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Pacifism in Action

I have met many a likable, patriotic Christian who, upon finding out that I am a "pacifist," immediately and in no uncertain terms told me that if his house were ever invaded by a robber who threatened his family, he would

"use self-defense"
"not hesitate to kill, if necessary"
"blow him away"
"splatter the wall with his brains"

and other more colorful phrases. (People trained in the American way of thinking love to try to shock us pacifists with tough-guy language. Just the other day, on the local TV newscast, I heard the interview of a homeowner in a quiet neighborhood which had recently experienced unprecedented crime. He said he believed in self-defense, and in similar graphic and self-assured terms told the naive-looking female reporter he wouldn't hesitate to kill an intruder - "with remorse," he added slyly, as if to ameliorate his violent claim - "because," he went on after a well-timed pause, "I would have to get the carpet cleaned." The camera caught the face of a reporter visibly shocked at his "macho" attitude. Perhaps the interview was aired for its "freak value," but I think it also represents an attitude widely held but not frequently articulated.)

This is good American talk. This is John Wayne and James Cagney.

But is it Jesus?

And is it responsible? As a pacifist, I am often charged with being "irresponsible." When I question "Mutually Assured Destruction" as a policy of national defense, and "blow 'im away" as a policy of personal defense, I am told that I am "unrealistic," and that pacifism might be good "in theory," but we have to live in "the real world."

"The real world," which is the consequence of our ideas about it, is beyond doubt a very violent one. But most of the violence is caused by our efforts at "defense." We do not even think about defending ourselves from the greater part of the world's violence; we accept this violence as a part of "reality." The governments of the world, created to "defend us," commit the overwhelming majority of all murders and armed aggressions in the world, far more than all the non-governmental criminals combined. Most of the killings committed by non-governmental criminals are committed in acts of self-defense, where "self-defense" is not defined in a technical, legal sense, but in the sense of "Get out of my way, you!" -- the use of violence to defend one's position or ego-esteem. Most aggressions are committed by people who are profoundly fearful, whose lives are economically precarious, and who fight to hold onto the last thread of "security." The fact that their program of self-defense is "illegal" only adds to their fear that everyone is out to get them, and to take away what little they have.

The world teaches that pacifism is "impractical," and the world is a mess. I believe the world would be a better place if everyone taught and practiced the virtue of pacifism.

Pacifism in Practice

"Pacifism" does not mean "do nothing in the face of violence." If that's what it meant, I wouldn't even be writing this web page! The first step is to denounce the evil of violence.

"Pacifism" does not mean sitting on your hands and allowing violence to have the upper hand. In fact, a person committed to defending his own life is more likely to hide when he sees violence coming. A pacifist is willing to lay his life down for his brother (1 John 3:16). A Biblical pacifist is not a weak reed blown about by the wind. When I see violence, I do not timidly bow down before it. And I have seen violence.

My model is Abraham. Abraham picked up the pieces from Humanistic Empires. Genesis 12:5 says that Abraham added to his household many people who were isolated and abandoned by Secular Humanism. Chapter 14:14 tells us that there were literally hundreds of people in Abraham's household. Culture is Christianized and saved by self-sacrificing Adoption-as-Evangelism. Culture is not saved by "self-defense" and "looking out for number one."

After passing the California Bar Exam, I joined the radical-pacifist Catholic Worker movement, moving into a CW House of Hospitality in a gang-infested urban neighborhood. Over the years I cannot remember a night when the relatively automobile-free night air was not interrupted by gunfire, though I'm sure there were some. There were four of us pacifists who rented a large 12-bedroom house. We allowed homeless people to use the remaining rooms, assisting them in recovering from addictions and getting their lives together. We served lunch to those in need, setting up four large tables in our dining room a few days a week. On some days we had as many as 200 people come over to our house for lunch. We had help, of course, as many people from different churches would take time off to come over to our house, meet street people face to face and share the gospel.

But, alas, we also had violence.

As I look back, it may have been foolish to allow so many people into my home. It may be the case that as a self-centered American, I simply do not have the cultural heritage to be a patriarch like Abraham. Abraham must have been an incredibly strong person to govern a household so large. And yet this is my goal, and civilization will not flourish unless there are more patriarchal pacifists.

Our policy was not to allow those who were intoxicated to come into our house, but it is not always possible to detect drug-users and keep them out of one's house (as President Clinton will attest). Especially when you have so many people coming over. People would line up for lunch in the alley behind our house as soon as it was obvious there was no day labor for them; when we let them in the back gate, we were often glad to see a smiling face (instead of anger), not knowing it was chemically-induced. Even at the English classes we held in our garage at night, fights might erupt between people who were not intoxicated, but who had long-developed habits of dealing with personal frustrations by resorting to violence.

Keep in mind that since 1963 it has been "unconstitutional" to teach children the authority and morality of the Bible; in 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court told one of the last hold-out schools (in Kentucky) that they could not even passively post a copy of the last five of the Ten Commandments in a school hallway. You and I don't kill, don't steal, don't rape, and are otherwise good pacifists because we were taught Godly character, probably by our parents. We're facing a whole generation of people -- children in adult bodies -- who have never been taught not to punch someone they're frustrated with, and more likely have been taught -- by word or example -- to do so.

I knew that some of our guests were one "strike" away from a lengthy prison term under California's "three-strike" law. The city streets are full of violent people. I have physically broken up racial conflicts involving 2-by-4's and chairs. I have taken knives away from people. I may be a "pacifist," but I am a Christian pacifist, and I am not going to stand idly by when someone created in God's Image is physically threatened. But my goal as a postmillennialist is not to "blow him away" and do that "Heisman dance" when I see the attacker lying in a pool of his own blood; my goal is to see the attacker converted. Yes, I want to stop the violence from taking place, and at the very least I will act as a prophet, and verbally denounce his evil, hoping God's Word will not return void (Isaiah 55:11). If necessary, I will put my body between an attacker and his victim. I learned that tactic from Jesus. He did not defend Himself (1 Peter 2). He said His disciples don't either (John 18:36). But being a "pacifist" does not mean not doing anything at all in the face of violence.

What it means is that my number-one goal is not to save my own life; my number-one goal is to extend the reign of Christ. Didn't Jesus say if we would try to save our life we would lose it? (Mark 8:34-38) Didn't He say that a grain of wheat must be willing to die in order to raise up a harvest? (John 12:24-26) Where are the Biblical commands to defend ourselves which justify the expenditure of trillions of dollars in defense appropriations (rather than for missionaries) and the killing of millions of innocent civilians? I haven't found such commands, only commands to repudiate the Imperial illusions of Pax Romana (and Pax Americana) and to sacrifice oneself for Pax Christi, the Peace of Christ. And so I am a "pacifist."

One night a fist fight erupted in our dining room. I physically pulled the combatants apart, catching a few of their misdirected punches in the process. Unfortunately, some spectators were inclined to join the dispute. I was asking one near-participant, a [part-time] Muslim, to remain uninvolved. He took the opportunity to insult Christianity and pacifism. Violence solved problems, he asserted; I was weak; people on the street respected him because he was tough. He didn't respect me, he said. (I'm trying to break up one fight and he's trying to get into one with me!) The house was crackling; violence has this way of igniting simmering hostility, of catching fire, of escalating. It was a very tense situation.

Although he apparently felt he had a vested interest in the fight I had just broken up, I asked the part-time Muslim to leave the house. I escorted him. We talked for what seemed like a long time, because he was very large, undoubtedly stronger than I, and he was angry. Very angry. As we talked I tried to hide the fact that I was shaking. I insisted that he knew the rules of the house: no violence. I was anticipating a fist being strategically applied to my face the whole time we talked.

In these situations, I have learned the very valuable skill of simultaneously preaching the Gospel of the Prince of Peace and praying like crazy. Two conversations going on at once. In my vocalized conversation, I have become better at focusing attention on the Strength of my God, rather than on my own abilities and greatness. I've given up on trying to intimidate people into the Kingdom. I am getting better at giving hope to others rather than telling them what worthless people they are. I believe God's Word does "not return void." I believe the Gospel is powerful, more powerful than a sword or an AK-47, and is able to convert people's hears. Conversion, not destruction, is my goal.

On my Christmas Conspiracy page, I use the example of the "Gulf War" in Iraq to illustrate how Christ establishes His Kingdom by the preaching of His Word, and not by armed "self-defense." As I wrote in Part One,

Armed with the two-edged sword of the LORD, which is the Scriptures (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12), we who are saints are called to administer the Kingly reign of Christ, calling all people and all nations to repentance, even as King Jesus executes His judgments through us, by His powerful Word (Isaiah 11:4; Isaiah 49:2; Hosea 6:5; 2 Thessalonians 2:8; Revelation 19:15).

Armed with the Scriptures and the Spirit, we exercise the prophetic role of Christ, in denouncing the institutionalized selfishness which characterizes the kingdoms - the outposts - of the old world order. We must help its victims overcome their oppression, just as Christ was sent to do:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me; because the LORD hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, To give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He might be glorified.
Isaiah 61:1-3; cf. Luke 4:18-22

The dominion of sin and death has been put to an end. Living in fear of Satan's minions and being in bondage to their televised lies and half-truths, waiting mournfully for the death of the cosmic Saddam, living in a spiritual and cultural underground, waiting for a rapturous rescue from the terminated reign of a now-disarmed dictator, can finally come to an end. Christ is King, and as His ambassadors we spread this Good News to those who are crippled by disinformation from the Old World Order. Armed with the two-edged sword of the LORD, we extend Christ's reign by preaching the good news of reconciliation to God, until all His enemies have become His friends (1 Corinthians 15:25; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20; John 15:14).

That night, the picture I painted of my Lord and Savior had some impact on that homeless man. I knew he had been in jail, had a temper, and like many homeless people, was not on the streets because he had a gift for getting along well with people. But God didn't give me my life to save it. In the end, the man apologized for cursing me, came to understand [more] that violence doesn't really solve our problems, and said "Here," as he pulled out from under his coat a 12-inch butcher knife which he had grabbed out of our kitchen to use in the fight and was holding in his hand the whole time we had been talking.

You might meet this man on the street someday, and instead of your mere presence irrationally pushing him over the threshold into a violent act, he might return your "Good Morning!" with a "How's it goin'?" of his own, because a pacifist had preached the Gospel to him, and altered the direction of his life just a teeny bit. It is the self-sacrificing personalism of pacifism that creates and maintains civilization.

Now if I been a real macho-man, I could have concluded that everybody in the dining room that was armed was a threat to my survival, and I could have mowed them all down with a firearm. "These people are dangerous," I could have told the police. My claim of "self-defense" would surely have held up in court. If I had spent all my time watching TV materialism and violence, my only thought would be preserving my "personal peace and affluence," and violent "self-defense" would be the only kind of action I could visualize. But as a pacifist, I try to prepare myself for responsible, Christ-centered action in the face of violence. Christ has disarmed "the powers," and He can disarm my enemy. "When a man's ways please the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Proverbs 16:7).

This is not some kind of belief in a personal genie, a rub-the-magic-lamp-and-nothing-hurts-me theology. Someday, I'm going to be shot or stabbed, perhaps by an angry street person high on a pipe full of crack, or perhaps by a government agent, high on an "electoral mandate." Either way, I will die with a gut-level feeling that I have fought the good fight, and that God is more pleased with my feeble efforts at Abrahamic hospitality and taking the Gospel to the forgotten and the excluded than He is with patriotic arm-chair tough talk. It's called "justification," and it's a great feeling. I would rather be killed as a faithful pacifist than die of old age as a patriot. As it is now, if my grandchildren ask me what it was like living in the most violent century in human history, and what I personally did to try to stop it all, I will have something to say. Not much. But something.

Clarifying Remarks

Am I saying that we should make armed robbery "legal" so that robbers don't feel intimidated? Don't be ridiculous. I'm saying they need to follow Jesus and become pacifists (Matt 6:31-34).  Return to text

On Genesis 14:14 -- In addition to radical hospitality, Abraham also engaged in "Holy War." I discuss this elsewhere. Christians no longer engage in "Holy War" using carnal weapons of warfare (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).  Return to text

The Catholic Worker movement began in 1933 as a means of presenting a Christian alternative to New Deal socialism. There are approximately 100 such houses across the country.  Return to text

The "Government" was established precisely to violate Biblical Law concerning self-sacrifice and peace, and so I am also an "anarchist."  Return to text

If the following scenario sounds chaotic and unGodly, it is. I did not have full control over this house. The Catholic Worker movement espouses "pluralism" and "tolerance," and does not espouse full-orbed Theonomic Patriarchy. Biblical Laws on slavery and hospitality inform us that there needs to be more of an imposed discipline on the guests in one's house. Nevertheless, vital lessons can be learned from this chaotic situation. Most of our culture is not disciplined (or, rather, is disciplined against Christianity and into self-centered Humanism), and therefore most of the situations we encounter are chaotic. When violence erupts, we need to know how exercise dominion on an immediate, ad hoc basis, to respond in a strong, patriarchal, pacifistic manner.  Return to text

I take that back. I forgot for a moment that I lived in Southern California and would face a jury of my "peers."  Return to text

Christ has disarmed the powers and their violence is impotent. Colossians 2:15; Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 10:18; 11:17-22; Psalm 68:18 + Ephesians 4:8; Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8; 4:4; Genesis 3:15; Romans 16:20; Matthew 12:28-29; Luke 10:18; 11:20-22; Mark 1:24; Revelation 12:10-12; 20:1-4; John 12:31-33; 14:30; 16:11. See also Thesis 55.  Return to text

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