Does pacifism work?
In the second part of his discussion over pacifism, Pastor Tom chapman questions whether pacifism can work.
There is, of course, a great difference between pacifism and passivity in the face of evil. The Bible has no time for the latter and neither should we. Sincere Pacifist and non-Pacifist Christians are all nonetheless working to actively oppose war and promote peace. But does pacifism achieve this?
In some contexts, peaceful resistance to oppression has been extraordinarily successful. Think for example of people power in the Philippines; the Civil Rights movement and Martin Luther King; the work of Ghandi in India; we hope and pray we can say such things about Burma and North Korea in years to come. Where ever possible as believers we would always use means like these to achieve peace with justice. Note, however, that peaceful resistance has typically been most successful when it has been the people of a country rising against unjust government.
But we should not assume that proportionate force is always fruitless. Three years ago I visited Pristina, the capital of Kosova. I was struck by many things: the bullet holes that remained in the walls, the photos of the missing on the railings in the square – and the renamed streets! Bill Clinton Boulevard, Tony Blair Square – the newly independent people of Kosova had no doubt about the rightness of the NATO intervention to save them from genocide. I doubt they sold many white poppies there this year. The people of Sierra Leone would say the same. We should not allow the mistakes made in Iraq and other places to blind us to the fact that force is sometimes a necessary precursor to just peace. Would peaceful resistance have stopped Milosovic, the RUF rebels – or indeed Hitler? I doubt it. And might military intervention have prevented, say, the Rwandan genocide or the massacre in Sarajevo? Maybe – but I am confident that a pacifist response would not.
Further back in history, consider one of the greatest justice movements of which Christians are rightly proud: the ending of the Slave Trade. What an achievement of Wilberforce and movement – and yet we should remember that any decision in Parliament would have been utterly irrelevant in practice if there we did not have a strong Royal Navy to enforce it.
Some suggest that the traditional “Just war” arguments are obsolete in most conflict situations our nation is involved in today. I agree there is a need to reformulate them when facing insurgencies and terrorism, rather than war between nations. However this does not mean the theory is irrelevant in all present contexts: many of our fellow believers in South Korea today would not think so. Perhaps the reason why we presently enjoy a relativel absence of war between nations is precisely because democratic nations, for all their many failings, have proved willing to fight for what they stand for. “Just-war theory” only seems irrelevant because, relatively speaking, it has worked surprisingly well, at least in a European context. Why did the Cold War not become a Hot War? I wish it was because I went on the CND marches!
I am not arguing that war – or the willingness to countenance it - itself achieves peace. I am arguing that in the real world, it is sometimes an awful, inevitable reality before peace can be achieved. Rev. Young cites the example of Northern Ireland, where, thank God, a good measure of peace has been achieved through negotiation. But the IRA only came to the table because they perceived they could not achieve their goals by violence. Any negotiation with Al-Qaeda (and anyone like them) must take place on a similar basis – they moderates among them need to know that violence can't succeed, but peace can serve them better.
Laudible as the aims of the 11/11 campaign may be – don't we all wish it would succeed – as a follower of Jesus I want to raise two fundamental questions from a biblical point of view. Firstly, it does not address the basic problem of the human heart. The fact is, we are each one of us sinners. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want" (James 4:1-2) Any Christian campaign to address the outward manifestations of human conflict has got to find a way of addressing the inner causes. According to Jesus, the only way this can happen is through faith in him bringing peace with God and fellow human beings.
And secondly, it doesn't accurately represent the hopes and expectations Jesus himself had for what could be achieved in this world. He plainly said “You will hear of wars and rumours of wars” (Matthew 24:6). There is plenty of peace promised in the Bible – but only to be fulfilled in the world to come. Sadly, Jesus did not believe that wars would end in this world. To join 11/11 I would need more faith than him.
I want to be clear: none of this invalidates efforts to achieve peace in this life – blessed are the peacemakers! The call to peace stands – peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness (James 3:18)! And while war and conflict cannot be eliminated in our world overall, real progress can be made in specific situations – any situation. But as Christians, our means and expectations must be shaped by all the teachings of Christ and the scriptures, not just some of them, worked out against the harsh reality of a fallen world that will stay fallen until he returns. In the meantime, I am glad that radical pacifists like Philip Young do exist – just as I am glad that radical celibates, environmentalists and others like them exist. You serve a purpose in provoking our consciences, forcing us to ask the hard questions and consider whether we are simply assimilating into a godless world; you remind us that things can change even in this world, when we are gripped by the faithless assumptions that they can't; you remind us that to be a Christian means being different; you remind us that it is not the worst thing in the world to be considered naïve.
I do wish I could be a pacifist – but in good conscience I can't. I don't think it is biblical or will work. I am glad however that you exist and state your case; and defend your right to do so.
In fact, ironically, in the final analysis – I might even fight for your right to do so.