Non-Violence and Self-Defense 3
I am glad to be able to participate in a discourse like this. I’m not sure where to begin my comments, because a lot of discussion has happened since my last entry. I am not interested in labels like ‘pacifist’ that do more to divide than clarify (divisions of this sort are anathema to the cross and kingdom of Christ). I also think that we have rushed far too quickly into trying to answer hypotheticals and particular situations. We must try and scope out the forest before we start analyzing particular trees.
Here are some broad brush-strokes:
Military personnel are required to take an oath upon entering service. They enter into a covenant with their government. When the kingdom of God encounters the kingdoms of this world, there are no simple and discrete situations. When a soldier becomes a Christian, he is still covenanted to his military service. Being an oath-breaker is just as sinful as extortion and brutality. In fact, God has a word for people who break covenants. They are called adulterers, and they are universally condemned.
To make a rough comparison, many Christian slaveholders became convinced that possessing another human being was sinful, but they did not immediately turn out their slaves. Why? Because they realized that casting out terribly poor, uneducated, culturally unassimilated and helpless people into a society that hated them was also a great sin. So while they believed it was a sin for a Christian to buy a slave, the question for the repentant slaveholder was much more complex.
This is comparable to the relationship between the Christian and the military. John the Baptist makes it pretty clear that it is not inherently sinful to be a soldier, but as Br. Goring astutely pointed out, he puts some severe restrictions on it. While I believe it is a dangerously rash act for a Christian to swear allegiance to ANY kingdom of this world, the question for a soldier who desires to defect (which is the 1st Century connotation of the term ‘repent’: at least according to Josephus) and pledge allegiance to the kingdom of God is far more complex.
As simply as I can put it, a soldier CAN be a Christian and it still be sinful for a Christian to be a soldier, IF it is the process of BECOMING a soldier that violates the terms of one’s covenant with Christ. “For a man cannot serve two masters…” Christ’s claims of exclusivity are not merely religious.
Romans 13 always poses a challenge to discussions of how Christians are to relate to the kingdoms around them, and it usually ends up being used to support Christian use of force in seeking “the greater good.” This is doubly ironic: first, because that big THIRTEEN on the page seems to distract us from the fact that it comes right after Romans 12:17-21. Second, because we are to suppose that Paul is saying that the emperor Nero, whose executioners will make Paul (a Roman citizen!) a martyr, is the instrument of God for the good of believers, and that good people (presumably like Paul) have nothing to fear from him.
Again, we have a situation where in the clash and smoke between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world, difficult decisions must be made and much grace is needed. I wish it was as easy as saying, “No Christian can ever practice any kind of violence, ever,” or, “Christians are free to take up arms in any cause they like.” But we live in between times; the kingdom of God is still breaking into the world, and the kingdoms of Satan don’t like it. When God is “all in all,” when “every knee and every tongue” bend and confess the rulership of Jesus, government will be perfect. Until then, because God is patient, hates chaos, and desires peace, human governments are allowed to continue to rule. His people, I think, are allowed to participate in them insofar as their allegiance to God is unchallenged and their calling to holiness is not directly hindered. Further, his people have a prophetic calling to speak up when their governments fail to honor their own Romans 13 calling. Why do we speak out against abortion, if not because our government is failing to honor its commitment to protect the helpless?
Somewhere in the discussion, the word “evil-doer” came up. Stop it. We all deserve that appellation. The line between good and evil is not between us and them, but right through each and every one of us.
In Luke 13, Jesus gives us teaching that is very important at a worldview-shaping level. There were several ways that Israel was trying to be God’s people in light of Roman imperial domination– violent rebellion and collusion with the powers. The Galileans are rebels whom Pilate executed, and the people whom the Tower of Siloam crushed are probably collaborators with Herod. At least that is why they’d have been considered great sinners. Jesus points the lesson back to his audience, and he is not saying that they’d better get their little moral peccadillos straightened out. He is saying the same thing that he is doing: proclaiming and enacting that only the way of the cross, the way of turning the other cheek and self-abnegation and self-sacrifice and total trust in God, leads home.
Remember that this same Jesus called his best friend SATAN for suggesting that submission to violence was wrong and that they should instead retaliate in kind.
in HIS love,