War and Peace – Part 1

I have been discussing a lot of different issues related to war and peace with a couple close friends lately, and it’s time I get some things in writing. This is going to take a number of posts, but I want to start by laying out a couple of basic challenges that I will flesh out in more detail later.

To put it simply and directly, when a human life is taken, evil is done. There is no way to sanctify or bless the act of human life without flagrantly violating the very character of Jesus.

This is a strong statement, especially for one who says, as I will in future posts, that I believe there are still limited instances where, in the fallen world in which we live, the taking of life may be the only way to address certain extreme circumstances. While I was once an absolute pacifist, I cannot today state that it is always, absolutely, and indisputably wrong for a follower of Christ to use deadly force (though as you will see, my acceptable limits for doing so are pretty narrow). However, even given that there may be times where deadly force is tragically necessary even for the Christ-follower, it must never be glorified, elevated, seen in any light other than a supreme tragedy for which we weep that it must happen at all.

Secondly, and for a variety of reasons that are not simply pacifist reasons, I shall advocate that it is morally unacceptable for a Christ-follower to assume the career of a soldier.

I make this claim even though I freely admit that I have friends who serve or have served in the military. I do not claim that they are “not saved,” primarily because I repudiate the saved/unsaved dichotomy as a criterion for judging discipleship. Christ-followers are called to emulate our king because of who he is and what he demands, not because we’ll go to hell if we don’t.

Finally, I acknowledge at the outset that my thinking is not finalized on all of these issues, despite years of wrestling with them. I am probably internally inconsistent in some of what I’m going to say, and I definitely have room to further refine the positions I’m going to lay out. However, I hope that these thoughts will challenge the readers to re-consider some of their own closely-held positions on this issue, and that perhaps we can take the discussion beyond the usual pacifist-vs-nationalist rhetoric that has so often characterized the debates I have heard.

More to come. . .

3 thoughts on “War and Peace – Part 1”

  1. Mason

    Very intriguing post.
    I’m looking forward to hearing more about how exactly you articulate the interplay between Christianity and nonviolence. The more voices speaking on this topic the better in my eyes, it is such an important issue for the church to wrestle with, yet I see a discouraging lack of engagement on many fronts.

    Quick question after reading your post, you use the term pacifism a couple times, and I was curious how you would define that?
    In your terminology would pacifism be synonymous with nonviolence? And what fits into it for you? Would non-lethal force (rubber bullets, tear gas) be an option? How about non-lethal resistance in the form of large scale strikes, sit ins, protests, and perhaps sabotage?
    I just find different people mean different things by the terms, and hope to get a better idea of where you are coming from.

    I just started a similar series dealing with Christian nonviolence as well (linked below if you’re interested) and am quite happy to find a likeminded dialogue partner. I’ll check back for more.



  2. Dan Martin

    Mason, thanks for your comment. You are right, I got a little sloppy in my terminology in the first post, and I need to define my terms far more carefully. I appreciate the pointer.

    I am categorically NOT referring to “passiveism” in my arguments. One of my big issues with pacifism as I held it growing up (whereof more in a future post), is that I see the whole candlelight vigil and go-get-yourself-arrested methodology of the more stereotypical pacifist movements to be ineffectual and for the most part silly.

    I see a big difference between aggressive violence of the sort we used in the invasion of Iraq, vs. defensive but still lethal violence as exercised by repelling an invader, or by a police officer in stopping a violent crime in process, vs. nonlethal restraining or inhibiting force, vs. nonviolent resistance, vs. passive nonresistance.

    I shall pursue each of these more fully in future posts, but I imagine you’ll take some cogent information even from my divisions here. Meanwhile thank you for your comments here. Let’s keep the dialog going on both blogs!



  3. Mason

    Thanks for the clarifications. I didn’t think you were being sloppy, I just never am sure what people are getting at with some of those terms, since there are so many approaches.
    I’d agree that passivism is not at all a valid or Biblical approach (I used almost that exact language in my post actually), but I think that the opposite of that is not necessarily even lethal defensive force, but rather a creative third way.

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