Why I am a Pacifist

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I wasn’t too concerned with the idea of pacifism until the last year.  A few years ago, I read C.S. Lewis’ essay, “Why I am Not a Pacifist”, and it had me convinced.  At the time I had C.S. Lewis on a pretty high pedestal and I pretty much saw his work as almost as “inspired” as any part of the official canon of the Bible.  Years later, I realize now that C.S. Lewis’ essay missed out big in two ways – it equated “pacifist” with “passive”, and even more importantly, it left Jesus out of the picture altogether.

A couple years ago, Victoria and I started attending The Meeting House, which is an Anabaptist church that believes in Christian pacifism.  It wasn’t anything that ever really got pushed on us though, so I never really thought much about the issue until our pastor, Bruxy Cavey, did a sermon series earlier this year, entitled, “Inglorious Pastors”.  Through this series and a lot of personal digging, Jesus’ teachings were finally brought into focus on this issue.  I came to understand the simple truth that when Jesus says, “Love your enemy”, he doesn’t mean shoot them between the eyes.

Since then I’ve become quite a vocal proponent of pacifism, as I believe it is a critical part of following Jesus.  Although this was once a virtually unanimous position in the Church, now only a minority of Christians hold this viewpoint.  So I’ve come across my fair share of detractors.  It seems the most common response I’ve gotten goes something like, “But we have to be able to defend the faith, and stand for the truth!”  It’s an interesting response, and I do want to stand for truth.  But I found that digging into this idea just solidified my position as a pacifist.

If I’m going to stand for the truth, then there are two obvious questions that need to be answered:  what is the truth, and what does it mean to stand for it?

So first of all, as a Christian, what is THE truth – the single most important truth that I need to stand up for and defend?  Well, I think that truth would absolutely have to be this:  We have a God that is so loving, that he was willing, through Jesus, to lay his own life down, so that his enemies might be forgiven and saved.  That is really Christianity in a nutshell – for someone that follows Jesus, there can be no greater truth.

What does it look like to stand for this truth?  What does it look like to stand up for the truth that Jesus laid his own life down in his enemies’ stead to save them?  The only way to stand up for this truth, is to proclaim it and be willing to do the same for our enemies.  Anything short of that is standing against that truth, not for it.  If I attack my enemy, how can they possibly see this truth through my actions?  The moment I take a swing at, or fire at, my enemy, I am telling them that they are not worth saving, while I know that Christ died for them as much as he died for me.

At the end of the day, I still have some questions about Christian pacifism – some questions and doubts still linger, I have my own “but what about?” questions.  But in the end, I cannot get around the fact that Jesus loved his enemies so much he was willing to die for them, and I must be willing to do the same.  While it was Jesus’ teachings that brought me into the pacifist camp, it was his actions that kept me there.

A Pacifist on Remembrance Day

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Ten years ago today I was sitting in War Memorial Hall on the University of Guelph campus taking in the Remembrance Day service.  I had been to this service the previous two years, but this one was quite a different experience.  As usual, the place was packed and the first couple rows of seats were filled by veterans in full uniform that had been invited to the event.  But when the MC got up to speak, she made an interesting comment.  She said that as we remembered those troops who fought for us, we should also remember the many people who refused to go to war because they were pacifists.  She brought this up over and over again – it was clear that she thought the true heroes of the World Wars were those who stayed at home.

I was shocked and upset at this, to say the least.  While I respected a pacifist viewpoint, I thought it was terrible to invite veterans to an event to remember those lost in the wars, and then give all the praise to those who skipped out to let others fight their battles.  I felt like if I was one of those veterans, I would have been hurt, and felt totally denigrated.  That Remembrance Day left a sour taste in my mouth, and I have yet to go back to War Memorial Hall for another Remembrance Day.

Now, ten years later, I myself am a pacifist.  Over the last year, I’ve come to understand and believe that when Jesus said, “turn the other cheek,” he meant it.  I’ve come to see through Jesus’ teachings and examples that those who follow him are to be willing to lay down their lives for anyone; not just their friends and countrymen, but their enemies as well.  So as Remembrance Day (or Veteran’s Day in other parts of the world) came around again, I had to think about how I view this event now.  As a strict pacifist, how do I view a day that celebrates the actions of men who spent their days violently taking the lives of others?  How do I look back and see that Remembrance Day ceremony where pacifists were praised for refusing to go to war?  Well, some things have changed, and others, not so much.

Firstly, I still think even the hardcore of pacifists needs to be thankful for those who fought for our freedom, and to realize and recognize that these men and women risked their lives, gave their lives, and in many cases were genuine heroes, all in good conscience.  I live in a country with a ridiculous amount of freedom, and I have to recognize that much of it is thanks to the men and women who served in the World Wars.  So in this regard, I still look back on that Remembrance Day ceremony with a sadness for how it was run. This day is a day to remember and recognize those people who served in the wars, not those who stayed behind.

Secondly, as I’ve learned more about pacifism, I’ve come to realize that the MC at that Remembrance Day service didn’t just denigrate the soldiers, but denigrated the pacifists as well.  She confused those being “pacifist” with those being “passive”.  Pacifism isn’t about avoiding conflict, but about using peaceful measures to help in the midst of conflict and to try to help resolve it.  She ignored those pacifists that were serving on the front lines.  The thousands of Anabaptists and other pacifists serving the military through non-violent means, as field medics and with other assisting duties.  Or the Bulgarians who literally laid down on the tracks to stop the trains carrying Jews to concentration camps.  Or to the current day peacemakers, like Christian Peacemaker Teams who are jumping right into the midst of war-torn areas in the Middle East, promoting peace through peaceful means.

Remembrance Day is an important day, a day to remember those who fought, those who gave their lives, those who willingly jumped into the midst of horrible violent chaos, those whose heroic actions are hard to even comprehend as someone living in a peaceful North America.  Regardless of whether we are pacifist or not, and regardless of whether those heroes were pacifist or not, it is important to remember, and to continue to work towards peace, in our lives and around the world.