A Letter to Bruxy Cavey on Pacifism
I have been listening very intently to your sermons, especially those concerning pacifism. As a Johnny-come-lately to the Anabaptist movement, I have come to embrace most of the tenets of my Mennonite church, and yet this one issue has remained a sticking point.
You have almost convinced me, Bruxy, and I am especially compelled by your description of pacifism as running towards conflict, in an attempt to resolve it, rather than ‘passively’ standing apart from it.
That being said, however, I have some very significant obstacle in my thinking. Although I am back and forth on this, I think I will play the devil’s advocate in this letter, to present to you the arguments for which I simply cannot seem to find an easy answer.
The first question which I would like to ask you is: does ‘thou shalt not use coercive force’ become the one concrete maxim, or law, of your theology’ Are there absolutely no times or places for a Christian to use coercive force’ If so, what is the scriptural grounds for this law (especially since it is never stated as such), and doesn’t the existence of such a law run contrary to your belief that Jesus came to do away with the old covenant of laws’
My second question is in regards to protecting the innocent. If, for example, you saw a dog viciously attacking a young girl, I think we could all agree that the right thing to do (especially if one has a large stick in one’s hand!) is to step in to aid the weak and oppressed. To shift this metaphor, let us say that the girl is being attacked by a young child. Let us say that the child (a strong child, let us say, with a rock) is unresponsive to any verbal reproof. All that is needed, however, is for you to walk over and bodily remove the child from the girl. Is a pacifist able to do such a thing, or would this be in contradiction of the cardinal rule of pacifism (‘thou shalt not use coercive force over another human’) and thus morally wrong’
My third question is in regards to defending those who are under one’s protection. This, for me, has always been the toughest one. Don’t I have an obligation to protect those who are entrusted to my care’ I heard a story about an Anabaptist community whose pacifistic ‘secret’ got out. A relatively small group of men stormed the settlement, looted the valuables, raped the women, and left. The men stood there and did nothing. Some held their wives hands while they were being raped, to comfort them. The story was told to me by a man who stood in awe of such integrity. To me, however, all I see is a bunch of men who put their religion before providing for their families, and in the end became ‘worse than unbelievers,’ (1 Tim. 5:8).
My fourth question is in regards to maintaining civil order. I dialogue sometimes with a family member who is basically Anarchist in their thinking. According to him, the world would be an infinitely better place if there were none of those pesky police officers and government officials nosing into our business. My response to him is that until he is prepared to enter into the chaos of Africa, or Colombia, he should not be ungrateful for the infinite value of a well-ordered civil system, of which he reaps the benefits of. As you are no-doubt aware, however, the gas which runs the engine of society is fear of coercive force (Rom. 13:4). Everyone (myself included) would walk roughshod over many of the laws of our nation without it, and our society would fall apart at the seams. If this is true, however, doesn’t pacifism become a potentially dangerous ideology, in standing opposed to coercive power’
My fifth question is in regards to international justice. In the same way that civil order only works with fear of coercive force, there is an extent to which this same fear is needed in the international arena. You said yourself once in a sermon that Canada would cease to exist as a nation if it did not have a military. This is true, of course. Once again, pacifism seems to be the enemy of a well-ordered society. More importantly, the threat of invasion is the only thing keeping a large number of nations somewhat in-line with global standards. Imagine, for example, how many nations would develop nuclear capabilities, trash the environment even more, or begin openly selling slaves, drugs, arms, etc., if the threat of invasion from the US or other Western nations was not an issue’ Also, the actions which should have been taken in the Rwanda incident may be illuminative. Isn’t there a time and place for the ‘big kids’ on the international playground to stand up for the little kids, and/or to keep them in line’
My sixth question is in regards to the ‘getting others to do the dirty work.’ I know many pacifists. Some of them do not vote or engage in politics. Most of them ignore Remembrance Day, and do not support any wars, past or present. None of them are soldiers or police officers. And yet, incongruently, all of them reap the rich benefits of coercive force in society, both passively and actively. They are passive benefactors by receiving a society which is built upon war and policing, without protest or qualification. (I have not heard of a large Mennonite contingent at anti-war demonstrations, nor have I heard of Mennonites refusing certain war-won-rights on a matter of conscience). Also, they are often active benefactors of coercive power by paying taxes into the military, giving non-violent support to war efforts, or making use of the policing/judicial system. Aren’t pacifists contradicting themselves when they will receive the benefits of violence, support its practice, stand by passively by when it is done on their behalf, and then state that they do not approve of it’ It seems that the only truly authentic pacifist is the one who removes themselves from society, and goes to a remote location where they may receive no benefits from the government, pay no support to it, and take their own chances with any lawless forces. Otherwise, they are still a part of the system which supports war and policing, except that they get others to do the dirty work.
In conclusion, then, pacifism seems to back me into a corner. By not intervening in acts of injustice and cruelty, I become party to such acts. Also, by refusing to participate in or support the government roles which include coercive force, I become a corrosive agent within society, subtly unbinding the fabric which holds it together.
The mental picture which I am beginning to construct is that of a tumour. With the addition of pacifism, Christianity becomes an exclusive bubble of people who: Are willing to receive many of the benefits of society, But are unwilling to pay back into society or fully integrate into it, on this important issue. So long as the ‘tumour’ of pacifism stays small, and does not multiply rapidly it may be tolerated. If it really takes hold in force, however, the only result of the takeover of Christianity within the larger body of society is certain death for that society.
I really want to be a pacifist, and I especially want to distance myself from the ugliness of war, which is the greatest single cause of famine and suffering on the planet. Also, I can see how the teachings of Jesus would lead me towards pacifism. Like I said, however, there are these issues which I cannot wrestle my way past. Thus, I do not feel as though I can be anything more than a very conservative ‘just-war-theorist.’
If you could help me out by destroying my ‘devil’s advocate’ argument, above, I would be most appreciative, and would quickly turn to join you in the ranks of pacifism.
NOTE TO THE READER:
This post is part of a process which I went through in finally becoming a fairly firmly convinced pacifist. Although Bruxy did send me a short, gracious e-mail (mostly linking me to further resources), I wrote my own response to the letter above a few weeks later and came out as a moderate pacifist several months later. To see all the posts in my journey towards pacifism, see here (scroll to the bottom to start). For my fimal conclusion, see my sermon « Why I am a Pacifist (Mat. 5:38-48). » You may want to keep posted to recent posts (summer of 2013) since I am working on an encyclopedia article on pacifism in the early church, and will likely be publishing more on these topics.