"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Pacifism – 6

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There is a bunch of work ahead of me, as I want to spend some more time engaging the early church record on this, as well as some of the more radical reformed tradition teaching on the question. I’ve done much of this already, and I have not been convinced that the arguments are that compelling, or that the early church witness is that compelling. Ultimately, my primary source is the Scriptural witness, and it fails to convince me that absolute pacifism is a Godly commandment.

My friend Tim asked me off-line, why I felt a need to respond so directly. Part of it is truth-telling on my behalf, but the main reason I continue to talk on the question is because I continue to have absolute pacifists tell me that “Christians do not join the military or become police.”

If those absolute pacifists took a position similar to, say, the question of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist, on the question of the Christian witness on violence, I would not feel any need to respond.

What do I mean by that? In my parish, we have all perspectives present all the way from extreme Anglo-Catholicism to extreme Protestantism on the question of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist. I would not be surprised to find out we have some that maintain transubstantiation is the correct perspective. This seems to me to be a good reflection of the Scriptural witness, as I can’t see that Christ has done anything but command me to participate in Communion. All after that point is derived teaching, and we seem to be able to dwell together quite well under one roof.

It leaves me wondering why on the question of violence, I am being told (by many sources) that “real” Christians do not become soldiers. I see a similar lack of Scriptural witness (and early church witness) as I do for the question of the real presence in the Eucharist, and yet the result on the question of violence is an absolute prohibition.

If I regularly had people telling me that the Eucharist was only a memorial, there was no real presence, and I was not a “real” Christian for believing so…I expect I would be writing much more about Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.

I am concerned when fellow Christians believe it necessary to condemn other Christians for their beliefs. So, you have to understand that when you say there is an absolute prohibition on military service, that statement actually strikes to the very foundation of my being as a Christian…the reason I joined the military was a vocational call from God to be a peacemaker. You can’t condemn the soldier without condemning me personally, along with every other Christian who has worn a uniform. If the message was presented as, we believe a path of non-violence is incompatible with military service, I might be more receptive, but rather I see quite absolute statements. Perhaps I am left wondering why my universe of belief has considerable room for the Anabaptist witness, but theirs seems to have little room for mine.

My final reason for speaking out is my training as a warrior grounds me fully in the practical concerns of living in a nasty, brutish world. Theological debates are fine, but I’m ultimately left asking the question – but what does this mean to me, after 36 hours on duty without sleep, when I have to make a decision whether or not to use violence to accomplish my mission? A philosophy that does not help with that decision has little that makes it compelling.

As an example, consider the situation faced by Canadian soldiers in the former Yugoslavia (this was documented in a book about the operations there, the title escapes me at this moment). They were only permitted to engage armed combatants, they had no authority to enforce the law, and there was no usual civil authority in place. Their role at that time was to observe and report (much like Dallaire in Rwanda). Those soldiers experienced standing outside homes while the soldiers of one side raped and murdered women and young girls from the other side, and were barred from intervening by their orders.

It would seem to me that this might be counted as a success for pacifism, as the soldiers were well capable of intervening and protecting civilians by using force, but could not by law (because of lawful orders against their intervening).

To be credible and compelling, any philosophy which tells me that I must follow an absolute prohibition on violence needs to explain how such a situation would dealt with, and what you would tell those soldiers about their inability to act to protect the weak.

This is the point at which all of the pro-pacifism reading I have done fails, in that there is never a satisfactory answer as to the cost to the weak of the decision to not use violence. To be credible, any pacifist philosophy has to answer the question of cost. That answer has to dwell in the same world as those soldiers, to explain to them why they did right or wrong by following their orders.


Written by sameo416

November 14, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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