In the January 2011 issue of Sojourners magazine is an article by Brian McLaren which deserves a wide and thoughtful readership. Readers of this blog will perhaps recognize some themes, as I have posted here and elsewhere about my own thought processes about the practical implications of taking the Way of Jesus seriously and reading the Bible through a red-letters-first filter. (Everyone who reads the Bible reads through some filter or other, whether secular, doctrinal, political, analytical, historical, devotional, or something else; I choose to begin with Jesus, of whom scripture itself testifies that he is the beginning and the end).
I remember the first time I heard of something called pacifism: My response was that it sounded terribly impractical and dangerous.
but in this piece outlines how he has come, through his discipleship to Jesus, to recognize something that (in my view) everyone who claims too be a follower (student, disciple, imitator) of Jesus sooner or later will have to come to grips with, in terms of what approach to take with respect to human conflict:
And the staggering reality is that Jesus didn’t kill anybody — something that can’t be said about Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, or Mohammed (no disrespect intended to any of them). He didn’t hit anybody. He didn’t hate anybody. He practiced as he preached: Reconciliation, not retaliation. Kindness, not cruelty. A willingness to be violated, not violation. Creative conflict transformation through love, not decisive conflict termination through superior weapons.
Since the purpose of this piece is evidently to stimulate further discourse within Christian circles about this matter, my purpose here is not just to regurgitate his views, but to build on them, perhaps, by expounding some thoughts of my own. I have a bit of an advantage over McLaren, maybe, in that I grew up in a family where pacifism was not a bad word, where I knew that I had two uncles (my mother’s brother and my mother’s sister’s husband), who did alternative service as conscientious objectors during World War II. I thought about going that route during Vietnam, but did not see my way clear to do that, not because I had no objection to the war, but because I did not at that time have a way to honestly say that I could base that objection on religious faith. My faith came later, and it was only later that I also came to understand that the radical position my two uncles took was actually the generally accepted stance of the Christian movement during its first two or three hundred years of existence. That is, until Augustine introduced something we call the Just War Theory.
These days nobody much argues that Augustine’s theory, when brought into service, can successfully justify most modern conflicts. The weapons are too deadly, the politics too murky, the responses too disproportionate, to pass muster by the standards he articulated. But we moderns tend to take some sort of comfort in thinking that, in the dimness of antiquity, a respected Christian leader propounded what was then a novel way to justify institutionalized violence. But over time, as I have thought about this, I realized what, I think, others more famous than myself are now struggling with. Namely: the argument starts somewhere other than Jesus. Continue reading