Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Is "Christian pacifism" Christian?

I'm going to post part of a Facebook debate on pacifism:

Pacifists point to Jesus' command to love enemies. It's good to make sure we don't ignore anything Jesus said. Jesus also said to love our neighbor. Sometimes loving a neighbor conflicts with loving an enemy (e.g., ISIS and Middle East Christians). Sometimes pacifists say that we cannot violate one command to serve another, for that would be to sin to bring about good. That may be true when the commands are equally weighty. But Jesus says that the second greatest commandment is to love your *neighbor*. That's more weighty. Indeed, Jesus went on to say that the other commandments all hang on the first two. So loving enemies hangs on our fiercely loving neighbor. That must be protected over the command to love your enemies, and there are cases where loving your neighbor requires killing his and your enemy.

Steve Hays Cody,

Regarding 1 Pet 2, every command or prohibition has an implied context. The question at issue isn't even self-defense, but defending others. Indeed, defending another can put yourself at risk. 

Is 1 Pet 2:21-23 addressing the question of how we should respond if we see a mugger assault an old woman in the park? Is that the implied context? I think not.

Calum Miller:

"We are called to imitate Christ."

Well, according to NT Christology, Christ is Yahweh. Christ commanded the Israelites to wage war against Canaanites in Palestine. Christ rained fire and brimstone on the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. That's just in the past. In the future, Christ will be the eschatological judge. 

So I'd say your principle backfires.

Calum Miller:

"I'm not normally so blunt or rude, but if you read the clause *immediately after* what I said there which *directly and explicitly* addresses what you just said, then you are being profoundly intellectually dishonest. If you can read it but chose not to, then you are uncharitable. If you can't read it, then you are an idiot. Take your pick."

i) To begin with, it's ironic that in the context of Christian love, Calum is so abusive. Didn't take much for his true character to break through the skin-deep rhetoric of love and civility. 

ii) If that's how you wish to cast the alternatives, what if you're idiotic for overlooking the obvious argument from analogy:

a) Christians should imitate Christ.

b) We're debating whether imitating Christ selects for pacifism. 

c) According to NT Christology, the pre-Incarnate Son commanded Jews to wage war. And he himself was a warrior God. Moreover, he will resume that role in the future. 

That's directly germane to whether the command to love your neighbor sometimes justifies killing the enemy. Israel was Yahweh's neighbor (as it were). Yahweh loved Israel–at the expense of her enemies.

So, Calum, who's the "idiot" now?

Calum Miller:

"The argument is obviously invalid, for starters."

I didn't present a formal logical syllogism. Rather, I listed some key elements of the analogy.

"Beyond that, c) seems false."

That's not an argument. 

What "seems false"? That the NT identifies Jesus as Yahweh? Or, given that identification, that commands and actions which the OT ascribes to Yahweh are likewise attributable to the Son? What are you denying, and why?

"not retaliating, and so on."

At best, nonretaliation" refers to self-defense, not defending your neighbor. So your appeal is fatally, equivocal. 

Finally, scratch a pacifist, and look what surfaces! Unfortunately, I have extensive experience with professing Christians who wax rhetorical universal love, but the moment they perceive a verbal pinprick, they lash out and make it clear that in reality, they only love those they like. And they only like people like them. Like-minded people.

Calum Miller: 

"So the conclusion doesn't follow. Right."

It's amusing how, in the name of "intellectual honesty," Calum misrepresents the claim. I didn't set it up as a syllogism where a conclusion (c) derives from premises (a-b). 

To say the "conclusion doesn't follow" is a category mistake.

"I deny that predicates true of the Father are necessarily true of the Son, or of Jesus. Even if I granted it, I doubt any conclusion of interest to Christian militants would follow."

How does Calum even come up with this stuff? I didn't draw inferences from the Father to the Son, but inferences from Yahweh to the Son [or vice versa], based on how the NT itself identifies Jesus and Yahweh.

Does Calum deny that the NT identifies Jesus as Yahweh? Is he unaware of the exegetical literature on that subject?

That's something I'd normally encounter from unitarians like Dale Tuggy.

"Nope. Part of what we were talking about was self-defence. And it is at least plausible that the reasons killing in self-defence are prohibited also prohibit violence in defence of others."

You offer no supporting argument for treating those as comparable. You just assert that it's "plausible."

Calum Miller;

"Well, it is also false that predicates true of Jesus are necessarily true of God, and so of Yahweh if we take Yahweh to be identical to God."

Are you just attempting to be evasive? If the NT identifies Jesus as the God of the OT, then how do you avoid saying that what the OT attributes to Yahweh is attributable to the Son vis-a-vis OT history? 

That doesn't mean it's only attributable to the Son, to the exclusion of the Father or the Spirit. But it is at least attributable to the Son. 

"Well, read the passages on vengeance, defence, retaliation, and the like. The grounds are usually that Jesus' kingdom doesn't work that way, that vengeance is for God alone"

And by what logic do you equate forcibly protecting an old woman from a mugger with "vengeance" or "retaliation"? That intervention is not, in the first instance, an act of retributive justice or tit-for-tat. It is simply protecting the innocent against wrongful aggression. Are you unable to draw rudimentary distinctions like that?

"Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe" (Jude 5).

1. Notice how Jude identifies Jesus as the God of the Exodus, who subsequently killed faithless members of the wilderness generation. That ascribes divine violence to Jesus. It implicitly attributes the plagues of Egypt to Jesus, as well as killing faithless Israelites.

2. Jn 8:56-58 illustrates the same principle. Jesus makes a suggestive and provocative claim in v56. Considered in isolation, it might merely seem to be a reference to Abraham's inspired foresight–although it could mean more (e.g. the theophany or Christophany in Gen 18). Yet as the exchange unfolds, the claim in v56 is less about Abraham than Jesus.

In v57, Christ's opponents sense that Jesus is making a more audacious claim, by hinting at his contemporaneity with the historical Abraham–which they greet with contemptuous incredulity. How could a man his age possibly coexist with Abraham! 

Perhaps this reflects the difference between the spoken word and the written word. The speaker's posture or tone of voice can communicate more than what appears on the page. 

Ironically, they were right! More so than they could ever imagine. For Jesus, confirms their interpretation by asserting his preexistence in terms which unmistakably evoke Yahweh (e.g. Exod 3:14; Isa 41:4). 

So Jesus claims to be Abraham's God. And, of course, that entirely consistent with Johannine Christology.

But Abraham's God firebombed Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham's God was not a pacifist. Rather, you have the "divine warrior" motif. And that's not just a metaphor for spiritual warfare. That involves actual, repeated divine violence–often on a large scale. 

But in that event, the pacifist appeal to the "imitation of Christ" backfires. This is the basic argument: 

i) Jesus never resorted to violence

ii) Christians are called to emulate Jesus

iii) Hence, Christians should renounce all forms of violence

But given these NT counterexamples, we can plug them into the same principle (follow the example of Christ), but derive the opposite conclusion.

Therefore, pacifists will have to use a far more qualified version of that principle. Their argument either proves too much or too little. 

3. I should add that my argument actually doesn't require a specific prooftext. So long as the NT identifies the Son as Yahweh, then what's generally said about Yahweh's commands and actions in the OT is implicitly attributed to the Son, inasmuch as he and Yahweh are regarded as one and the same individual. 

4. In fairness, my appeal to Jude 5 turns on which textual variant we think is original: "Jesus" or "the Lord."

Metzger, along with commentators like Gene Green and Curtis Giese, favor the originality of "Jesus" on internal and external text-critical principles alike:

i) It is the best attested reading (external criterion).

ii) It is the more difficult reading (internal criterion).

Hard to see what would prompt a scribe to substitute "Jesus" for "the Lord." "Jesus" is so unexpected in that passage. 

iii) Jarl Fossum has argued that Jude views Jesus as the Angel of the Lord in vv5-7. That would account for the Yahwistic identification and narrative flow alike, inasmuch as the Angel of the Lord is a divine agent in all these events. 

iv) if "Jesus" is the original referent in Jude 5, that would dovetail with v4.

v) So Jude draws a parallel between Christ's past (OT), present (NT) and future (parousia) agency.

Pacifists could try to preempt my Christological argument by denying the historicity and inspiration of the offending OT passages. That, however, would be a short-lived victory, for the same skepticism can be redirected at pacifist NT prooftexts. You can't impugn the OT without impugning the NT, for the NT so routinely relies on the authority of the OT.

Calum said:

"It's usually more of a recognition of the fact that the kingdoms of this world are going to expand their kingdoms by killing anyway, and that Christians aren't *primarily* to be concerned with how the kingdoms of the world are run."

To recur to my stock example, defending an elderly woman from a mugger has nothing to do with political-military expansionism. That's just a bait-n-switch. 

This isn't a question of how or whether we should build an empire. This isn't even, in the first instance, about national defense. It can just be a question of defending your immediate family, or the neighbor across the street.

Pacifists typically rip Jn 18:36 out of context.

i) Remember that this disclaimer takes place in a Gospel which opens with the statement that Jesus is the divine Creator of the world (Jn 1:1-3). 

His power and authority don't derive from the world; rather, the world derives from his power and authority.

His kingdom doesn't have its source of origin in the world; rather, the world has its source of origin in his (divine) kingship. 

And that implies ownership. He's pulling rank on Pilate and the Roman regime which he represents. To some extent, the Romans are usurpers. For the world truly belongs to God.

ii) Keep in mind, too, that in John's Gospel and 1 John, "the world" has a sinister connotation. It's not a synonym for the creation, but for the fallen creation. For the "kingdom of darkness."

C'Zar Bernstein:

 "Why is this even a debate? St Paul says pretty clearly that the state can kill. My suspicion is that Christian pacifism is motivated by a strange anti-violence intuition."

I think it's generally motivated by decadence and self-flattery. Most professing pacifists are pacifists in the abstract. They are safe because others protect the country they live in. This, in turn, gives them a chance to feel smugly virtuous.

It's a position that few of them have ever had to put to the test.

Maul Panata Some Christian pacifists hold the nuanced position that state may kill (they don't ignore Rom 13), but *Christians* may not. So Christians should not be police, join military, etc.

David Houston Which is awkward because its basically means that you get those unholy non-Christians to do your dirty work for you so you can enjoy all the benefits of living in a country with military protection.

I understand the position but you've got to admit that its a bit awkward to preach non-violence when you're under the protection of a powerful military, police force, etc. This may not be the pacifists fault but it does tend to raise the, "You can only say that because of..." objection to everyone's mind. Not a defeater. Just awkward.

Steve Hays To piggyback on David's point, it's like a woman who marries a "drug kingpin" for the lifestyle. She herself doesn't murder anyone or order any hits. But she benefits from the "family business."

Maul Panata Cody, to bring up that Jesus didn't sin, and he never killed anyone or went to war, therefore we shouldn't, is obviously question begging unless you think that everything Jesus did is normative. But then you get the silly counter examples about staying single, growing a beard, etc. 

…But here we can *easily* explain why Jesus didn't kill anyone or start a war. He had a unique mission, he had to die for people. If he had acted like he will act at the end, then we'd not have salvation.

Maul Panata Okay Calum Miller, getting to your comment now:

Before getting into my reply, I'll just say that I don't think the argument from silence, viz., Jesus didn't make your dependency point, holds much weight—especially when I think I cited Jesus saying just that. Okay, so you're claiming that *just as* we *were* commanded to love our neighbor back in Leviticus 19:8 (right, we agree that that's clearly what Jesus is referencing), we are commanded to love our neighbor *in that way*. Thus, you'd be bound to say, that if X was consistent with loving one's neighbor, X is consistent with loving one's enemy, for we're to do the latter "*just as*" (your emphasis) we do the former. Now, Jesus clearly knew the OT, and he's clearly saying that "just as" you knew and understood to love your neighbor, I now command that you extend that very concept to non-neighbors, namely, your enemies.

So here's the problem: In the OT it was acceptable to kill your neighbor (the DP). Moreover, it seems just obvious that, in the OT, had a group of people from one tribe grabbed swords and began systematically beheading people from another tribe, it would be acceptable to "violently resist" and even "kill" these "neighbors." All of this was *consistent* with the *command* to "love your neighbor. Thus, if, as you grant, the command to love your enemy is "just like" the command in the OT to love your neighbor, it's not at all clear why you must think killing certain enemies is impermissible (based off this command here to love your enemy "just as" you were told to love your neighbors).

There's other interesting factors too. The command in Leviticus 19 says we are to "love our neighbor" and not "take vengeance." Christian pacifists will often refer to Paul's injunction in Romans 12:19, for example, that we are not to "take vengeance," and then use that to say Paul is speaking against actions like the death penalty. But we know that this very same command was included in Leviticus, this "not taking vengeance" was considered, by God, the Jews, and Jesus (and Paul I'd argue) *consistent* with certain cases of killing people, e.g., the death penalty.

Maul Panata I don't think one needs bother with the awkwardness point. We can grant that the kingdom advances through the preaching of the word, making disciples, etc. We can agree that, for example, churches engage in excommunication rather than using the death penalty. We can agree that Christ is Lord over all, and that we are citizens of his kingdom. However, though we are not *of* the world, we are *in* it. We live ordinary lives in a certain sense, as doctors, teachers, husbands, wives, etc. There are plenty of things that we do that are not "the way the kingdom grows and advances." We might lift weights, play football, or engage in other physical contests. It's not clear these things are to be left to the "pagans." One also cannot beg the question by assuming that killing in a war, or as a police officer, is automatically sinful, and so Christians cannot do it. So there's a *lot* of steps from "give to Caesar" to "Christians can't be soldiers." Indeed, that verse plausibly *supports* the permissibility of "giving to Caesar" in the capacity of, say, soldier. There's also the arguments I've raised above that the nuanced Christian pacifism must address. So the nuanced Christian pacifism still has a ton of work to do to tighten the wide gap between the way the church advances and what Christians may do for a living or out of a sense of duty, love of neighbor, or etc.

David Houston Two quotes from CS Lewis's fantastic essay _Why I Am Not a Pacifist_:

'The whole Christian case for Pacifism rests, therefore, on certain Dominical utterances, such as “Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” I am now to deal with the Christian who says this is to be taken without qualification. I need not point out—for it has doubtless been pointed out to you before—that such a Christian is obliged to take all the other hard sayings of Our Lord in the same way. For the man who has done so, who has on every occasion given to all who ask him and has finally given all he has to the poor, no one will fail to feel respect. With such a man I must suppose myself to be arguing; for who would deem worth answering that inconsistent person who takes Our Lord’s words à la rigueur when they dispense him from a possible obligation and takes them with latitude when they demand that he should become a pauper?'

Commenting on 'not resisting an evildoer': 'I think the text means exactly what it says, but with an understood reservation in favour of those obviously exceptional cases which every hearer would naturally assume to be exceptions without being told. Or to put the same thing in more logical language, I think the duty of nonresistance is here stated as regards injuries simpliciter, but without prejudice to anything we may have to allow later about injuries secundum quid. That is, insofar as the only relevant factors in the case are an injury to me by my neighbour and a desire on my part to retaliate, then I hold that Christianity commands the absolute mortification of that desire. No quarter whatever is given to the voice within us which says, “He’s done it to me, so I’ll do the same to him.” But the moment you introduce other factors, of course, the problem is altered. Does anyone suppose that Our Lord’s hearers understood Him to mean that if a homicidal maniac, attempting to murder a third party, tried to knock me out of the way, I must stand aside and let him get his victim? I at any rate think it impossible they could have so understood Him. I think it equally impossible that they supposed Him to mean that the best way of bringing up a child was to let it hit its parents whenever it was in a temper, or, when it had grabbed at the jam, to give it the honey also. I think the meaning of the words was perfectly clear—“Insofar as you are simply an angry man who has been hurt, mortify your anger and do not hit back”—even, one would have assumed that insofar as you are a magistrate struck by a private person, a parent struck by a child, a teacher by a scholar, a sane man by a lunatic, or a soldier by the public enemy, your duties may be very different, different because [there] may be then other motives than egoistic retaliation for hitting back. Indeed, as the audience were private people in a disarmed nation, it seems unlikely that they would have ever supposed Our Lord to be referring to war. War was not what they would have been thinking of. The frictions of daily life among villagers were more likely to be in their minds.'


  1. In Luke 3:14, soldiers asked John the Baptist what they should do in their repentance. John the Baptist replied: "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages."

    Of course, these are penitent soldiers. Soldiers wishing to turn away from their former lives of sin in order to follow God.

    It's interesting what John the Baptist doesn't tell the soldiers. He doesn't tell them they need to quit the military since serving in the military keeps one from better serving God. In fact, John the Baptist presupposes the soldiers will remain soldiers in his response to them about what they need to do in their repentance. Yet, if John the Baptist presumes they will remain soldiers in keeping with repentance, then the expectation that they will have to commit violence against others would be present.

    In short, the soldiers can't be pacifists, but that's not something John the Baptist expects them to repent of, and indeed it's something John the Baptist expects them to do better.

    1. Perhaps "commit violence" possesses misleading connotations. Perhaps it'd be better to say something like "use force."

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  3. It's an interesting phenomena that many people, Christian or non-Christian, exhibit a biased left-leaning charity. They usually don't have much problem interacting charitably with those to their left. Although I don't have intimate knowledge of Calum Miller or Paul Moser, both of these individuals have always been very congenial when I've seen them engaging critics that would fall to the left of them (e.g., atheists). But when it comes to issues to their right, well that's the only time it's acceptable to take the gloves off it would seem.

    1. It's easier to like the like-minded. It's easier to be agreeable with those whom you find agreeable.

      It's harder to "love your enemies."

    2. But there must be more to it than that. Surely an atheist is Calum's enemy (in the relevant sense). It's more like a spirit of the age.

      (Repost since first one disappeared.)

    3. As far as I can tell, Paul Moser seems to be closest to a liberal high-church Christianity, while Calum Miller is sort of like NT Wright (I don't mean in scholarly aptitude) in that he's probably conservative for the UK but liberal for the US (e.g. Miller is a pacifist as well as annihilationist).

    4. In addition I suspect Miller is still finding his feet as a Christian. Still trying to see which way to go. Still trying to figure out where he really stands.

  4. I should wake up and have my coffee before posting rambling stream of consciousness comments early in the morning.