This is for Halden’s Pacifism Series.
I do not want to repeat what others have said in the series, so I do not plan to make an argument for my pacifism, rather, I want to mention a couple of the deciding factors the led to my shift and will also provide a critical reader more concepts to investigate. My pacifism grew out of two movements in my life – one that seems as clear as lightening and the other born out of a slower theological growth.
First, my social location. I was born into conservative Protestantism (which was sometimes evangelical, sometimes fundamentalist and even at times Pentecostal…ish), the Republican party and a family that was more than just a little pro military. One grandfather came back from Korea with sniper pins (or something to that effect), and more in the other family were in World War 2 with stories of sacrifice and danger. To bring the situation more up to date, I have been in discussions where family has said coercive, militaristic force is mandatory for keeping the peace, even on one’s own citizens; that anything goes to maintain the status quo and the perception of safety. None of this I suspect is new to anyone in America, or anywhere for that matter, but it seems socially locating one’s self is necessary for this autobiographical statement. Lastly, I suppose I am a “free church” pacifist which some might find weird in light of what I will soon say.
The first shift I can see clearly in my mind. It was a sunny day in Portland, Oregon at my undergrad school and just past noon. I was sitting on the beat up, orange couch, alone in the shade of my room and reading a small book I had somehow came across – The Wisdom of Tolstoy. There is a specific instance in the book that Tolstoy chronicles a Rabbi stating, something to the effect of, “There is a lot in your New Testament about nonviolence, but you don’t listen.” It was this statement in combination with Tolstoy’s message on the Sermon on the Mount that struck my mind dumb for the next half hour. It was here I realized that taking the text seriously very well might mean non-violence and non-violence is possible. Sure friends of mine were reading Hauerwas and Yoder, but that did not have the effect on me that other people felt, well, not by then it hadn’t. For me, it was Tolstoy. Call him the gateway drug to pacifism.
However, I do not think Tolstoy would have had the effect he did without a simultaneous rising of communal ecclesiology in my theology. I suppose it wasn’t a full on community ecclesiology then, more like an inchoate communality, but I had just written a paper on individualism and community in the church, arguing for the dumping of a mechanistic, individualistic anthropology in favor of the communal, organic body of Christ. As time has progressed and my ecclesiology found root within Christological/Eschatological Kingdom theology, so my pacifism strengthened. By identifying far more within the body of Christ – an extension of the kingdom here but not yet here – than any nation-state, my politics have taken a different turn in thought (which is partly why I hope to do a PhD in the subject of political theology – a response by myself to evils in the world is mandatory, but how ought the church engage?). Also, William Cavanaugh has been very helpful here; through re-examining history, his writings helped me, who was blind to the intrinsic coercive nature of the nation-state, to see where peace and coercion really lay.
It seems as one’s ecclesiology strengthens, particularly when it focuses on relationships, pacifism becomes the option. Doing violence to another human being just doesn’t exist, for it is the church who takes in the hurting and criticizes the powerful. The economy of God functions radically different and that is our first allegiance. America is cool and all, but despite what it might think, it isn’t God or the church.