In a recent book, War and the American Difference*, Stanley Hauerwas explores why it is that Americans have a distinct lack of unease with war. War, he says, ‘is America’s central liturgical act necessary to renew our sense that we are a nation unlike other nations.’ In other words, the war on terror means that Americans have a common enemy that unites them nationally. War is a moral good. It is the pursuit and defence of ‘freedom’.He goes on to suggest that Christianity in America has by and large agreed with this perspective. As a consequence the church in America is not capable of offering a political challenge to what is done in the name of the American difference.
He concludes that in America, for the church to offer an authentic Christian political theology will require ‘a recovery of the church as a polity capable of challenging the presumptions that the state is the agency of peace.’ And one of the most powerful and authentic ways the church in America can recover her integrity is through a commitment to Christian non-violence.
Why mention all this in a PS about Christianity in Ireland? Simply to suggest the same thing: that one of the most powerful and authentic ways the church in Ireland can recover her integrity is through a commitment to Christian non-violence.
I say this for two reasons. The first is that, as a community of followers of a crucified Messiah, I believe that God’s people are called to pacifism. Jesus embodied this ethic in his entire ministry culminating in his explicit rejection of Peter’s violent resistance in Gethsemane and in his subsequent self-sacrifice at the cross.
Jesus ‘took on’ and defeated the political and spiritual forces arrayed against him by the ‘upside down’ apparently crazy idea of a crucified Messiah. God continually does counter-intuitive things and calls his people to live counter-intuitive lives that represent a foretaste of the fulfilled kingdom to come. If we pray ‘your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven’ it seems to me that this rules out engagement in violence for followers of Jesus, since violence and war will not be part of the new age.
Secondly, as in America but for different reasons, much of Ulster Protestantism has been unable to offer a prophetic critique of the idea that Christians are justified, in certain circumstance, in turning to violence (or the threat of violence) in order to protect their political and religious freedom. This is because (for example) the churches were intimately involved in supporting this position in the Ulster Covenant of 1912 and have never really explicitly repudiated this Unionist version of ‘just war’ theory.
The most radical and authentic way for followers of Jesus to respond to the clash of national identities that have shaped modern Irish history is to refuse to ‘play their game’. Pacifism is not just being against violence. It is a commitment to an alternative narrative to those of power and coercion. It is a narrative of eschatological hope; a narrative of peace; a narrative of life, of love of enemies, of forgiveness; a narrative of obedience to the Lord who gave his life to redeem a violent world. That’s a story worth living for and (as many believers around the globe continue to do) worth dying for.
Patrick Mitchel lectures in theology at the Irish Bible Institute.
* War and the American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity. (Baker)
“The first is that, as a community of followers of a crucified Messiah, I believe that God’s people are called to pacifism. Jesus embodied this ethic in his entire ministry culminating in his explicit rejection of Peter’s violent resistance in Gethsemane and in his subsequent self-sacrifice at the cross.”
Jesus does not appear to have taught pacifism. He did not, for example, tell the Roman soldiers who came to him to leave the Roman army (not exactly a group of boy scouts). Instead he told them [Luke 3:14]
“Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
The Kingdom of God is not advanced by violence, this is correct. It is unwarranted to draw from this the conclusion that all violence is wrong. We continue to live in a world where sin and injustice is present. In Romans 13, the Apostle Paul describes the civil authorities as “the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” The verses surrounding this clearly state that the authorities “bear the sword” (i.e. use force). The civil authorities are allowed to use force in carrying out their tasks.
Your entire argument is premised on two confusions: firstly a confusion between the civil authorities and the Kingdom of God. The civil authorities have rights and duties, but they are not the Kingdom. Secondly you wish to analyse “violence” in the abstract, so as to reject all violence. The Bible seems to regard some violence as good and other violence as bad. Clearly some violence is good. It is really a principled position to stand idly by and allow a child to be tortured to death when you can do something about it? I don’t believe that it is. If you accept than then surely your rejection of all violence must be unsustainable.
I read with interest your ps article….thank you for this. I struggle daily with the idea/concept of justice. My wondering is what justice in a very divided community must look like?…..what would justice look like for the Orange Order and what would it look like for the catholic/nationalist/republican community? I have a very good friend who comes fom a catholic/nationalist tradition and when w talk about these issues it really boils down to the fact hat when it comes to parading issues we really dislike one another….where to go from here I am not sure…nor am I sure of how to find way forward but at least there is honesty…..and that’s a good place to start looking for justice…..I’m not totally convinced that to be self sacrificial in all areas of living advances the purpose of justice……I daily struggle with Micah 6 where we read ‘ love mercy, walk humbly and act justly’…..I wonder often what this might look like or play out in concrete terms in our little society in Northern Ireland?
Thank you for another great post Patrick. In response to the comments above from David – ”
“Jesus does not appear to have taught pacifism. He did not, for example, tell the Roman soldiers who came to him to leave the Roman army (not exactly a group of boy scouts). Instead he told them [Luke 3:14]
“Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
Surely these words of Jesus to the soliders are saying ‘don’t be violent’. What would it mean for a soldier to be a soldier and not be violent or even threatening towards anyone? Does it not sort of make the soldier redundant?
Also – if I see a child being tortured I think the right and best thing to do might be to take his place. As Christians our stand against violence must be such that it might even lead to a little self-sacrifice… or a lot.
David although you say I’m confusing two kingdoms I’m simply drawing a significant distinction. Yes the Civil authorities are under God’s ultimate power, but that is not to endorse violence by citizens of the kingdom of God. It does imply that Christians are not to take up arms for police or army and I’m well aware that that is a minority view.
Good violence? Really? Who decides? We’ve had all too much of ‘my violence is justified’ in Ireland I would have thought. Once you go down that route anything ends up being done in the name of ‘goodness’ or ‘freedom’.
Olive, good questions and I don’t feel very equipped to even try to provide answers. “I’m not totally convinced that to be self sacrificial in all areas of living advances the purpose of justice” is a very interesting comment.
I guess a lot depends on what definition of justice is being talked about. Justice for ‘my’ side or for the Other? Seems to me that Jesus calls his followers to break the cycle of distrust by loving enemies. And loving an enemy must mean something like listening to them, being in their shoes (as you are doing) and then seeking their good and not our own first. That was an apparently illogical and crazy thing to do then (carry the hated Roman soldier’s pack etc) and it continues to be apparently illogical and crazy now. But isn’t that the point? It speaks of an alternative to competing power games?
I, too, believe that Christians are called to pacifism. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Christian-Pacifism-Fruit-Narrow-ebook/dp/B005RIKH62/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1353087795&sr=8-1
But it seems that the Christian church has for a long time confused issues about the state, not just the American church, giving us the bloodiest century in history, starting with The Great War.
I get onto a bus. I see 2 boys, aged about 12 or so on the bus already. They are fighting. One knocks the other to the floor and then starts kicking him viciously to the head. I grab the kicker round the waist and use my larger body weight to bring him to the floor.
Have I done something morally wrong?
You get onto the bus to the same situation. Is your response really to go up and say “kick me instead”. If it is, what happens if the kicker ignores you?
“Yes the Civil authorities are under God’s ultimate power, but that is not to endorse violence by citizens of the kingdom of God. It does imply that Christians are not to take up arms for police or army and I’m well aware that that is a minority view.”
You seem to be suggesting that the civil authorities are empowered by God to use violence but that Christians cannot take part in this. Is that a correct assessment of your view?
I note that you didn’t respond to my point about Jesus’ words to soldiers in Luke 3:14, which appears to contradict the view that Christ taught pacifism. How do you deal with that counter argument?
“Good violence? Really? Who decides? We’ve had all too much of ‘my violence is justified’ in Ireland I would have thought. Once you go down that route anything ends up being done in the name of ‘goodness’ or ‘freedom’.”
It seems to me that “Who decides?” can be asked of any human activity, action or motive. Presumably as Christians we take the view that God decides. People claim that all sorts of actions are justified, just because somebody claims something it does not make it so. If you take this argument to its logical conclusion there is no right and wrong because everyone has a different view on what is right and wrong.
The situation in Ireland is not the only moral question in the world and it is quite dangerous to use your preferred solution here as a moral compass for all other situations. I would suggest, on the contrary, that while Ireland may help you to understand other countries more, other countries may also help you to understand Ireland more too. Wrongly claiming justification for their violence is a problem, but so too is standing idly by while innocents are killed.
Thanks Patrick for starting a debate which has been long due not only in Ireland, both north and south, but also in the liberal democracies of the West. Hauwerwas’ position on violence and pacifism is a long-standing one (first forward nearly thirty years ago) and usaully misunderstood as some of the feed backs to your PS indicate. David, for eaxmple, seems to miss Hauwerwas’ pacificism by saying that this positon deals with violence in abstract. No, this pacifism is based on some of the core NT teachings and their practical implications. Was Jesus putting forward an abstract philosophy when he exhorted his followers not to resist violence by viloence (turn the other cheek, blessed are the peacemakers, go the second mile,love your enemies, etc)? Did the early Christians sacrificed their lives for an abstract, impractical philospohy when they decided to follow those teachings without any qualifications?
David quotes Roamns 13 where Paul says that civil authorities are instituted by God and are under his control. Did Paul mean All civil authorities irrespective of their orgin, nature and purpose? Was Nazi regime blessed by God? If ALL civil authorities are instituted by God and under his control, then how can one resist ANY with viuolence? I am sure what David has in mind is “liberal democracies.” Hauwerwas has a lot to say about such civil authorities and their right to yield sword. His basic complaint is that they, more often than not, have used violence for improper purposes and in imporper ways of which he provides example after example in his writings.
David’s scenarions 1 and 2 again completely miss what Hauwerwas’ pacifism is all about: it is not about decidng in some extreme situations one may be forced to use violence but aboout one’s entire world view and way of life in which violence has no place, at least to the extent that one is prepared to sacrifce one’s all, including one’s life, before contemplating the use of violence. And this is its relevance to the Irish situation. Asks yourself this: If the two sides in the current conflict in NI had followed the exhortation to sacrifice one’s all before resorting to violence or Jesus’ exhortation to love your enemy, what kind of place not only NI but the whole of Ireland would be?
This bring me to Olive’s dilemma. Self-sacrifice in all aresa may be not, and probably would not, adavnce the cause of justice,though this may depend a great deal on what one menas by justice: Jesus’ command to love your enemy has nothing to do with justice as ordinaraliy understood but about love, God’ love, his own love for the fallen humanity. If God had really demanded justice, where would we misreable sinners be? Are we not required to imitate him?
Hawerewas does not deny that ther is a need for the debate on the issue of how far can Christians resort to violence. His primary aim is to start such a debate, especially in the light of his correct understanding that Christians in liberal democracies like the UK and USA have too readily acquiesced to the secular liberal mantra that violence for the defense of so called freedm and democracy is always justified.