Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 22, 2001
The Case against Christian pacifism
Why the 'peace churches' are morally and theologically wrong
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
There are reportedly more than 100 pacifist or "peace church" Christian sects in North America, including Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, various Brethren groups, among others, as well as Seventh-day Adventists, all of whom cleave to an ethic of refusing to serve their country as combatants in wartime.
While I acknowledge that in most instances these people refuse to fight out of sincerely-held good motives, I believe that they are mistaken both in a social and theological context, and these issues have been moved to the front-burner by the events of 9/11.
Conscientious objectors live in our society and enjoy its benefits of freedom, safety and prosperity, which have been bought and paid for with the blood of those who were willing to fight, and if necessarily give their lives, to establish and defend our way of life. That implies a social responsibility to put one's shoulder to the wheel when called upon.
As for theological objections, the concept of a just war in Christian terms was defined by St. Augustine of Hippo in the fourth century, and later refined by St. Thomas Aquinas, the salient points being that war must be a last resort after peace negotiations fail, must have proper intent to defend the realm and righteousness, be directed by lawful authority, waged so innocent people are protected as much as possible, and that evil results don't outweigh the desired benefits.
It is notable that neither in his encounter with the centurion in Matthew 8, nor with the Roman soldiers in Luke 3, does Jesus make any suggestion or implication that they renounce the profession of arms.
Acts 10 tells us of Cornelius, "a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man, and one who feared God with all his house, who gave gifts for the needy generously to the people, and always prayed to God," and to whom an angel appears with a message from God. St. Paul does not encourage Cornelius to quit the army.
As for the argument that Christian soldiering seems to contradict Christ's teaching about turning the other cheek, Christ himself didn't eschew force when he deemed it necessary, as his treatment of the Temple money-changers amply demonstrated.
"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth," he warned. "I came not to send peace, but a sword." The existence of evil necessitates warring against it. At the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples: "he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one."
In an essay on the current situation, Jesuit Father James Schall, of Georgetown University, notes that: "In this particular case, with the long record of Christianity before Islam, the question might be asked, 'What do we call those Christians who do turn the other cheek in this context, especially those with the power and obligation to defend us?'"
"What we call them, eventually," says Schall, "are Muslims. The net result of a simplistic view of this virtue of non-resistance, something historically resisted in the central Christian tradition, is ironically to eliminate Christianity as it has been systematically eliminated in lands lost to Islam over the centuries."
Schall cites Secretary of the Navy James Webb, commenting: "These terrorists have considered themselves to be at war with us for the past 20 years. . . . They have no intention of stopping on their own. This war will not be over until they are thoroughly defeated."
And the only way to defeat them is through the application of force. Turning the other cheek will be perceived by our determined adversaries as weakness, and will invite more terrorist attacks and atrocities.
Appeasement in the face of naked aggression has been proven over and over to be disastrously wrongheaded, and those who advocate meekness as a response to predatory evil must take responsibility for the consequences. When you have a foe bent on killing you (and as British Prime Minister Tony Blair noted, if the hijackers could have taken out 70,000 rather than 7,000 they surely would have), the only rational recourse is to set about killing him first.
Osama bin Laden has declared that he recognizes no distinction between civilians and non-civilians. Faced with such an enemy, the only solution is to take him out before he kills more of us, as he doubtless will given the opportunity.
C.S. Lewis once observed that just as all sex is not adultery, all killing is not murder, and certainly killing someone who is intent on killing others, if that be the only practical means of stopping him, is not only not murder, it is a moral imperative.
In such a context, pacifism is a moral dead end. We have no right to turn the other cheek when the safety of others is at stake.
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