Thursday, March 11, 2004

Dialogue on Christian Pacifism and "Just War": Biblical and Social Factors (vs. Dr. EL Hamilton)

Readers may want to read my original paper that Edward was responding to, to see my original argument in its entirety). When portions of the older paper (actually written in 1987) appear, they will be indented. Edward's words will be in blue. Steven's words (another person who commented) will be in red.

* * * * *

With regard to #1 the fallacy of prooftexting once again rears its ugly head. We select the verses that support our point and pointedly ignore those that might introduce complication.

If someone did that, it would be wrong, I agree (but technically, that is cynical selection of verses, not prooftexting per se). Simply citing a Bible passage to support some view, on the other hand, is not necessarily wrong at all. And if you disagree, I need to know why. It does me no good for someone to simply make blanket statements. I want reasoning, and want to know why I should reject some stated position of mine.

What about, "Love those that hate you, do good to those that abuse you?"

Absolutely; we are to do that. I don't have to hate an enemy in war in order to oppose him. Chances are the average soldier on the ground is just a pawn.

"If thine enemy sues thee for thy coat give him thy cloak also?"

That's right. These are all moral axioms that apply to Christians. But they don't rule out difficult choices to make in the face of evil, and resistance to it. You have to deal with all the biblical evidence and follow your own advice. You have to variously explain what I have produced.

I don't know if I agree or disagree with the substance of the post,

So you don't even have an opinion . . . duly noted.

but I strongly disagree with prooftexting any supposition or agenda item. Prooftexting deprives us of the fullness of the Gospel message and makes for poor argumentation. It is not fit for protestant circles and it certainly should not be used in Catholic circles, bearing in mind the warning that "The Devil can cite scripture for his own purposes." (And, in fact did in Luke 4 (?). After all he is the one who provides the biblical evidence for the temptations he offers.

You throw the baby out with the bathwater. You are reasoning that since some people distort Scripture, therefore we can't even quote it. That is not Catholic (or biblical). Vatican II is full of "prooftexts." So is the Catechism. So is any systematic theology. So are the Fathers when they confront the heretics.

So, once I ignore section one, which just aggravated me, I'll try rereading what you have written and see how convinced I am.


I think these issues are largely a matter of the individual and his/her conscience.

The individual and his conscience is different from the state and the power of the sword given to it, and from social justice issues. The state can't reduce to the atomistic individual.

Although the Gandhi material, which I was already aware of (and the fact that he allowed his own wife to die of pneumonia because giving an injection would be a greater violence to her body than the disease) is certainly a clear indicator of the extremes of pacifism and where they lead.

Okay; good. Thanks for expressing your opinion. I disagree with some of it, but isn't freedom of speech and expression wonderful?

Did you see the "continuum of force" posting at National Review's weblog a while back?

No. I haven't been following politics much. I will as the election kicks into full gear.

This was with regard to the observation of Herman Kahn that the "pacifism/militarism" debate really exists more as a spectrum than a dichotomy. Very few "pacifists" in Western culture really oppose all violence, in the sense that certain Hindu sects would-- at most, they only oppose lethal violence against humans committed voluntarily with full knowledge. (Just as most "militarists" are actually quite circumspect in their willingness to wage war.) Moreover, most persons claiming to be pacifists (including most of the Mennonites that I know) would object to "police actions", even ones backed by the threat of lethal force. (That was Jim Wallis' "alternative" to the Iraq war, incidentally.) Usually, the object of concern is not actions by an established "state" against "criminals" (which are understood as a necessary evil), but the use of symmetric acts of violence (individual against individual, or one sovereign nation vs another sovereign nation) that lack a biblical mandate.

I understand that there are many gradations to the position. I used to lean towards a mild pacifism at one point, in the late 70s. I was opposing the theoretical "purist" pacifism because that allowed me to get out as many arguments as I could, and things usually go to extremes anyway in contemporary debate, so I was going after the absolute position.

But even stuff like the opposition to the death penalty as a moral absolute (which is NOT the Catholic position, or that of Pope John Paul II) goes strictly against biblical revelation and needs to be countered with a good dose of Bible.

On a more fundamental level, I think the real debate is over whether the default position is toward pacifism (with exceptions allowed only when they draw strong scriptural warrant) or toward just war (with constraint of the concept of "justice" based on scriptural evidence).

I think it is both. Christians are to be peacemakers and advocates of peace whenever possible (that's why the pope speaks as he does with regard to the Iraqi War), but the reality of an evil world makes just war a necessity, lest multiple millions die. Imagine a victorious Hitler, for example. It is not Christian to sit by while a madman is systematically attempting to exterminate a race of people and to kill other non-Jews who impose on him or his designs.

Most Mennonites (excepting some liberal ones) would readily allow that the use of war is ethically permissible when authorized by God (as it was for the Israelites, and will be for Christ in the final war against Satan).

Good point. Of course they would probably deny that this could occur today, as most people claiming such direct orders from God are consigned to insane asylums or fringe storefront churches. :-)

The position labeled "Christian pacifism" is the more moderate position that war is forbidden for Christians and the Church during the "church age" (and thus potentially also for "Christian governments", although this is the point at which Quakers and post-Yoder Mennonites part ways with traditional Mennonites and the German Brethren groups).

Interesting. I really think all these positions are based on an unbiblical hyper-idealism. Individuals can choose to be martyrs if they wish, but they can't impose their idealism on all of society because we have to deal with serious social and societal evils "out here."

First off, I don't think you've been entirely fair in your characterization of the historical position of Christian non-violence ("positions", really-- John Howard Yoder recognizes over a dozen different varieties of Christian pacifism).

Yes, of course. How can one ever write about variants of Protestantism without generalizing? Every time you make some argument, a Protestant like you comes around and says (and I generalize here, too LOL), "ah, but that's not us," or, "Protestant groups a,b,c, . . . z believe differently than that." So one either has to write 150 papers, with each individual Protestant variant dealt with in each one (and who has the time or patience for all that? -- even with convenient cutting-and-pasting capabilities), or one has to generalize. I have chosen the latter course, but am happy to clarify and discuss anything which you think is overly-generalized to the point of distortion.

Among other things, I would note that very few self-identified pacifists that I know (including many good friends) would say that soldiers are no different from "mass murderers", as if there were no differentiation between violence for the sake of evil (an error in both means and ends) versus violence in defense of a good (an error, at most, in means alone).

Sure. I have no problem with that. I have dealt with the "purist" position so as to cover all objections. It immediately collapses from Scripture. The intermediate positions have their serious problems, too, as far as I am concerned (if we approach the topic strictly biblically).

Similarly, I don't know of any pacifists who would recommend "standing by and doing nothing" in the face of a threat to one's family. Pacifists would merely suggest that you would be obligated to intervene in some way that wouldn't involve the application of lethal violence.

When dealing with monsters like the Nazis or Communists, such a response is utterly inadequate and would only exacerbate the problem. When a Nazi SS agent comes in your house to take your child away (or a Jewish friend you are hiding), you immediately shoot him in the head. Same thing with an axe-murderer with a ski mask coming in and heading for your two-year-old daughter's bedroom. I don't own a gun myself (maybe I should), but I see nothing wrong with defensive actions such as these. They're not even self-defense if you are defending your wife and children.

I can't precisely claim to be a pacifist myself, but I certainly think it is a far more subtle and thought-out stance than you are presenting here.

Good; then I am delighted you are commenting, so we can work through the issues. Please bear in mind that this was a paper of mine from 1987, and I don't claim to have done an exhaustive study on the subject. Like many of my papers, it was an overview designed to challenge certain widespread, inadequately-examined assumptions. No more, no less. As such, I'm quite sure there is room for vast improvement. If you brought out a paper of yours from 17 years ago, we'll see how well it can stand up to extensive cross-examination from a guy with a doctorate. :-) :-) But I love all challenges, so I am up to it, even regarding ancient papers of mine.

Morever, it is worth noting that a range of perspectives exist along a continuum between pacifism and militarism, and arguments against the most extreme forms of secular pacifism don't necessarily apply to the historical doctrine of nonbelligerence known in the early Church (Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen, Lactantius) nor to the later nonviolent stance of the Anabaptist "sects".

Granted. I have no problem with that. I always knew there were many variants. But I think you are also not giving me credit for the many qualifications in the paper I do make, showing that I do indeed recognize such distinctions and am not trying to paint with too broad a brush:

For those accustomed to viewing Jesus as the meek and mild type . . .

[i.e., not all pacifists -- I was referring to these particular folks, which include non-pacifists also]

The pacifist often argues that . . .

[i.e., other pacifists don't always argue this; implying difference of opinion]

. . . those pacifist strains [implying diversity of opinion] which denounce Christian involvement in government.

Of course, total pacifism has even more dreadful results, . . .
[T]he moral illegitimacy of the total pacifist outlook in the real world . . .

[i.e., there is such a thing as less-than-total pacifism, which would be immune to the charge]

For example, one could outline this spectrum:
1. All Christians morally obligated to participate in wars.
2. Some Christians allowed to accept a spiritual vocation that exempts themselves from war, while others allowed to serve, with both choices equally respected.
3. Christians who participate in wars understood as performing a necessary, and therefore not intrinsically sinful, service, but viewed as spiritually inferior to dedicated pacifist Christians.
4. Christians who participate in wars understood as performing a sadly necessary but inherently sinful duty that may require penitence before restoration.
5. Christians universally forbidden from participating in wars as combatants, but capable of serving in non-combatant capacities.
6. Christians universally forbidden to aid wars in any way, but also obligated to respect the authority of the state to conduct warfare.
7. Christians obligated to work to prevent even non-Christians from engaging in any wars.
I think this is good. Thanks.

Roman Catholics, I think, are obligated to embrace position 2, inasmuch as many monastic orders forbid their members from service in war.

Yes, that would be my position.

Position 3 is probably closest to my own,

Those of my position readily agree that war is a terrible, dreadful thing, to be avoided at all costs, but if it cannot be, participation in it is certainly not a sin, if the proper ethics of war are observed (not killing civilians, proportionality, etc.). No one is saying that war is this wonderful, delightful thing.

and position 4 is popular in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

It is self-contradictory and ethically ludicrous.

Aside from the Quakers, it is hard to find many Christian pacifists before the 20th century who would have taken the hard-line position of 7.

Sure. People would have to respond to my points individually and agree or disagree.

Most of your criticisms seem to assume that no middle ground exists between position 1 and position 7, which I perceive as an oversimplification of the debate.

That's not true, as my qualifications listed above, illustrate. It is a generalizing overview about a complex moral issue, and about the hundreds of competing Protestant views. So it will read a certain way as a result, but that doesn't imply that I am "oversimplifying" (unless you equate that with generalizing, which would mean that every sociologist or anthropologist or pollster is a simpleton).

Further, one can identify multiple patterns for the emergence of more "mature" Christian moral theory:

1. Moral laws that were relaxed under the Old Covenant for the sake of "hardness of heart", but placed into full force by Christ. The teaching on divorce would be one example, and of direct relevance to the pacifism debate, since it occurs in proximity to the teaching on loving enemies in the Sermon on the Mount.

But the Sermon on the Mount deals with individual morality. That's a bit different from social issues involving governments and civic duties. St. Paul himself didn't turn the other cheek when he went on trial. He even appealed to Caesar. This proves that the Sermon on the Mount's ethics are not applicable at all times and places (else Paul committed a grave sin and was a moral coward).

2. Moral ideals that were always intended to slowly reach realization through the work of the Church. The abolition of slavery would be a good example.

I agree with that. Good example. This was a social and cultural issue, and those take time to improve.

Very few Christian pacifists would contend that pacifism had always been in full force throughout history, since that would be hard to reconcile with the Old Testament. But there is no conceptual difficulty in my mind with supposing that it might belong to either of the above categories.

Their provlem is in their view of the relationship between the two Testaments and covenants. God didn't change between the two Testaments. So what He commands in the Old Testament is as moral as anything He commands in the New. Understandings develop, however, and situations change. The Law wasn't abolished by Jesus; it was simply applied differently. So, e.g., circumcision was applied to baptism (an initiatory rite for infants, introducing them into the covenant community). The Sabbath became the Lord's Day, etc. That's why my OT examples are applicable, because those who claim to accept biblical inspiration cannot dismiss them simply because they are in the OT. It's not that simple. And many do this, as you well know, I'm sure.

To me, the whole question raised by the debate over pacifism is one of "absolute" versus "relative" degrees of obedience to the command to "be holy as God is holy". That is, I begin from what would be considered a "Pietist" perspective-- how we are to best submit our lives to the example of Christ-- rather than supposing that there is a purely nomic distinction between what is allowed and forbidden. I don't detect any inflexible antagonism of Scripture toward war, I just think that Scripture teaches (by the example of Christ's life) that war is inferior to peace as a path for Christians to follow.

Of course. But that doesn't mean there are situations where justice requires Christians to engage in warfare. It's not a sin to do that, at all. If you literally hate your enemy, that might be a sin, because it is an internal attitude forbidden by Jesus. We must desire the best even for our enemies. C.S. Lewis wrote about (in The Problem of Pain, I believe) killing a German soldier, and then when he himself died and went to heaven, the two of them laughing about it and understanding that it was part of their duty as soldiers. That jarred me when I read it, because I was leaning towards pacifism in those days (late 70s), but it makes perfect sense to me now.

That perspective makes me extremely reluctant to criticize either camp of the debate, while seeing merit to a world that allows for the coexistence of both paths.

I have no problem with conscientious objectors (I would probably have taken a similar path myself if I had been drafted during the Vietnam era, and my brother did all he could to avoid being drafted); only with people trying to make out that Christianity by its very nature requires some form of pacifism and eliminates the notion of a "just war." That's my main beef, if you want a concise statement of it.

Pacifism is at most to be regarded as an ascetic virtue, and not all Christians (and certainly not all non-Christians) are obligated to submit to every form of asceticism.

There you go; there is our common ground. Its like what we call the "evangelical counsels." Monks, nuns, and priests can choose the path of heroic celibacy and voluntary poverty and obedience, but this is above and beyond the call of duty, so to speak.

Virginity is a great good, but it hardly detracts from the lesser goodness of marriage. Giving up all your possessions to charity and living in evangelical poverty is a great good, but there are many saints still among the wealthy.

Exactly. I'm answering as I read, so we were thinking exactly the same thought there.

Against the three great idols that threaten to displace God in our lives-- pleasure, wealth, and power-- I see nonviolence as the third component of a triad of ascetic virtues. The Lord perfectly practiced all of them during his life. I don't think everyone is called to submit to that rule, but I do think that those who embrace one or more of those disciplines have done something commendable.

I like this analysis. I think it is a very thoughtful and biblical way to view the whole thing.

I also think that it's critical to recognize the interconnectedness of spiritual disciplines. Christ would never have asked the rich young man to sell all his possessions if that had meant abandoning a responsibility to care for a wife and children.

Yes, very good. Or if he had not idolized his riches, which is why he was asked to give them up because you can't serve both God and mammon.

So then, why do people feel obligated to commit acts of violence? To protect their personal property, or to defend family members.

God does this when He judges at the end of the age (and even before, when He judges nations), so as His creatures made in His image, sometimes we are called to judge evil and to rescue the oppressed through the use of force, because there is no other way.

For a monastic community made up of those who have already surrendered property and family in pursuit of the kingdom of God, pacifism will make good ethical sense-- becoming a martyr in the company of others who have voluntarily embraced martyrdom is a commendable death. Trying to practice extreme pacifism while refusing to turn over other areas of life will, conversely, produce ethical nonsense. The detection of that nonsense isn't an indictment of pacifism itself, but rather a sign that complementary virtues are being practiced unevenly.

There is a moderate pacifism such as you mention (and I agree with) and there is an extreme, leftist-type pie-in-the-sky version. I had the latter mostly in mind in my paper.

Christians must not merely decline to fight, they must consciously live their lives in ways that make warfare less necessary.


With respect to some of the specific objections below:

A. Our Lord Jesus acknowledged the right of civil defense: " . . . let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one" -- Luke 22:36.
First, I'm not sure I see any mandate for a "civil defense" in this passage. It doesn't really refer to the arming of the state, but only of the disciples specifically. (Just as the advice to "buy a money bag" isn't intended to authorize the state to collect taxes.) So I think the inference to public policy is a somewhat dubious one. But that doesn't affect the application of this passage to personal ethics, admittedly.

If one can defend himself personally with force, then it stands to reason that it is likewise permissible for states to do so (which will be more likely a scenario anyway). I have never had to defend myself in such a manner (I had all of two fights as a kid and won both with a headlock LOL). In my lifetime, however, the US has been involved in three major wars and several minor ones, plus the cold war for the first 31 years of my life. Besides, Romans 13 gives the power of the sword to the state. So Paul grants it to governments, Jesus to individuals. This ain't pacifism -- whatever one wishes to call it.

The real question is whether or not this passage is understood to be literal, and if so, whether it is a universal command or one narrowly tailored to a specific context. With respect to the first, there is a tendency for many commentators to assumed that Christ is speaking in a more figurative sense about the need to be alert to danger, rather than personally commanding all His disciples to purchase and carry swords. (If the text is taken entirely literally, it not only allows the ownership of weapons, it actually requires it!)

No, because it is a proverbial-type statement. But even proverbs (which admit of exceptions) cannot incorporate within them an evil or a sin, if they come from our Lord, or elsewhere in inspired Scripture.

When the disciples indicate that they already have two swords, and Jesus responds that this is "enough", this indicates either 1) that he doesn't really think they all need swords (so that the "whoever has" was nonliteral), or 2) he was speaking entirely metaphorically, and is annoyed by the literal-minded disciples. If one accepts the latter, one has to explain why he doesn't correct them immediately-- but perhaps the intent was to allow Peter to commit an act of violence and correct him in a more dramatic context. (This would be similar to the willingness of Christ to allow Lazarus to die, at the expense of causing some temporary grief and confusion, or to His willingness to use parables that the disciples didn't immediately understand.) It's also worth noting that a very literal reading of the entire passage would say that the two swords of the disciples were permanently "enough"-- i.e., that this was the fulfillment of the entire command, and that any purchase of additional weapons by the disciples (or later generations of Christians) is unauthorized.

Jesus also said "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." The saying under consideration is likely ironic -- at least in part, as a metaphor for the opposition to them which would inevitably come.

Even if we allow that Christ means the command literally, we still have to note that Jesus doesn't actually command them to use the swords. This seems like a technicality at first, but Luke's gospel immediately follows this text with the observation by Christ that this command is in connection with the fulfillment of a prophecy, "And he was numbered with the transgressors." This could just mean that Christ is warning His disciples that they are about to be regarded as criminals, and need to defend themselves. But that hardly seems consonant with the rest of Luke and Acts, where we never once see the use of any swords. An alternate reading, not without merit, is that Christ means that arming the disciples is itself a component of fulfilling the prophecy. In order for Him to be "numbered among transgressors", He needed to give the authorities some reason to think of His followers as "transgressors". So he gives a sword to Peter, knowing full well that Peter will be tempted to use it, and thus motivate the accusation that His followers were brigands engaged in sedition against the Roman Empire.

All of these are possibilities. That's fine. But I would contend that if use of swords were inherently wrong, then Jesus couldn't even use this terminology. It would be like saying, "let him who has no pornography sell his robe and buy some" or "let him who has not committed adultery sell his soul and do so." As such, it is a disproof of a hardline pacifist position. As for exact interpretation, I agree, there might be a number of plausible possibilities. That's what makes exegesis so much fun and challenging. John Calvin commented on the passage:

In metaphorical language he threatens that they will soon meet with great troubles and fierce attacks; just as when a general, intending to lead the soldiers into the field of battle, calls them to arms, and orders them to lay aside every other care, and think of nothing else than fighting, not even to take any thought about procuring food. For he shows them—as is usually done in cases of extreme danger—that every thing must be sold, even to the scrip and the purse, in order to supply them with arms. And yet he does not call them to an outward conflict, but only, under the comparison of fighting, he warns them of the severe struggles of temptations which they must undergo, and of the fierce attacks which they must sustain in spiritual contests. That they might more willingly throw themselves on the providence of God, he first reminded them, as I have said, that God took care to supply them with what was necessary, even when they carried with them no supplies of food and raiment. Having experienced so large and seasonable supplies from God, they ought not, for the future, to entertain any doubt that he would provide for every one of their necessities.
I think this is quite reasonable and acceptable.
B. Jesus accepted the notion of obedience to civil government in general when He said: "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" (in this particular instance, taxes, which, no doubt were used in part for maintenance of the Roman armies -- Matt. 22:21; Mk. 12:17; Luke 20:25).
There is, one would have to admit, a difference between obedience to a government and active participation in it.

The Anabaptist and Mennonite (and Jehovah's Witness) traditions eschew such involvement altogether (or close to that), so there are Christians (and non-Christian cultists, in the latter case) who do this. I'm sure there are Christian anarchists, etc. Someone will believe in every conceivable error.

So, for example, the disciples were expected to pay taxes, but Matthew was called away from his vocation as a tax collector.

The latter is an individual call, and has no bearing on tax-collecting in general.

In any case, we are only obligated to obey the government when it does not conflict with our fundamental moral duties as Christians. If the government established a forced abortion policy, for example, Christian civil disobedience would be justified.


So we are back to the original question of when applications of lethal force are consistent with Christian ethics. The issue of whether and how Christians can support secular armies is hardly one that finds any universal answer among Christian pacifists. I'd guess that only a minority of modern Mennonites are actually tax protestors. Christ's answer here doesn't seem to imply that paying taxes implicates the taxpayer in the decisions of the government-- to the contrary, the implication is that since the coins belong to "Caesar", getting rid of them could be regarded as an act whereby Christians disentangle themselves from the state.

I agree, but there are folks who want to pretend that avoiding all involvement in the "secular world" is possible. It is not. Jesus -- knowing all things -- knows this.

Critical commentators have noted that Roman coinage often featured a portrait of the emperor, along with an inscription blasphemously identifying him as a god. In that regard, there is a certain irony behind Christ's words-- the things of Caesar are not the things of the true God, and the disciples were being alerted to the importance of that reality. Being "obedient" to civil government was not at all the same thing as expressing approval for it.

Yes, but it was not total detachment, either. There is a happy medium in these things.

Rather, Christ was exhorting his followers to struggle against Caesar using the spiritual weapons of God, rather than Caesar's own impure weapons. (With good merit-- if Christians had merely plotted sedition and practiced tax evasion, they would probably have been much less successful in bringing about the overthrow of the pagan divinity cult of Caesar than they eventually were historically.)

The discussion of the Christians' exact relation to the state is very involved. We have to stick to pacifism itself, lest we get pulled in a hundred different directions.

C. In Jesus' short parable about counting the cost of discipleship, the example of a king going to battle was used (exceedingly strange, if warfare was an absolute evil -- Luke 14:31-33).
I don't think that any Christian pacifist would argue that warfare is an "absolute evil" like rape or infanticide.

Some do. After all, many argue in precisely that fashion regarding capital punishment, don't they? Thay act as if this is an absolute evil that disqualifies Bush and justifies voting for a good solid moral, puppy-loving Catholic like Kerry. But abortion is fine and dandy, of course. That is a "difficult" issue and poses no problem for a Christian . . .

That would be impossible to reconcile with the many Old Testament stories and psalms of Israel's victories, quite apart from this brief parable. But we must admit that many of Christ's parables speak candidly of "relative" evils, and sometimes even appear to praise them. There are many parables about the conduct of slaves, and yet we don't consider that a praise of slavery itself.

Slavery in the sense of servanthood is not an absolute evil, so I think the analogy fails.

One parable speaks of a shrewd steward who uses his absent master's money fraudulently, to obtain friends with the "Mammon of unrighteousness". Jesus makes clear that this is a commendation only of his shrewdness, and not of fraud in general. (If the children of this age are wise in the ways of evil, how much more should we be wise in the doing of righteousness?)

In any event, He is not making a point using an evil thing as an analogy, as He would be doing if absolute pacifism were true.

In another parable, God is compared to an unjust judge who is successfully worn down by petitions. The intent is not to establish that God is unjust, but rather to establish that petitions made of a Just Judge should be expected to be all the more effective. In short, it's tough to extract general moral or theological principles from the incedental details in parables, since parables are crafted metaphorical narratives with a highly specific target.

But my point still stands: Jesus never uses examples of outright sins (whoredom, gluttony, theft, etc.) as parables of spiritual truth. Thus, war itself cannot be an absolute evil.

D. Jesus didn't rebuke a Roman centurion for being a soldier, but rather, strongly commended his faith and healed his servant -- Matt. 8:5-13 / Luke 7:1-10.
The status of a "centurion" is not quite the same as a modern military officer. In an occupied territory, a centurion functioned more often as a chief of police than a soldier, and his soldiers often performed services of a non-military nature-- investigating crimes, or responding to emergencies like fires and floods. So it's not entirely clear that this particular centurion had ever seen true military service.

Is that your comeback? Wow . . . methinks you are getting a bit desperate, but you must be given credit for chutzpah and enthusiasm.

The fact that he was well respected by the Jewish elders who intercede for him (Luke 7:3) suggests that he was on good terms with the Jews, at least, which would have been unlikely if he had overseen the harsh suppression of Jewish revolutionaries (pretty much the only military action in Judea). But we'll suppose for the moment that he well might have-- and that if he hadn't, he had at least presided at the executions of criminals, etc.

There is good reason to suppose that the expectations that God (and Jesus) had for Israel were higher than those of pagan nations, and similarly, that the expectations for the Church were higher than those for Israel (cf. Luke 12:48). One notes that not only does Christ not ask the centurion to stop being a soldier, he makes virtually no demands on the centurion at all. For example, he does not baptize the centurion, although we know that baptism was a universal obligation that would eventually be placed on all Christians.

He didn't baptize anyone, that we know of, so this is a non sequitur.

During the early stages of his ministry, Christ devoted his attention to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt 10:6, 15:24), and the function of the encounter with the centurion was to shame Israel by showing how the faith of a non-Jew exceeded that of Israel. For that reason, I think the "argument from silence" is a tenuous one.

I don't. The Samaritans were considered outsiders, yet when Jesus confronted the woman at the well, He spoke of sin with her (John 4:7-18). If this man had been in some serious sin, we have every reason to believe that Jesus would have rebuked him, just as he told the young ruler to give up his money, and excoriated the Pharisees. Therefore, if serving in an army were inherently sinful, it stands to reason that Jesus would have told him that.

Even later into the apostolic age, presumably, most persons converted by the church had been committing many sins before their conversions, and the act of repentance would always involve altering their lives in dramatic ways that weren't necessarily recorded by the authors of Scripture. It would be tacitly assumed that, say, the household of the Philippian jailer would be taught to avoid cruelly torturing prisoners (or fornication, or other sorts of sin), even if it wasn't actually mentioned in the text. So the appeal to silence would be begging the question.

I think you are special pleading, trying to avoid the obvious implications.

We can safely presume that new Christians were taught plenty of things not recorded in Scripture, and whether or not abstaining from violence (or certain classes of violence) was one of them is not answerable from the text.

I believe my point remains unrefuted.

E. Lastly, Jesus, being the Messiah, who had largely a military function throughout the Old Testament, will come again in great power as an all-conquering warrior. He Himself taught this on several occasions: Matt. 16:27; 24:30; 25:31; 26:64, etc. For those accustomed to viewing Jesus as the meek and mild type who wouldn't hurt a flea -- which wasn't true His first time here, either-- the account of His return will come as quite a shock: ". . . in righteousness He judges and wages war and the armies which are in heaven . . . were following Him . . . And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations . . . and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty" (Revelation 19:11-21).
You will get no argument from me on this point, and I agree that many pacifists are guilty of overlooking this-- but I don't think that recognizing the glorious and terrible reality of God's inescapable vengeance is an argument against Christian pacifism, but rather in favor of it. This is, in a nutshell, Paul's position expressed in Romans 12:19. That is, if we already have a perfect Vindicator and Judge in Christ, there is little left for us to do-- and to the extent that we try to appropriate the duty of punishing evil for ourselves, we impinge dangerously on Christ's jurisdiction.

Then why does he give the power of the sword to governments exactly six verses later (Rom 13:4)? This is the whole point. You have entirely overlooked the context (and the original NT had no chapter and verse divisions). Paul says leave it to the wrath of God in 12:19, but then in 13:4 (RSV) he says that rulers are "the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer." It's the distinction between lawlessness, anarchy, and revolution, and lawful, necessary (God-ordained) use of force: private force is usually a bad thing; proper governmental force is often a good thing, for society, and for the purpose of God's wrath and judgment.

And that is precisely the argument at hand: just war and just use of police force and legal coercion are entirely permitted by Paul, according to the will of God. The only pacifism that can withstand this biblical counter-argument is the purely individual one thaat makes no claim on anyone else or on society by appealing to bogus "absolutes" which cannot be defended from Scripture.

I have little patience for mainline liberals who try to oppose war on the grounds that Christ is somehow an inherently peaceful figure. When the divine mission requires a Messiah of war, Christ will be warlike; when he comes not to judge but to save, however, Christ is peaceful and does not raise a hand against his enemies. For Christians who walk in imitation of Christ, it ought to be much the same.

I agree. We're not that far apart in most respects.

During this period of redemptive history, we have been entrusted with a ministry of healing and restoration, and not of vengeance and violence. And when the time finally comes to cleanse the earth by God's wrath, I doubt Christ and the heavenly legions will require much assistance.

Nope. Omnipotence is quite up to the task.

John's emphasis in his preaching was on repentance from evil-doing. Here is a man who unhesitatingly addressed a whole crowd of Jews who came to him as "You brood of vipers"! (Luke 3:7). Yet when Roman soldiers came to him and sought his counsel John said: "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages." (Luke 3:14). The significance of this cannot be minimized. Why in the world -- if pacifism is the true biblical outlook -- would John not tell these men to get out of the army immediately, to renounce all use of force, etc.? For the pacifist, this would be the moral and logical equivalent of not telling the prostitute to stop selling herself, or not telling the thief to stop stealing. Thus, the concepts of military service and war cannot be unmitigated evils.
The primary duty of Roman soldiers in Judea during a period of (relative) civil rest would be the collection of taxes. To say that soldiers should be forbidden to use force in the collection of taxes would place them in a position where they would need to defy their superiors. That was a pretty demanding requirement, more demanding than-- and thus inclusive of-- telling them not to kill anyone in the process of collecting taxes. Again, I don't think that any Christian pacifist is suggesting that Christians can't continue working as security guards, or controlling civil emergencies, or other peacekeeping duties. They should only be required to avoid, in the process of carrying out their duties, either beating people up or killing them.

We find the same compromise in the early Church; the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus writes: "A soldier of the civil authority must be taught not to kill men and to refuse to do so if he is commanded, and to refuse to take an oath; if he is, unwilling to comply, he must be rejected." Being a "soldier of the civil authority" was permitted, but only inasmuch as one was willing to endure the risks of being punished for refusing to carry out orders to engage in violence. John the Baptist is here giving such an order. (One could try to gloss the passage by saying "Do not take money from anyone illegally by force", as some other translations imply, but that seems more like a selectively biased act of eisegesis to me.)

I find this more extraordinary special pleading: the Roman centurions did not ever kill people and these saintly ones who talked to Jesus and John the Baptist would never hurt a flea. And I have some oceanfront property in Kansas to sell you too.

And again, just because John told them those three specific things, it doesn't follow that he laid no other burdens on them.

That's right. But if we wish to examine the biblical data, this is the sort of thing we repeatedly find. All you can do with it is claim that these individual soldiers were particularly righteous and exceptions to the rule of what a soldier normally does, by definition.

I'm sure that if a soldier spent his off-duty hours with prostitutes-- probably a much more common activity than any actual fighting!-- that John probably told him to knock it off.

Me, too. But that would only prove my point. What better place to say that being a soldier is intrinsically evil, than here? But you basically agree with me on the underlying broad issue, so why pursue this line?

The Apostle Paul: the greatest missionary of all time, and author of most of the New Testament, appealed to his Roman citizenship in protest of his beating and imprisonment (Acts 16:37-38), and to avoid being scourged (Acts 22:25-29). In fact, most of the last seven chapters of the Book of Acts, the history of the first Christians, is devoted to Paul's defense of himself before the Jews and various Roman authorities (the Jews had sought to kill him). During the whole legal process, Paul accepted the help of Roman military escorts and guards, in order to protect his life (Acts 23:12-33; 28:16), and appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:11).

. . . We also hear so much about the early Christians dying for their faith instead of resisting. However, in most cases they had no power to resist, as Paul did by virtue of his Roman citizenship, and the issue was usually a situation where the Christian had to renounce Christ and worship Caesar. Obviously, the Christian had no choice but martyrdom if he or she was to remain a Christian under these circumstances. This does not require that a Christian must die in a situation where there exists a moral escape from such injustice. Thus, Paul's actions are altogether moral and ethical, according to New Testament teaching. His example also shows the wrongness of those pacifist strains which denounce Christian involvement in government.

The function of Paul's appeal to Rome was not to avoid martyrdom, but 1) to present the gospel to civil authorities, as instructed by Christ in the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13:9), and 2) to seek his martyrdom in the heart of the Roman Empire (according to the prophecy of Agabus), where he could be a better witness to more people.

Sure, but he still was not averse to such appeals, and a strict application of the Sermon on the Mount would not allow this. By appealing to his Roman citizenship, he received much better treatment all through the proceedings and was beheaded rather than crucified upside down, as Peter was. So St. Peter was arguably far more heroic.

It seems odd to say that Paul was accepting the "help" of the Roman guards, when in fact it would be Roman guards who would eventually be responsible for putting him to death.

Why can't both be true?

He was merely selecting one venue for martyrdom instead of another.

Those things are secondary to my main point. Interesting, sure, but secondary. You tend to cover every jot and tittle, but sometimes that can mean perhaps not grasping the central issue at hand.

Moreover, there is at least incidental evidence to suggest that the influence of Paul on the centurion of his escorts was to restrain the violent tendencies of the soldiers (see Acts 27:42-43), and Paul is quite explicit about his intention to preach the gospel to his guards in Philippians 1:13. So clearly Paul is not simply trying to "avoid death", but has higher objectives in seeking to travel to Rome under guard.

He may very well have been doing both, and if he were doinjg so, no one can fault him, because Paul takes a back seat to no one in what he had been willing to endure for years, for the sake of the gospel. Don't miss my main point.

Being a prisoner who avails himself of certain legal rights is not quite the same thing as being "involved in the government" by choice, and it is awkward to go searching for a warrant for the latter by looking to the former. (I do agree that there is a defensible basis for Christian involvement in government, by the way, but I'm just not convinced this a particularly representative example of it. And if it were, than Christian who engage in civil disobedience to deliberately seek arrest would actually be following Paul's example at the most detailed level! Of course, many Christian pacifists do such things, and then try to avail themselves of as many legal rights as possible, and so are "involved in the government" in the same way that Paul was.)


And yes, no Christian is "obligated" to accept martyrdom where there exists a "moral escape", although there is definitely a virtue in vonluntarily accepting a spiritually edifying martyrdom as an example to others. The question at hand is one of determining which "escapes" are moral.

Paul didn't apply a strict "pacifist" interpretation of "turn the other cheek." Jesus said very little at His trial; Paul said tons. Different situations; different purposes (which is precisely why pacifism can never be an absolute).

Hebrews 11:32-34: " . . . Gideon, Barak, Samson, . . . David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight." These men and their military acts are extolled as examples of faith, a fundamental New Testament concept.
Again, I don't see any problem with the idea of God commanding warfare under certain circumstances and peace under others. The charter of Israel was to subdue the land, and defend the people of God in battle against the many foes that surrounded it. The Church, at least looking at the explicit text of the NT, doesn't seem to have been granted a similar mandate. One can find similar examples of conduct that was praiseworthy by OT standards specific to the mission and identity of Israel, but would be forbidden under the law of Christ. In Ezra 10:19, for example, the foreign wives taken by various Israelites are divorced at the command of Ezra and Ezra is commended as a righteous man for doing this-- but this hardly amounts to saying that modern Christians can divorce their wives on the basis of their ethnicity.

This is an excellent example (delighted you brought it up!) because it is exactly what an annulment is: the recognition that a supposed "marriage" is in fact no such thing because it violates some requirement of a valid marriage. In this case, it was the prohibition of marrying foreign women (because of probable religious corruption). So the underlying principle is still in force today (by you know who). The particulars change, but the presuppositional principle (that there is such a thing as an unlawful "marriage" which is not a valid marriaage) is still applicable today. Likewise, OT warfare and suchlike do not become immoral because they are old and God had a change of heart and methodology sometime between 300 BC and the time of Jesus. :-)

A more general critique of the idea of bringing the OT model for righteous warfare into the New Covenant would be the highly specific constraints placed on the conduct of Israel's wars. Deuteronomy 20:5-8, for example, instructs Israel to dismiss from its ranks as many soldiers as possible before battle (essentially, anyone who would have a good reason not to die), a completely irrational action from a military standpoint which could only be intended as an act of dramatic faith.

Of course, this is because God explicitly promised them that He would fight for their side (Deut 20:4). We don't have that guarantee today. We can still learn from and utilize principles that don't apply exclusively to Israel.

Other military heroes in the OT are often required to engage in similarly surprising anti-utilitarian strategies (at Jericho, or with Gideon's army), designed to show that the victory was worked by the power of God, not man.

Those are particular circumstances, with God promising victory. But still, this can't be used to prove that all warfare is evil, as you know.

When David begins to put his faith in armies by issuing a census (typically a precursor to a military draft), God punishes Israel severely. (See also Isaiah 31:1: "Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, And rely on horses, And trust in chariots because they are many."

This is not a trust in military might per se that was wrong, but a trust in man's might over against God's promises of victory. Thus, it is analogous to the rich young ruler's reliance upon his riches over against God, or Israel's yearning for a human king, rather than God being their only King. As these things do not make all riches or kings sinful, neither do the military examples make all military action sinful. With all due respect, your analogies fail, I think.

Disdaining all foreign alliances was another "special burden" of Israel that was essential to the "justness" of Israel's wars.) The burdens that Israel shoulders to demonstrate that they have divine approval are steep, and cannot be easily disentangled from the reason why God proclaims their champions to be men of faith. In any case, the occurrence of miraculous events like the fall of the walls of Jericho would have provided clear evidence of the will of God, and eliminated the central problem of "just war" theory (i.e., figuring out whether or not the war is really just.)

Our situation today is not like Israel's. God is not directly guiding us (as nations). We're not the Chosen People in the sense that they were. And we have the benefit of much spiritual hindsight. They were subject to many restructions so that they wouldn't be corrupted by the other nations, and so fail in their crucial role at the outset of redemptive history.

These are quite common and are used in reference to spiritual warfare. Some of the more notable examples are: II Cor. 10:3-4 ("weapons of our warfare"), Eph. 6:10-17 ("Put on the full armor of God "), I Tim. 1:18 ("Fight the good fight"), and II Tim. 2:3-4 (". . . a good soldier of Jesus Christ"). Again, it makes no sense to use such terminology if such things are absolute evils. This would be the same as saying "Be a good mass-murderer of Jesus Christ" (since pacifists consider all wars, as far as I can tell, as just that). The very existence of such metaphors is inexplicable if the New Testament teaches total pacifism. I believe it is clear, for all who honestly look into the matter, that there is no radical break in morality and teaching between the two testaments of the Bible. The underlying reason for this is simple: God does not change. He merely reveals Himself more fully and progressively in history.
Paul is quite clear that the appeal to spiritual metaphors is designed to draw a contrast: "We struggle not against flesh and blood..." (Eph 6:12) Appealing to our mandate for spiritual warfare as if it could be translated over into a mandate for temporal warfare would abuse Paul's intention here.

I agree. Again, you miss my underlying argument: this terminology would not be used at all if warfare were intrinsically evil.

I don't think that pacifists (at least not the ones I know) are "wimps" who find the very notion of struggle and conflict to be distasteful.

Some are. You generalize just as I do. It can't be avoided.

Spiritual enemies ("powers and principalities") should be vigorously engaged instead of human enemies, so that human enemies (whom we are charged to love) can be won over by the gospel of Christ and escape destruction at the hands of their demonic masters. I guess I simply can't accept your premise. There is a fundamental break in the mission of Israel (which really was commanded to struggle against "flesh and blood" foes, in ways that are unquestionably beyond what any "just war" theorist would allow today-- wiping out entire tribes and nations of people to the smallest child) and the mission of the Church (which, as Paul notes, fights its wars against supernatural enemies).

I agree with that. The argument was strictly from plausible use or disuse of military or "warlike" terminology in teaching spiritual truths.

And as noted above, there is nothing "absolute" about the evil of war-- it can still be understood as a tolerable or inevitable evil depending on the circumstances, rather like slavery. The argument is about whether or not the Church today functions within the same parameters as Israel, such that it is still a "necessary evil" for us.

Then I await a positive presentation of your view.

Being aware of the reality of resurrection-- that we should not fear those who can destroy only the body (Matt 10:28) in light of the power of God to preserve the soul-- fundamentally alters the ethical equation of war and martyrdom. It is rather like the difference between the OT ethic commending marriage and procreation, to a race of people who knew no other route to personal immortality, and the more theologically mature NT embrace of celibacy. God hasn't changed, but our understanding of God's purposes has improved to the point where old values are realigned in light of the new revelation.

I don't know what that means with relation to how and when we must engage in war against unjust and evil enemies.

For the pacifist to be consistent with his or her own position (the total renunciation of lethal force as immoral), all use of force within states must be condemned along with force between states. Police forces, judges, and politicians are all involved, directly or indirectly, in the maintenance of public safety. All states preserve order and stability by means of coercion and, if necessary, lethal force (the shooting of madmen holding hostages, riot control, prison sentences, etc.). Many pacifists do not wish to deny these societal institutions. Of course, total pacifism has even more dreadful results...
This is why there are, within Christian history, few examples of "total pacifism". Virtually all self-proclaimed pacifist parents, if they found a dangerous criminal stalking their children, would be willing to call the police-- in full knowledge that the police have guns and know how to use them. In that sense, what is usually termed "pacifism" is not a "pure" position, but merely a relative one. I don't think that there's anything contemptible about this. It shows a willingness to submit to the intent of Paul's words in Romans 13. Surely someone must bear the sword to punish evil. The only question is whether that class of "someones" should include individual Christians.

Fair enough.

(One should note, by the way, that even "just war" theory does not authorize us to conduct vigilante actions against criminals. Augustine was quite clear on this point, and virtually everyone until well the after the time of Luther agreed with him, that only agents of the state could use lethal force against criminals.)

Agreed. But self-defense in one's own house is a bit different from that. One is not roaming the streets looking for criminals to gun down or lynch.

What we need to consider is what would happen to civil order in a world where the state opposed evil using lethal force, while at the same time Christians used alternative methods of confronting evil. (There is also the possibility of using non-lethal force, which many pacifists would allow.) In where 80 percent of persons were non-Christian (or Christians who were non-pacifists), there would be little impairment of police functions. On the other hand, in a world where 80 percent of persons were Christians pacifists, we could sensibly assume that violence would be much less common (such that a vastly reduced police force would still be sufficient)-- and when it did arise, techniques of creative non-violent resistance or non-lethal force would be pursued (and applied) far more often and successfully. So it is hard for me to think of a possible world where Christian pacifism crosses over to become "evil" by depriving the state of a sword.

The world is not 80% pacifists. This is precisely why we need police and wars. The world has lots of malevolent and evil people: primarily tyrants and dictators who acquire military power for evil ends.

Of course, Gandhi's tactic of nonresistance in striving for independence from England, was a success because it was directed towards a people who had a measure of conscience and magnanimity. Likewise for Martin Luther King in the American South. Nonresistance, needless to say, would be absurd in Nazi Germany or Lenin's and Stalin's Russia, where marchers would immediately have been gunned down without the batting of an eyelid. Pacifism, like consistent atheism, once thought out in all its implications, will collapse from within, because it simply cannot be lived out.
First, I'll note that the property of conscience is a fairly universal one, and there is no reason to assume that Hitler or Stalin were successful because they presided over some unique generation of conscience-less citizens who would obey their every whim like robots-- in statistical terms, the proportion of "innately" good to evil persons in Nazi Germany probably wasn't any different from any other country.

My position is that the US is far more evil and morally corrupt than Nazi Germany. We have butchered 50 million children legally and claimed that this is no violation of legitimate law or morality or even Christian morality. And it is because of Christians voting for people who support the holocaust that it began and continues. We have murdered the most innocent and defenseless among us and deprived them of any earthly life whatsoever -- almost always because of our worship of the gods of venus and Moloch and our refusal to endure the self-sacrifice of being a parent or a parent or more children than our precious little desires and "wants" can stand.

And we have done so after being saturated with more Christianity and gospel than any nation in world history and being blessed with more material prosperity than anyone in history. Why we have not long since been consigned to annihilation and ashes under God's judgment (Sodom and Gomorrah could easily be our judges and look down their noses at us) is an utter mystery to me, but God's ways often are, so this is no surprise.

Rather, they governed through fear and deceit. If enough people under their rule had stopped fearing them, or succeeded in exposing their deceptions, they would have lost their power.

We should start fearing our lust and material prosperity if it leads us to child sacrifice to the tune of 4000 a day in our abortuaries.

Certainly there would have been some critical mass of nonviolent resistance that would have stopped Hitler. I don't think generating that critical mass would have been possible (nor will be possible in the future). But that is precisely because pacifists are so rare, and as such, they are not likely to undermine the ability of governments to fight wars-- which means that the whole debate is mostly a formal excercise concerning whether or not a small number of individuals who refuse to fight in wars are personally behaving morally or immorally.

Or it is a pipe dream exercise of hoping and wishing that enough people will be extraordinarily brave and heroic and self-sacrificing so that pacifism could ever work on a wide scale.

(The invocation of Stalinist Russia is an interesting one, since I think many pacifists would argue that it was actually a successful example of how the "shoot 'em all" tactic ultimately backfires on a repressive government, by undermining its moral legitimacy. But the point that you are making is that evil governments can work great evil (millions of lost lives) during a short period of time, and waiting around for a dictatorship to collapse is not usually a luxury of the victims.

Yes. I'm sure if you had lived in those situations, you would be much more "in tune" with my arguments.

Of course, in the case of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, I'm not sure that armed resistance would have been all that much more successful if practiced on an individual level. Shooting at Panzers with your shotgun is, to within the first approximation, not any better than lying in front of them.)

But at least you go out fighting the evil . . .

This is again a case where the consideration of actual circumstances makes the hypothetical problem appear less pressing. If pacifists make up only a small percentage of the population of those nations who oppose Hitler, then the war can still be conducted by the majority of non-pacifists. If we imagine a world where large numbers of pacifists exist within Christendom, then Hitler never comes to power in the first place. Once we allow the hypothetical that there are millions and millions of pacifists, we have to allow the conjugate hypothetical of hundreds of thousands of pacifist activists like Gandhi, and then the idea of Hitler emerging in the middle of that world looks pretty implausible. But really, all this entertaining of counterfactuals is beside the point.

Glad you said it . . .

For the indefinite future, there will be large numbers of non-pacifists who will be available to fight wars, and any wars that are fought will require enough nonmilitary support that the pacifists who decline to fight will still contribute usefully to the welfare of their country. (Through prayer, if nothing else.) Saying that Christians who submit to the discipline of pacifism are immoral because they will cause the triumph of evil is a bit like saying that Christians who practice celibacy should stand accused of trying to wipe out future generations of the human race.

They are immoral to the extent that they claim all Christians must do this, and that those who are fighting to end tyranny and murder are sinning. if a parent sits and lets their child die by a murderer under the principle of "turn the other cheek" when they could have prevented it, then they are guilty of the death of that child as an accomplice, just as the Jehovah's Witness is an accomplice in the death of a child who dies because of the asinine, stupid belief that a transfusion is "eating blood" or a hyper-faith pentecostal (or their child) dying because they're too proud and biblically-ignorant to admit they are sick and in need of a doctor.

All that aside, however, I concede the overall point that fighting Hitler was a necessary choice, given the world in which he arose. I think that you are correct, overall, to say that protesting against governments that wanted to fight Hitler would have been wrong, and amounted to allowing evil to prosper. My real concern is in observing that just because certain nations fought against Hitler, and were used by God to bring about his defeat, that didn't make them "good".

They were "good" insofar as they were used by God to "execute his wrath" and to judge the evildoer. Even Babylonia was used in that way to judge evil, so there is no particular reflection on the country God uses.

(Obviously, in this case-- one of them was Stalinist Russia!)


God can bring good out of evil things,

But it was not evil to fight Hitler. It was a righteous cause. Some of our conduct, however, was evil and immoral. Carpet bombing of cities was immoral. Dropping the atom bomb on cities was immoral. Our inaction regarding rescuing Jews was immoral, etc.

and that truth is importantly and paradoxically at the heart of Christian redemption. Was it good for Christ to be crucified, or was it sinful? Well.... both.

Those who did it sinned, but the voluntary sacrifice was not. But you can't say that fighting a war is evil and just at the same time. You can say the cause was just and that the conduct may or may not be just.

The "best possible world" (the "Pareto optimum", in game theory terms) is the world in which everyone is a pacifist, such that wars are impossible. Working to attain that world (or more realistically, creating communities that practice that model for demonstration purposes) is not an evil in itself. What would be an evil is for such communities to impose their ethics on a world that wasn't mature enough to accept them.

I've dealt with this above.

Now questions for you:

1. How do you explain the virtually unanimous patristic consensus in favor of at least some sort of moderate pacifism during the second and third centuries, in contrast to the total absence of any presentation of the later "just war" position?

The early Christian communities were not empowered politically, and so they had no choice. Christianity had not yet been institutionalized in any earthly government. And many of those governments were persecuting them. So in that context, we would expect Christians to be urged to suffer and die for Christ's sake against the evil governments. They took the Revelation 13 route (government represents antichrist) rather than the Romans 13 route (governments can execute God's wrath by God's design).

With the arrival of a Christian Roman Empire (313 and Constantine) that changed. Now that Christians had a hand in government they had to work through the difficulties inherent in being in the world but not of it, and the relationship of civil and Christian duties. In other words, it was a matter of development by means of experience and circumstance (as with virtually all Christian doctrines and moral teachings). So Ambrose and Augustine worked out the just war theory.

Likewise, with the threat of the Donatists, Augustine decided that use of force was not wrong, when they were using force and threatening to overturn society (just as in the later threats of the Albigensians and the Peasants in Germany in 1525, and -- so Lutherans thought, the Anabaptists: all long discussions in themselves). Or, one might compare it to the prohibitions of usury and then the later fuller understanding of a moral use of interest within capitalistic economic theory.

2. Why do you, as a Catholic, feel justified in taking the prohibition against divorce in the Sermon on the Mount quite strictly, but not the commandment to "not resist an evil person"?

Because marriage is an individual thing, and there are ontological realities involved ("the two become one flesh"). Use of force can be both an individual and a corporate, "state" thing. As an individual, I can choose to turn the other cheek and be a hero and a martyr if I want (and bear witness to Christ in that way) or I can act like Paul did and find some way to avoid the unjust persecution for the moment, also (hopefully) for God's glory.

Furthermore, there is no counter-evidence about the prohibition of divorce elsewhere in Scripture (I found some very interesting stuff from Protestants about the so-called "Matthean exceptions" in the course of researching my latest book). But there is plenty of corroborating evidence for non-pacifism elsewhere. We compare Scripture with Scripture.

3. Do you think that we can draw any moral insight at all from Christ's decision to come to Israel-- quite unexpectedly-- as an entirely peaceful Messiah in the face of an overwhelmingly violent and cruel empire?

That was His mission (Isaiah 53: the suffering servant). He will come in might the next time. It has no bearing on social ethics in general, because nations and governments are not the Messiah: His was an absolutely unique mission that can't be generalized to all mankind. But certainly a peaceful stance on an individual level should be sought after, if at all possible, and diplomacy and peaceful solutions to avoid war are part and parcel of just war theory.

Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 11 March 2004.

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