Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Why I am not a pacifist

Once again, after working through the Sermon on the Mount, I am faced with the blunt reminder that I'm not following Jesus. He said we're supposed to gouge out our eyes and cut off our hands if they offend us. He said we're not supposed to call anyone a fool. He said we're not supposed to take revenge. He said we're supposed to love our enemies.

Here is my confession: I want to follow Jesus, but I don't. I want to turn the other cheek, but I can't. I want to be a pacifist, but I'm not. Here's why.

1. Hypocrisy. I don't believe those who live in America can be pacifists. To me it is hypocrisy to enjoy "peace and security" via violent resistance (police and military protection) and claim to follow the way of Jesus, i.e., non-violent resistance. It reminds me of the wealthy who are troubled by their fate--how horrible it is to be imprisoned by the power of money and greed. The easy solution? Give away your wealth. But, we won't do that, will we? We'd rather complain about how hard it is to live with money than do something about it. Pacifists who complain about the injustices of war and benefit from military protection have little moral authority to preach their sermons. Genuine pacifists live under facist dictators, where the context of Jesus' teaching matches the conviction of those who would live out non-violent resistance. Even though I think the Amish come closest in our country to following the teachings of non-violent resistance, even they will call the police when an unspeakable tragedy has befallen them (Paradise, Pennyslvania).

2. Interpreting Jesus. None of us take Jesus' sermon literally. Even though he lived what he preached (read the rest of the story. Did he not turn the other cheek? Did he not love his enemies?), we don't. Take for example the way we read his teachings about lust. Bonhoeffer rightly suggested why Jesus targeted eyes and hands as instruments of offense. These are the tools of lust. Yet, I have never met a single disciple of Jesus who is maimed or blind because they tried to follow Jesus' teachings literally. Instead, we recognize that Jesus' may have used hyperbole (exaggeration for effect) when speaking of the dangers of lust. Was Jesus also exaggerating when he talked about giving away our coats or turning the other cheek? At the same time, we know that lust is sin; violence is evil. So, the fact that Jesus was exaggerating to make his point doesn't excuse our behavior, either. Can you imagine any disciple of Jesus saying, "I'm still going to harbor lustful desires for another woman. I'm still going to hate my enemies and try to destroy them"? Whether we like it or not, we still have to intepret what Jesus said not only by what we think he meant, but also by what he did. Who is following him?

3. Context is key. Jesus gave instructions for his disciples in a time when Roman Imperial oppression was reality. I'm a white, male who lives in America (no oppression). I don't live in a land of foreign occupation (I'm not full-blooded Indian). I've never been struck on the cheek. My government defines who my enemies are supposed to be. Even though, as an American, I have certain rights and privileges protected by law (violent resistance!), here I am, wanting to follow Jesus because I claim to be his disciple. Is that possible? Jesus' world was so different from mine. What is non-violent resistance supposed to look like in place like America? Maybe it looks like Martin Luther King, Jr. Maybe it looks like an abused wife who refrains from killing her husband. Maybe it looks like American Christian Arabs who live under the oppressive weight of suspicious neighbors. It certainly doesn't look like me.

Lord Jesus, help me follow you.

Next post: why I don't believe in a just war.


Darryl Schafer said...

Is pacifism non-violent only, or do you take it to mean non-resistant, as well? (You seem to hint at both). Turning the other cheek, etc., all seem to resistance through submission and can be ways of holding on to power (despite the apparent paradox).

Have you read Robert Brimlow, "What About Hitler?" He takes issue with #1, but I don't think he has a good argument.

You're not the only one struggling with this (news to you, right?) But you're right: we would rather complain than do something about it...

JR. Madill said...

Brimlow has a cogent critique of your first point (as Darryl suggests, though I think the defense is a bit better than he credits). Just because we live in a system that is sustained by violent (police and military) action, and really more fundamentally by the violence of majority rule (which by definition silences minority voices) does not mean we cannot recognize and speak out against the ills of such a system.

Consider Paul, who lived under the Roman Empire as a citizen of that Empire. He suggests (as you pointed out to me) that we subvert such a violent system by loving, subversive submission. Can we not do this as believers? Can we not pay our taxes and yet be prophetic voices against the abuses of power we see happening all the time?

For me, I have to ask how I can follow Jesus in overcoming the powers by giving their power back to them. As per Revelation 19, Jesus gains his power not by killing, but by dying.

As you state in the introduction to Genuine Faith, we can and must recontextualize the NT teachings to a world in which we live on the side of Empire. This is where I think Dispensationalism has failed - anti-Empire texts (Daniel and Revelation) have become tools of a pro-Empire ideology.

Darryl Schafer said...

Oddly enough, Dr. Reeves, this post just might start a war. : )

JR.: Yes, Brimlow's critique is better than what I lead on, but I don't think he knows how to give an appropriate response. He basically brings up the criticsm and says that it's wrong (a gross oversimplification of his argument, I know). He just doesn't offer any sort of counter (none that I could make out, at least) that is satisfying. Let no one be misled, though. Brimlow's book, on the whole, is amazing.

In any event, I will agree with Reeves on this. We do benefit from the institutions of Empire, but that does not mean (as you said, JR.) that we cannot move within, and possibly even work WITH, the system. The hard part is doing that in light of the cross. This is where I see a failing in fundamentalism attempting to gain a foothold in government. Yes, morality can be legislated (I think you're the one who said that, Dr. Reeves), but Christian morality and the Kingdom cannot be. To do so, I feel, goes against the very essence of what it means to take up a cross.

Rodney Reeves said...

JR and Darryl,

Thanks for your helpful comments. I haven't read "What about Hitler." Heard good things about it.

In my mind, there's a difference between being a pacifist and arguing against abuses of power. Therefore, the progression of my argument is important (1, 2, then 3). Only those who are oppressed can be pacifists. The rest of us (the powerful) must give our power away in order to be followers of Jesus (not wield our power in order to get our way, i.e., politics, boycotts, even "subversive speech.")

Paul may have been a citizen of Rome, but he was doing more than simply subverting the Empire in speech or in action. I believe he was so thoroughly promoting the kingdom of Christ (and all the exlusive claims of his gospel), his words and works were considered anti-Imperial. It's not a matter of being a prophetic voice vs. the powers (let's get in their face and tell the truth), it's about advancing the gospel via the crucified life regardless of the powers. I think we see that in America from those who are oppressed (a few of the examples I listed). I just don't know if I see that among those of us who share/hold power, i.e., the second point of my argument.

In certain respects, I think we're close to saying the same thing, do you think?

Darryl Schafer said...

"It certainly doesn't look like me."

So, is persecution to some degree necessary in order to fully live out the teachings of Jesus?

If so, what do I do? Do I just thank God that he's spared me from such a life? Is that something we should thank him for if death is truly the path to life?

A lot of tangents...we might be here a while...

ben cassil said...

War has been one of the most central issues that I have struggled with, and that has shaped my faith my entire life. I sure think that I haven't yet seen a good reason to support war, but I don't know that I can honestly call my self a pacifist on a personal level. Self defense is built into my psyche, not to mention defending those that i love.
- in regards to what Darryl was asking about persecution, Moltmann (in Crucified God) talks about the extreme benefits of persecution for the Church. So I was thinking, maybe If we took the teachings/example of Jesus more seriously, we would be more persecuted.
But, we should also be careful not to go to the extemes of those who would seek out martyrdom in the early Church. ]
anyways, I think that to live as a citizen of God's kingdom, and to follow Jesus, is enough. It God chooses to bless us with persecution, then we might be joyful, as Paul in his persecution. But, if he blesses us with religious freedom, we must also be joyful. I hope this isn't a cop-out.

matt gallion said...

These issues really own take prevalence in our lives because of the social and cultural acceptance of Christianity as a sort of "national religion." Before Constantine, politics were sort of a non-issue for Christians because they were separate and even anti-thetical. Now, we as American Christians in the 21st century live in an entirely different world. As such, I think our primary problem is our belief that this nation is Christian and that politics are a spiritual matter. We often confuse the kingdom of God with the kingdoms of men, somehow thinking that positively influencing the second to imitate the first is our duty. When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he encouraged them to "live as good citizens in a manner worthy of the good news of Christ." I think Paul was encouraging them to live as citizens of a different kingdom and not in submission to the political one. The toughest question I face today is: How do I do anything like that? How can I be an American and a Christian?

As Paul sat in prison and wrote to the Philippians, he faced a serious choice (1.21-23). After having heard many different interpretations of it, I think this choice did have serious implications, but also that it was in some ways out of Paul's hands. The whole chapter has been aimed against a group of people who sought to "add pressure to [Paul's] chains" (1.17). Ultimately, Paul claims that he can not be shamed, but that Christ will always maintain honor in his own body (1.20). It seems to me that these opponents are discouraging the church at Philippi against Paul's leadership, claiming that his life proves him shameful. They probably even said that it would finally be proven with Paul's death. I think the choice that Paul is facing is really whether he should live or die. I don't think he was contemplating suicide, but death was a possibility. I think Paul was turning their shame upside down by saying that to "return home and be with Christ" (1.23), to die, which should prove his shame, would be his preference. But Paul places himself in the paradigm of chapter 2 by deciding that serving others is more necessary.

How doese this tie in? I wonder if this motivation lies behind Paul's continual use of his citizenship for appeals and "self-preservation" in the books of Acts. It makes me wonder when and where rights should be preserved. I don't think Paul particularly embraced his Roman citizenship as a personal devotion, but rather as a means to continually be a blessing to the body and to promote the gospel. Paul didn't do this politically, but did take advantage of his citizenship when it was most beneficial. I think we are to do the same. And I think that will require suffering some times. Maybe even more in America than other places. I know we like to think that we are free from suffering, but maybe Kierkegaard is right. If we live in the midst of Christendom and truly live out the self-sacrificing gospel, the gospel of the cross, it will be offensive to the natural man. How many natural men populate the church today?

I also think that we shouldn't be too quick to define suffering as government or social oppression because of our faith in terms of verbal ridicule or physical beatings. Sometimes, the most sacrificial actions don't seem from the outside to be difficult or even from love. The extent of love can only be known by those who give it. Self-denial is the key, not suffering per se. If self-denial leads to suffering, then so be it. Ultimately, we should and must love our neighbors as ourselves, and that will cost us everything.

And despite every circumstance, whether in suffering or in "comfort" (physical, political, socio-economic, etc.), we must learn the secret of being content. (Philippians 4.10-13) We can do all things through Him and through imitation of His story.

Matt Easter said...

I suppose I consider myself a bit of a hypocritical, soft-core pacifist. My time at seminary has convinced me that pacifism is probably the best way (the force is very strong with professors Hays and Hauerwas), but I don't really know what I would do if I actually had to practice what I am thinking about preaching.

Ben, I think it might be unfair to impute a martyrdom complex on early Christians. Some, like Ignatius for example, seem to cherish the thought of facing the leopards (see Letter to the Romans, 5.1ff.), but it may be that he speaks this way to encourage discipleship within the community to which he is writing. Although it is probably wrong to assume a methodological, widespread persecution of Christianity, a good number of Christians had persecution coming whether they liked it or not. They did not necessarily have to seek it. The call was to remain faithful.

I am not sure if persecution is a necessary partner with Christianity in every time and culture, but self-sacrifice certainly is. Persecution often follows sacrifice, as well. But it does seem to me that one of our first steps to realizing what it means to live by Yoder's "Politics of the Lamb" would be to learn how to sacrifice even for those within our own communities of faith.

Back to Ignatius, I do think he has a powerful word for our present conversation: "The greatness of Christianity lies in its being hated by the world, not in its being convincing to it" (Letter to the Romans, 3.3).

Rodney Reeves said...

Thanks, Matt, Ben, and Matt for your helpful comments. What I love about the Body of Christ is our willingness to talk about our struggles as we try to follow Jesus.

Darryl, in answer to your question, I wouldn't say that persecution is a prerequisite to being a disciple of Jesus. Instead, I prefer to speak in terms of results. Yes, those who follow Jesus will be persecuted. And, what would that persecution look like? According to Jesus, everything from people saying bad things about us to death. This is why, I think, he called us to deny ourselves. It's not simply for the sake of self-denial--"see, I am denying myself [blank]. So, I'm following Jesus." Self-denial is the means to the end: a crucified life is the only way to bring in the kingdom of God.

I think I already answered your question about the powerful. We must give power away (that's what Jesus was trying to teach James and John when they were envisioning coming into power) to follow Jesus. And, what does that look like?

I bet we could come up with dozens, yea, even hundreds of examples. But, don't let those examples become prescriptions (legalism!) for "genuine discipleship." We already have stories to show us what genuine discipleship looks like (applied a thousand different ways).

Ben, I share your struggle. And, I agree with Matt E. The early church had this problem (the dontanist controversy), where some tried to prescribe loyalty with this warning: if you ever "give in" to the governing authorities, you're not a Christian anymore. Power politics at its best. This is why we should never borrow the "martyr complex" in our attempts to define genuine discipleship. "Freedom" as we Americans love to talk about it, is not the opposite of persecution. But, question our "right" to freedom, and you will experience "nationalistic" persecution (but this may or may not have anything to do with following Jesus).

Matt G., I think you're right. What got Paul in trouble wasn't going after the Roman Emperor. What got him in trouble was preaching/living the gospel of Jesus Christ. "We wrestle not with flesh and blood . . ." What makes it difficult for American Christians is that we will always seem to believe in political solutions to eternal problems (whether pacifists or nationalistic fundamentalists).

Here's my dangerous belief: the Church is the only instrument of the Kingdom of God. Our destiny? We're out to take over the earth. How do we do this? By following Jesus/being the Body of Christ. This is our only politic.


Jon said...

Going back to the original post (sorry for ignoring the entire conversation thus far), I'm not sure if I would call someone a hypocrite who is a pacifist and American. I myself am not a pacifist, and my reasoning is this: It is important to protect others when I can. For instance, if someone tried to hurt my wife, I would do everything I could to stop them (if necessary, I think I would resort to killing). This is because I love her, and she is made in God's image--she has true, real worth. When BTK, for example, murdered all those people, according to Genesis 9, he forfeited his own life. (I believe we are still under the Noahic covenant.) On a national scale, then, the government is responsible for the safety of millions of people. If certain "enemies" are trying to harm its citizens, then there may be cases where violence/killing is justified.

Regarding Jesus' words, I think we should have a personal pacifist ethic. In other words, revenge is not an option, and we are blessed when we endure persecution. But I think there is something to be said for protecting the other images of God who may be in our care, in which case a non-pacifist solution may or may not be acceptable.

I think this is a reasonable position to hold in light of a holistic biblical worldview, and I don't think I am contradicting what Jesus said. Forgive me if I did not explain it well.

Darryl Schafer said...

To beat a dead horse:

What of Romans 13? If the ordained purpose of the government (whatever form it may take) is to bear the sword, then it's an institution that (in an ideal situation) fulfills the purposes of God as it seeks to execute justice. And if this is true, can a disciple of Jesus be a participant in such an institution and remain loyal to the demands of the cross? Can a Christian be a politician? A soldier? A police officer?

But then what do we do with Philippians? I see an undercurrent of "subvert the Empire" in there...

Michael Gilley said...

Lest we forget what Jesus taught on the Mount about turning the other cheek, we ought to back up to the beginning of the verse and read: “…do not resist an evil person….” Jesus’ intent for his disciples (that’s us) was clear. Followers cannot war, nor can they defend. How can we kill someone we’re called to love? “Those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul….” It was quite apparent what Jesus thought about defense simply from his words, but even more so from his life. As followers we give everything away and we die to ourselves, death all of a sudden becomes irrelevant. As for defending the ones we love, Jesus did not fight for us. Instead, he laid down his life in our place. I believe we are called to do the same thing – substitutionary sacrifice.

The Biblical image of the government, as pointed out, seems to be a hand of God in the world to keep evil at bay, but in no way was The Way ever supposed to involve itself with politics. God uses the world to bring about his purposes but our involvement in it is strictly prohibited. (i.e. Reeve’s comment on Jesus’ teaching on politics.) If we live out the gospel to the fullest extent in our lives, we will be persecuted. It’s a promise. Based on this, I don’t believe that any politician following the example of Christ could be elected in our country.

Lastly, I think we can run into trouble when we begin moralizing people in the Bible, outside of Christ. Because a writer’s letter made it into the canon and is the Word of God, doesn’t mean that everything that person did was God “ordained.” Paul made mistakes and had weakness, he claimed so himself. Was it right for him to appeal to Caesar? I’m not entirely sure how I stand on that, but I don’t believe we should take it as an example simply because he is canonized.

matt gallion said...

to simply raise more questions: what about injustice? this is the single most difficult question for me to answer when it comes to so-called "pacifism." are Christians who choose not to defend, not to react, not to retaliate and definitely not to initiate, should we simply sit back and watch the world decay in corruption and injustice? don't our inactions often portray us as apathetic? the kingdom of God is the repairing of this world of injustice. how do we do that against people such as Hitler?

secondly, as far as self-defense goes, i recommend Stassen's "Kingdom Ethics." his take on self-defending is very interesting and at least worth considering.

i think that as Americans who have seen too many action movies, we are too quick to say that the sword is the only way to accomplish things politically. we demand that we become apolitical because that equals war. i don't agree with the war, per se. i also don't feel its my place to question the institution that God has allowed to take power. ultimately, we as Christians need to follow a higher path that pursues true Liberty and Justice for all. one of the most effective ways to do that in our country (a democracy, not an empire) is to utilize what opportunities God has given us to make a difference in people's lives. i'm not saying that the kingdoms of earth and the kingdom of God can ever become one at the same. call me a pragmatist, but i believe because of the form of government we now have, which is entirely foreign to any of the writers of the new testament, we can make a difference politically. we must not be to quick to unfairly read the 1tst century into the 21st without at least considering the differences. that may be just as dangerous as reading the reciprocal.

finally, i have noticed, and these are only observations, that the way of peace can often open the door to elitism. we, the upcoming generation, often feeled as if we have been lied to about the intricacies of the system, about the gospels and about the whole world. we must be careful to love those we declare our enemies. when i began to more fully understand the teachings of Jesus, i was very quick to assume that only I understood it because all those other people had it wrong. who am I to say a policeman is a bad Christian because he's a policeman? who am i to say a politician who craves power is anti-gospel?

we who "embrace" the love of the weak, the poor, the beat-up and our enemies have made new opponents whom we despise.

Darryl Schafer said...


Miroslav Volf has a book called "Exclusion and Embrace." He has a line that I think pretty much sums up the issue of injustice that you mentioned.

"My thought [is] pulled in two different directions by the blood of the innocent crying out to God and by the blood of God's Lamb offered to the guilty. How does one remain loyal to the demand of the oppressed for justice and to the gift of forgiveness that the Crucified offered to the perpetrators?"

The rest of the book is an expansion upon that question (I'm only about half-way through it at the moment). Consequently, he was taught by Jurgen Moltmann, so you can kind of get an idea where's he coming from.

Tom 1st said...

I think maybe part of our problem in thinking about this issue is that we restrict pacifism to either 1. the subject of war OR 2. a response to any act of physical violence.

What if pacifism is dealing with ALL acts of violence - not just the physical ones.

Cannot mental abuse (often by men to women), ideological oppression (Communism in the Former Soviet Union), and theological manipulations (like can be seen throughout the SBC) be considered acts of violence when they are exerted against the will of another person?

If this is the case, then pacifism on this level is still possible even if one is a member of the dominant culture.

If violence is the exertion of one's will on another person without their consent, and for the the prosperity of the actor, then pacifism is possible on this kind of level - even when physical violence is not involved.

Just some thoughts...they may not actually be going anywhere important.

Jon said...


I think that you have come to the crux of the issue. Yet another tension in life about which Christians must grapple. This is a good thing.

Rodney Reeves said...

Jon, Darryl, Michael, Matt, and Tom,

Thanks for your insightful comments. I'll start by saying I think Jon is right: the tension is what matters. Obviously, we're not going to "settle" the issue (politics would make us "choose" one side or the other--but life is too messy for such a binary view of things).

Darryl, yes, I think a follower of Jesus could be a soldier/policewoman or a politician, but she won't be very good at it. I think Christians would make great soldiers and politicians--the world wouldn't like it, though. Rom. 13 must be read in light of 12. Submission to the Roman Empire is the way we overcome evil (Roman Empire) with good (ultimate submission to Christ, Rom. 13:10ff).

Jon, I don't believe we're under the Noahide laws (even though James and the boys tried to enforce them, Acts 15). To me, Christ fulfilled every promise, every covenant. So, to be "in Christ" is my only covenant obligation. As soon as we make room for another covenant, I think we've opened the door for Luther's "two swords" or (even more dangerous)a literal reading/application of OT texts (America = Israel; when, in reality, a literal interpretation of the OT leads to Judaism, exclusively). Your "personal" vs. "corporate" application of justice reminds me of Niebuhr--an idea I've flirted with adopting, but, alas, I can't (it seems like we always end up choosing the kingdom of men over the kingdom of God).

I think Michael makes a good point: When Paul played the "citizenship" card, was that the best he could do? By the time he wrote Philippians (as Darryl suggested), he sees his heavenly citizenship as mutually exclusive to his Roman citizenship (something the Roman colony of Philippi was wrestling with). Is this an example where Paul has "progressed" in his thinking?

We should all heed Matt's warning: making enemies because of our "stand" for Christ. No doubt. We will have enemies. The question is: how do we see them? As opponents who must be conquered, or as "lost sheep" who need reclamation? I can't count the times I've "lost my way" and God has reclaimed me, brought me back from my selfish ways. I want to WIN the argument. Jesus wins by dying. I always get concerned when people in power wield their power as acts of "stewardship." Here's the question: what are we trying to protect? I am amazed at how quickly I can justify my sin. So, I shouldn't be surprised when I hear people justify "our government" when it protects our interests.

Finally, Tom makes a good point. We are limiting ourselves when we reduce talk about pacifism to militaristic terms. Remember, Jesus taught about the violence of serial adultery as well.

Anybody want to talk about that?


Jon said...

Dr. Reeves,

In Acts 15, the Mosaic Covenant was the topic of debate, not Noah's. Also note that the apostles and elders finally decide that it is not good to eat blood, which happens to be in the Noahic covenant. In fact, as I read it, it seems to me that God is still upholding all of the conditions of His covenant with Noah, even up to the present day. Of course, Jesus fulfilled the law, and I don't wish to argue otherwise. I also don't want to espouse a literal reading/application of the OT as you mention. It just seems to me that God's covenant with Noah precedes Moses (i.e. "the law"), and perhaps because of that fact (?) God is still honoring it. Even if He is not, I still think the principle in Genesis 9:6 is a valid one. (Given my view of justice, you can see why I would think this way.) You have given an excellent critique, though--one I will have to ponder more thoroughly. Thank you.

Rodney Reeves said...


Yes, the topic of the council was the Mosaic covenant, i.e., circumcision. The decision made by the council, however, was to defer to the Noahidic covenant (something we don't keep--neither did Paul!).

I like my steak medium.


JR. Madill said...

Dr. Reeves,

With regards to Paul and his ministry (and, I think, to Jesus and HIS ministry), i think you make a good point - we must pursue Christ above all and to the exclusion of all else. But I think that we, very much like Jesus and Paul, live among peoples who have conflated religion with earthly/worldly politics. If we are to act within our own faith communities, then will we not need to address issues of American citizenship vs. Kingdom citizenship within those same communities?

I think we see Paul doing this all the time, especially (as you've pointed out) in Romans and Philippians (and Colossians!). Clearly the Revelator is dealing extensively with this issue, and Jesus himself has to deal with his own unique form of it (render unto Caesar, the Legion, etc.)

and regardless of whether we are the powerful or the oppressed (as Tom indicated, we can still be both , even in America), should we not still seek to cultivate the same attitude (that was in Christ Jesus)? What characterizes us as pacifist... our position as victim or oppressor, or the mind we cultivate within ourselves?

in any case, I think you're right - though we're quibbling over semantics, I think we're ending up in the same place.

matt gallion said...

wow. i should not be allowed near computers at 7.06 am. did anybody else notice that i used the word "feeled"?

Michael Gilley said...

It seems that matters of the faith are always hard to resolve, even within oneself, but nonetheless we are held accountable to them. Love does not look like full acceptance. (Gal. 6.1-3) When other brothers and sisters stumble we are called to embrace them, but within the context of restoring them and nursing them like a broken bone. Who are we to judge? “You shall know them by their fruits.” This is limited of course, but we cannot forget Luke’s woes. I believe the stress is always placed then not on what we necessarily do right, but what we do when we do wrong. No one can live as Jesus did fully, but thank God we have him to speak in our name when the court is drawn into session. However, it cheapens grace to just stop there. We are to repent and live right like we were first meant to. We give up everything.

I liked what you said, Dr. Reeves, about protecting. That’s really what violence (and all the nuances therein) is all about, isn’t it? (And politics.) What do we have to fear or loose when we give it all away and trust in a God who says it is his to avenge and his alone? Perhaps it questions his sovereignty when we try to “fix” things ourselves. Lastly, as to the mention about Hitler awhile ago, God took care of him, didn’t he? And not through the hands of the church either.

Jon said...

I prefer a bit less "moo" in my steaks, but point taken.

That reminds me of Greek-class barbecues and a certain professor playing/singing Elton John songs.

matt gallion said...

what bothers me about michael's comment is the apparent apathy towards injustice. What if Hitler kidnapped your friends or family? Would it be so easy to simply submit and wait for God's hand to strike him down? Surely Bonhoeffer wrestled with this.

How can we call that love for the neighbor? It seems a great act of respect for God, but also seems completely unloving to others. It makes one wonder if love for God can be done without the other.

Michael Gilley said...

I would agree that such statements seem apathetic, but only in the world’s eyes. What the world deems important might be just the opposite in view of a resurrection faith. Yes, it would be VERY difficult to hold such views in the face of such horrible injustice as that which was brought during the Holocaust. However, isn’t it in the midst of storms that faith is made? It’s easy to believe in non-retaliation when we, as Americans, aren’t being oppressed. It’s true faith to act upon it, even in the midst of the greatest of injustices. Matt, what you might see as apathy to injustice, I would argue is true faith when acted out because that’s what our Lord did. He protected us from the greatest of all injustices by submitting himself to death, even death on a cross. He did not outwardly fight. He trusted the Father. Also, as for friends and family, aren’t our brothers and sisters all over the world (i.e. China, India, Iraq) being “kidnapped” and oppressed everyday? Aren’t they to mean more than our biological ties? (Matt 12.5; Lk 14.26) We don’t fight for them. The Spirit falls when we (corporate) pray.

matt gallion said...

The difficulty for me is not the issue of suffering in my own life. It's not apathy to choose not to retaliate on one's own behalf. It is apathetic to sit silently and watch others suffer. I don't condone war at all. I don't believe its ever right to kill those we are commanded to love. I believe every form of killing is absolutely wrong. We cannot take another's life. Even more so, when my life will act as a suitable sacrifice for the sake of another, then so be it (I boldly proclaim from my safe bedroom).

But it is precisely because of resurrection faith that I can't justify letting the poor and oppressed remain in poverty and oppression. Jesus came to deliver these people, did he not? How can we who are rich and fat, so to speak, say that those in the world who suffer will just have to suffer. "Heck, we should envy them for their suffering!" we say. "We don't get to suffer here, and suffering is the way of the cross, isn't it?!"

The problem with this is that Jesus did not come to passively suffer and die. He was killed exactly because he chose to do something about the injustice he saw. Jesus was proactive. He came and died for the sake of liberating the poor and oppressed. Suffering for religion's sake forgets this. If we are to suffer, it is to be for our mission of restoration to the poor and oppressed. Because of this, even those poor and oppressed don't have to submit to their unfortunate lot in life. We can make a difference in our world.

Now, I don't doubt the power of prayer, nor do I discourage the regular practice thereof. It is the primary way to affect the will of God on Earth. Even the life of Christ reveals that fact. But is that all he did?

I believe we have a responsibility to the needy in this world. We must pray for them, as Michael suggests, of course. Things will happen because of this, needless to say. But how often are we guilty of using that as a cop-out? Especially when we find out that Jesus didn't promote the violence of which our government and our culture are so rampantly guilty. But there are ways to demand a higher value of life without violence, especially in a democracy where our voices matter.

I do believe Paul was very apolitical. I also believed he lived in a completely form of government which is miles in distinction from our own. Also, Paul used his government whenever it was beneficial to the cause. How much more potential do we have in our world to do likewise?

Granted, there is no standard system for answering these questions. Regardless, we must analyze every situation using all of the revelation of God and the logical capabilities God has given to us as humans. (Holy cow! I think I just became a fan of philosophy, Dr. Reeves! What happened to me?!)

Michael Gilley said...


I absolutely agree with you. So many times people use prayer and even, dare I say, their money as a cop-out. “Well, I’ll just pray for them and throw a little at the offering plate and that’ll make everything ok.” At least, that clears their end of the bargain they think. However, resurrection faith should never be an excuse to sit apathetically but instead it should always be a motive to move without fear. The death and resurrection of Christ our Lord should always be seen in view of the rest of his life. His entire life was a crucifixion culminating at the cross. We are called to the same life. I believe that when the Spirit descends, it gives us the power to live such a life. This does not look like retaliation; we’ve already established that. However, I also don’t believe it looks like defending ourselves or others for that matter. Again, Jesus never lashed out against his enemies. On the road to his crucifixion (his life as crucified) he did heal and touch those who were oppressed by that injustice, the needy. Point is: we as Followers are never called to fight injustice but to love those who are under it by seeing to their needs, and even, when the time has come, to give up our lives in their place. Injustice then cannot kill us since we give it up freely like our Lord. Apathetic “Little Christs” wouldn’t do this. It’s by living the “crucifixion” that we defeat the evil powers in the world, right from under their noses. Taking care of injustice is God’s business. Taking care of those hurt by injustice is ours by the power of God.

It was once said that Philosophy is like chasing a black cat in a dark room that isn’t there. Lord, help us to see in the dark until that day when we will see clearly!

matt gallion said...

I hardly feel like we're fighting anymore, but I do want to "defend" myself by saying I never presumed to say that fighting as a physical acts of violence or retaliation are ever appropriate.

Michael Gilley said...

We were fighting? :) I never thought you came off that way. As a matter of fact, you made it clear that you did not condone such actions or attitudes several times. You have great insight.


ben cassil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ben cassil said...

i like my steak rare.

That's why i sometimes feel (feeled?) convicted in Old Testament classes...

danny wright said...

It's interesting to see that the slaughter of the unborn never arose in this conversation. Its also interesting that if we choose political sides in America we have a choice between a government willing to use the sword to protect its citizens, and at the same time desires to protect the unborn, which is consistent. The other choice is a government that is willing to kill the unborn-arguably the weakest and poorest among us-and as well the infirm. I struggle mightily with the thought of pacifism in light of the named scriptures, but until I figure it all out, "love protects" is my filter. I read this posts a week ago and have given it much thought. Thank you Dr. Reeves.

amberburger said...

dr reeves. i love this convo. thanks for posting this. my husband and i have linked your blog to ours and have mentioned it many times in posts...we enjoy and are challenged by your writings and thank you tremendously.
amber (gaddis) burger

Rodney Reeves said...

Thanks, Danny and Amber, for your comments. Good to hear from old friends.


amberburger said...

dr. reeves. the link my husband posted with this entry on pacifism has generated some good comments i thought you might like to read. his blog is

danny wright said...

Dr. Reeves

I just started a "my favorite posts" on my blog and wanted to add this one but I can't figure out how to because you don't use titles. Can anyone help?

Rodney Reeves said...

I can't answer your question, Danny. I guess, from now on, I need to afix titles to the blogs.

Amber, glad to know others are finding a few of my comments useful for good discussion. Love to meet your family one day.


Anonymous said...

As one with family at war, I am incredibly conflicted. my cousin is in Baghdad right now. read his blog: fascinating stuff.

I am finding war to be increasingly difficult to stomach.

I don't want it to continue, but my background lends itself to violence. Americans are not necessarily violent themselves, but as a whole we are incredibly comfortable with violence as long as we are directly affected.

But we benefit from the violence our country inflicts on the world, particularly the economic violence we do to the third world.

But in response to Dr. Reeves' first statement, I would say that in America of all places we need pacifists. We are in a great position to effect change with our freedom.

Dr. Reeves,
Thanks for the great post!

Anonymous said...

Yes! Amber revealed your blog to me...greetings, and looking forward to the next post! ;)