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We live in a violent world. The war in Ukraine is killing thousands and causes huge waves of refugees, economic instability and food shortages. The war in Syria is still going on, and the conflicts in Yemen, Afghanistan and South Sudan no longer even make headlines. During most of the last decade, the world has become less peaceful.
In response to such violence, many people think that the solution is more violence. Conventional wisdom tells us that we need to arm ourselves so we become stronger and deadlier than the “bad guys”.
Christian pacifists, who just like most Christians for the first 300 years believe that Jesus’ words about loving our enemies and turning the other cheek mean that we should not use violence, are often accused of being naive. Some have even claimed that Christian pacifism is evil! While abstaining from violence sounds loving in theory, many argue that the practical consequences of such a stance is catastrophic with countless innocent people killed as the “good guys” refused to harm or kill those who were after civilian blood.
War and violence are thus portrayed as a necessary evil, a last resort that we unfortunately have to use to stop authoritarian, mass-killing regimes.
All this is intuition. It’s what seems reasonable. But when researchers started to compare violent resistance to nonviolent resistance, they were in for a chock.
It turns out that nonviolence is at least twice as effective.
I encountered this research when I was part of a program in peace and conflict studies at Uppsala University. The findings is a real game-changer, making scholars from all around the world rethinking the need and use for military violence in the modern era.
An influential study by conflict researchers Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan from 2012 showed that nonviolent movements are twice as effective as violent movements in achieving their goals. They expanded upon this research in the book Why Civil Resistance Works. They collected data from over 300 protest movements between 1900 and 2016. 53 % of the nonviolent movements managed to achieve their goal, usually a change of regime, within a year, compared with 26% of the violent movements.
Of the 25 largest movements they studied, 20 were nonviolent, and 14 of them achieved their goals. Most astonishingly, if the nonviolent movements included at least 3.5% of the population, they always succeeded in meeting their goal. Always. Chenoweth calls this the “3.5 rule”.
This study was groundbreaking, as no one had compared the results of violent and nonviolent methods in such a comprehensive way before. In 2018, Chenoweth published a new study together with Evan Perkoski that examined how well nonviolence compared to violence counteracted mass killing, when regimes kill 1000 people or more. They found that nonviolent movements were five times more effective at avoiding this than violent movements.
What are the reasons for the effectiveness of nonviolence? Chenoweth points to several factors. Nonviolence is generally cheaper and can easily recruit many more, there is greater variety of nonviolent methods than violent methods, it is psychologically more difficult for loyalists to harm or kill nonviolent trainees than armed rebels, and it is easier for loyalists to change sides and unite with nonviolent protests and nonviolent sabotage.
Chenoweth’s work has made a significant impact on peace and conflict research in general. Even non-pacifists like James Pattison and Ed Cairns have gained greater respect for non-violent methods and warned against resorting to violence too quickly. Cairns wrote:
I’ve never believed that pacifism is an adequate answer to a world of atrocities that – in truly exceptional cases – call out for an armed response. But there’s an awful lot of evidence for caution – and reason to give peace a chance.
Note that Chenoweth’s research does not say that nonviolence leads to guaranteed success. Rather, nonviolence is more likely to succeed than violence. Even in countries where nonviolent campaigns have failed, people have been ten times more likely to move to democracy within a five-year period than if they protested with violence.
Even if you can not guarantee that non-violence will succeed, you can also not guarantee that violence will succeed. The “necessary” in violence as “necessary evil” is difficult to prove scientifically.
This is great news! Loving enemies, like Jesus commanded us to, is actually more beneficial than killing them. Such love does not have to be at the expense of protecting the innocent. The question now is if the leaders of the world will take this research seriously and spend time and money developing nonviolent defense systems rather than military ones?
“War is not the will of God, this we know.”
– Folke Thorell, Evangelii Härold, 1967.
“God will let the satanic rearmament of nuclear weapons and biological warfare strike the godless themselves in forms of plagues that will exterminate large portions of humanity.”
– Folke Thorell, Evangelii Härold, 1968.
Pentecostals were the largest religious group among conscientious objectors in Sweden between 1967 and 1971, a time characterized by passionate debates on the ethics of war in the shadows of Vietnam and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In my master’s thesis on church history, I aimed to review and analyze how the Pentecostal periodicals Evangelii Härold and Dagen described and ethically motivated military violence and pacifism during this period.
The purpose was to identify potential motivations for pacifism and/or military support during a time when a large number of Pentecostals refused to bear arms, with particular interest in how these motivations related to ethical evaluation on contemporary wars.
The findings were fascinating. Pacifism and conscientious objection were regularly promoted and seldom criticized, while most contemporary military violence was condemned with one glaring exception: Israeli warfare.
Folke Thorell, quoted above, thought that God principally is against war, but allows them to fulfill his eschatological plans and even engages himself in warfare. He envisioned two-thirds of all Jews to die in a future third world war involving nuclear bombs, a genocide so brutal it would make the Holocaust seem “minuscule” in comparison.
Unlike the American war effort in Vietnam, Israel’s wars were commonly viewed as eschatologically significant and biblically predicted holy wars, with several writers suggesting that God himself has waged and will wage war on Israel’s behalf. Pacifism was primarily motivated by obedience to the Bible rather than empathy, fitting with Lisa Cahill’s theory of obediential pacifism being distinct from empathic pacifism in the Christian tradition.
Support for Israeli warfare was also derived from biblical interpretation, primarily based on Old Testament texts. It was further motivated by ideas of Jewish suffering and death being part of God’s plan, with several Pentecostal writers speculating that an apocalyptic genocide would precede the second coming of Christ.
Many Pentecostals did not see this as standing in conflict with personal pacifism and conscientious objection, as both views were perceived as biblical.
Future research could further explore the relationship between Pentecostal eschatology and empathy, along with how mid-century Pentecostal Zionism might have been influenced by antisemitic ideas from the 1930’s.
Originally posted at PCPJ.
Once again, the Holy Land has been struck by war.
I feel compelled to write something that I wish nobody should have to write, something that should be obvious to everyone but which for some ill-conceived reason can be controversial to state in certain contexts:
War is awful.
Hamas firing on and killing the Israeli civilian population is awful.
The counterattacks by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) killing Palestinian civilians are awful.
War has no winners, there is no one to “cheer” on as if it were a sports event, there is no victory in war that does not come at the price of hating, tormenting and killing your fellow human beings.
Take a look at these pictures.
The upper image shows an apartment in Israel that was hit by one of Hamas’ rockets a few weeks ago. Five-year-old Ido Avigal, pictured to the right, lived in that apartment. He died immediately.
The picture below shows a girl being rescued by medical personnel after an Israeli attack in Gaza. The attack destroyed nine buildings and killed 43 people, including eight children.
In total, 68 children have been killed in the Holy Land these last couple of weeks. 66 of them were Palestinian.
All of this is awful. It’s sickening.
I honestly can’t understand those who are either trying to portray Hamas’ rocket attacks as a legitimate “freedom struggle” or the Israeli excessive violence as a legitimate “self-defense.” It’s madness on both sides.
They all kill children. I repeat: THEY KILL CHILDREN.
Of course, some will say: “Yes, but the children that my favorite team kills are really the other team’s fault because they use all the children who happen to die as human shields”.
Can’t you hear how crazy that sounds?
Sure, human shields are being used in this conflict both by Hamas and by the IDF, but many of these children have nothing to do with the warring parties. For example, five of the 66 Palestinian children who were killed by IDF attacks were sons and daughters of an employee of the Danish organization DanChurchAid.
They had nothing to do with Hamas or the war. They were just children living in Gaza and now they are dead because war is awful.
Thankfully, the violence has currently ended in a ceasefire, but it’s a fragile one. Please pray that peace negotiations are reactivated and that both sides lay down their weapons for good.
We know for a fact that more rockets from Hamas won’t end the occupation, because it has never worked so far. We also know for a fact that IDF bombing Gaza doesn’t end the Hamas’ rocket attacks, because it has never worked so far.
We don’t need people cheering on either side of the conflict as if the killing were some kind of a football game. We need peace. Even those who do not follow Jesus need to realize the wisdom and power of loving their enemies. And that love means that we cannot rejoice in anyone’s death.
God lets the sun shine on the righteous and the unrighteous, he wants us not only to love those who love us but to break the spiral of violence by reaching out to those who hate us. That’s the only way forward.
Last week, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed receives his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. We’re very excited here at Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice since this is the second time in a row that a Pentecostal is being awarded this prestigious prize.
Some have the impression that Ahmed is hiding his Pentecostal faith for diplomatic reasons: his nation is divided among both ethnic and religious lines. I recently spoke to Dr Jörg Haustein at Cambridge University who is an expert on Ethiopian Pentecostalism. He told me this wasn’t exactly the case.
“I don’t think he de-emphasizes his Pentecostal faith, but he’s very aware of which audience he is speaking to”, Dr. Haustein says. “There are videos on YouTube, not put up by him but by others, where he’s very Pentecostal in his rhetoric. He knows how to employ his faith in a more plural religiously appealing manner, but it’s also empowering him in the bold things that he’s done. He actually feels that he’s doing God’s work, and that this is what he needs to be doing at this time.”
Ahmed is actually not the first Pentecostal Prime Minister of Ethiopia, his predecessor Hailemariam Desalegn was a Oneness Pentecostal. Dr. Haustein has previously researched his faith and rise to power. I ask him how Pentecostals ended up as top politicians in the country. (more…)
Jesus told us to love our enemies (Mt 5:44). This has been the cornerstone of Christian pacifist theology; whether you look at the early church, or the Anabaptists or the early Pentecostals, they all agreed on that loving enemies is incompatible with killing them, and hence they refused to wage wars or use violence against other human beings.
For this reason, the Christian non-pacifist has to argue for one of the following positions:
- Killing is an act of love towards the one you kill.
- We should not follow Jesus’ command to love enemies when we decide to kill people.
There are serious problems with both of these ideas. Let’s start with the first one.
Killing or Kissing
CS Lewis famously argued that it’s possible to love people that you kill and that this is in fact what we ought to do: “We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating.” Augustine argued in his just war-theory that declaring and fighting a war could be an act of love, even though it admittedly manifests as something different than what love usually looks like.
However, this clashes with the fact that those who are trained for combat are molded into hating and dehumanizing their enemy. An army that actually loves those that it is supposed to kill, isn’t a good army. It’s already psychologically challenging to kill a human being even if it’s just a stranger to you, and loving them only makes it worse. (more…)
The book of Joshua describes how the Israelites on God’s command invaded the land of Canaan and killed all who stood in their way. Over and over we read how they left “no survivors” (Josh 10:28, 30, 33). To modern ears, this clearly sounds like a genocide. Yet, Scripture actually tells us that this wasn’t the case: there were survivors!
I talk about this in the video above. In response to the accusation that the God of the Bible commands genocide, apologists like Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan have given a renewed focus to the hyperbole theory for being a good, evangelical take on this problem. They even wrote a book about this together, suitably titled Did God Really Commande Genocide? Flannagan writes on his blog:
Joshua affirms he exterminated all the Canaanites in this region. Repeatedly it states that Joshua left “no survivors” and “destroyed everything that breathed” in “the entire land”, “put all the inhabitants to the sword”. Alongside these general claims the text identifies several specific places and cities where Joshua exterminated everyone and left no survivors. These include Hebron (Josh. 10:40), Debir (Josh. 10:38), the hill country and the Negev and the western foothills (Josh. 10:40). In the first chapter of Judges, however, we are told that the Canaanites lived in the Negev (1:9), in the hill country (Judg. 1:9), in Debir (Judg. 1:11), in Hebron (Judg. 1:10) and in the western foothills (Judg. 1:9). Moreover, they did so in such numbers and strength that they had to be driven out by force. These are the same cities that Joshua 10 tells us Joshua had annihilated and left no survivors in.
A week ago, Catholic Herald reported that a conference hosted by the Vatican on war and peace rejected just war teaching and call upon pope Francis to make nonviolence the official Catholic stance. The conference had been welcomed and blessed by the pope according to the Vatican Radio as he thanked the participants for “revitalizing the tools of non-violence”.
The conference was hosted by pacifist Catholic organization Pax Christi as well as the Pontifical council on justice and peace. In an appeal directed at the pope, the around 80 participants wrote:
“Too often the ‘just war theory’ has been used to endorse rather than prevent or limit war. Suggesting that a ‘just war’ is possible also undermines the moral imperative to develop tools and capacities for nonviolent transformation of conflict… We need a new framework that is consistent with Gospel nonviolence. We propose that the Catholic Church develop and consider shifting to a Just Peace approach based on Gospel nonviolence.”
I’m currently reading Nabeel Qureshi’s bestselling book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. It’s a really good read with solid arguments against Islam and for Christianity. It contains some serious challenges for devout Muslims.
Nabeel had been raised believing that the Qur’an is unchanged and perfectly preserved and that Muhammad was sinless and, in fact, the greatest man who ever lived. Both of those beliefs are actually very easy to disprove when you start looking into it.
I meet Muslims every week when I’m out evangelizing with the Pancake Church. Several of them have argued that Muhammad never killed anyone. One of them was even a dai who used to hand out Qur’ans to people on the streets and who claimed to know the life of Muhammad quite well. I was perplexed by this: how could he have missed that Muhammad fought at least 27 battles, or that he once commanded the beheading of 600 Jewish men?
Nabeel’s book has helped me understand this. Most Muslims never read the hadith or the early biographies of Muhammad’s life (which originated around 200 years after his death or later). Many of them don’t even read the Qur’an, they just recite it in Arabic during prayer. What they know about Muhammad’s life is based on what their Imams or parents tell them, and oftentimes those stories are very distorted and biased. Most Muslims genuinely believe them though and are for example convinced that all of Muhammad’s battles were defensive, something that the earliest collections of hadith denies. (more…)
Today I write on Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice about Craig and Médine Keener’s upcoming book Impossible Love. After becoming very good friends, the civil war in the Republic of Congo made it impossible for them to contact each other for eighteen months. Craig didn’t know if Médine was dead or alive. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
Craig Keener writes in an email correspondence to PCPJ:
“There was no friend I had corresponded with as much over the years as Médine. I was always happy to receive her letters, but the last one threw me into panic: She announced that she didn’t know if she was going to live or die, because troops were closing in on her city.”
The horrors Médine and her family was going through were unimaginable.
“Her cousin was shot dead on Christmas Eve; her father and brother had barely escaped being shot. Although she didn’t mention it, she and her mother and sisters didn’t know how they could flee because her father was disabled and they had no way to carry him. But by the time Médine’s letter reached me, her city lay in shambles.”
Sermon notes on John 8:1-11.
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap,in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. (Jn 8:1-6)
“Well, kill her of course” would be a proper Phariseic response to this question. Many witnesses had seen her commit this sin, and the Old Testament punishment for adultery is death (Lev 20:10). There is obviously a gender-based injustice here since only the woman is supposed to be punished, while the man she had sex with is nowhere to be seen, but many Pharisees would not care so much about that.
Jesus’ response, though, is revolutionary and unexpected:
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (Jn 8:6-11)
In two weeks time I was supposed to go to Paris together with other climate activists. We’re awaiting instructions on whether the trip will be possible, but right now I’m mourning and praying for the victims of the horrible terrorist attacks in the French capital yesterday. In this video I share some thoughts on how torespond to such attrocities, and why attention to Paris is extremely important also when it comes to decisions on climate change, wince these can potentially save millions of lives.
There is also a great injustice in that terrorist attacks and suicide bombings in Lebanon or Iraq are rarely called “attacks on humanity” or spawn Facebook campaigns. The media values white life more than other people’s lives, that’s a fact. And it is wrong and sinful. 200 000 people have been killed in Syria, that’s one Paris attack every day for the last four years.
Let us pray to God for peace and justice, and also that we may be uncorrupted by the flawed logic of this world. Let us pursue holiness and righteousness, and strive for simplicity and equality as Jesus modelled for us. Let us love our enemies, pray for the repentance of ISIS and let us send missionaries to them! Let us receive the refugees that flee from them and present them the Gospel of life. Let us love our way out of the darkness in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Another horrible school shooting has occurred in the US, this time in the Umpqua Community College in Oregon, and according to some reports the shooter targeted Christians or was at least interested in whether his victims were Christian or not. the Washinton Post writes:
In one classroom, he appeared to single out Christian students for killing, according to witness Anastasia Boylan.
“He said, ‘Good, because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second,’” Boylan’s father, Stacy, told CNN, relaying his daughter’s account while she underwent surgery to treat a gunshot to her spine.
“And then he shot and killed them.”
Another account came from Autumn Vicari, who described to NBC Newswhat her brother J.J. witnessed in the room where the shootings occurred. According to NBC: “Vicari said at one point the shooter told people to stand up before asking whether they were Christian or not. Vicari’s brother told her that anyone who responded ‘yes’ was shot in the head. If they said ‘other’ or didn’t answer, they were shot elsewhere in the body, usually the leg.”
Some Christians have argued that this shows that they are clearly persecuted in the US, which I would say is a big exaggeration when comparing with our brothers and sisters in Iraq, China and North Korea that are persecuted for real. But not only that, in an American fashion many Christians have argued that this shows that more guns are needed! More Christians need to arm themselves to be able to kill new shooters that inevitably will pop up on American soil. (more…)
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 semester, I’m finishing my bachelor program in Peace and Development studies at Uppsala University, and I’m doing that by solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Seriously, I solved it. It’s done.
Now, what’s left is simply Israeli and Palestinian leaders obeying my policy recommendations, which could be a little trickier. But when it comes to the actual conflict resolution proposal, I’m quite confident that this would indeed solve the Middle East conflict once and for all.
Here you can download my paper as a PDF: Israel and Palestine – Solving this Mess Once and for All
The paper includes a lot of background, conflict resolution theory and a discussion about pros and cons with both a two-state and a one-state solution. The juicy part is of course my actual solution, which reads like this:
I propose the establishment of a Federation of the Holy Land, consisting of the State of Israel and the state of Palestine based on the 1967 Green Line, as well as the federal district of Jerusalem (including Abu Dis). Both the Knesset and a Palestinian parliament may be located in Jerusalem, together with a new federal parliament and possibly a senate.