Convictions Have Casualties

At the Disciples of Christ General Assembly in Nashville recently, those who attended had the opportunity to hear brief statements by individuals representing a variety of views regarding war and pacifism. I found a couple of the presentations particularly noteworthy.

Katie Hays spoke of the tension within her predominately pacifist family over her grandfather’s participation in World War Two, despite his own father’s disapproval. She said, “I am very sure that Jesus meant for his followers to lay down their swords, never to pick them up again….But I am also very sure that without the intervention of my grandfather’s generation, had we continued turning the cheeks of all those who bore the wrath of one regime’s hatred, the world would be much less good now…. And so, I am a Pacifist with Problems.”

I found retired army chaplain and chaplain endorser Steve Doan’s sensitive statement reflecting a similar ambiguity, though from a somewhat different perspective. He confessed, “War is evil—and it is always a sin. But I also believe from endless study and prayer and reflection that peace without justice, peace with slavery or genocide or tyranny is not peace at all. The slaughter and suffering of innocents leave blood on our hands.” He comes very close to saying, “I’m a just war supporter with problems.”

War, justice and the pursuit of peace are matters filled with serious practical dilemmas and moral challenges. Regardless of our position, we have problems. On the one hand, everyone opposes war and desires peace. On the other hand, everyone does not agree about what must be done to oppose war and pursue peace. What are the consequences of being against war and for peace?

The just war supporter goes into battle to protect the innocent and to attain peace. But in the process his efforts inevitably lead to the deaths of the innocent “collateral damage” and the escalation of conflict. Pacifists refuse to participate in war, believing peace begins by refusing to kill. But the pacifist option may increase danger, not only to the pacifist his or herself but to others as well. Lives may be lost because the pacifist wouldn’t kill on their behalf. Undesired consequences.

The practice of peace is no panacea. It will not solve every dispute. It will not dissolve all hatred. It will not end bloodshed. It will not inspire all enemies to become friends. Rejecting violence and instead choosing to live by nonviolent love does not automatically make the world a safer place. Those anti-war idealists who think otherwise will likely remain committed to the practice of peace only until they are forced to face the fact that nonviolent love will not always assure the harmonious outcomes we desire. It is naïve to claim that every violent situation has an identifiable nonviolent solution.

Visible, tangible and immediate results for justice and peace without deadly side effects are what everyone desires. But there are no methods that can guarantee such an outcome. War obviously can’t produce results of this sort. But nonviolent methods certainly can’t truthfully promise these results either. We –just warriors and those committed to nonviolence- need to recognize that our convictions result in casualties.

My commitment to oppose war and embrace peaceableness is not contingent upon my ability to know how nonviolent means could have stopped, say, Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, to say nothing of Stalin or Hitler. But just because I do not always know how to stop the violent from injuring the innocent without using deadly force does not mean that a violence response is the solution that must be embraced. No matter what we do or don’t do, sometimes innocent people will die. Nevertheless, because of Jesus Christ I believe it is the will of God to use our nonviolent love rather than our well-intended violence. Suffering cannot be avoided. We should stop it to the extent that we can without deadly force. But if we follow Jesus we will not be the ones to inflict the suffering. Rather we will endure it and trust God with the outcome.

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