We do not agree with a pacifism that ignores the root causes of war – property and capitalism – and tries to bring about peace in the midst of social injustice. (Eberhard Arnold)
Many connect American Christianity with warmongering nationalism that prays for the troops and passionately demands for gun ownership. For the first few hundred years of Christian history, and for many revivals since, it was not like that. Christians tried to be peacemakers. They tried to take Jesus seriously when he said to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44).
As an Anabaptist, I am a member of one of those revivals in church history that wanted to take Jesus seriously, and one area that Anabaptists generally agreed upon (with a couple exceptions) was peace. Throughout our history, the Anabaptist witness has been one of peace, and now the Anabaptists are lumped in as part of the historic peace churches (along with the Quakers) and have helped lead some amazing ministries like Christian Peacemaker Teams.
One of the most influential texts on my life in regards to Christian peacemaking was Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You, and it was the text that influenced famous pacifists such as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi. At the root of this famous text is the Sermon on the Mount. It greatly shaped Tolstoy’s thinking, just as it has greatly shaped my own. The Sermon on the Mount is one of those key passages that Christian pacifism, and Christianity in general, is built on.
I could write a large theological manifesto about pacifism (such as the ones listed below), but I think letting Jesus speak for himself here is best:
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:21-26)
. . .
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:38-48)
The words of Christ are a powerful testimony by themselves, but also consider a couple examples from church history:
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. If a catechumen or a believer seeks to become a soldier, they must be rejected, for they have despised God. (Hippolytus)
To begin with the real ground of the military crown, I think we must first inquire whether warfare is proper at all for Christians. Do we believe it lawful for a human oath to be super-added to one divine, for a man to come under promise to another master after Christ? Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? Indeed, if, putting my strength to the question, I banish from us the military life. (Tertullian)
In addition to Jesus, there are many powerful witnesses of Christian nonviolence in the long history of the Church. Unfortunately, as the church moved away from its roots, it began to police empires, and lead conquests in the name of Christendom. The church lost its way—it lost the Way. May we learn to reclaim the prophetic peacemaking and reconciliation that marked Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw
The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder
Quotations From Chairman Jesus by Fr. David Kirk
The Kingdom of God Is Within You by Leo Tolstoy
Christian Non-Resistance by Adin Ballou
The Net of Faith by Peter Chelcicky
The Christian and the Sword by Peter Walpot
Violence: Reflections from a Christian Perspective by Jacques Ellul
“Marx and Christ: The Question of Violence” by Roberta C. Bondi
“A Call for Evangelical Nonviolence” by Ronald J. Sider
“A Practical Christian Pacifism” by David A. Hoekema
“Just War Tradition: Is It Credible?” by John Howard Yoder
“When the Politics of Jesus Makes a Difference” by Stanley Hauerwas