Why I am (Mostly) Pacifist
I finally feel free to admit it. I am (mostly) pacifist – I say mostly because my beliefs and thoughts have’t been field tested yet. Before you think I’m crazy and buy me a plane ticket to Pennsylvania to live with the Amish, let me share a few of the reasons why I am pacifist and clear up some misconceptions about pacifism.
1. Where you start determines where you will end, and I want to start with Jesus.
Whenever I mention that I am pacifist, one of the first things people say to me is something along these lines: “What if someone attacked your wife and the only way to save her was to kill her attacker?” or “What if killing 10 people saved the lives of 1,000?” These hypothetical situations are intended to reveal the ridiculousness of my non-violence. They are fantastical situations that make violence seem like the only answer.
Simply put, I don’t answer these questions, because I want an ethic based on the person, work, and character of Jesus, not hypothetical situations. If we start with hypothetical situations, we can justify just about anything under the sun. But if we start with Jesus, there is a clear trajectory. He came to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matt 5:17), said that being angry with our brother or sister was analogous to murder (Matt 5:21), taught us to love and pray for our enemies (Matt 5:44), and to bless rather than retaliate (Luke 6:27-31). In his death on the cross, he submitted to the violent means of the world and triumphed them, not with more violence, but with resurrection.
When I look at the life and teachings of Jesus, I see him choosing non-violence instead of violence, extending love to everyone, not just those in his tribe. And I want to be like Jesus. So I start with him and I trust that if I follow him, he will give me wisdom to discern the various situations I will find myself in.
I do think the hypothetical situations betray how deeply pragmatism has influenced they way we think. The gospel of America is “The ends justify the means.” So if we happen to protect our family, but kill 20 people in the process, then it was a good thing. If violence gets us to the end or the goal that we want, then violence is a necessary means.
When I read Jesus, he doesn’t seem very pragmatic to me. In feeding the 5,000, wouldn’t it have been better for him to teach the crowd efficient farming techniques? In healing the blind man, did he really have to put spit-laden mud in his eyes? “You can see, now go wash your face!” In fact, Judas was chastised for his pragmatism, wanting the woman’s perfume to be sold and the money given to the poor. Instead, Jesus let her pour it on his feet and head.
The ways of Jesus are not the ways of the world. And when we begin to follow him, it is inevitable that we will be at odds with the world.
2. Pacifism is not abdication and it’s not “the easy way out.”
For many, when they hear that I am pacifist, they think that I don’t care about the poor, weak, marginalized, hurting, and oppressed. People assume that my choice to avoid violence means that I am unable to care for those might be living under a dictatorship. But pacifism isn’t abdication and it isn’t indifference. In fact, I care deeply for the plight of the poor, weak, and marginalized. I want to see that they find freedom from the ills of society and from their oppressors. I want to see justice roll down the mountains like a river. And I want to pursue that justice through peaceful, non-violent means.
If anything, my choice to be a pacifist does not make my life easier but calls me to a new level of creativity and imagination. To seek peace and justice without violence is not a common solution in our day and age. Our culture is so used to seeing violence as a means to solve problems that the idea of peace-making seems outdated and outright ridiculous. As a pacifist, I am committed to justice for all without the use of violence. And that is not easy.
3. I don’t have it all figured out.
I am usually hesitant to label myself pacifist at all because it leads people to believe that I have it all figured out, that I’ve thought through every nuance and am able to stand behind each tenet. I wish I could say I was that thorough in my thinking, but I’m not. I sometimes still watch violent movies and enjoy seeing the bad guy beat up. I enjoy playing video games where I am the hero and the journey to justice is with fists and feet. I really like The Walking Dead and I’m pretty sure, in the zombie apocalypse, all pacifists either die or give up their pacifism pretty quickly. Do these examples reveal how far from pacifism I truly am? Maybe – I don’t know. I’m a work in progress and I don’t have it all figured out. I’m thankful that Jesus walks with me and is patient with me as I work out what it means to be a disciple in the 21st century.