Thoughts on Pacifism

“Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble.  Do not be wise in your own estimation.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible on your part, live at peace with everyone.  Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath.  For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord.  But If your enemy is hungry feed him.  If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.  Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”   Romans 12:16b-21 (NLT)

I’m learning that when I say, “I’m a pacifist” I’m starting an unintentional debate on the topics of gun control or war in the Old Testament.  In other words, I’m starting to think pacifism is greatly misunderstood.

First off, I want to say that pacifism can look different to different people, so how I view pacifism may not be exactly the same as someone else’s view, even though we both identify ourselves as pacifists.

Secondly, just to clarify, violence to a pacifist is typically any emotion, thought, word, or action used to intentionally hurt someone.   Matthew 5:21-26 and Matthew 23:25-26 speaks about how sin is not just the seen things but the unseen things too.  Pacifism isn’t limited to weapons and wars contrary to popular belief; it also includes bitterness, holding grudges, verbal attacks, hatred, and the misuse of anger, etc…

The root of pacifism is found in the two greatest commandments in Matthew 22:37-40 and also Matthew 5:43-48.  We are to love God and love our neighbor, even in the face of justifiable differences.  Our Constitution is often quoted as well, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  Every human matters because she/he exists.  Period.  End of story.

Some people think that since the focus of pacifism is love and peace, it’s being wimpy or non-confrontational.  So, let’s look at an example we are all familiar with, Martin Luther King, Jr., who is known for fighting segregation, racism, and poor wages with pacifism.   I’m not quite sure what the wimpy part of the Modern Civil Rights Movement was:  was it getting sprayed with fire hoses, bitten by dogs, being thrown in jail or beaten by police sticks?  And I’m not really sure what was non-confrontational about it:  the part where they demanded a change by taking action, or the part where the policemen felt they needed to control the situation?  Some call it passive resistance, but I’m not sure how one can be passive and resistant at the same time.  What I think people mean to say is that it’s non-violence, and this is true.  We do not fight with anger and violence, we fight with love.  Or as Ghandi called it, “love force”.

Yes, there is war in the Old Testament, but to be fair; there is also civil disobedience in the Old Testament.  In Daniel 3, we learn of three young men named Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  They were commanded by King Nebuchadnezzar to worship an idol, which was the law.  They refused to obey the law, and they accepted the consequences set by the king.   What is it that makes this story so significant?  The three men would rather be thrown in a furnace then simply bow down to an idol.  This is a greatexample of pacifism!

In the New Testament, in the book of Revelation (unless your beliefs are Premillennial), God commands the Christians as they face the Roman Government to remain faithful, even unto death.  God does not command them to fight back, kill, conquer, prove the other side wrong, or even go to war.  Instead, God commands the people to stand for their faith and not worship the emperor, even if that means death.  God also assures them that their death is not in vain.  Many of us have probably heard stories of the persecution of the early Church.   Some martyrs include the disciples of Jesus, who would rather die than break God’s commands.

I know what some are thinking, “Okay Deb, then what’s the answer?  How do we stop things like war?  Tell us!  Huh?”  My response to you is this, “I don’t know.  But what I do know is violence doesn’t bring peace.”  One of my favorite MLK Jr. quotes is taken from his last Christmas Eve sermon he gave before his assassination in regards to the Vietnam War.   The sermon is entitled, “Peace on Earth” and he says, “One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distinct goal we seek but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal.  We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.”  If we want peace, we must start with peace.  If we want violence, we must start with violence.  I choose peace.

As a very last thought, I want to share my absolute favorite part of pacifism: the result.

Birmingham, AL, was one of the most racist and violent cities in America in the 1960s.  The Southern Christian Leadership Council decided to do a march there, after they were fed lip service that the segregation signs would be removed.  The march lasted several days, until the jails were so full they couldn’t lock another person in a cell.  When the city finally agreed to remove the “black only” and “white only” signs from public property, the blacks were in celebration that they had won.  MLK Jr. was very quick to calm the crowd and remind them that they hadn’t won anything.   War is fighting for a winner.  Pacifism is fighting for reconciliation.  When the racist signs were removed, then reconciliation between the two races could begin.

This is why you may know some pacifists standing up for people who most would consider to be the “opposing side”.  This is because the pacifist doesn’t believe there is an “opposing side” because there is no one to conquer, overpower, prove wrong, or defeat.  Why?  The goal is to love one another and be reconciled together.  When you stop and think of it, this is one of the messages given in the parable of The Good Samaritan as told by Jesus in Luke 10:25-37.

And just for the record, reconciliation isn’t the same thing as assimilation.

This is the bottom line:  violence begets violence.  Peace begets peace.  Love begets love.

Which one do you choose?

If you want to learn more about pacifism, I encourage you to study the philosophies of Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Ghandi, Henry David Thoreau and/or Nelson Mandela.  Or, if you would rather be entertained while learning about pacifism, watch some “Doctor Who” on Netflix.