General McKenzie was in charge of the Navy, and he was visiting his colleague General Marshall, who was in charge of the Army. McKenzie arrives at the military camp and is greeted by Marshall. They both walk around the place, and McKenzie asks: “So how are your men?” “Very well trained, General.” “I hope so. You see, my men over at the Navy are so well trained, you could see they’re the bravest men all over the country.” “Well, my men are very brave, too.” “I’d like to see that.” So Gen. Marshall calls Private Johnson over and says: “Private Johnson! I want you to stop that tank coming here with your body!” “Are you crazy, General? It’d kill me! I’m out of here!”
As Private Johnson runs away, Marshall turns to a bewildered McKenzie and says, “You see? You have to be pretty brave to talk like that to a general.”
Tomorrow is International Day of Peace or World Peace Day . It was first established by the United Nations in 1981. The UN declared that “Peace Day should be devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations.” At the same time, the International Day of Peace is also a Day of ceasefire—a day for making peace in both personal relationships, and the larger conflicts of our time. On Ceasefire Day, the world calls and prays for the guns to fall silent everywhere, at least for one day.
Obviously the issue of peace and war brings up a lot of very important issues. We have our views on when peace is important, and when going to war is the better option. But I want us to take this time this morning to stretch our thinking and views to include the questions: Can a Christian be a pacifist? Should Christians believe in the Just War Theory?
In our society we hear very little thinking on pacifism. Instead, we hear and see a lot on the benefits of the military and having to go to war when we go. The conversation is very often weighted toward choosing organized military response to political/military situations around the world. I want to let you hear a different perspective this morning.
I also wanted to be the one to do the teaching on these matters. But in researching and studying up on the questions of war and peace, of violence or pacifism, I soon came to the see that there were others who had studied, researched, thought, and written on this subject in much vaster terms and had
shaped their ideas down into concise and powerful terms. So for your benefit, I want to offer you the best that I have read in a long time on the issue of peace. But first I want to show you a clip from a movie. In this bit, an intentional traffic collision leads to an altercation with an aggressive neighbor.
This clip makes the case for the necessity at times of violence, even killing, to protect the weak. I know we believe sometimes violence in defense is necessary to protect loved ones and the innocent. I do too. The point of today however is to stand on the side for peace, peace as a tool that must be chosen more often than it is, I believe. To help us get there, like I said, I brought in some help this morning. Richard Jackson is the Deputy Director of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. Prior to this, he was Professor of International Politics at Aberystwyth University in Wales, UK. He teaches about issues of terrorism, political violence, war, security, peace and conflict resolution. He’s published several academic books on these topics. He’s also the editor-in-chief of the academic journal, Critical Studies on Terrorism,
It would have been very unfair of me to take his material and thinking on these subjects and “make them my own” for the purposes of this message. And just so you know, the material I’m using come from a sermon he gave at St Paul’s Cathedral, Dunedin, as part of World Peace Day Sunday, 2013. In other words, he does a much better job than I could ever do in getting us to think about peace. You deserve to hear from someone on such an important topic who says it very well, even if you don’t always agree.
I want to start at the most basic level where people believe they can point out the weakness of a pacifist’s position—the ultimate question. Richard says, “One (question) I often get asked when I openly question the utility and morality of organized violence for settling political conflict is: if an evil man came into your house and tried to kill your wife, would you do nothing?
Well of course I wouldn’t do nothing … I’d try and stop him from killing my wife any way I could, or we’d hide and I’d call the police! But just because I would try and do something in this situation does not mean I support organized, industrial-scale killing, nor does it mean that I would not do anything in the case of an invasion of my country by a foreign army.
Without getting into the immense problems we face when we take an individual ethical analogy and try to apply it to relations between nations and groups, or the problems with the Hollywood caricature of ‘Dr Evil’-type people who can only be stopped by violent death, my other problem with this question is that it is asked in an unfair and stupid way.
… The valid and more accurate form of this question should really be: if an evil man came into your house and tried to kill your wife, would you get a group of your friends together, arm them with shotguns and grenades, and then go to the evil man’s neighborhood, blow up his house, kill him and most of his family and friends, and burn down his neighborhood? After all, it is this organized and overwhelming military response which is implied in the initial question.
He also faces another question quite often: What if there was genocide like the one in Rwanda or the Holocaust going on right now, wouldn’t you agree to send in the military to stop it?
This is a (bad) question because it is designed to force a pre-determined answer. I could equally ask: If there was a genocide going on right now and the only way to stop it was through nonviolence by trained peace activists, wouldn’t you agree to it? Or, if the Holocaust could have been prevented by universal disarmament and the ending of all national militaries, wouldn’t you agree to it?
I also object to this question because it is devoid of history and context. I mean, what happened to get to this point where a regime is committing genocide, and could we have done something to stop it long ago? Why did everyone just sit around and watch while this particular regime or group organized a genocide and did nothing to stop it? Why were the peace activists who warned that our violent societies and violent politics would probably lead to this situation ignored? Is it really fair to blame them once genocide breaks out, when they have been the main ones working to try and stop such things from happening?
In other words, the point is not to sit around waiting until violence gets really bad and then try and think of a solution. The point is to think about what causes violence and try and prevent it from happening in the first place. I think we could do this, but it would require new thinking about violence and war, and not constantly trying to justify holding onto violent methods with (stupid,) unfair questions directed against pacifists.
It is a simple question which I can’t see anyone asking: how many corpses does it take until we abandon the patently false idea that violence can be a useful policy tool and we start instead to use our intelligence to find the more realistic and morally consistent nonviolent alternatives?
To be honest, I’m sick of being told I’m (a) naïve(, unrealistic idiot) because I’m a pacifist when it is the belief that organized forms of violence and killing can bring peace and security which is clearly the naively delusional position. In fact, the belief that good can come out violence, or that evil can best be fought with violence, is the most dangerous, and most stupid, ideological belief in the world today.
The fact is, the people who ask me these questions have ignored every suggestion and warning I and other peace activists ever made for decades. They don’t really care what we think anyway; they prefer to keep the world the way it is. Peace activists said there were signs of a coming genocide in Rwanda and action needed to be taken; they said that there were more effective responses to terrorism than a war on terror; they said that invading Iraq would be a disaster; they said that selling arms to every dictator in the world was not conducive to peace; and so on, and so on. But every time, they were dismissed as naïve and unrealistic, and their practical suggestions were ignored.
Thus, my ultimate question in response to these … questions is: How many wars, genocides, bombings, tortures and killings … will it take until you have sufficient evidence to prove that political violence has failed as a response to conflict, and you give peaceful and nonviolent policies serious consideration? You’ve given war and intervention a chance for hundreds of years without much success. When will you give nonviolence a chance?
In order to understand his essential second point, I need to briefly tell you about the Just War Doctrine. The Just War Doctrine states that seven conditions need to be satisfied for a war to be considered just, and for Christians to therefore support it and participate in it: The war must be for a just cause; the war must be declared by a lawful authority; it must be fought for a right intention; it must be a last resort after peaceful alternatives have been tried; it must have a reasonable chance of success; the force used must be proportionate; innocent civilians should not be harmed.
Just War theologians argued that if these strict conditions were fulfilled, Christians could fight in the war with a clear conscience. Importantly, the original Just War Doctrine was rooted in the understanding
that war was inherently evil; it could never be considered good nor heroic. Importantly, Mr. Jackson says, I would argue that no war in the last one hundred years at least can confidently be said to have adhered properly to Just War precepts, for the simple reason that there is no war I know of where all other nonviolent options have been properly tried first. What I mean by this is simply that vast resources are poured into preparing for war, training for war, and making war. No similar level of resources—financial or human—have been devoted to training for, preparing for, or attempting peaceful methods of conflict resolution.
Compare military budgets with diplomatic budgets. Compare how many people are trained to fight in the military with how many people are trained in nonviolence and conflict resolution. Compare how many scientists are working on weapons development with how many are working on peaceful solutions. We cannot say that war is the last resort until we have put at least as much effort into finding nonviolent solutions as we have into preparing for, and making, war.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly for us here today, I believe that Just War Doctrine is wrong is because it clearly contradicts the life and teaching of Jesus, and the values of his Peaceful Kingdom. The violence, the harm, the injury, the hatred, the brutality of war contradicts everything about the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.
In the end, my Christian pacifism is renewed each time I pray the Lord’s Prayer, particularly the line “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Each time I pray this, I ask myself this:
Is it God’s will that more than 100 million human beings have been murdered in wars in the past century?
Is it God’s will that hundreds of millions of people are driven from their homes, forced to flee and live in appalling conditions because of war?
Is it God’s will that tens of thousands of women and girls are raped and sexually violated in war every year?
And is it God’s will that men and women study and train and discipline themselves to kill and maim their fellow human beings in combat?
Is it God’s will that scientists and strategists work tirelessly, year after year, to devise ever more destructive ways to kill, and maim and destroy other human beings?
Is it God’s will that people spend their days working in factories to make cluster munitions and other horrible weapons that will spread around the world and be used to tear apart the bodies of their fellow human beings?
Is it God’s will that uncountable trillions of dollars have been spent, and continue to be spent, on maintaining military forces while millions of children are under-fed, families are un-housed, entire generations of young people are un-educated, and millions lack in basic medication?
Is it God’s will that veterans come back from war with physical and emotional wounds which diminish and distort their lives, and poison their relationships, for decades after?
Is it God’s will that we as a society seem to revel in war and killing as entertainment, turn it into video games for our children…?
The question I ask myself is this: how can I pray the Lord’s prayer in all sincerity, week after week, year after year – thy will be done on earth – if I then support war which is clearly against God’s will? I cannot pray for God’s will to be done on earth and then work against God’s will by supporting war. If I do, then my prayer is not sincere and I am a hypocrite.
Peace is at the core of God’s kingdom. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, came down from heaven to give us his peace. His peace has both an individual dimension and a collective dimension. At the level of the individual, he offers through his redemptive grace the chance to make peace with God and peace with ourselves. At the collective level, his life, death and resurrection inaugurates and brings into existence a new Kingdom of peace, love, and justice. I will stop with Mr. Jackson here.
Christians, followers of Christ, don’t and many times should not make sense to others who do not believe the same things they do. Christ calls us to be the ones who stand patiently to listen fully, to help completely, and to resist the drum beat to conflict. We need to be strong enough to see where reconciliation can take place, where our part in the issues truly lie, and how we ought to do things differently today so that tomorrow’s choice isn’t only between bloodshed or defeat.
Even if all others believe war is necessary, we should never be the ones pushing for war, never be the ones shouting out for battle, never be the ones demanding bloodshed.
And when armed conflict and war and death and bloodshed have been our path, we must support those who have borne in their minds, bodies and souls the battles we have demanded of them on our behalf, for whatever
reason or for whatever result. Veterans carry in themselves and their lives the pains and much of the consequences of our country’s decision to choose war over peace. Because of this, they deserve all we can do.
May the peace of Christ Jesus that we experience and live out empower us to envision peace for the world, justice for all, and compassion to God’s creatures and creation. And may we put our actions where our hope is.
Can the church say Amen?