Does anyone remember pacifism?
You know, that fairly extremist position of non-violence held by certain Christian faith-groups who endorse that their members absolutely refrain from joining the military (for combat service), becoming a cop (as all police agencies mandate the use of lethal force when required) or even using self-defence to protect oneself or loved ones if it might lead to killing another human being in order to do so?
Well, it’s apparently back with a ‘non-vengeance’. This time around, however, pacifism’s re-emergence is no longer the theological territory of aloof, simple-life religious communities, but can be found in modern churches equipped with all manner of technology, multimedia tools and eye-catching backdrops. In these places of worship, passionate, enthusiastic preachers are making waves in the Christian community by extoling the virtuousness of old-world pacifism. At first, this might seem like not such a bad thing … after all, what’s wrong with a growing bunch of peaceniks, right? But here’s the rub: those delivering this message of ‘non-violence-at-all-costs’ are stating, in no uncertain terms, that unless all Christians everywhere submit to pacifism, they are failing to fully comprehend or represent the life, character and principles of Christ.
We believe that there is something very disconcerting about this latest push towards a collective peace-initiative – something we’ve dubbed ‘Neo-Pacifism’ – and contend that it’s just one more ‘ism’ that hampers our efforts to spread the true Gospel message of faith in Jesus Christ.
What Does Neo-Pacifism Teach?
Answering this question accurately required quite a bit of reading/listening to several sermons from prominent figures associated with the movement. What we discovered proved to be both interesting and sometimes kind of disturbing. As already noted in the first paragraph of this article, Christian pacifism (which is rooted in the Anabaptist tradition that began about half a millennium ago) means a person does not engage in any act of retributive aggression or defensive violence that could cause harm or especially the death of another human being. Pacifism’s adherents believe their position represents the truest fulfilment of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (or Sermon on the Plain) with respect to His followers loving their enemies and taking the command of Christ to ‘turn the other cheek’ quite literally. It matters not an iota what the prevailing circumstances may be. You simply do not take lethal action against anyone – ever. The concept of ‘just war’ is regarded as scriptural and spiritual error. Though a nation could be taken into captivity by an invading force and its people suffer unnameable atrocities at the hands of evil men, pacifism demands that you are not to become a soldier in order to defend the oppressed or the innocent. Applying for a job in government? Not in the plan. Joining a police force is out of the question (for reasons already mentioned) and it can be assumed that signing up for Mixed Martial Arts doesn’t score any points with pacifists either.
(Why Neo-pacifism misrepresents Christianity will be covered in Part II of this article.)
Who’s Behind Neo-Pacifism’s Rise To Acceptance?
Several popular ministers, we discovered.
One individual who’s covering a lot of territory (and time) with respect to pacifism is Bruxy Cavey, a gifted, charismatic speaker and primary ‘Teaching Pastor’ for the far-reaching, momentum-gathering church known as ‘The Meeting House’. The Meeting House doesn’t hide the fact that it is rooted in the Brethren In Christ (BIC)/Mennonite/Anabaptist tradition, but is of late making a significant push to ensure that the pacifist agenda is tremendously close to being front and centre along with the Gospel message. In 2010, Bruxy engaged his congregation/listeners with a teaching series called, ‘Inglorious Pastors: Waging Peace in a World of War’, which was a seven sermon lecture on how to (and why all Christians should) get on board with pacifism. Right up there with Cavey are other proponents of neo-pacifism such as famous author/speaker Tony Campolo, Woodland Hills pastor Greg Boyd and ‘visionary leader’ Shane Claiborne. All of these speakers/church-leaders are connected with (and are scheduled speakers for) the most recent Christian peace-initiative venture called PEACEWORKS.TV, a group self-described as “a youth movement for peace bringing people from all over the world together for a single purpose…to turn every church into a peace church.” 1
Why You Should Be Concerned About The Neo-Pacifist Movement
When it comes to presenting your church’s doctrines, it’s one thing to state, “What we believe and teach has proven to be effective” but quite another to stress that everyone else not doing what you’re doing or believing what you’re believing has got it all wrong. What’s far more disconcerting is when any church group/denomination – their growth, solid doctrinal foundation or good intentions notwithstanding – comes right out and says that “Jesus is the model for our system of living and anything short of this model fails to fully represent Christian character”. Well, the Christian neo-pacifists are doing just that.
Here’s what Bruxy Cavey, author of the successful and provocative book ‘The End of Religion’, states with respect to those inquiring into pacifism:
“Something else we should think about just before we dive in … this is for those of you who are having to answer questions of others as we process through this … You should be aware that some of the questions people ask are asked ‘genuinely’ and some are asked just because they’re looking for an excuse not to have to listen to the teachings of Christ. In other words … people ask questions of Jesus’s peace-teaching in two ways, sometimes, first of all, in order to find an excuse to disregard it or sometimes to better understand and apply it.” 2
This statement shows Bruxy is making the assumption that those who question pacifism are questioning the way of Jesus. That kind of approach strikes us as ‘our way or the highway’ and has that familiar stench born out of theological arrogance; something I’ve been known to struggle with myself. (‘Takes one to know one’, as they say!)
It’s fine to detail your own position on pacifism and teach what it means; that it’s ‘okay to die for a cause, just not kill for one‘ or that it is ‘not a success strategy but a love strategy‘ etc., but Bruxy takes it to a whole other level by pretty much ordaining it as a religious
obligation for true Christians (which is kind of strange when you consider the title of his book).
Though Bruxy says that pacifism isn’t necessarily the best strategy in a situation where violence could be used as a solution, he states that “WE (the church’s members, leaders etc.) still believe it is the right choice because we choose this way because Jesus ‘called for it, commanded it, modelled it and then calls us to be the body of Christ – today – filled with his spirit – living as Jesus lived, presenting him to the world.’ In the same sermon he also elaborates, ” … we don’t follow the way of peace because it works, we follow it because it’s like Christ.” 3
Again, he infers that ‘the way of peace’ as per the pacifist’s stance is Christ-like, clearly intimating that one’s not being a pacifist is a failure to be Christ-like.
Not wanting to misinterpret the pacifist position of The Meeting House, I spoke to a representative of the church. I asked, “Would we not be allowed to be church members if we did not subscribe to your strong, pacifist leanings? The individual stated that we could be members, but that if we’d climbed the ladder into church leadership by any degree, we would not be allowed to voice our disfavour of or lack of allegiance to pacifism. That information revealed to us just how deeply entrenched the doctrine was. When I asked, “Do you think that those who do not subscribe to pacifism are deficient in their Christian walks or lives?” the person on the other end of the line – as politely as they could – acknowledged that you would be numbered along with those who ‘struggle with Christ’s teachings’. Upon my probing into the issue a bit further, the church representative strongly implied that you wouldn’t be as mature in your Christian faith without being a pacifist.
St. Paul MN’s Woodland Hills pastor, Greg Boyd, recently spoke at the Sunday service for The Meeting House here in Canada. In his sermon, entitled, ‘From Baptist to Anabaptist’ he stated:
“… the true Kingdom always looks like Calvary. … All over the place people are getting this vision … that what Jesus came to do and that it always has this humble, servant, self-sacrificial feel to it. And these folks are looking for … a tribe and a tradition – something that’s anchored and has witnessed in the past. And the only folks who have the tradition are the Anabaptists, the Brethren in Christ/the Mennonites. God’s doing a new thing … is pouring out new wineskin … a new tradition that they can call home and the only ones who have it are you guys!” 4
Once again, there is a definitive ‘us and them’ vibe going on that – I hate to say it – reminds me of a cult mentality. We are NOT SAYING THE NEO-PACIFIST MOVEMENT IS A CULT – please do not misinterpret us. But as it currently stands, the neo-pacifist leaders we are hearing from are stating that all branches of Christianity outside of their own are failing to fully meet the objectives of the Gospel by their not subscribing to pacifism. This is just not the case and is a much uncalled for sweeping generalization. There are many peace-loving, self-sacrificing, love-oriented and ‘mature’ Christians from ALL denominations who are fantastically Christ-like and yet are not pacifists. But try and get a neo-pacifist church leader to accept that and you may find you’re beating your head against a wall. I remember encountering this very same spirit in some evangelical protestant churches where they believe that all Roman Catholics are lost and bound for hell – an inane, judgmental position that’s doctrinally unfounded. It’s this very spirit of judgment, borne out of a faith group’s egotism, which subjects the Kingdom of God to public disgrace by the disunity it ultimately fosters.
The funny thing is that a great percentage of the time (here in the west especially) your pacifist or non-pacifist disposition exists almost solely in the realms of the abstract or theoretical. What I mean is that there is hardly ever a time where you’re provided an opportunity to live out your pacifist views in the same way a trained martial artist almost never finds himself going all Jackie Chan on a bunch of thugs after leaving the dojo. As this is the case, I have to wonder why the neo-pacifists are pushing the peace-agenda so hard?
And so, we would really like to ask the neo-pacifists out there to contemplate the possibility that you’ve let a doctrinal side issue become an agenda that takes precedence over the Gospel. The Gospel is about God’s grace extended to a broken world through the death and resurrection of Christ and about our living a life ‘worthy of the calling’ first and foremost. How you live your life in Christ and how I live mine is bound to be different, but the Spirit of God has given us both a measure of faith and will convict us of our shortcomings, including those that have to do with peace, love and practical real-life application. Harping on anything outside of this – the heart of the Christian life – will undoubtedly lead to unnecessary divisions in the body of Christ. Things turn ugly when an interpretation of the Gospel (or some aspect of it) is presented as if it were the Gospel itself. Please, don’t make that mistake.
© 2013 Flagrant Regard
2. http://www.themeetinghouse.com/pageid/1700/but-what-about-4614 – SERMON TITLE: “BUT WHAT ABOUT …” (at 6:42min)
3. http://www.themeetinghouse.com/pageid/1700/but-what-about-4614 – SERMON TITLE: “BUT WHAT ABOUT …” (at 5:10min)
4. http://www.themeetinghouse.com/teaching/archives/2013/one-church-2013/week-1-from-baptist-to-anabaptist-5475 – SERMON TITLE: “FROM BAPTIST TO ANABAPTIST … (at 29:02min)