' and 'using violence'.
(2) Violence is not a recipe for success. “Nonviolent action on behalf of justice is no automatic formula with promise of success: but neither is war. After all, at least half of the people who go to war for some cause deemed worthy of it, are defeated."
(3) Pacifism is not being passive by ‘doing nothing’, but living the way of peace, reconciliation, and creative non-violence. A commitment to pacify, to peace-making and peace-living.
How we ask our questions says a lot about our bias' and our worldview. Also, how we ask our questions can often reveal our motivation(s). This is exactly what Bruxy Cavey is addressing in this video:
Our questions can run into the danger of starting our worldview with the cultural norms, ethical egoism and utilitarianism rather than the witness of scripture. Consider for example that ethical egoism is an individualistic approach to ethics that assumes the most pleasure and least pain as a desired result, is the right course of action. Likewise, Utilitarianism is the idea that the moral worth of an action is determined solely by its utility in providing happiness or pleasure as summed among all people. In both these world views we never concern ourselves with the morality of our actions (i.e. taking a life) but only with the desired result. In other words: the ends always justify the means.
Why are ethical egoism and utilitarianism faulty approaches to the Christian worldview? Ethical egoism is held in suspect because it ignores core Christian teachings of being 'other centred', enduring suffering, and seeking first God's kingdom. Interestingly enough, both pacifists and just warriors would reject the ethical egoist's self-preservation as justification for the use of violence. Thus the primary world view utilized by the just warrior is utilitarianism. Some common objections to utilitarianism as an ethical framework are:
(1)We can’t be certain of all the results
(2)Utilitarianism neglects the motives
(3)Neglects the action itself.
Christian objections to utilitarianism include:
(1) Happiness and pleasure are not the chief goals of the Christ follower (obedience to Jesus is the primary goal)
(2) Christ's example teaches us that the ends must be incorporated within the means.
(3) Utilitarianism denies that the primary basis of Christian ethics is the life and example of Jesus
(4) Both utilitarianism and ethical egoism commit the Christian to a poor reading of scripture. Nowhere does Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount suggest that it is only for individuals. There is no footnote or proviso where Jesus says, “You are to live this way except when it comes to the defence of your neighbours, then you must use the violence at your disposal to protect them.” In fact, the Sermon on the Mount is not private instruction for individual consciences; it is the political platform for the new kingdom or city that Jesus proclaims, the city that is to be “set on a hill” and illumine the world (Matt 5:14–16). He gives this platform to the twelve disciples, who represent the restoration of Israel and the return of God to the temple, a return found in Jesus’ own body, in Jesus who is fully divine and fully human.
Prelude to answering questions:
It is my hope that we are asking questions as persons who seek to better understand the implications of peace theology. I will do my best to answer a few of the tough questions. I doubt I have space to answer every conceivable objection, but feel free to ask in the comment section. I am going to try to focus in on the most common objections asked of the pacifist position. So let's examine a few objections (with occasional help of Bruxy Cavey)...
But what about Hitler?
But what about protecting our loved ones? What would you do if someone were attacking a loved one?
This is likely the most difficult question posed to the pacifist. The desire to want to intervene is a good thing. Let's be very clear about something here: Christian practitioners of peace theology are all about intervention. Pacifism does not mean do nothing. It's also part of what advocates of the Just War tradition argue fulfills the obligation to love one’s neighbour. On this point, just-warriors and pacifists agree. Where pacifists and just warriors disagree is on the 'any means necessary approach' that is espoused by the just warrior. I would like to hope that between 'doing nothing' and 'using violence' are a million Spirit inspired possibilities, including martyrdom.
"Any consideration of what you, the “single individual” , would do or should do if someone attacked your own beloved is first complicated by the presence of the beloved as the beloved. If you find yourself constructing a series of hypothetical situations and hypothetical responses involving him/her—testing them for plausibility or consistency, analyzing what you would or would not do for her, pulling away from the immediacy of your love—do you then truly love her? Or do you instead love the reflection of your other self in her, as you are unable to see her without the objectifying lens of objectivity?
The question is further confounded by the fact that within the category of neighbour stands both the loved one and the attacking someone. And the commandment to love the neighbour requires the unequivocal rejection of preferential love and its replacement by Christian love , which “means not to exclude a single one.”The duty to love all people based on our kinship before God asks us to transcend our cultural and personal fears of someone else. If I err by reserving my love for only the friends I deem to be safe, and withhold it from those I name as my enemy, then maybe I should “shut my eyes become all ears to the commandment to love my neighbour,” and find that “the enemy looks just like the neighbour.”
How has my love gone astray if I conclude that violence is the only possible response to the threat of violence between neighbours? If I assume that the attacking someone is uniquely undeserving of love and I cannot see him as a neighbour, will I then be blind to a nonviolent “another way out” if it appears? Is it possible that Christian discipleship may indeed call me to witness in a cruciform way to my love of both the someone and the loved one?."  I think so.
I understand why we need to form these 'justifications for violence'. We need them. Period. We need to feel like we are empowered to be the guardians of our own destiny. In this fallen world, it is hard to trust that there is a power greater than the power of sin, death and the grave. The idolatry of fear can so easily infect our thinking. Pacifism asks us to trust in Jesus and his teaching as the way God is bringing about redemption and justice in the world. That's tough! It requires a lot of trust... faith...and prayer. Lord help us.
“I do not know what I would do if some insane or criminal person were to attack my wife or child, sister or mother. But I know that what I should do would be illuminated by what God my Father did when his “only begotten Son” was being threatened. Or by what Abraham, my father in the faith, was ready to sacrifice out of obedience; he was ready to give up his son because he believed in the resurrection.” -John Howard Yoder, What Would You Do?
Shouldn't we try to use the most effective options (i.e. violence) to defeat evil?
The assumption(s) in the question are: (1) That we can fully know the effectiveness of an action (2) That the usefulness of a practice is validation of the action. Pacifist do not make the claim that following the peace teaching of Jesus is the most effective action. In fact, I think it is impossible to deny that violence does sometimes work in 'pacifying' a situation, at least from human perspective. But are we really following the Jesus way because it is the most logical and effective? Jesus practiced peace-making, enemy-love toward his adversaries when being arrested, and he still died. (It didn't work.) The early church followed Jesus' example of enemy love and paid the price for it with their lives. (It didn't work) Peace theology is not a success strategy; it is a love strategy. (although peace theology does sometimes work in practice) Once we fully understand and embrace this, many of our questions about the way of peace will be answered. Practitioners of peace-theology believe that our ethics are formed through the imitation of Jesus. Jesus is said to be the unique and definitive expression of God’s economy, of how God redeems the world and engages it politically through the cross, resurrection, and ascension.
But what about pacifists leaving everyone else to do the dirty work?
If pacifism is used as an excuse to avoid conflict or suffering... then we have every right to criticize it. Christ followers should never run away from suffering, but as the Apostle Peter teaches us:
"But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil." - 1 Peter 3:14-17
But what about pacifist legalism?What is violence? Does “violence” include restraint?
There is a lot of diversity in the pacifist camp as to what constitutes a violent action. There are some pacifists that suggest that it is possible to employ tactics that allow for the redemption of the enemy. Is it holding your attacker on the ground? Is it using pepper spray? Is it using a taser? I don't know. I am not sure.
I might caution this approach to determining the right course of action. When we start from some sort of definition of what constitutes violence (and the parameters of language are always shifting with use), then whatever non-violence is, it ends up being defined by either what it is against or what it is not. I think the crux of understanding Christian nonviolence is to first relinquish the notion that it is some sort of theory that develops as a response to something called "violence." Defining what violence is and then saying, "Here is the antithesis to it" privileges violence in such a way that I cannot help but see how it will not remain the master of us all. Christian nonviolence is neither a political theory nor a pragmatic strategy to rid the world of violence; it is simply what many Christians have found to be a faithful response to the path of Jesus.
So, rather than defining violence we should first look at the life and teachings of Jesus and ask the question, “How must I live in order to reflect this reality?” Perhaps our starting point should not be about how much violence we can get away with (or, even, "Is this violent?"); rather, the question is, how does the presence of a taser/pepper spray, or my desire/need to carry one, factor into the eschatological witness I am required to provide for the peaceable kingdom?
But what about being a police officer?
Pacifists admit the right of rulers to restrain depravity through coercion (Romans 13), but we maintain that Christians are not to participate in the activities of our rulers which require force to be used (Romans 12). Believers are commanded to avoid war, law enforcement, and the infliction of capital punishment. But we will not deny to the state the right to wage war, enforce the laws, and to execute duly convicted murderers. We recognize that violence and war of all sorts will continue until Jesus returns. Pacifists will not outlaw war or capital punishment, for we cannot, by political action, change the evil hearts of human beings. It is beyond our realm as believers. Our greater purpose as the church should be addressing the root causes of crime rather than asking the State to clean up streets for us.
Where is the 'chapter and verse' for this reasoning? To be fair the first century equivalent of a police officer would be a Roman soldier, an enforcer of the Roman State. So it is no surprise that there is no specific mention of the concept of a police officer. There is however mention of roles, expectations, and 'be-attitudes' that Christ followers are suppose to ascribe to as well as avoid. The closest thing to a "chapter & verse" would probably be Romans 12-13. Paul contrasts the roles of the Church (Rom 12) and State (Rom 13). Though the governing authority bears the sword to execute God's wrath (13.4) that is not the role of a believer. Those who are members of the one body in Christ (12.5) are never to take vengeance (12.9); they are to bless their persecutors and minister to their enemies, returning good for evil.What would happen if the officer had to shoot someone? Would Jesus have done this? Pacifists conclude that this action falls outside of the scope of what is acceptable for a Christian, and so either a Christian should not be a police officer, or he/she might need to refuse to do certain parts of the job.
But what about situations of sexual abuse?
If you wish to explore the issues further I would encourage you to check out the following books:
Be sure to check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, and Part 8.
Here is Part 10.
1. John H. Yoder, What would you do?
2. York, Tripp ed. A Faith Not Worth Fighting For: