Rejecting the Straw Pacifist
Greetings Simul Iustus et Peccator audience,
This is Rod from Political Jesus, and I know I have tested many a readers’ patience, but today I would like to start a short series on the Christian God as the God of Peace. At the invitation of this blog’s host, Craig, I would like to express my gratitude first and foremost. He was very generous in allowing me to share this space, Craig being a Just War Christian, and I being a Christian Pacifist.
My mission’s first task must be to eliminate the commonly held straw persons launched against pacifism, and for that I turn to Blue Collar Todd’s comments on Craig’s post last November.
“What are you going to if you are walking down the sidewalk and you see a man, maybe two, harassing a young girl, even starting to beat her. What is the pacifist solution? Seems like physically inserting oneself into the situation is called for and even violence in order to stop a woman from being beaten or worse. What if you see a gay man in the same situation. How are you going to show love in this situation? I would suggest that showing love to the oppressed person in both cases would require forceful intervention, bring the wrath on oneself, so the victim in question could get away, then you could apply turning the other cheek. Someone breaks into my house and threatens my wife and children, I will do whatever I need to defend them, showing that I love them by protecting them.”
BCT’s thought experiment is to challenge the presuppositions of a pacifist, who he believes, believes in inaction. The love of doing nothing, it is assumed, is nothing more than a mask of hatred towards the neighbor. However, it does not occur to BCT, that the so-called “thought experiment” in question is not without it’s flaws. One must ask, should Christian ethics begin with questions related to situations, and should these situations, in this case violence against an innocent victim be the prevailing norm for Christian responses? If so, what are the limitations? I would question the wisdom of such a situational approach to morality, for in the end, there is a slippery slope of anything goes that comes with if restrictions are not emplaced. For one thing, Christian pacifism is not the absolute moral rule of condemning all violence, for not all violence is the same. Rather, Christian pacifists, if they wish to be faithful to Scripture and tradition, believe that self-defense is a pre-supposition that most biblical authors hold. The problem is not defending oneself or others with non-lethal force; the problem is that the logic of self-defense is rolled out before any non-violent activity is considered. As for Blue Collar Todd’s thought experiment, I agree with John Howard Yoder in his response to Lisa Sowle Cahill’s text, Love Your Enemies: Discipleship, Pacifism, and Just War Theory: BCT’ s question is a loaded one, that ends up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy to justify lethal violence without restrictions; in addition, BCT’s mode of decisionism/situational ethics refuses to see the difference in varying modes of self-giving, a cost-analysis that undervalues the breadth of reality; the depth of moral reality; as well as the length of moral reality (1). In short, Situational ethics that rely on imagined “cases” limit the moral options of the moral agent, ignoring many of the wide range of possibilities for the faithful Christian actors.
Which leads me to Blue Collar Todd’s (and not to target him, but this includes many other Christians who question Christian pacifism) real question that needs to be addressed:
“Why don’t you and Joel explain it to me. If you think pacifism is robust enough to confront evil in a way that stops it, then you should be able to deal with my thought experiment.”
I cannot speak for Joel, but in my next post, I will give the Christian pacifist answer of “confronting evil in a way that stops it” by examining the heart of Christian peacemaking: The Triune God.
1. John Howard Yoder. The War Of The Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence And Peacemaking. Editted by Glenn Stassen, Mark Thiessen Nation, and Matt Hamsher. Brazos Press, Grand Rapids Michigan, 2009. Page 120-121.