Why I Am Pursuaded Towards Practicing Non-Violent Justice, Rev. & Expd.

This is not a fully detailed argument for what is commonly referred to as pacifism. There is a lot more that could be said in defense of the Christian pacifistic position. I would like to qualify the term “Pacifism” and suggest that from a Christian view point I would like to understand this term as a non-violent but active approach to practicing justice in the world. This qualification is due to the fact that I do believe Christians should be actively practicing social justice among the world, but only in a non-violent manner. For an accessible but more detailed case, here is my suggestion: Lee C. Camp, “Mere Discipleship: Radical Discipleship in a Rebellious World” (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2003).
At one time I was an advocate of the “just war” position. I am still proud of those who serve in the military because they are convicted it is morally correct as well as they believe it is their calling, and so they serve as though they were serving God. So please do not misunderstand my present conviction to be understood as though I disrespect those who serve in the military, especially those who have given their life while serving in the armed forces.
Nevertheless, over the years since I became a Christian, I have begun to question the ethical appropriateness of engaging in warfare in order to bring about justice among the world. I now am pretty convinced that engaging in warfare is unethical from a Christian viewpoint. Therefore I am now advocating as the acceptable moral/ethic Christian position the pursuit of non-violence in the quest for justice in this world. I will confess however, there are a lot of questions when it comes to the various hypothetical situations which I simply do not have all the answers too. This is the same for me when it comes to my theodicy (a Christian explanation for the problem of evil and innocent suffering). There are plenty of hypothetical situations of suffering (which are actually real for some people) to which I have no answer for. But not having an answer to every possible situation should not keep anyone from defending and living out what is believed to be the correct teaching, the biblical-ethical teaching.
Why have I changed? Primarily, I have changed due to my understanding of hermeneutics. In short, my hermeneutic, by which I determine how to conduct my life as a Christian, is based on how Jesus lived — whom I call Lord and follow after. This is contra to the hermeneutic which I was taught as a child growing up in church, which simply sought a proof text (i.e. cut and paste) from the Bible either by command, example, or inference in order to justify or condemn a particular position and/or practice. My hermeneutic led me to view the Bible as a window (if you will) to the life of Jesus. I am trying to model my life after Jesus and in scripture I see other communities of people trying to follow after Jesus as well, some better than others. As I read the teachings passed on to these communities in response to their own circumstances, these letters become a guiding point for me. However the scriptures are not the pattern I am seeking to follow, they are the window through which I see the pattern – Jesus that is – I am trying to follow. The New Testament scriptures present a window of insight into how other Christian communities incorporated the teachings and life of Jesus into their own life. Because scripture, as God’s written word, belongs to a specific historical context, it calls for all contemporary readers to ask the question of how we take instruction given to an ancient faith community and apply that instruction to our own unique circumstances. However, the intent is not for us to make the written instruction our pattern but rather is to point us to Jesus who is our one true pattern for living a true life.
So with this hermeneutical shift, this is what I noticed. Rather than defending himself, Jesus endured the evil of humanity and trusted in his Father to vindicate him. Such endurance led Jesus to the cross but the cross was followed by a resurrection. Even though the cross was certainly part of God’s plan of salvation for humanity, it was also a result of Jesus’ refusal to give way to the political and religious positions of his day while at the same time refusing to engage with tactics of warfare in the proclamation of the kingdom of God. So Jesus was active in bringing about social justices, as seen in his public ministry which proclaimed and embodied the kingdom of God. However, while proclaiming this new kingdom (which was a threat to the existing political and religious powers) and living the kingdom values out, Jesus simultaneously resisted the political and religious powers in a non-violent manner.
Jesus called people to follow him, carrying a cross as well (Mk. 8.34). The promise of the Son of Man (i.e. Jesus) returning in glory was the promise of victory for those who followed him as well. Thus the earliest Christians were also called to endure the evil of humanity rather than defend themselves and then “in faith” trust God to vindicate them (Rev. 13:7-10 and 14:9-12; passages that usually goes unnoticed when discussing topics like this). This practice of Christians enduring the evil of humanity rather than rising in defense of themselves and others continued until the fourth century. They chose to be martyrs rather than to use the sword on their own behalf and thus trusted in God to vindicate them. This was the practice of the Christian church up and until the Roman emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity. Further, to rise up in support of the worldly, political kingdoms seemed to be considered offering worship to someone other than God.
If non-violent resistance was the practice of Jesus and his earliest followers, why should it be any different now? Why should it be different now when Christians are still people who belong to the kingdom of God and thus should embrace the values of the kingdom, which was demonstrated by Jesus? Can we who are Christians in the twenty-first century not also trust in God to vindicate us? Especially since we are promised that the kingdom of God, which we belong too, is victorious and that all worldly kingdoms have been, are, and will be destroyed.
Such non-violent resistance does not mean that Christians should be passive when it comes to social-justice. Christians should work to help those who are oppressed, whether such oppression is found in the form of tyranny or poverty or some other form. What can be done? First, Christians should be in constant prayer for those who are oppressed (and prayer is something rarely considered as a “powerful” response to injustice – which betrays our faith in prayer). Second, Christians can live out their baptism (see Romans 6) and realize they have already been baptized into death and therefore have been raised into life with Jesus. This means Christians are free to live and minister to the oppressed without fear of social reprimand, political persecution, or worse, even death. I realize that in the United States of America, it seems unlikely that Christians will ever face political imprisonment or execution for ministering and seriously taking a non-violent stand against social injustice. But I believe Christian who do minister in an incarnational manner among the oppressed will face social persecution from their peers, because such a lifestyle will become a stunning rebuke to the way thing exist in society – even in the United States of America. I know this because one of my most beloved undergraduate teacher has been told at times throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s that he was unwelcome in a Christian house of worship because of his outspoken and living stance against the racial segregation and oppression of African Americans. Third, Christian must be the alternative to an oppressive society. Where worldly political – nation – states, among other empires, are concerned with self-preservation, Christians know the Kingdom of God is the only ever lasting Kingdom. The kingdom is a reality where life is experienced the way God created life to be lived. The kingdom of God is perfectly embodied in the life of Jesus Christ. Christians, who belong to the alternative community called church, are called to embody this kingdom life (literally the reign of God) as well, offering the world an alternative way to the temporary kingdoms where the Kingdom Way is demonstrated, experienced, and embodied to its fullest.

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One response to “Why I Am Pursuaded Towards Practicing Non-Violent Justice, Rev. & Expd.

  1. Agreed. Nice little introduction to a nonviolent Christian position. I would definitely add the active pursuit of peace and justice as being parts of the work of a Christian. Part of the answer to evil and suffering is God’s covenant people. As being the Spirit empowered and filled church we are God’s extended arms to the world…

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