Saturday, 25 August 2007

Ten stations on my way to Christian pacifism

by Kim Fabricius (this is also part of Halden’s series on pacifism)

1. I graduated from Huntington High School (New York) in 1966 and Wesleyan University in 1970. The Cold War and the nuclear arms race; the brutal reactions to the Civil Rights Movement and racial integration; the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers, and of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King; the executions of Caryl Chessman and Adolf Eichmann; the riots in Watts, Detroit, Newark, and other major American cities; the war in Vietnam; the shootings at Kent State: these images of death were an inescapable and invasive reality of the years of my youth, even though my rather privileged upbringing provided a shelter, if not a bolthole, from the storm.

2. At Wesleyan I majored in English. My teachers included Ihab Hassan and Richard Slotkin. Hassan, through Freud and Norman O. Brown, introduced me to the psychic god Thanatos; Slotkin, through his work on the myth of the American frontier, to our national god Mars: violence – its appropriation and legitimation so central to American self-identity. The Power of Blackness, the title of Harry Levin’s seminal study of the leitmotif running through the fiction of Melville, Hawthorne, and Poe, sums up the Augustinian take on the human condition that was shaping my spiritual formation, for, pagan that I was, the Confessions too had made a powerful intellectual impact.

3. And then there was Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: I discovered that Kurtz’s heart was my heart. Although all through adolescence I never got into fistfights, I was aware of an aggressive streak running like a coal seam through my character, safely, indeed rewardingly, sublimated into a fierce competitiveness in study and sport. “The horror! The horror!” of it only became deeply personal during several ugly experiences at the tail end of the sixties and the spring of 1970. The grim months between the murders of King and Bobby Kennedy and the invasion of Cambodia were a national nadir that aptly coincided with my sense of self-defeat and depression.

4. Eventually Jesus Christ, armed only with his word, launched his attack on me, and, exposing my situation as infinitely more hopeless than I had ever suspected, rescued me from behind enemy lines – though to this day I continue to skirmish and resist. As, of course, does the world. It never occurred to me that, with the peace of God, the personal isn’t the political – and vice-versa. II Corinthians 5:16-19 was a key text and force as I headed off to Oxford for my ministerial training. While Martin Luther King was a role model (his collection of sermons Strength to Love were inspirational), it was above all Karl Barth to whom I turned during my three years at Mansfield College, as I tried to think through and work out a personal and political theology that I could live – and preach.

5. Barth seriously engaged the ethics of war, considered the “inflexible No of pacifist ethics”, and judged that it “has practically everything in its favour and its position is almost overwhelmingly strong.” However Barth rejected “absolute” pacifism, allowing for what he called the Grenzfall, the exceptional case, where war-making is not only permitted but commanded. While Barth himself did not directly cite classical just war theory (not surprisingly given his rejection of casuistry, not to mention the theory’s origins in the philosophy of natural law), nevertheless I had enough respect for Augustine, Aquinas, and modern revisionists, and sufficient scruple about the staple example of the Second World War, to factor it into my thinking. Result: about the time of my ordination in 1982, I was an “almost pacifist”.

6. Nuclear pacifism was a whistle stop. In the face of WMD, just war theory buckled and collapsed. I am proud to say that my own United Reformed Church (UK) passed a resolution on unilateral nuclear disarmament by a two-thirds majority at its 1983 General Assembly – a position, alas, not reflected in local congregations where the realpolitik idol of deterrence was – and is – widely worshipped. Such grass roots Reformed recalcitrance, and the dithering of the Church of England, as well as Margaret Thatcher’s rout of the Labour Party in the 1983 General Election (Labour’s election manifesto was unilateralist – and was dubbed “the longest suicide note in history”), only hardened my resolve and drove me further to radicalise my thinking.

7. I should say that at no time did I have any truck with two kingdoms doctrine, in spite of clarifications and fine-tuning by theologians like Pannenberg. My thoroughly Reformed understanding of the universal Lordship of Christ over church and world (or state) precluded any such Lutheran “compromises”. As for Niebuhr’s Christian “realism”, theological “stoicism” is more like it: paper-thin doctrines of the Spirit and the church, issuing in a cynical attitude towards sanctification and regeneration, and behind it all a mythological take on the resurrection of Christ. On the other hand, Reformed theology (pace Barth) gave little guidance to my developing pacifism. Ironically, here it took a Lutheran to keep me on the straight and narrow – and a Mennonite to take me the rest of the way.

8. The Lutheran was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I had already discovered and dismissed the four traditional interpretations of the Sermon on the Mount: as a “counsel of perfection”, reserved for the monastery; as a “mirror of sin” (Luther’s usus pedagogicus legis), driving us to despair and the sola fide; as an “impossible ideal”, inspiring us to high moral endeavour; and as an apocalyptic “interim ethic” (the thesis of Johannes Weiss and Albert Schweitzer). However it took Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship, to resurrect the perfectionist conception – what he called the “extraordinary” – only now understood as gospel, not law, and for all disciples, not just the few. It was also Bonhoeffer who taught me to take “activist non-violence” (Ronald Sider), which he admired in Ghandi and would be deployed to such effect by Martin Luther King, not just as a tactical ethic, the answer to the “realist” utopian critique, but as a divine command to be obeyed irrespective of results.

9. The Mennonite, of course, was John Howard Yoder (with a nod to the then Methodist Stanley Hauerwas as a sandal-bearer). The Christology of The Politics of Jesus deepened my imitatio Christi pacifism and added an eschatological context with resurrection power to its cruciform shape. Yoder’s kingdom-centred ecclesiology combined with his ecumenical vision re-energised my commitment to a Just Peace Church. Then Karl Barth and the Problem of War pinpointed several major inconsistencies in Barth’s ethics of war, suggested a failure in Barth’s theological nerve as well as his political imagination, and resolved any lingering suspicions that Christian pacifism might be a hubristic occlusion, rather than an obedient expression, of the freedom of God.

10. Finally, if Christian pacifism has – and it has – its basis in Jesus, the non-violent one whose power is perfected in weakness, and if Jesus is – and he is – the human hermeneutic of God, and, further, if theological construction begins with the economic Trinity and works back to the immanent Trinity as its eternal source and substantiation – in short, if God is non-violent, and in him there is no violence at all – then, clearly, not only urgent ethical, but also major doctrinal reconfigurations are in order, not least in soteriology, which should be very high, as a pacifist’s Christology should be very high. And pneumatology too. And that takes me back to – me, the violent me, the reluctantly peaceful me – the me thus so suitably equipped for pacifism. Because (purloining Barth), pacifism is an impossible possibility, and because (purloining Jüngel) pacifism is not necessary but more than necessary, at the heart of Christian pacifism lies prayer, the prayer: “Veni, Creator Spiritus!”

There is, of course, no single variety of Christian pacifism, and several typologies have been suggested delineating various historical and normative positions. You will find a recent, helpful classification in David L. Clough and Brian Stiltner, Faith and Force: A Christian Debate about War (2007). In their “scales”, my own brand of Christian pacifism is principled rather than (merely) strategic (calculative and consequentialist); classical rather than absolute (the former allowing for legitimate domestic and, in theory, international policing functions, the latter entailing anarchism); politically engaged rather than separatist; and universal in intent rather than (merely) communal (because Christ is Lord not just of the church but of the world).


John Meunier said...

if theological construction begins with the economic Trinity and works back to the immanent Trinity as its eternal source and substantiation

Kim, could you explain what this means in small words for the less learned among your readers?

I know you have that "in short" clause in there, but it reads like a conclusion of the above rather than an explanation.

kim fabricius said...

Sure, John.

Sometimes referred to as "Rahner's Rule": that as we see the Trinity in creation, reconciliation, and redemption, so it is with the Trinity ontologically and eternally. In crude theological shorthand, with God in Christ through the Spirit, not only is what you see what you get, but also what you see is what there is.

Jim Gordon said...

Kim, your Ten Propisitons Collection should be collated and published as an Enchiridion for The Rest of Us. But this one on pacifism is for me the best - substantial, personal, subersive, morally wise but not hesitant. Thanks for this - and for your tribute to several of my own theological heroes.

phillip said...

you state 'there is no violence in God' but if morally the one who commands is as equally guilty as the one who executes the command then surely God bears the responsibility of violence to those slaughtered inhabitants of Canaan who were utterly destroyed at His command?

Maiden said...

EXCELLENT!!!! Thanks very much!

IndieFaith said...

It is good to hear a concise and nuanced account of pacifism (outside of a Mennonite context). I grew up in the Mennonite church but was married and attending for years in an Anglican church. I am now a pastor at a Mennonite church and have needed to recognize a diversity of pacifism, which you have captured well.
It is difficult to engage critically with pacifism in a context where it is adopted so uncritically, but I suppose that is the case much of Christian doctrine.
Good post.

erin said...

Yes, Kim, I appreciate the personal element of the post :)

Anonymous said...

-- In their “scales”, my own brand of Christian pacifism is ... classical rather than absolute (the former allowing for legitimate domestic and, in theory, international policing functions,--

Hi Kim,

Would you define what you mean by "international policing functions." And who do you think should determine when such an action is legitimate?


kim fabricius said...

Hi Philip,

That "God is non-violent, and in him there is no violence at all" is an adaptation of (I can't remember the author) "God is Christ-like, and in him there is no un-Christ-likeness at all" (which itself, of course, refers to I John 1:5). I see no violence in Christ, and therefore (Rahner's Rule) I see no violence in the Father. The God we see in Jesus trumps the God we see in Moses, and - I anticipate a cavil - this is no more Marcionite than the "You have heard that it was said to those in ancient times ... but I say to you" of the Antitheses of Matthew 5, or the "Thus he declared all foods clean" of Mark 7:19b. And the latter is a particularly interesting text because it is about purity, and it was the concern for purity that lies behind the ethnic cleansing of the OT (see Deuteronomy 20). Miroslav Volf makes the most valiant attempt I know to secure a place for divine violence in the last chapter of Exclusion and Embrace (1996), but I remain unconvinced.


Well done - I think you pick up on what, I concede, appears to be the soft underbelly of a non-anarchist Christian pacifism, viz. the issue of policing, particularly international policing, in view of the universal moral concern to protect the innocent.

Your second question first: international policing functions should be in the hands of a re-imagined and reconstructed UN (which will require not utopian but rather rational thinking about national self-interest and state sovereignty).

Your first question is more difficult, because behind it lies the more fundamental question, "Is policing inherently violent?" Perhaps. But it seems to me that, in principle, while armies are inherently killing machines, the police are a force for protection. When the police have to use their weapons, it is a sign that they have failed (as most police, I think, will readily admit). But you will (rightly) persist, surely a UN police force will be an army, and if you send it, for example, to Darfur, you must expect it to take violent action, even if only as a last resort. And, of course, all police are armed, even if it only the bobby with his truncheon. Still, important, crucial distinctions between armies and police remain (Yoder mentions at least five in The Politics of Jesus [1972, 1994], pp. 204f.), such that I can envision a UN peace-keeping force operating on a very different basis from any single "world's policeman". But I grant you that an ethical niggle remains - at least it does for me!

But finally, this issue, it seems to me, is a good, perhaps the best example of where serious just war advocates and committed pacifists must listen to each other and work together (Yoder himself maintained a vibrant dialogue with just war theorists). Above all, it is an issue that must be set in the context of an ethic of war-prevention that issues in something like the laudable just-peacemaking theory and (10) practices that arose from major church discussions in the eighties (and which you will find, for example, in Glen H. Stassen and David P. Gushee, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in a Contemporary Context [2003], pp. 169ff.).

John said...

Excellent posting by Kim.

My Spiritual Master wrote this Open Letter in response to a certain event in New York a few years ago.


The implications are fleshed out here:


scott said...

Well said, Kim. Thanks for sharing. I've heard both Yoder and Hauerwas (well, read Yoder - heard Hauerwas) articulate almost exactly the same logic in regards to the possibility of international policing. Yoder thought Romans 13 was about the legitimate "police function of the State", which was meant to maintain a minimum of civil order and relative peace (this is the point at which he's closest to Barth's view of the State, to my mind), rather than Rom.13 equating "bearing the sword" with intended and systematic killing. The latter, he thought, was "bearing the sword in vain."

Thanks again,

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I had congratulated Kim on this post over at Halden's site. I urge folk to check out Halden's whole series as it develops. Thom Stark of the Semper Reformanda blog started it off with a great posting on Christian pacifism from a Stone-Campbell/Restorationist perspective.

However, Kim, I would argue against the tradition of reading Matthew 5 as a series of "antisthenes." With my mentor, Glen Stassen, I have learned to see them as a series of 14 Triads, with the command coming in the third part--always something positive to do, rather than just something negative to avoid. Glen's argument was first published in his ethical writings, but he has since published it with much technical argument in the Journal of Biblical Literature and it is gaining much support by NT scholars--most recently shown in Willard Swartley's magnum opus, The Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology. Check it out. It shows a more dynamic action of God and removes any trace of Marcionism from reading the Sermon on the Mount.

kim fabricius said...

Thanks, Michael - and right on for plugging Halden's great series. And thanks to Halden for letting me be a part of it.

Yes, I know your teacher's creative and compelling thesis about the central part of the Sermon on the Mount consisting of fourteen teachings each made up of three parts - what Stassen calls "traditional righteousness", "diagnosis of vicious cycle", and "transforming initiative". My reference to the (six) "Antitheses" of Matthew 5 was not meant to be tendentious, I was merely using the terminus technicus traditionally employed by NT scholars.

I became aware of Stassen's view in his Living the Sermon on the Mount: A Practical Hope for Grace and Deliverance (2006), which I am sure you would join me in highly recommending.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Absolutely, I commend that great book. I cited Swartley though because I think the "compelling thesis" of the 14 Triads is catching on among biblical scholars, not just the rest of us. So, I am hoping to see the day quite soon when the technical term for that part of the S.o.M. will NOTbe "antistheses." :-)

I look forward to the rest of Halden's guest posts eagerly. When last we communicated, he had not yet received an entry from a Catholic pacifist. If you are a Christian pacifist and want to contribute, especially if Halden has no examples from your tradition, yet, please email him at and I hope everyone reads all the entries. Halden's blog is consistently among the most theologically challenging--as Ben Myers once noted.

Lee said...

I've always been curious: how does the Christian pacifist stop the slide to anarchism? I.e. what, Christologically or Biblically, forbids the use of lethal force but permits the use of other kinds of force? It seems to me that "do not resist" has much stronger connotations than "do not kill," especially if we're not going to take one of the traditional ways out.

Jonathan Keith said...

Kim, some practical questions:

1) Do you think that national armed forces should be disbanded? If so, should we as Christians be agitating for this?

2) Or would you suggest, instead, a radical reshaping of the military? If so, what would a 'pacifist military' look like?

3) Is it possible that armies are necessary, but Christians should not participate in them?

E.E. Lawson said...

Kim Fabricus, I am very intrigued as to why you would have a problem with the Lutheran "two-kingdom" teaching?

I would also like to ask the forum if it is possible to be a Lutheran and a pacifist? I am just curious as I find the two to be strange bedfellows.


Anonymous said...

Hi Kim,

Thanks for the clarification. Personally, I tend more towards a "strict" application of Just War Theory. Though I can see the merits and appeal of your Classical Pacifist position. However, I do have concerns about Absolute Pacifism. Because it appears to leave no room for "the universal moral concern to protect the innocent," when force is the only means left do so.

Sadly, I don't think either one of our positions have much traction in the world. And if history is any judge, it's probably going to stay that way.


Michael Westmoreland-White said...

E.E., there are some Lutheran pacifists. In the U.S. there is an active Lutheran Peace Fellowship attached to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and affiliated with the U.S. branch of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
At least for much of his ministry (there is a huge debate about whether his later participation in the plot to overthrow or assassinate Hitler was a departure or if there is a way to reconcile these things), Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pacifist. He used the term as a self-description from the time of his "conversion experience" (my terminology) sometime during his first stay in New York at Union Seminary (c. 1932-33) until the time he joined the conspiracy (1942?). He said in letters back home that the theologian had become a Christian and was taking the Sermon on the Mount far more seriously. Influences during this time included an African-American student named Frank Fisher, attending Harlem's famed Abyssinian Baptist Church where he heard powerful gospel sermons from Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. and where he taught Sunday School for most of his stay in the U.S.--an experience so powerful that he brought back numerous recordings of "Negro" Spirituals to Germany. Another powerful influence from this time was a French Reformed student named Jean Lassere, already a pacifist and member of France's F.o.R. branch, with whom Bonhoeffer traveled by car throughout the Southern U.S. (staying in African-American churches and homes arranged by Frank Fisher) and into Mexico.

So, there can certainly be Lutheran pacifists (although, like Bonhoeffer, they may have to reject the two kingdoms theology of traditional Lutheranism that allowed Luther to bless the violence of the state and restrict the Sermon on the Mount to individual ethics). What I have yet to find, myself, is a strong articulation of pacifism from a Lutheran theological perspective, as Kim did from a Barthian-Reformed perspective.
Can THAT be done? I would like to see it tried.

kim fabricius said...

To add to what Michael says ...
Under the influence of Harnack and Seeberg (whose doctrine of the two kingdoms had actually morphed into a vison of Germany itself as a national power for inaugurating the kingdom of God in history), the young Bonhoeffer had a rather traditional Lutheran understanding of the state, but his travels, his ecumenical experience, and his dialogue with Karl Barth, not to mention his encounter with the Sermon on the Mount, radically altered his political theology and moved him into pacifism. Intrestingly, when even the Confessing Church itself began its protest against the Nazi racial laws, it was because of the way they allowed the state to interfere with the church, i.e. on traditional two kingdoms grounds. Again, unsurprisingly with Lutheran two kingdoms theology, most members of the Confessing Church had no problem with taking the oath of allegiance to the Führer. This is the background to Bonhoeffer's merciless attack on what he called "thinking in two spheres".

Karl Barth famously suggested that Lutheranism must accept its responsibility for providing the ideological soil in which National Socialism grew. Pannenberg replied to this critique in his essay "Luther's Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms" (in Ethics [1977, trans. 1981]). He argues that Luther never spoke "of the complete independence of the state from the gospel, nor did he advocate a subjection and obedience that would renounce all right to criticize the ruler. Also he made the state subordinate to the Lordship of God ... Furthermore Luther ascribed to the preaching office of the church a responsibility even toward the ruling power." Nevertheless, even Pannenberg concedes that "Luther restricted the tasks of the church to the spiritual realm, to the inner life". Given his own historical context, you can see why Luther would make such a move. But why accord it a timeless validity? Must Lutherans feel they are betraying the cause to reject it, to say that here Luther got it wrong? There is surely something seriously, fatally wrong with any confessionalism that must accord inerrancy to its founding fathers, documents, etc. - and that goes as much for Calvinists and Methodists as for Lutherans. We should feel no need for squaring circles; rather we should return ecumenically to the Bible and to the whole sweep of Christian tradition and think things out again - and again and again.

Finally, to Jonathan's questions.
Of course my own view is that Christians should not serve in the military, nor should Christians even pray (as the pacifists Tertullian and Origen prayed) for victory for the armies of their own particular empire against whomever happen to be the barbarians of the hour. As for armies themselves, they exists and cannot be immediately disinvented, but we should all work (a) for their downsizing and (b) for the ultimate transfer of their authority to an international peace-keeping force of that re-imagined and reconstructed UN. It goes without saying that we should also be bringing our national leaders to account for flouting existing weapons non-proliferation treaties and cut-backs. And the arms trade is an absolutely shameful scandal.

Jonathan Keith said...

Hi Kim,

Thanks for your excellent responses. I'm not sure you'd like it put this way, but you are saying that armies are necessary. Only for the time being, until we get the world sorted out, but nevertheless for the foreseeable future. As you say, armies can't just be disinvented; a long and difficult political process has to happen first. Until that process is complete, it does seem that Christians are in the uncomfortable position of needing someone else to do the dirty work for us.

kim fabricius said...

Yes, Jonathan, I wouldn't quite put it like that! I'd say that armies are unavoidable rather than necessary for the foreseeable future. Rather like rats. Nor is "the dirty work for us." Certainly pacifists aren't asking armies to do dirty work, we'd rather they didn't, and we insist that they are hardly cleaning house but rather making it filthier.

phillip said...

the realised Christian position is one of Anarchy but as Jaques Ellul defines it, the reality of course is Christ stated the terms necessary to be his disciple and it includes 'forsaking all' which is why from time to time you would have those mnovements of people literally doing so, because unless you are completely rootless then in some measure responsibility stains the hands with that blood shed to maintain the nation's economic position. Zizek in the Puppet and the Dwarf highlights the sincere dissimulation of those liberal professors who demand the impossible knowing no national government could possibly grant such demands but of course they are then allowed their sense of moral superiority. Pacifism is only possible when someone else does the beating for you, Kim of course recognises such when he acknowledges the need for a Police Force and Edward Norton in American History X actually provides the best explanation of why we desire they are a Force and not a Service. Of course any who haven't enjoyed a 'priveledged' upbringing will cavil (O what a delicious word) at any form of authority knowing it for what it is merely the tool of oppression guarding the treasure house of one's insipid masters. John Bland's online essay 'Men who would be Kings' highlights the truth that we are responsible for our servitude because we truly fear freedom and thus will insist on making some poor sod the boss. Where the argument gets silly is when people refer back to WW11 to justify the use of an armed response as if for a slave - and any who have to work for a living are slaves - it makes a damn bit of difference who the master is.
Revelation insists that to serve the economic and power totality of the day is to effectively refuse the seal of Christ but we likes our comforts so we'd rather pay our tithes and have some very clever chaps explain why this is godly indeed; as Barth insists 'the problem of culture is the problem of humanity' and when something is inescapable what can we do but have a thorough critique with our tea and cream cakes.
'The ontology of productive Becoming clearly leads to the Leftist topic of the self organisation of the multitude of molecular groups that resist and undermine the molar, totalising systems of power - the old notion of the spontaneous non-hierarchical, living multitude opposing the oppressive reified System' (Zizek Organs without Bodies) sounds like a good church don't you think

bruce hamill said...

Thanks Kim for another great post. I hope to reference it in an upcoming seminar I am preparing on God and violence.
Robert Jenson has a wonderful quote about peace which you might know:

…All humans hope for something that may be called peace. But most societies have interpreted peace as the success of violence – in the ideology of Western states, as a “security” to be established by “defence”. Just so the hope for peace becomes itself the constant occasion of conflict. The gospel promises the actual advent of peace and invites us to its anticipation in the Eucharist. The gospel makes peace a possibility by telling us that we do not have to defend ourselves, by telling us that our lives are hid with God in Christ. Just so, the gospel interprets peace as what Christ brings, as the fruit of his self-surrender.

Robert Jenson in Systematic Theology II, p. 210

Jonathan Keith said...

Hi Kim,

I misunderstood you. When you wrote that armies cannot be immediately disinvented, I assumed you had in mind the consequences to any regime that suddenly and unilaterally disbanded its armed forces. I'd expect such a regime to be overthrown, sooner or later. Wouldn't you? I'd be too scared to vote for a political candidate with such a policy. And that acid test shows that the dirty work of the military is for me.

I agree that Christians should long for global disarmament, and work to bring it about. But I'm not convinced that we could even find the political space to carry out that work without according a role, for a time, to the military.

Anonymous said...

You people are living in a dream world. A reconstituted UN? Hah, don't hold your breath! What makes you think they'll be any different from all the other power mongers who've bestrode the face of history. Pacifism is an ideology for the pampered sitting in their pantries. Talk is cheap, when no one is raping your wives and daughters and then shooting them in the back of the head. Or dragging your families and countrymen off to death camps, before dumping them into mass graves.

Do you actually think that those who perpetrate such atrocities are just going to lay down their arms whenever your so called "police force" show up?

Of course they're not! And when they don't, you know what you've got? A war, sanctioned by you.

Get Real!

The Devil's Advocate (aka jtm);-)

kim fabricius said...

Hi aka jtm,

You say, "Get Real!" I agree. That's exactly what Jesus was doing in the Sermon on the Mount.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Yes, and as one who became a conscientious objector while serving in the U.S. army, I think I was "getting real" when I got out to follow the unarmed Jesus. Armies cannot be immediately disinvented, but the churches can create models for the Powers to follow. Once the only hospitals were run by the Church and churches. Now, except in the U.S., governments know how to provide healthcare.
Once, education was a church matter, and the first universities grew out of monasteries.
Now, we can pioneer nonviolent methods of defense and intervention that governments can see and, possibly, adapt. In 1983 and 1984, I risked my life more than I ever did in the army by joining with other unarmed civilians in going into a war zone to stop a war--the war zone was Nicaragua, and these trips were the beginning of Witness for Peace.

Christian Peacemaker Teams, Nonviolent Peaceforce and other pioneers of nonviolent third party intervention show what may be accomplished in one day replacing armies.

If the church is to be NOW what the world will become (Yoder), then such risky pioneering efforts are our calling as disciples.

E.E. Lawson said...

Regarding Lutheranism, I appreciate certain sides of the ELCA and I also appreciate Bonhoeffer.

That being said, I'm not sure I would consider either of them to practice fidelity to Lutheranism as it is known by its confession. (Perhaps the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod would better fit this bill? I don't know.)

So, is there anything in Lutheran orthodoxy that would prevent one from being a pacifist? Two-kingdom?

Jonathan Keith said...

Hi Michael and Kim,

I admire Christian pacifists for their courage, vision, faithfulness and example. I also think that Western democracies provide a wonderful opportunity for political activism that pacifists, in partnership with other lovers of peace, will put to good use. I see a danger that Christian pacifism may encourage contempt for the very people (and soldiers are people, not rats) who help to create that opportunity. But I know you will avoid that danger.

scott said...

"It is no easier to be a little bit pacifist than to be a little bit pregnant." (Hauerwas, "A Church Capable...").

Anonymous said...

Coincidentally, in the near future I'm hoping to begin the process of becoming a Secular Franciscan. So I was recently reading Francis's original Rule for the laity, which was written in 1221.

It says:

Chapter 5, 16. They are not to take up lethal weapons, or bear them about, against anybody.

Because of Francis's Rule, the feudal system began to crumble. It became so popular with the laity, that nobody wanted to take up arms and fight for their Lords

John McBryde

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Well, John, it may be that secular Franciscans were part of the reason for the downfall of feudalism. Gibbon infamously blamed the fall of the Roman Empire on pacifist Christians. The question that comes to mind is, "Should Christians be in the business of making secular political systems work? Should we compromise our ethics to do so?"

Jonathan, 2 things: 1) I do not hold military members in contempt. Not only was I once a soldier and come from a long line of soldiers and sailors on both sides of my family, but I am always trying to get faith-based peace groups to partner with groups like Veterans for Peace. I think the real contempt is shown by civilian governmental leaders who recklessly send the military into wars of choice--and then give better vehicle and body armor to civilian mercenary companies, cut the hazzard and combat pay to the troops, etc.

2) I do not think that the military creates our political opportunities.

E.E. Lawson said...

Michael wrote, "Should Christians be in the business of making secular political systems work? Should we compromise our ethics to do so?"

Yes to the first and no to the second.

Here a famous Lutheran prnciple for the social sphere very aptly applies:

The people should listen to the church, the state should listen to the people. (Gustave Eibeling Derisen, LUTHERISCHE THEOLOGIE IST FUR DIE WELT GUT - vol 2)

Here there is no co-mingling of the kingdoms.

Tim said...

Norman Geisler's new book 'Love Your Neighbor: Thinking Wisely Abour Right and Wrong' contains a great, balanced chapter on war and the biblical position on a just war. Non-partisan yet straightforward and biblical it is challenging and will make you view the current war (and all wars for that matter) in a new light.

Check out the book:

kim fabricius said...

Hi E.E.

What if the people don't listen to the church? And what if the people do listen to the church, but the state doesn't listen to the people?

To cut to the chase, what if the state acts unjustly, let alone demonically? Does the church do nothing, as otherwise it would be a co-mingling of the kingdoms? Or do Christians not engage in protest, acts of civil disobedience, and other forms of nonviolent active resistance?

"No co-mingling of the kingdoms" - isn't this precisely the kind of "thinking in two spheres" that the theologically aghast Lutheran Bonhoeffer so emphatically rejected?

CJD said...

Great stuff, Kim. Thank you.

I think it's worth re-thinking your assessment that the Lutheran two-kingdom model is a compromise, though. The misunderstanding, if there is one, comes possibly from our tendency to confuse it with Augustine's "city of man/god" model, which is dualistic.

In my mind, both the Lutheran and Reformed tradition understand both the sacred and the secular to be under one sovereign lord. The difference is often one of emphasis, with the Reformed coming off a bit triumphalistic.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Actually, I think Luther radicalized and deepened the dualism of Augustine's City of God/Man division. Yes, Luther saw God as sovereign over both "kingdoms," but he saw the state as ruled by an entirely different ethic from the church--and argued that a Christian could commit to both. Thus, in an infamous example, a Christian executioner could not commit private revenge, but should rejoice in being honored to meet out death for the state. The standards of the Sermon on the Mount were only for individual ethics.
Now, Calvin had his own way of defusing the radical nature of the Sermon (making all about interior attitudes), but at least the Reformed tradition rejected two kingdoms thinking. Is the Reformed tradition triumphalist? Sometimes. Max Stackhouse found 3 forms of Calvinism within the tradition vis-a-vis the "cultural mandate." 1) Imperialist or Triumphalist Calvinists who are often theocrats. They are to be feared and kept from power or influence. 2)"Evangelical" Calvinists (Stackhouse's term; I would say "Pietist" Calvinists) who concentrate solely on "spiritual matters." 3)Democratic Calvinists--those who imbibed deeply from the Covenant tradition that began with Bullinger. Kim's form of pacifism, it seems to me, comes from this last strand--the strand which created the URC in England, along with the Congregationalists.

Seth said...

I, like many Christians, dismissed Pacifism without much thought until I went to a Christian college that had an Anabaptist foundation and was challenged by it. So many people I talk to seem to equate Pacifism with being passive and not doing anything. While true of some, I've have known quite a few active Pacifists doing their part to change the world. I wish more people would listen to the Pacifist point of view and take it seriously. There are some good questions being asked...

E.E. Lawson said...

Among the French Lutherans that have settled near the outskirts of Nantes, there is a rich liturgical rite known as 'peace dancing' or 'peace skipping'. However, I am not sure if this has been influenced by the pacifism of the Anabaptists.

Does anybody know if there are any conservative and orthodox Lutheran pacifists out there? I am specifically thinking of the Lutheran Church in Australia or the various conservative bodies in the United States.

To Michael Westmoreland-White, don't you underestimate Luther's Christian ethic by reducing it to individualism. Would this be anachronistic, a view more formed by modern liberal politics?

(no, I don't mean "liberal" in the contemporary "liberal vs conservative" such as witnessed on American news TV shows)

Dind't Luther speak of paying love to princes which rule the public sphere? Dind't he say that even princes should obey law?

Could the case be made that the Prussion Union between the Reformed and the Lutherans was a case of ecclesiastical violence?

I eagerly await your kind reply.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Lutherans may dispute this. I will ask for some feedback from my friend Glen Gersmehl of the Lutheran Peace Fellowship. But my reading of Luther is that princes have a different ethic than that of other Christians. Luther told the prince that his duty was to use military force in enforcing law and order--NOT to turn the other cheek or follow the Sermon on the Mount.
Luther's 2 Kingdoms ethic specifically restricted the Sermon on the Mount to individual ethics. That seems to preclude pacifism. So did the way that Luther told Christians to act by a different ethic in public life--and his favorite example was a Christian executioner (!) who was to love his enemies and practice forgiveness in his private life, but to act without mercy in his professional life.
Lutheran pacifists, it seems to me, have to say that Luther was wrong about some things. This seems easier for some of us in other traditions. Mennonites have little trouble criticizing Menno's weird theology of the Virgin Birth. Baptists, having no one founder, don't feel they have to agree with everything John Smyth, Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams or any other early leader supported.
But, it seems to me, that traditions that are dominated by one major founder, sometimes feel obligated to hold to everything the founder believed--even if the founder was adamant that Scripture was more authoritative (as Luther was so adamant).
Were there Lutheran pacifists before Bonhoeffer's critique of 2 kingdoms thinking? I don't know. But I doubt there were any before the Pietist movement of the 18th C. Opinions vary greatly among Lutherans and others as to whether Pietists were orthodox.
Lutheran Confessions, and many Reformed confessions, too, often made the rejection of pacifism (the "error of the Anabaptists") and the embrace of Just War Theory as a creedal matter.
Again, I will contact friends with the Lutheran Peace Fellowship (the only Lutheran pacifists I know) and see what take they have on it.

CJD said...

Lutheran pacifism, rightly understood as an outcropping of the non-dualistic two-kingdoms model, centers on this fundamental point (from Luther's On Christian Freedom): "In all his works [the Christian] ought to entertain this view and look only to this object—that he may serve and be useful to others in all that he does; having nothing before his eyes but the necessities and the advantage of his neighbor."

This, arguably, puts duty to fellow humans before any other secular duty—even the obligation to one's country. It may be that pacifism is only implicit in Lutheran theology during the Reformation, but it nevertheless seems to be well-founded upon the non-dualistic two-kingdoms model. The model emphatically does not necessitate playing the part of executioner or soldier. It, in fact, necessitates always carrying one's Christian faith everywhere, which frees the Christian up for positive ethical involvement (like pacifism) in the world, something missed by a great many others—including "democratic" Reformed types—who'd rather promulgate "christendom" (an oxymoron both in Lutheran and apostolic terms) than confront it with the ethics of the kingdom, the already/not yet, the paradox.

Note too, that Lutherans confess The Augsburg Confession, which, as a point of fact, is not a summation of Martin Luther's idiosyncratic theological views, but the collective wisdom of the protesting churchmen of the German countryside.

CJD said...

It's worth posting more of Luther's own words (from On Keeping Children in School): "Beyond that, however, he [that is, the pastor] does great and mighty works for the world. He informs and instructs the various estates on how they are to conduct themselves outwardly in their several offices and estates, so that they may do what is right in the sight of God. …To tell the truth, peace, the greatest of earthly goods, in which all other temporal goods are comprised is really a fruit of true preaching. For where the preaching is right, there war and discord and bloodshed do not come; but where the preaching is not right, it is no wonder that there is war, or at least constant unrest and a desire to fight and shed blood."

MW said...

Hi great post, I just have some 2 cents to throw in, if I may ;)

I am interested in the policing/military aspect that was mentioned. My current understanding is that all Christians must not engage in [violent] policing (formed around 1700s AD I think) nor a [violent] military role (as well as, not being able to become a magistrate with the power of the sword - as in the early church), as it is against our Messiah's teaching. A famous example would be St Martin de Tours, and how he handled his situation, i.e. he would gladly go on the battlefield with no armour/weapons, but only with prayer and the gospel.

But some were asking, what about UN, etc. Wouldn't it just mean that the non-Christians can join if they want, we have no way to compel them not to join, without preaching the Gospel first? If our society was made up of only Christians, then we could form a community policing function as described by M.Gandhi [and the "Tinkers" in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time;)], where the people would use no violence, but offer there lives/bodies for the kingdom and in defense of others etc. Or perhaps, societies should have a separate non-violent role of Christians in the police force, but it would take alot of courage to knowingly face death without a recourse of violence, and to only rely on God, and love.

Regardless of the type of government in place, whether democratic, communist, despotism, anarchist, we are not allowed to violently rebel, and are to obey God rather than man... I am starting to believe that Christians truly shine under persecution, and unrepentant nations/powers/systems crumble when they choose to attack God's people, as the Lord hears our prayers.

Chris Donato said...

Note that I've finally responded to this post over at Growing Grace-full, Kim.

I wonder, even if it isn't as finely tuned as Pannenberg, if it nonetheless will cause a little hesitation with respect to the two-kingdoms model?

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Actually, I think Luther radicalized and deepened the dualism of Augustine's City of God/Man division. Yes, Luther saw God as sovereign over both "kingdoms," but he saw the state as ruled by an entirely different ethic from the church--and argued that a Christian could commit to both. Thus, in an infamous example, a Christian executioner could not commit private revenge, but should rejoice in being honored to meet out death for the state. The standards of the Sermon on the Mount were only for individual ethics.
Now, Calvin had his own way of defusing the radical nature of the Sermon (making all about interior attitudes), but at least the Reformed tradition rejected two kingdoms thinking. Is the Reformed tradition triumphalist? Sometimes. Max Stackhouse found 3 forms of Calvinism within the tradition vis-a-vis the "cultural mandate." 1) Imperialist or Triumphalist Calvinists who are often theocrats. They are to be feared and kept from power or influence. 2)"Evangelical" Calvinists (Stackhouse's term; I would say "Pietist" Calvinists) who concentrate solely on "spiritual matters." 3)Democratic Calvinists--those who imbibed deeply from the Covenant tradition that began with Bullinger. Kim's form of pacifism, it seems to me, comes from this last strand--the strand which created the URC in England, along with the Congregationalists.

CJD said...

Great stuff, Kim. Thank you.

I think it's worth re-thinking your assessment that the Lutheran two-kingdom model is a compromise, though. The misunderstanding, if there is one, comes possibly from our tendency to confuse it with Augustine's "city of man/god" model, which is dualistic.

In my mind, both the Lutheran and Reformed tradition understand both the sacred and the secular to be under one sovereign lord. The difference is often one of emphasis, with the Reformed coming off a bit triumphalistic.

Post a Comment


Subscribe by email

Contact us

Although we're not always able to reply, please feel free to email the authors of this blog.

Faith and Theology © 2008. Template by Dicas Blogger.