I remember the first time I was confronted with a serious pacifist. I was in seminary, and a certain professor—who is a well-known and well-respected scholar—challenged us in class and afterward to re-think the violence of our Christian past and adopt a peaceful future. His argument was compelling.
I remember when challenged, he calmly and courageously proclaimed that if attacked, he would prefer for the perpetrator to
kill him rather than to fight and risk killing the criminal. In this Christian pacifist’s mind, it would have been better for him to die and thus be present with the Lord than for an unbeliever to die and enter immediately into judgment after committing the sin of murder. My pacifist friend made a compelling case for personal pacifism. It sounded peaceable, loving, gentle, and authentically Christian, until I had a little more time to think it through. Then it started to sound selfish and unloving.
The entire argument lost its luster when I thought about his wife and family. It’s one thing to be willing to die so another can live and, possibly, be saved, but it is quite another—it is culpable cowardice—to refuse to intervene on behalf of your wife or your children. Pacifism is not peaceable as much as it is culpable.
Over at JuicyEcumenism, Kevin Pavlischek has devoted several posts to discuss this particular point. He references Paul Ramsey’s argument that the Good Samaritan story requires more than “ambulatory” care. Ramsey asks what if the Samaritan walked up as the robbers were beating him, would he have been obligated to intervene, particularly if he had the means (by force) to counter the attack?
Matthew Hamilton, on the same blog, shares a post that takes the argument another step forward. What ought Christians to do if they are under attack from Muslims (as they are in Nigeria)? Hamilton’s response is that they are obligated to kill them and culpable if they do not. Here is a sample from the post:
The Christians in Nigeria face a situation not altogether dissimilar than that experienced by the Habsburgs in the 17th century. Whether they know it or not, pacifists advocating for Christians not to defend themselves are asking for the horrors of Perchtoldsdorf to be repeated. The noble piety of pacifism is easily diluted in a river of blood and human misery, and there will certainly be rivers of blood and misery if Nigerian Christian follow the example of Perchtoldsdorf.
Perchtoldsdorf, for those who may not know, is an Austrian city destroyed in 1683. Muslims laid siege to the city and demanded surrender. The city surrendered, giving the keys to the city to the Ottoman invaders. They were promised a peaceful takeover, but, once they surrendered, they were then subjected to rape, torture, murder, and a mass slaughter of the Perchtoldsdorf citizenry.
Hamilton expects us all to learn a lesson from Perchtoldsdorf—a city in which Christians did not fight—and Vienna—a city which did confront evil by force; the former approach led to mass slaughter of innocent, non-combatants, while the latter approach led to military casualties but kept the civilian populations of both armies safe. Confronting evil is necessary and, often, life-saving.
I am in agreement with the JuicyEcumenism guys. A whole lot of folks seem to get things bass-ackwards when it comes to the use of force. We are supposed to be anti-war (because killing soldiers is bad) and yet pro-abortion (because killing babies in the womb is okay). Apparently, soldiers and convicted murderers should not be killed, while killing babies is quite all right—indeed, it is now a government-given right that all must pay for under the guise of “healthcare.”
Sorry for the rant. I understand that our discussion is really about the unloving nature of pacifism. I just couldn’t help making the analogy complete because we get things so turned around. Pacifism is a means for evil men to flourish. Therefore, I am not a pacifist, are you?
- Is Christian Charity Merely Ambulatory? (juicyecumenism.com)
- Paul Ramsey, the Good Samaritan, and Christian Pacifism (juicyecumenism.com)
- IRD Blog: Professor Daniel Bell and Proportionality (juicyecumenism.com)