In his final chapter (entitled “Christians and Violence”), Greg Boyd makes the case for a consistent Christian pacifist ethic.
Boyd answers some common questions posed to him in light of the stand he makes in this book:
1. What about self-defense?
“(A Kingdom person) would have cultivated a kind of character and wisdom that wouldn’t automatically default to self-protective violence. Because he would genuinely love his enemy, he would have the desire to look for, and the wisdom to see, any nonviolent alternative to stopping his family’s attacker if one was available. He would want to do good to his attacker.”
2. What about Christians in the military?
“Do you know—can you know—the myriad of personal, social, political, and historical factors that have led to any particular conflict and that bear upon whether or not it (the war) is justified?...Out of their cultural conditioning, most blindly assume their authorities are trustworthy, that their cause is justified, and that each person they are told to kill is a justified killing…So, while I respect the sincerity and courage of Christians who may disagree and feel it their duty to defend their country with violence, I honestly see no way to condone a Christian’s decision to kill on behalf of any country—or for any other reason.”
3. Haven’t some wars resulted in good things?
“While military victories tend to be celebrated, nonviolent victories seem to pass without notice. Most knew about Gandhi and Martin Luther king Jr., but the nonviolent revolutions that ended various unjust dictatorships and brought increased freedom for more than three million people in the twentieth century are hardly ever discussed. Consequently, we are conditioned to think violence is the only viable approach to resolving conflict…(As kingdom people), we are called to show by our life that, while violence sometimes brings about positive results, violence is never inevitable—if only kingdom people will live out their unique kingdom call.”
4. Don’t your ideas lead to passivity?
“We now find ourselves in a version of Christianity where protecting ourselves is one of the main things we stand for—“in Jesus’ name”! In the name of the one who surrendered his rights and died for sinners, we fight against sinners for our rights!...Our call is to simply live in sacrificial love and trust the sovereign God will use our love to further his kingdom, as he did with the love of Jesus expressed to us and all people on Calvary.”
5. Don’t we best serve the oppressed by overthrowing their oppressors?
“The kingdom person is to remember that it’s still a ‘Good Friday’ world. We are to have faith that things will look different when Easter morning arrives. The ultimate hope of the world is not found in achieving victory now. The ultimate hope of the world is the resurrection, when all things shall be reconciled to God (Col. 1:20). Then we will see that no act of kingdom love has ever been wasted.”
There’s much to be commended in this chapter. Boyd is certainly consistent and biblical.
Last week I made a trek with some friends to the United Flight 93 crash site. A temporary memorial stands there, while the funds for a permanent memorial are raised. As I looked out across the field to the pit that is now covered with grass, my gaze lowered down to the individual markers in front of me. Each person’s marker had photographs stapled onto them and family memorabilia hanging all over. Fresh flowers lie there in front of each, the fifth anniversary of the tragedy being only three days before my visit.
I read the flight recorder’s log of the final minutes and thought about the courage of those people on that airplane.
These people had to do what they did. They could not sit by passively while their plane flew toward the White House or the Capitol Building.
We are not called to be simply passive to evil; we are called to confront evil and do what must be done to eradicate it. Sometimes it takes the route of forcefully overcoming evil by force.
Boyd himself admits that these are hard matters.
I consider myself more a pacifist these days than I used to be. But pacifism does not equate to passivity. A follower of Jesus confronts evil. The best way to do so is not with more evil—we seek to subvert evil the way Christ did—turning the other cheek and then confronting it when it does indeed strike us (Jesus, when he was struck on the cheek said, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike me?”- John 18:23).
But in a fallen world, there are times of utter desperation, emergency times in which there can be no other course than to stop evil in its tracks. The passengers and crew of United Flight 93 did just that. They did not have time to subvert the evil they confronted with loving interaction. The terrorists that high jacked that plane were not open to acts of kindness. And they were 20 minutes from Washington D.C.
I don’t know what Greg Boyd would have done if he were a passenger on Flight 93. I suspect, from his honesty in the book, that he would have been torn, but would have reluctantly joined with the rest who valiantly attacked the cabin.
Posts in this series:
Chapters 4 & 5
Reflection: Boyd and Colossians 1
Chapters 6 - 8
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