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Relevant pacifism

"Is pacifism still relevant?” I’ve heard the question many times since Sept. 11, as if that day finally unmasked pacifism’s naivete.  I would offer seven reasons why pacifism  – nonviolent peacemaking – is more relevant now than ever.

It is the direction that God is moving history.  The prophet Isaiah speaks of the day when nations “will beat swords into plowshares” and “no longer learn war” (2:4). Micah (4:3) and Zechariah (9:9-10) share this vision. Pacifism is not only relevant, it is visionary, leading edge, the sign of what is to come.

It is what Jesus taught.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9) and “Love your enemies” (Luke 6:37-42).  If this is what Jesus taught, and if Jesus is Lord of all, then pacifism is relevant, whether the world believes it to be so or not.

I would offer seven reasons why pacifism – nonviolent peacemaking – is more relevant now than ever.

It is what Jesus modeled.  When faced with the option of using violence at his arrest, Jesus chose nonviolence (Matt. 26:52-56).  Paul writes that when we were God’s enemies, God reconciled us through the cross – the path of nonviolence (Romans 5:8-10).

It is truly patriotic.   After President Bush’s “axis of evil” speech, an Iranian friend emailed to express concern about growing U.S. militarism and to affirm that pacifists are America’s  “true and unknown patriots.”  Indeed, to be patriotic is not to be willing to kill for one’s country.  Rather, it is to act in the best interest of one’s country –  and the entire global family.  As pacifists take risks for peace, they point the nations toward true security -- which is built on a foundation of justice, mutual respect and equitable sharing of global resources.

Violence can’t fix violence. Walter Wink writes about the “myth of redemptive violence” – that violence is acceptable if it is used by the right people for the right reasons. (Translation: when used by “our side.”) But the current cycle Israeli-Palestinian violence (military strikes, suicide bombings, more military strikes) reminds us that violence only creates greater mistrust, anger and the desire for revenge.

The world lacks imagination.  More than 110 million people were killed in wars during the 20th  century. Folks long for alternatives.  One pastor has said, “Every time our country starts bombing, it is an admission that we have run out of creative ideas for resolving conflict.” Innovative nonviolence helps people think outside the box.

It is the only force capable of overcoming evil.  President Bush has spoken often about evil since Sept. 11.  Evil finds its power in the threat and use of destruction and death.  Responding to evil with more death and destruction only further feeds evil’s power. Nonviolence, on the other hand, exposes evil’s weakness.  In his willingness to suffer to the point of death, Jesus proved that God’s resurrection power is stronger than death and destruction.   The way of the cross looks puny and weak on Good Friday, but mighty powerful on Easter Sunday!

But is nonviolent peacemaking the relevant ethic for the state?  How do we reconcile Isaiah’s vision of swords to plowshares with Romans 13, which speaks of the state bearing the sword?

Isaiah points towards God’s single standard and goal: the day when nations will no longer learn war.  Romans 13 offers interim guidelines for a state that does not yet recognize the way of Jesus.  It should not be read as an authorization of military force.  Indeed, the tight parameters for government’s role in restraining evil are contained in the plain reading of Romans 13.   The state is only permitted to punish “the wrongdoer” (13:4). 

This narrow “authority” would certainly wipe out modern-day war with its high rate of innocent civilian casualties. It suggests very limited, focused actions – more akin to police powers and judicial processes.

Today, nonviolent peacemakers must model and hold before governing authorities God’s vision of swords to plowshares, and remind them that, even now, their role in restraining evil is itself tightly constrained by Scripture. 

This article is reprinted with his permission.

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