New Kid On the Mennonite Block. Part 3. Why I am a pacificist.

Part 3 in the ongoing series New Kid on the Mennonite Block, in which I discuss my entrance and education into the Mennonite community. Read Part 1 Here and Part 2 Here. 

Following the discussion from Part 2, my pastor responded with more great thoughts on the “Support the Troops” dilemma. I won’t post all of it as you would then be just reading my email. I have to save some stuff just for me!

He said,

I believe the peaceable way of Jesus is right not just for me or Christians or the church, but for all peoples. (That is, there is a strand of pacifism that would say the military is a necessary and legitimate function of government; someone has to do, but as followers of Jesus we just can’t.) At the same time, I also recognize that we can’t  expect the ethics of Jesus  apart from faith in Jesus. I’m only a pacifist because of my belief in the resurrection of Jesus. So I never presume that the government will become pacifist, because you can’t force anyone to believe in Jesus. We can though urge the government, based on it’s own values, to take steps toward more peaceable resolutions of conflicts.

I think that he is referring to, in the parentheses where he refers to a strand of pacificism that allows for a military), Just War Theory or to a belief that while some claim non-violence it is necessary for other to enact violence.

I struggle with Just War Theory as it make a lot of sense to me and that some events seem to require force in order to, for lack of a better word, combat them. For example, World War II seemed to demand military intervention. I am not sure how the expansion of Germany would have been stopped and the evil of the Holocaust would have been halted save military action. I am just not sure. However, while the entrance to WW2 may have been according to Just War Theory that does not qualify all of our actions in WW2 as just. The specific targeting of civilians in Hiroshima alone erased any hope of meeting Just War Theory standards ( Jus in bello demands that, “An attack cannot be launched on a military objective in the knowledge that the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage (principle of proportionality). ) I am practically a Just War Theorist. I do not think war should ever happen but know that in our society it is probably and tragically unavoidable, so in the lesser of two evils, I would ask that the war be as just as possible (is this even possible?).

The second category referred to is a super tough one indeed, in which some may act non-violently while others act violently. The issue here is that the violent action is merely a step removed but does not erase the act. Having someone act violently by proxy does not remove one from the responsibility. This is one of my concerns as an American citizen. My being a member of our society makes me complicit in the actions of our military. This category is the most ridiculous and blame is merely shifted but not removed. However, it is also the category that all of us as Americans are in no matter our place or belief. Even though I am a pacifist and even though I attend a Mennonite church and even though Mennonites do not support the violent actions of the US Military, the military still acts on our behalf (even if we do not vote for those leaders). Merely being here indicts us.

So why even be a pacifist? If we are inextricably tied up in the systemic violence, and if we cannot escape the blame for it, why even try? I am not entirely sure.

I am a pacifist for similar, but slightly different reasons, than my pastor says above. “I’m only a pacifist,” he says,  “because of my belief in the resurrection of Jesus.” For me, Jesus’ resurrection reinforces my pacificism and probably inspired my own non-violent beliefs but I am not a pacifist only because of it. I am a pacifist because I also believe it is a better way to be human. My faith is wrapped up I also think I would be a pacifist if I were not a believer. If I ever renounced my faith, I hope and think I would continue to believe in the tenets of pacifism.

The reason I am a pacifist are hard to name because I do not remember a moment of decision. It happened slowly, as most beliefs do, until at a certain point I realized I was one. However, it came through reading and understanding the moral calculus of violence and how it rarely leads to any redemption. It came through reading the stories of people like Gandhi, MLK Jr. and other heroes of non-violence. How eloquent are the words of these people who enacted a deep and profound love of humanity, to ultimately renounce the very act that could save their pain?  Tolstoy, Thoreau, Thomas Merton, Simone Weil, and others inspired me to see the strength it takes to be non-violent.

Weil said, “We should strive to become such that we are able to be nonviolent.” That sums me up. I believe in non-violence but I am not non-violent. My theory and my action may be two different beasts. Thank God I have never been tested, and pray I never am. I have not had to fight because I think I would. But that does not mean I would be justified or believe that my actions were moral. 

I am trying to put it in words and it hard. Sorry for the long and sprawling diatribe. Still trying to articulate. I guess I have to say, I am not entirely sure why, but I know that I hope to.



Add yours →

  1. Yes, we all have questions and they are hard to put into words. Keep up the struggle. Many Christians defend their own ‘bearing the sword’ based on what is really a pacifist text! See

    If you would like to read about my own struggle see the “Look Inside” feature here: (you can see more on Smashwords; I don’t have the link handy).

  2. A note on WWII. The first world war prepared the seedbed for the rise of a Hitler. WW One was a war that even a just war Christian cannot defend. Without Starwars, there is no Empire Strikes Back.
    Some notes on this in my book about the Christmas truce of WWI.

    I’d be happy to send you the pdf.

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