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France has once again been subject to an attack which the president has dubbed “terrorist”. A man has been decapitated and the aggressor has been said to wave a black Islamic State flag. Meanwhile, over 40 people have been killed in bombings at a hotel in Tunisia and a mosque in Kuwait. Some believe that the attacks have been coordinated.
The threat of violent extremism shouldn’t be diminished. The Islamic State has an ideology very similar to Nazism – a belief that they’re superior and have the right to kill people who don’t look like and believe like them. Much like the 21-year old boy who went into a church in Charleston, South Carolina, last week and killed nine people because of the colour of their skin. He wasn’t labeled a terrorist that quickly as the guy in France was – instead we got to see childhood pictures of him and speculations about his mental state.
It is ridiculous how common this media logic is: dark-skinned aggressors are politically motivated terrorists, while light-skinned aggressors are confused lone-wolves with mental problems. Even Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik is not very often described as a terrorist, although it has been stated in court that he isn’t a psychopath but had a xenophobic ideology as the basis of his crime.
Speaking of xenophobia, Europeans who lean towards those ideas will most surely use the recent attack in France as an argument for deporting more Muslims to countries like Syria and Iraq, where there is war and terror fully operating. Now, that’s a horrible solution to the problem. The attacks in Tunisia and Kuwait today are illustrative: most victims from Islamic terrorism live in the middle east. Most of the Islamic State’s victims are Muslims! “Solving” Islamic terrorism with deportations is like “Solving” the holocaust and world war two with deporting every Nazi and Jew to Germany. It only gets worse if you do that.
So what is the solution then? Let’s look at the Bible. Did you know that one of Christianity’s greatest missionaries was a terrorist? His name was Saul.
This post is written by Micah Bales at his own blog and is published here with permission. It is the best article I’ve seen so far about Christian nonviolence and ISIS.
A couple of folks I really respect – Kate Gould of Friends Committee on National Legislation (aka, the Quaker Lobby), and Jim Wallis of Sojourners – were recently on the O’Reilly Factor. For those of you who don’t watch cable news, this is a television program where Bill O’Reilly basically screams at people and incites hatred of anything non-white, non-rich, and non-Republican. I normally don’t watch the show. But when I heard that Kate and Jim were going to be talking, I tuned in.
I knew almost immediately this wasn’t going to be good. It’s Bill’s program, so he gets to frame the question. Here’s what he asks: Do Christian pacifists have a solution for stopping ISIS?
It’s the wrong question. O’Reilly knows it’s the wrong question, and that’s why he’s asking it. Unfortunately, both Gould and Wallis attempt to answer his question directly and rationally. Gould presents an argument for diplomatic measures to curb ISIS’ support. Wallis tries to explain that O’Reilly’s rhetoric of holy war will only lead to a wider conflagration and cost more lives.
This is great for Bill O’Reilly. To these subtle, rational arguments, all he has to do is scream and berate. At one point, O’Reilly interrupts Jim Wallis mid-sentence and demands: How would you stop the ISIS savages from murdering innocent people? How? (more…)
This article is one of the best defenses for Christian pacifism I have read, written by Pentecostal pastor Eric Gabourel. It was originally posted on the website of his church, Live Oaks Community Church in New Orleans.
At the last Passover Seder Jesus told His disciples that if they didn’t have a sword to sell their cloaks and buy one (Luke 22:36). This statement is often abused by Christian just war theorist to advocate Christian participation in war. Those who take the position that Jesus was telling His disciples to be prepared for battle or for self-defense only emphasize this phrase from the passage. To have an appropriate assessment of this statement one must treat the entire text of Luke 22:7-53.
Before Jesus tells His disciples to buy swords He calls them to recollect the instance when He told them to go out and preach the Gospel without carrying purse, bag, or sandals (Luke 22:35; Luke 10:4). He then asks them what they lacked when they were sent out to live by faith. Naturally they said “nothing” because of God’s sustaining power that responds to human faith in a lifestyle of radical simplicity and abandonment. Jesus’ teachings on worry and anxiety (Luke 12:24-34) states that we should not be concerned about human necessities: food, shelter, clothing, because these are the things that pagans run after. Moreover, He tells His followers to, “Sell their possessions and give to the poor” (Luke 12:33). Therefore, Jesus in telling his disciples to now carry a purse and a bag was not telling them to expunge what He initially taught them. Jesus was telling them to do these things as a symbol of the impending crisis that was to ensue.
Jesus telling His disciples to carry possessions wasn’t a contradiction just as His prayer on the Mount of Olives wasn’t. In this prayer we also witness the tension of the crossroads that Jesus was standing at. He asked the Father, “if you are willing, take this cup from me” (Luke 22:42). This prayer does not imply that Jesus was trying to avoid His salvific mission to bear the sins of the world. His prayer stresses the overwhelming burden that He was about to bear. He knew and understood His task. That’s why He continued to pray, “yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). The tension was so intense that Luke states that Jesus’ sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground (22:44).
When Jesus said “Love your enemies”, He didn’t add “except terrorists”. On the contrary, it was probably them He had in mind. Charismatic activist Bob Ekblad has written an excellent piece on how Christians should respond to the horrible terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo in Paris, which I quote a large portion of below. I have nothing to add except a little cartoon about Jesus’ amazing enemy love.
How might followers of Jesus respond to this escalation of hatred and violence? Jesus warned his disciples: “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end” (Matthew 24:6). Jesus expects his listeners to be aware that history is heading toward increasing tension and to resist the natural tendencies toward hard- heartedness or violence.
“Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:12–14). Anyone listening to Jesus is told to not be fearful, but to get on with the highest priority work—announcing the Gospel of the Kingdom. What is this Gospel?
It most certainly does not include Christians identifying with or justifying swift and effective retaliation, increased surveillance, growing suspicion, incarceration, hatred against Muslims, or fear. When James and John ask Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans who refused them entry as they traveled toward Jerusalem, Jesus rebukes them, saying: “You do not know of what spirit you are of. For the son of man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (Luke 9:55–56).
Criteria for defending a Christian belief or practice/ Christian pacifism
In order to defend a Christian belief or practice, one must be able to prove it from 1) scripture 2) history, 3) experience, 4) biblical/historical trajectory.
1) Scripture is of most importance. Can it be confirmed by at least two or three scriptures in the Bible? Do those verses apply to new covenant believers? “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” 2 Corinthians 13:1. Many cultic groups have become errant by building doctrines or beliefs around only one scripture.
2) History is of secondary importance. Was it held to by the early church and has it continued until the present day?
Christianity is a pacifist religion. Most of the early church fathers wrote that Christians should not kill or join the military, and the idea of “just wars” first developed in the late fourth century, after Constantine’s reforms. The ante-Nicaene church was to a large extent a non-violent church. This was clearly shown already in 1919 when John Cadoux pubished his book The Early Christian Attitude to War, which is now available online. The research has been updated with Ron Sider’s book The Early Church on Killing, which was published last year. But only by looking at quotes from early church fathers, we see that these saints were far from the war-waging right-wing Christians that unfortunately are quite influential in the public debate today:
Justin Martyr wrote in 160 AD:
“We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder, and everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for ploughshares, our spears for farm tools. Now we cultivate the fear of God, justice, kindness to men, faith, and the expectation of the future given to us by the Father himself through the Crucified One.” (Dialogue with Trypho 110.3.4)
Tatian (dead c. 185), Justin’s disciple, wrote:
“I do not wish to be king, I don’t want to be rich, I reject military service. I hate adultery”(The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Vol. II, reprint 1979, p. 69)
Athenagoras (133-190) wrote:
“What, then, are these teachings in which we are reared? ‘I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven, who makes his sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the just and on the unjust . . . Who [of the pagan philosophers] have so purified their own hearts as to love their enemies instead of hating them; instead of upbraiding those who first insult them (which is certainly more usual), to bless them; and to pray for those who plot against them? . . . With us, on the contrary, you will find unlettered people, tradesmen and old women, who, though unable to express in words the advantages of our teaching, demonstrate by acts the value of their principles. For they do not rehearse speeches, but evidence good deeds. When struck, they do not strike back; when robbed, they do not sue; to those who ask, they give, and they love their neighbours as themselves . . . We . . . cannot endure to see a man being put to death even justly.” (Legatio 11, 34-35 (Athens, 175))
As many of you know, I am glad to be a part of the MennoNerds network, an international blogging community made up by people who are nerdy about Mennonite and Anabaptist theology. The Anabaptists were the central figures in the radical reformation during the 16th century. While Luther and Calvin opposed Catholic teaching they still wanted to kill people and were opposed to freedom of religion. Anabaptists however both criticized Catholic teaching and the Catholic church model when one baptizes entire countries, gather people in cathedrals and kill those who don’t agree with you.
The Anabaptists were of course persecuted and killed both by Catholics and Protestants. However, some survived and can today be found in three main groups: the Amish who dress funny and live environmentally friendly, the Hutterites who dress funny and have everything in common, and the Mennonites who dress boringly and write blogs about Anabaptism.
- Jesus Centered– Jesus stands as the lens by which Anabaptists read the entire Bible, and the exemplary by which we engage all theology.
- Free Church of Confessing, Baptized Disciples – the Anabaptists were opposed to infant baptism partly because it wasn’t Biblical, and partly because it created a society where your nationality, not your faith, defined you church membership, and that was opposed to freedom of religion
- Agents of God’s Shalom – Anabaptists are pacifists committed to non-violence, but not only do we want an absence of war but also a presence of Shalom, justice and harmony.
Yesterday was the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day that feels extremely important to remember in xenophobic Europe of today. As Spain is going fascist, the neo-Nazi “Christian” party Jobbik has 12% of seats in the Hungarian parliament and islamophobia is growing rapidly, many are afraid that the economic crisis will throw Europe back to a similar state like the 1930’s. The period when Adolf Hitler gained power.
There is a great number of extremely simplistic solutions to how the second world war would have been prevented, the most common is probably to kill Hitler as a child. I cannot count how many times I’ve heard people dream about this “what if” scenario. Not long ago it was discovered that Hitler actually almost died as a child when he fell through the ice, but a friend, who later became a priest, saved him. The Daily Mail called it “the most devastating act of mercy in history”.
But of course, Adolf’s soul was darkened not because of mercy but because of lack thereof. The upcoming genocide in the Central African Republic won’t be stopped by people who let children die but by people who save them. Our culture is so dipped in a logic of death that we think the best way to stop a murderer is to kill him, that the best way to stop the Holocaust was to kill civilians in German cities, that the best way to stop the war against Japan was to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people with nuclear bombs.
I was raised in the Lutheran Church of Sweden, the biggest church in my country, formerly state-church, with around seven million members of whom 85 % according to a recent poll don’t believe in Jesus. When I was saved in 2006, Martin Luther was one of my spiritual heroes. As I read the Scriptures and compared it to Catholicism I realized that they had added a lot of stuff that Jesus and the apostles never talked about, and I thought Luther was one of the first to realize that and to resurrect the original Gospel. Arguing that Scripture should be the only source to theology and pointing at Paul’s emphasis on justification by faith and grace, he criticized the unbiblical Catholic indulgence and several unbiblical doctrines. I thought Luther was awesome.
As I learned more about Luther and Lutheranism however, I started to realize that perhaps he wasn’t entirely biblical either. In fact, he changed the order of biblical books according to his personal opinion, placing the letter of James, one of my favourite biblical books, last because it didn’t make sense with his interpretation of sola fide. And he was a quite violent man, justifying wars, capital punishment, persecution against Jews and execution of Anabaptists. In fact, as I discovered the existance of Anabaptists and their radical, pacifist Jesus-centered theology, I realized that Luther was not the only one protesting against Catholic errors, and far from the best.
I hope to return to my criticism of Luther in a future post, but right now I want to turn to the Augsburg Confession, one of the most important Lutheran documents that actually is one of the primary faith documents of the Church of Sweden, in line with the Nicene Creed. It’s a really weird document. It starts like this:
Most Invincible Emperor, Caesar Augustus, Most Clement Lord: Inasmuch as Your Imperial Majesty has summoned a Diet of the Empire here at Augsburg to deliberate concerning measures against the Turk, that most atrocious, hereditary, and ancient enemy of the Christian name and religion, in what way, namely, effectually to withstand his furor and assaults by strong and lasting military provision…
As Nelson “Madiba” Mandela went home to the Lord, basically all of my activist friends have mourned his departure, and of course my South African friends as well. When I was in SA this summer many prayed for his healing, not because they thought he was immortal but because they felt that they weren’t ready to live in a South Africa without him.
He stood not only for justice and equality but also for unity and reconciliation, and even though I personally think he treated the whites a bit too kindly through letting them keep large parts of their wealth, and thus not overcoming SA’s enormous economic inequality, the fact that he wasn’t as hostile towards whites as for example Robert Mugabe created an atmosphere of much more tolerance and acceptance.
However, many South African whites are very disappointed with him and the ANC, some for racist reasons and some for facing the fact that they’re not as privileged as before, and thus there is still a hostility towards Mandela. This is appearant in that some whites still call him a “terrorist” just as the racist minority government, as well as the United States, once did. And even today some Americans join their white South African cousins in calling Mandela “terrorist”. Needless to say, this is severely problematic.
One should recognize that “terrorist” is a pejorative term. It is used by states that kill civilians to describe small armed groups that oppose their interests. Yes, states that kill civilians. I know of no state that accuse others of killing civilians that do not do it themselves. And I don’t just mean through collateral damage, but intentional killing of civilians.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore. (Micah 4:3)
A soldier of the civil authority must be taught not to kill men and to refuse to do so if he is commanded, and to refuse to take an oath. If he is unwilling to comply, he must be rejected for baptism. A military commander or civic magistrate must resign or be rejected. If a believer seeks to become a soldier, he must be rejected, for he has despised God. — Hippolytus of Rome
Ron Sider is one of the most influential activist theologians in the Western church; his 1977 book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger has been read by over 400 000 people and has been ranked as one of the top 50 books that have shaped evangelicals by Christianity Today. This same magazine has now made an interview with Sider because of the publication of his new book The Early Church on Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment.
As the title suggests, Sider looks at the writings from the church fathers and other early Christian documents to see what they thought about killing. And as we previously have written on this blog, he found that they were pacifists. They were against all forms of killing; war, abortion and capital punishment – which should confuse the traditional left-right political paradigm a lot.
Just war-proponents sometimes argue that the reason most church fathers argued that Christians shouldn’t join the military was that idolatry was so common in the Roman army. This, Sider says, is not true:
Their most frequent statement is that killing is wrong. Killing a human being is simply something that Christians don’t do, and they’ll cite the Micah passage or Jesus’ “love your enemies” to support that. But the clear statement that Christians don’t kill is the foundation.
The most frequently stated reason that Christians didn’t join the army and go to war is that they didn’t kill. But it’s also true that in Tertullian, for example, idolatry in the Roman army is a second reason for not joining the military. But it’s not true that idolatry is the primary or exclusive reason that the early Christians refused to join the military. More often they just say killing is wrong.
Today is 50 years since Martin Luther King‘s extremely famous “I have a dream” speech at Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. He has inspired countless people through the decades to passionately work for justice and freedom using non-violence, and also to seek the God he so zealously followed. The problems he adressed – racism, injustice and violence – still exist in various forms, and so we should take his example and keep up the good fight against it. Here are three areas I think needs special concern:
Racism and Xenophobia in Europe
The ugliness of racism sadly exists in most places arounf the world, and even though the situation for African Americans have become better it is far from optimal. Yet, as a European, I think what we are seeing here sometimes are even far worse. In Greece a neo-Nazi party got 7 % of the seats in the parliament. In Hungary, a neo-Nazi party got 12 % of the seats in the parliament. Hate crimes against Jews, Muslims, Blacks, homosexuals and other minorities are on the rise. Just a couple of weeks ago, a Muslim woman here in Sweden got beaten by a racist for wearing a hijab. The event caused a massive protest where thousands of women weared hijab in solidarity. Then, a new group of racists found the woman and beat her up again. What can we do? Use the example of Luther King: be a light in the darkness, use nonviolence in the midst of violence, be loving in the midst of hate, welcome the stranger in the midst of xenophobia. (more…)
My previous blog post about charismatic theology and miracles among the early Anabaptists became very popular, it’s already one of the most wildly read posts this year! So since you obviously like that stuff I want to share an excerpt from another great article, A Pentecostal Drawn to Anabaptism, by Richard Gillingham:
Why I was drawn to Anabaptism
In the history of Classical Pentecostalism, particularly through reading the late Walter Hollenweger’s excellent book Pentecostalism, I found a narrative in which my experience could be placed, interpreted and one of which I could be proud. What then of my relationship with Anabaptism? In conversations with others it is clear that the primary means of attraction to the Anabaptist Network is relational, but in my case this was not so. My interest in Anabaptism was as a consequence of re-reading John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus after researching the theology of Stanley Hauerwas in my postgraduate work.
In my reading it was clear that Anabaptism, like Pentecostalism, is strongly apocalyptic. I think this similarity is a key reason for my attraction to the Anabaptist vision (more on that later). Reading their respective histories some of the similarities between Pentecostalism and Anabaptism are striking. For example:
A Charismatic view of the Church
Pentecostalism is well known for its emphasis on the spiritual gifts, particularly the gift of tongues. While Anabaptism, especially in its early history, certainly had similar manifestations this is not what I mean by calling both churches charismatic. Rather, both have a very strong emphasis on every-member ministry in the Church. Early Pentecostals regularly claimed that Pentecostalism had no earthly leaders. Both traditions assert that every member of the Church has been gifted for a unique ministry. The historian Augustus Cerillo writes that the ‘central element in Pentecostal ideology was its belief in the church as a Holy Spirit-created egalitarian community in which all the walls of separation produced by racial, ethnic, gender, and class differences would be washed away in the blood of Jesus Christ’ (Pentecostal Currents, 237-238).
From now on this blog is a part of the MennoNerds network, a bunch of bloggers (or nerds) who like Anabaptism. Ana-what? Anabaptism, the grandmother of the Baptist, Pentecostal and a bunch of other movements, which was and is characterized by pacifism, economic equality and radical theology. While I’m not a part of an Anabaptist church (they simply don’t exist (yet) in Sweden), I was involved in forming the Anabaptist Network of Scandinavia, and together with my friend Andrew Meakins I’m administrating a facebook page called Charismatic Holiness Anabaptist Theology.
While several modern-day Anabaptists eagerly seek miracles and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, there still are many who don’t. Not necessarily because they don’t believe in miracles but rather that they believe it isn’t part of their tradition. But it is. In 1995, Stuart Murray, one of the leading Anabaptist theologians in Europe, wrote this article about the early Anabaptists’ view on spiritual gifts. Here is an excerpt:
Anabaptism as a Charismatic Movement: Diverse Phenomena in Early Decades
What would sixteenth-century Anabaptists have made of the “Toronto Blessing” that has impacted many churches in Great Britain in recent months? How did the Radical Reformers respond to such spiritual phenomena’? The charismatic aspect of Anabaptism has not received much attention from historians, but evidence of spiritual phenomena in early Anabaptist groups is substantial. Some welcomed manifestations of the Holy Spirit, while others were wary and attempted to regulate or discourage such expressions. Basic to the Anabaptist view of charismatic gifts, however, was a belief that a transformed life was the true measure and sign of Holy Spirit presence.
For Dirk Philips, the Spirit had a vital role as agent of regeneration. The Spirit writes the new convenant on the hearts of believers and enables them to participate in the divine nature. The Spirit is the earthly presence of Jesus, empowering ministers called by God and helping believers interpret the Scripture. Anabaptists equated “baptism in the Spirit” with conversion, but expected more to happen experientially than did the Reformers. The radicals were not satisfied with forensic ideas of grace, typified by the legal terminology of “justification by faith”. Rather, they saw grace as “the inner light that directed a life of righteousness “.
The following text was originally published by someone on a site called Harmless as Doves. I thought it was so good that I copied it and saved it on my computer, but now I’ve seen that the original site has been removed. So here it is, re-entering the Internet:
Luke 22:35-38 is often cited to challenge the Christian pacifist perspective. In this passage, Jesus instructed his disciples to buy swords, amongst other items.
Luke 22:35-38: Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. For it is written: ‘he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That is enough,” he replied.
First we must ask, why did Jesus want them to buy swords? It seems unlikely that Jesus’ instructions were intended to prepare his disciples for armed conflict and self defense, because two swords does not seem to be “enough,” as Jesus put it, to defend twelve men. In fact, in the passage itself Jesus explained the purpose for the swords. Jesus instructed his disciples to buy the swords, “for it is written: ‘he was numbered with the transgressors.’”
Here, Jesus referenced Isaiah 53:12, which contains one of the many Old Testament prophesies concerning the life of the Messiah. Jesus wanted the swords present when he was arrested, because the presence of the swords would indicate to those arresting him that he was one of the “transgressors,” that he was leading a violent rebellion. Jesus again referenced this while he was being arrested: