Sunday, July 16, 2006

How Far Should We Take This Whole "Love Our Enemies" Bit?

Out of respect for Mr. Siemon, I am relocating Scott's questions to a new post. That way the homosexual hermeneutics conversation can take place in one spot, and the pacifist/just war conversation in another. Below is Scott's post to Mark:


Hey Mark,

In your class right now. Asked the question about Jesus’ teaching requiring pacifism. Appreciate your thoughts.

Not sure if you have time to enter a discussion I’m having in my head, but if you do there are two of them.

The first revolves around safety vs. ethics. Should we corporately love our neighbor/enemy (i.e. abstain from bombing them) even if they have harsh and violent intentions toward us and will carry them out if we don’t stop them?

The second; does instituting a more peaceful society/culture through violence justify that violence? (i.e. positive democracy is more peaceful than negative totalitarianism).

Again, I’m sure you’re crazy busy, but these are just some thoughts swimming in the ocean of my brain right now.

Thanks so much for your passion and integrity.



Blogger Thom Stark said...


Mark is away this week and will not be able to post. I'm sure he'll try to respond when he gets back. Those are some pretty good questions, I must say!

July 16, 2006 at 6:22 PM  
Blogger Tyler Stewart said...

(1) In regard to safety vs. Ethics you wrote, "Should we corporately love our neighbor/enemy (i.e. abstain from bombing them) even if they have harsh and violent intentions toward us and will carry them out if we don’t stop them?"

I have a couple of questions. Who do you mean by "we"? If you mean the Church, then I say we should always love our neighbor/enemy which means a lot more than not killing them. Jesus didn't just not fight back when he was crucified he forgave. If you mean "them" as in the people who do not worship Jesus than I say we, the church, do not have the right to anything less than love. Love in a way that will sometimes be painful, even deadly. Jesus’ definition of love is sacrifice not romance. Should we not take him seriously?

If you mean America, then I would argue that your political allegiance is in the wrong place. American foreign policy is blatantly non-Christian, imperialistic, and looks more like 1st century Rome than any nation has in a long time. America usurps the throne of God when it assumes it has the right to kill. I would also like to point out that Jesus did not advocate democracy, he advocated theocracy. We, the Church, live in the kingdom of God, not America.

There are plenty of ways to justify violence until you come face to face with a crucified Messiah. This brings me to my next question, what do you mean by "safe"? Is it safe for you to lose you soul in order to protect your possessions? Is it "safe" for you (or me for that matter) to disobey Jesus in order to protect what we cannot keep? God said he would protect us even beyond the grave, what if we actually believed him, and proved it with our peaceful deaths?

(2) You asked, "does instituting a more peaceful society/culture through violence justify that violence? (i.e. positive democracy is more peaceful than negative totalitarianism)."

According to Jesus, NO. If it is just for people to use violence in order to bring peace then why would Jesus not just kill Caesar, call down 12 legions of angels so we could go ahead and live in the Kingdom of God? If we pick up Satan's weapons to try and do God's work we betray God.

In regard to "positive democracy" I wonder how positive is democracy for our souls? Now I don't want to advocate totalitarianism either, but I wonder what it is that makes us think democracy is automatically positive. Is it really good to give everyone the “right” to be God?

These are good questions and require more thoughts. But I would definitely recommend picking up Stanley Hauerwas' "The Peaceable Kingdom." Also, I'm no Mark Moore, but I would love to dialogue with you on this further. You can get me at

July 17, 2006 at 2:57 PM  
Blogger Jay said...

I like Tyler's question, What do you mean by "we?" If in fact you mean the citizens of the Kingdom of God, then we should love our enemy. Loving your enemy and thus following the teachings and example of Jesus is better than a prolonged life.

If you mean the United States than I agree with Tyler's political alligiance answer as well. BUT, as far as the United States is concerned, I feel it makes sense for them to slay those who threaten their lives. The United States has no hope past this life-- of coarse they are going to protect themselves at all costs. You cannot blame an earthly kingdom for acting like an earthly kingdom. Thank God we belong to a different Kingdom with better promises.

July 17, 2006 at 3:31 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...



First, Jay is certainly right to point out how the vision the United States has of the world in large part determines its politics, and thus that it cannot be blamed "for acting like an earthly kingdom." Although, I would suggest (and I'm sure Jay would agree), that there is a real sense in which the United States will be judged for its sins, rather harshly I think. And to the extent that when we say "we" we mean "we citizens of the United States," I'd say we have a share in its condemnation. But that's just an initial aside.

What I want to do is to elaborate a little on something both Tyler and Jay brought to our attention. They both raised the question, as mentioned above, "What do you mean by 'we'?" I want to stress how important that question is, particularly when it comes to ethical questions.

In democratic regimes such as ours we are trained to test our moral reasoning against what is often called the criterion of universalizability. (That's a big word used by people who need to feel like non-intellectuals depend for their survival on the work of academic theorists.) What that basically means is that, if we're going to do anything we would like to call "moral," what we ought to do must be the same act that everyone, everywhere, in like circumstances, ought to do. In other words, if it's good enough for me, it's good enough for everybody.

Armed with this criterion, the question of nonviolence in extreme circumstances (such as, say, World War II) cannot help but look more than a little obscene. If what I'm supposed to do can only be what I'm supposed to do so long as it's what everyone else is supposed to do, pacifism clearly has its difficulties.

But one of the problems with the criterion of universalizability is that it abstracts the moral agent (i.e. you) from any and every community or tradition from which he derives his moral notions and thus his moral convictions. In order for a moral act to be universalizable, an agent must come to it apart from all particularities such as allegiances, desires, passions, religious beliefs, etc. In other words, everything that makes you you must be discounted if the act you decide upon is going to be a moral act, i.e., an act that everyone, everywhere, in like circumstances, ought to perform.

Of course, what this way of thinking about ethics doesn't acknowledge is that it itself belongs to a tradition, the tradition normally called "political liberalism" (which, in America, would include conservatism). So in the guise of "universalizability" or "neutrality," the tradition called liberalism tells us to see our traditions as impediments to proper moral deliberation.

A second but related problem with this (by now conventional) way of doing ethics is that it makes every ethical question a question about ethical decisions. We are trained to begin with the question, "What is the ethical thing to do here?" without asking the prior question of identity, i.e., "What kind of person am I?" or "What kind of person do I wish to be?"

We can see how the two problems are related. The first problem is characterized by the demand that every action must be universalizable if it is to be called "moral." The second problem is characterized by insisting that the first step in ethics involves making an "ethical" decision. In both instances, the question of our particular communties, traditions, convictions, and thus our very idenity, is overlooked, if not explicitly derided. Liberalism thus fails to account for the (I think) rather obvious fact that our moral notions (i.e. our ideas about what constitute good and bad actions) are framed for us by our communities, traditions, and religions, and specifically by the stories they tell us about the world.

Long story short, it does more justice to our nature as humans to recognize that the communities we come from, and the stories they tell there, are prior to our moral notions themselves. For instance, a Mennonite family defrauded by a con artist, without much deliberation, would know to pray for the con artist, whereas the good American citizen would know to sue. To both the Mennonite and the good American citizen, each of their respective reactions represents "common sense." (Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with acting on common sense, so long as it is recognized that common sense is not common to everybody but only to those among whom it is common.)

Thus the first question of ethics is not "What should I do?" (although that is a question that may arise later), but rather "Who am I?" or "What kind of person do I wish to be?" As Iris Murdoch puts it, "We act in the world that we see." The worlds of Posterity and Eschatology are two very different worlds. Thus, the question is not, "What would happen if everyone behaved this way?" but "What would happen if no one did?"

Having said all that, the short answer to your question is that Christians are not here to transform the world or to make sure it is being run properly. Christians are here to witness to the new world just around the corner. Of course, in order to witness properly to such a world sometimes Christians are going to have to die, but the new world just around the corner makes that all right. That is the first task of Christians. Thus we can see how Christians, properly trained to see the world, might not even think of some ethical questions as questions at all. While the utilitarian asks how ethical positions like pacifism can be moral in a world full of Hitlers and Husseins, the Christian responds that the world is not run by such men but by God, the same God who put the church in a world full of Hitlers and Husseins in order to demonstrate what a world without Hitlers and Husseins might look like.


July 19, 2006 at 12:57 AM  
Blogger Mark Moore said...

This is a perennial debate with lots of mines in the field. That makes it important that we speak with humility as well as clarity. I shall attempt both.

(1) Props to both Tyler and Thom for framing the question of 'we' properly. 'We' must mean 'the church' and must not be conflated with the United States Governme
nt (God&Nation) nor reduced simply to 'I' or even 'an individual Christian.' So the question becomes, 'What is the role of the church in an already violent world?'

(2) Put this way there are two clear answers: witness and suffering. We bear witness to the suffering Christ and God's vindication of him through the resurrection. We also imitate Jesus, taking up our own cross and suffering with and for those who are oppressed. While these two tasks of being church do not exaust our social responsibility, they do bracket out a number of other actions: violent speech against our enemies, hoarding of wealth which has elicited much hatred from the rest of the world (the US has 5% of the world population and consumes 40% of its resources). It must mean being peacemakers to be called sons of God (and yes, this must go beyond evangelization of the naked soul). It means modeling an alternative society of egalitarian care, weeping over the death of enemies, and repenting for corporate sins.

(3) What does all this say about public policy of war? Shall I be so arrogant as to assert Papal decrees or Presidential pardons? My expertise, if I can call it that, is in Biblical exegesis. And I'm well aware that scholars on both sides of this issue argue from specific Biblical texts in ways that seem to me fair and balanced. The Scriptures don't really tell us how secural governments should operate, but they are chrystal clear about being the church. All that to say, as a part of the church, when I am closest to imitating Jesus, I find it most difficult to support violent action against other individuals, sovereign nations, or even rogue terrorist groups. Must they be stopped? Yes!!! Let me reiterate, Yes! That is precisely why I think passivism is a better option (though I'm not ready to say an absolute option). Let's take for example 9/11. We responded with decisive violence and determinative force in two countries (and counting). Has it been effective? Have we eliminated the Taliban or Hezbilah? Are our borders safer? Do we have more or fewer international allies? Is our economy improved? The questions could go on. I'm suggesting that our course of action has been counter-productive for us as a nation (although many Iraqi's would celebrate their own liberation--yet I doubt our motives were so altruistic). This is not to diminish one iota the sacrifice and dedication of our soldiers. It is to ask if such a violent course of action was the most productive for our nation (notice I've moved ahead from merely talking about the church). Walter Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003, offers many challenging examples along this line--of the greater effectiveness, lower financial cost, and much fewer lives lost using pacifism.

(4) What I'm arguing, in short, is that if you mean 'we' as the church, then non-violence is the only option. If you mean 'we' as the United States, non-violence may well be the most effective option and is seldom explored to its potential. If you mean 'we' as 'I, the individual Christian' then most of the questions thus far have been hypothetical since 'I' will probably not ever encounter a terrorist personally or be forced to shoot a burglar who threatens my wife (two common examples against pacifism). Would I take vengeance (or even self-preservation or protection of others) into my own hands of leave it up to God? This is the most difficult of all the pacifistic conundrums. But isn't that dodging the immanent issue? How do you treat your neighbor who encroaches on your property line, or the driver who forces her way in, or the youth at church who play music too loudly. I suspect that we will never think clearly about national pacifism as long as we perpetuate a culture that encourages us to practice a thousand small acts of personal aggression under the guise of being effective, independent, or driven. Not until we are faithful in little will be faithful in much.

(5) Finally, for me it comes down to the issue of faith. Do I really believe in a God who intervenes in world affairs in the present time? Oh, sure, we can believe in a God who created the world long ago, as well as one who will consumate the ages with the coming of Jesus in the distant future. But in most contemporary matters, Christians are Deists, not Theists. Until we come to faith in the immanent God who has the hairs of our head numbered, who is more interested in justice than we are, who is more able to control global affaris, it is doubtful that we (the church) can even have this discussion.

July 19, 2006 at 2:20 PM  
Blogger Matt Tapie said...

Very interesting debate. We are struggling with these issues over at Two Cities. Mark, is it possible to achieve your item number one in a democracy such as ours? It seems as if we are somewhere in between these two extremes.

You said: "(1) 'We' must mean 'the church' and must not be conflated with the United States Government (God&Nation) nor reduced simply to 'I' or even 'an individual Christian.'"

I agree that we must not conflate God and Nation and commit idolatry by making Christ and America one and the same (or even referring to the US as his favorite nation--which is historically been our sin). But is there a middle way somewhere in between considering the nation as God on the one hand and rejecting the nation as completely evil on the other? Is it acceptable to say that America, or any political body for that matter, produces good things in the world that help preserve and serve God's creation? If so, then our call to love our neighbor seems a bit tricky amidst our government structures. As Christians in a democratic society our submission to government seems to put us in a place where our relationship to government is heavily participatory and forces us to make choices about how to use creational goods.

July 19, 2006 at 11:33 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...



Great comments. Mostly I agree, but I think you've gone amiss on just a couple of points:

"But is there a middle way somewhere in between considering the nation as God on the one hand and rejecting the nation as completely evil on the other?"

No one here has framed the situation this way. That America is "completely evil on the other" side is not at all the position taken by anyone here. Thus, since this is not the way I think this situation is actually framed, I do not think "middle ground" between these two options is what we're looking for.

You said: "As Christians in a democratic society our submission to government seems to put us in a place where our relationship to government is heavily participatory and forces us to make choices about how to use creational goods."

While I agree that our democratic society gives us more options regarding our use of creational goods, I do not think it is democracy that forces us to make choices about our use of such goods. Our real options come from God, whether through democracy, through some other structural means, or through pure providence.

Regarding your first claim, however, that "as Christians in a democratic society our submission to government seems to put us in a place where our relationship to government is heavily participatory," I think this is a very American way to frame the situation. That is not to call it "evil," but I do not think this is realistic.

First, I see no reason why submission to government in a democratic context necessitates that we participate democracy's way. God first and finally delineates the politics of the Church, the shape and form of that politics. Thus our participation for the good of society likely will not look much like participation from the perspective of a democratic regime, but that does not mean it is not participation.

Since God delineates the politics of the Church, and not any nation or nation-state, it seems clear that the first task of the Church in society is to be the Church--to do what only the Church can do. As Hauerwas often says, "the church's first task is not to make the world more just but to make the world the world." In other words, the Church is best participating in society when the Church cares so well for the useless members of society that the poverty of the world's resources is openly displayed. This usually produces one of two effects: the world persecutes the church (fair enough), or the world imitates the church.

The Church would be doing America a great deal of good if the churches in America decided not to let any more Christians go to the middle-east as soldiers armed to the teeth, but in their place to send money, food, and nonviolent peacemakers/gospel proclaimers prepared to train new converts how to love their oppressors. If we would do this, and do this visibly, America would no doubt be put to shame. All their missiles and bullets could not accomplish what grain, water, and an antiquated myth about a suffering carpenter could. If the Church would do its job, i.e., be the Church, America would be forced either to change its course of action or to allow its imperialism to be exposed before a watching world.

That is the kind of participation required of Christians in society, democratic or otherwise. Any other form of participation is either gratuitous or idolatrous, but usually a mixture of both; it certainly isn't necessary in order for us to fulfill our obligation to "submit to the authorities."

I do, however, agree with you that America is capable of doing good. But remember that until the United States acknowledges the lordship of Christ, i.e., never, the Church must proclaim the coming judgment by shaming America with kindness to her enemies.

No doubt if we do that well enough we'll be called, at the very least, unpatriotic, ungrateful idealists.


July 20, 2006 at 1:35 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...



I like your blog. I especially like the post, "Just Me and Jesus." Thanks for your presence here.


July 20, 2006 at 2:49 PM  
Anonymous Jason Fry said...

First: Why are the pacifists at Ozark the most verbally violent of all the students? Those

who haven't yet been convinced to join the ranks of the pacifists are met with scorn or are

argued into conversion. Some say to love your enemies, namely Iraqi insurgents, but love

towards their actual, physical neighbors in the dorms or in the classroom is often lacking.

Also, the on-campus pacifists look to many like what might be called a clique, or an elitist

petry dish of incestuous amplification.

Second: "...God delineates the politics of the Church, and not any nation or

nation-state..." I disagree. The Old Testament clearly includes God delineating the politics

of a nation-state. Granted, it was a theocracy, not a democracy, and we may be unable to

apply any of those delineations to nations and nation-states today. Nevertheless, God has

gotten involved in politics, has advocated war, has commanded the slaughter of innocent

people by human agents, and yet he is without sin and so were the human agents when they

followed his commands. I'm not saying that the Old Testament justifies America invading

Iraq; it should, however, inform our ethic if our ethic is to be biblical. Much of the

anabaptist viewpoint seems to gloss over a few thousand years of God's interaction with man.

Third: "I wonder what it is that makes us think democracy is automatically positive. Is it

really good to give everyone the “right” to be God?" Well, God did. I don't think that

democracy is automatically positive and it can certainly be very negative and evil, a fact

we can witness every day in the U.S. or in India. Free will is from God; it is not

"fleshly," it is part of the imago dei. God does not override free will, even when one

initially submits to his reign. A side point, but an important one I think.

Fourth: "Mennonite family defrauded by a con artist, without much deliberation, would know

to pray for the con artist, whereas the good American citizen would know to sue." This is a

false dilemma. There is a third horn: call the police and allow the God-ordained government

to enforce its laws and protect its citizens. Paul appealed to Caesar and it wasn't a civil

case. Let justice roll. Suing would indeed be seeking revenge. One can prosecute a criminal

without wanting revenge, though. It is the government's duty to provide justice. God did not

reserve vengeance for himself in some abstract or eschatological sense only; he also created

a legal system that included a kinsman-redeemer, whose job it was to seek out the murderer

and kill him. I know my common sense is different than a mennonites, but I think orthopraxy

can include helping the government prosecute the guy who defrauded me and while praying for

him to meet Jesus in jail.

Fifth: "...we will never think clearly about national pacifism as long as we perpetuate a

culture that encourages us to practice a thousand small acts of personal aggression under

the guise of being effective, independent, or driven. Not until we are faithful in little

will be faithful in much." I agree with this one. I actually mostly like the

anabaptist/pacifist position. I think that the hypothetical, extreme scenario questions are

legitimate questions, though. I agree with Thom that the universizability criterion means

that we can make the application of a principle look ludicrous by bringing up hypothetical,

extreme scenarios. Our doing (existence) flows from our being (essence), so we shouldn't

pick our philosophies based on universizability but we should ask instead, "who am I?" I see

the point. That doesn't change the fact that Christians, both anabaptist and liberal, are

put into extreme situations all the time. Will I come in contact with a terrorist? Probably

not. Of all the people that I know, going all over the world for the kingdom, some might.

Will I have to choose to protect my family or stand passively by while my family is injured

by some malicious person? I hope not. If I do have to choose, though, I ought to be able to

make a choice that is consistent with the philosophy I espouse. I may not be able to tell

you what I would do, since I haven't been in that situation, or what you ought to do, since

we all have different "common sense" and are from different communities with different

values and different stories. I ought to be able to offer an opinion on how my philosophy

will look when applied to a hypothetical situation without apologizing though, shouldn't I?

Maybe pacifism isn't universizable; maybe there are situations when a pacifist must use

force. Should I trust that God is in control instead of taking things into my own hands?

Yes. But I take a lot of stuff into my own hands because I trust God and because I know his

general will. I chose to go to India not because God overcame my free will and whisked me

away, but because it was in line with his general will and seemed the wisest choice, given

all the alternatives. If we rescue someone from pain without aiming for revenge, or if we

believe that judges and juries and police officers ought to keep child molesters locked up

and ought to arrest their molesting by force if necessary, it is not inconsistent with God's

will as revealed in scripture. It might be inconsistent with pacifism, though.

I think the nonviolent way of life is good and biblical. But I think the biblical worldview

has more to say than just nonviolence, and I think we can be both American and Christian,

just as Paul was both Roman citizen and Christian when Rome was a bit more imperialistic and

violent than America is. I don't think that the status quo of American Christianity is

healthy or good, though, and we need to stand up and disagree and be radical examples, and

live consistently with our philosophy. I am missional, a new word I learned a few months ago

which means that I am both trying to change the world and trying to help new Christians know

Jesus better and become more like him. I can rescue child prostitutes (which may

occasionally require physical action when dealing with pimps and madams) and honor God at

the same time, and I can also evangelize the lost and have no hope in the world becoming a

better place without people submitting to the reign of Christ.

Sorry my thoughts are not well-organized. I would do a better job if I had more time to

organize a few weeks. It's rambling, but I think I expressed one or two thoughts

that I wanted to express.

If I made any of you angry, please act nonviolently towards me! I love you.

July 27, 2006 at 12:49 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


Thank you for your thoughts, Jason. I will only respond to two of your points.

(1) I wish to clarify something I said that apparently was open to misreading.

"Since God delineates the politics of the Church, and not any nation or nation-state, it seems clear that the first task of the Church in society is to be the Church--to do what only the Church can do."

You read that as my saying that God only delineates the politics of the church and that God does not delineate the politics of the nation-state. What I meant is that God, and not any nation-state, delineates the politics of the church.

Whether and to what extent (or what it would almount to to say that) God delineates the politics of a nation-state is a different question, and one I think we would have a hard time answering, particularly because (apart from OT Israel) the question isn't really all that intelligible.

(2) I do apologize on behalf of all OCC pacifists for any violence found in us. Part of the reason I am so vocal about my being a pacifist is because I know I'm so violent, and making my pacifism public is a strategy to try to get people to help expose where my violence lies.

However, being a pacifist does not require that one be timid about one's convictions. Pacifism is not passivism. I would not be a pacifist if I thought Christians had a choice about it.


July 27, 2006 at 1:07 PM  
Blogger Andy Rodriguez said...

Good to hear from you. I pray that things are going great for you guys in India. My roommate Tony C. is now preaching at Conway and says that things are going wonderful. Allow me to comment on a few of the things you have said.
I have so much that I need to work on, and I will be the first one to admit that. (you particularly might remember how bad I am at returning books back on time!) But honestly, I just don't think your first sentence is true. You might be thinking of a couple and then labeling the rest of us. (I am about 96 percent a pacifist. I agree with you that the hypothetical questions are very legitimate and many times not answered adequately.) I am thinking of other pacifist Ozark students who are so NON VERBALLY VIOLENT you wont even know they are a pacifist. I “converted” to a pacifistic understanding of the Christian life within the past year as I spent much of the year studying Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God. The reason I will talk with people about these issues is the same reason I talk with people about missions. I just believe that the Great Commission is not just a suggestion for an elite group of believers but should be embraced by everyone who says, “Jesus is Lord.” Not just by saying, “Yes, Andy. It is a good idea.” But actively being a part of fulfilling it. My studies led me have a similar view of pacifism. I embrace and talk about it because I just believe that Jesus’ teaching implies it. “Blessed are the peacemakers” and “my kingdom is not of this world, if it were my disciples would be pulling out their swords and be killln’ these fools” aren’t pithy sayings or spiritualistic maxims, but real ways of living. I talk with people about missions because I think the bible really does speak to this issue, and the church should listen. I talk with people about pacifism because I think the bible really does speak to this issue, and the church should listen. (This is actually one of my first times of publicly declaring my borderline pacifism.) I could be wrong, and I know that. I could overemphasize pacifism just as I could overemphasize missions. But I would rather error on the side of trying too hard to convince people that missions matters than letting them continue not even caring. Likewise, I would rather error on the side of trying too hard to convince people to love their enemy rather than kill them than to let them keep believing that the best institution for peace is the Army rather than the church. I think you label of an “elitist petry dish of incestuous amplification” could be said of any group that has like ideals, “missions people” for example. Ahhh, now I am both!! We do need to work on that.
Thom dealt with you second point. I like the point you made on your third point. It is not necessarily a good thing, but I guess it is not necessarily an evil thing either.
I am not exactly what to do with your fourth point. I still have much thinking to do. I am not sure if Paul’s appeal to Caesar can be likened to calling the police. I remember DeWelt suggesting that this was a strategy by Paul to declare the gospel in places where he had not, using whatever means possible for the salvation of as many possible.
You say that the nonviolent way is good and biblical. Do you also mean that the violent way is evil and unbiblical?
I agree that the Bible has more to say than just non-violence. I think it has a lot more to say than just non-violence. That is why I will not make a big deal of my pacifism at school. My fellow pacifist friends will probably not like that. I know I have referenced missions a lot, but allow me one more example. Instead of shoving missions down peoples throats, I prefer to help them understand God better and to pursue intimacy with him, and when they do that they can not help but come to an understanding of God’s desire for all people. I will likely take the same approach with pacifism. Will there still be tricky questions? Sure. But I think this is the better approach.
Can I be American and Christian at the same time? Like Paul, if being an American citizen is going to help me advance the kingdom of you better believe it. I think Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship not because he held allegiance to Rome, but because he was using whatever means possible to win as many as possible.
I am not sure how much sense I have made here, but if anything else it has been good for me to think through these issues. But now I have blogged for too long! I have a sermon to write.
Grace and peace, friends.

July 27, 2006 at 5:15 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


Capitalistic democracy is not free will.


July 27, 2006 at 5:34 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...



I DO like the fact that you aren't as vocal about your pacifism. John Yoder was almost embarrassed to have Hauerwas as a convert because Yoder thought his pacifism was not just a way of living, but a way of speaking. Hauerwas has been dubbed by many "the pacifist I'd most like at my side during a bar fight." In that sense, you are closer to Yoder and I to Hauerwas. That means you have seniority.


July 27, 2006 at 5:38 PM  
Blogger Tyler Stewart said...

When I read your comment about the violence of Ozarkian-pacifists I was shamed. I can think of the violence I have done with my words. There are certainly ways to qualify it, and if I have learned anything from Hauerwas its that truth doesn’t require violence. So in the many ways that I am not true to truth, I repent. With that sincerely said, and heard, I wish to say just a few things, hopefully truthfully.

When I wrote, “I wonder how positive is democracy for our souls? Now I don't want to advocate totalitarianism either, but I wonder what it is that makes us think democracy is automatically positive. Is it really good to give everyone the “right” to be God?”
To which, you responded, “Well, God did.” This is simply not true. God never gave people the “right” to be God, in fact it is that assumption that put us to death. Your conflation of democracy and freewill is wrong. You brought up a great point in your critique, however, the concept of witness. Witness is crucial regardless of contexts and will likely vary depending on the context in which God places us. What I was trying to do is challenge the belief that democracy is good, as America, President Bush and the constitution of the United States all consider true.

I think that there are some serious questions to ask regarding the OT war as worship and Jesus’ ministry. But lets also not look at some examples in the OT and say, “See, violence is just.” Certainly, God is just. Therefore, whatever he does is just. But the way he has revealed truth is through a cross that requires some serious consideration. It’s good to hear from you Jason, and I welcome more thoughts. I would like to know how pacifists (like myself ought to) respond to the OT questions you brought up. Thom, maybe you could inform me. Either way, I will try and do some reading to better understand whether or not this is a good question. Love you all.

July 27, 2006 at 10:17 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...



That book I gave you, The Original Revolution, has at least one chapter devoted to discussing the significance of OT warfare for a Christian pacifist position. Yoder is nuanced, excruciatingly critical, yet radical as usual. My own thoughts on the matter are loosely as follows:

As I see it, Israel's wars before Saul were actually more like ritual sacrifices than anything we would now call a "just war." Moreover, the successful wars were miraculous wars, every one of them. Through them YHWH sought to train Israel to be a people relying on him. Jesus' nonviolent politics is just the continuation and intensification of the same kind of absolute trust in YHWH those early wars (before Israel's kings and standing armies) were meant to develop in Israel.

I think that to use the OT wars in support of a "just war" position is silly. (I hope that didn't sound violent.) Would we since Christ really call a man of God the man who slaughters hundreds of non-Jews by virtue of their being non-Jews, taking their foreskins as trophies? That's the kind of warrior the OT hoorahs. Yet that is not the kind of war we're trying to advocate when we appeal to the OT for support.

We don't want to fight religious wars, wars of worship. We want to fight "just wars," an invention of Augustine with some help from the Stoics. We don't want to bring glory to God in battle. We want to protect the innocent from the evil ones. We want to protect liberty from tyranny. We do not want to call the blood of our enemy the victory of God. We want to call it a necessary evil. Something has changed since the old covenant. The OT wars were about the fact that the very identity of YHWH was tied together with the fate of Israel. When Israel won it was the victory of God.

In the new covenant we have a cross and a resurrection, and neither one without the other. And that is the final victory of YHWH.

I admit that I can no longer comprehend how this theology is not grasped by so many Christians. I am at a loss to think of how one can be a Christian and not a pacifist. I am not denying the sincere faith of millions of non-pacifist Christians, nor am I denying their salvation. I am simply baffled by it, and even more troubling is the fact that for so long I was blind to what I now see. By the grace of God we all go.

The early Church had no problem seeing the implications of Jesus' cross and resurrection. It is the cross and resurrection of Jesus that enabled Christian fathers not to attempt to shed the blood of their enemies in defense of their own children. It is the cross and resurrection of Jesus that enabled children to become martyrs and saints.

The thought of losing my family to pointless, murderous evil troubles me. But what troubles me more is the fact that so many Christians are more ready to kill than to be killed. Aanna Greer once suggested to me that it would be an awesome thing if one day my family and I were allowed to die simply because we refused to defend ourselves. If such a testimony is necessary to help some of my dear friends better understand the nature of Christian discipleship, I would that my family could die a thousand deaths. I wish it were enough to point to the martyrs and saints before us. To me it is enough to point to the life and death of Jesus. His life and death is now shorthand for everything I believe and everything I preach. When someone asks me why I am a pacifist my first response is always, "Because I'm a Christian." I see no other way. My heart aches to be more like Jesus... as does the heart of my friend Jason Fry. I pray that in our quest to be more like Jesus, we become more like one another.

Jason and Andy both want to point out, pace Mark Moore, that the extreme situations, despite their being rare situations, are real situations nonetheless, the kind we ought to talk about. I agree. I love to talk about them, and I have spent hours on end talking with Andy about just those kinds of situations. Yoder wrote a whole book on those situations (What Would You Do?). Despite the fact that those situations are rare, and despite the fact that those situations are more often than not used in an emotion-driven appeal designed to make pacifists look inhuman (I am not at all accusing Jason of such an appeal), they are real situations nonetheless. But the simplicity of the question is a facade. The actual situation is always going to be more complex than the question wants to allow.

Yet Mark's point in diverting our attention away from such questions is not to avoid the reality of such situations. I think Mark's point, and I know my point, is that by focusing on the ordinary everyday situations as opportunities for developing the nonviolent, peacemaking character of Christ, we are more apt to become the kind of people who in a time of crisis are capable of turning an aggressor's violence into an opportunity for love, peace, and testimony. By focusing now on the violence that so grips our lives in so many ordinary ways, and by attempting to counteract that ordinary violence in extraordinary ways, we become the kind of people capable of living "out of control" in a violent world. For to be a disciple of Jesus is to be one who knows that justice is out of our own hands and in the hands of God alone.

In that light, I suggest to Jason, whom I admire and respect, that if he wishes to save children from prostitution rings he be willing to trust God for his and his family's protection, and not his own strength. I also ask humbly that he bear in mind that his and his family's protection is not an end in itself but a means to the advancement of the kingdom, a kingdom of course toward which his and his family's martyrdom is also a means. Finally, I ask that Jason pray for me and my family, that God would truly have his way with us, whatever that means. I am so far from peace. All the more reason why I must be a pacifist, at least in principle first.



July 28, 2006 at 4:31 AM  
Anonymous Jason Fry said...

I must say that in you guys' responses to what I said, I found tons to agree with, lots to ponder, and only a few things that I couldn't heartily agree with, without some kind of nuance.

I apologize if I seemed to rope all the pacifists together in my critique of the behavior of some at OCC. You guys are right: we're all striving to trust God and to allow him to change us into the people he wants us to be, and we all fail sometimes. As the guy behind the library desk who liked to have discussions, I know I often failed to honor Christ with my attitudes and words, and I apologize for those times. I also know that my experiences with the pacifist group was over a year ago, when those who had adopted the pacifist view hadn't had as much time for the viewpoint to sink in. So I'm sure the few people who offended my sensibilities and to whom I ascribed representation of the group have become more consistent in the application of their ideals. I also want to stress that I'm striving to be a pacifist in my thoughts and actions too. I just think that there are some questions left open or not answered sufficiently by the pacifists I've talked to in order for me to agree that this point of view coheres. I do believe that the critiques of my critiques are well said and well thought out, and I only want to respond (beyond what I've written above) a little bit.

First, "Yet Mark's point in diverting our attention away from such questions is not to avoid the reality of such situations. I think Mark's point, and I know my point, is that by focusing on the ordinary everyday situations as opportunities for developing the nonviolent, peacemaking character of Christ, we are more apt to become the kind of people who in a time of crisis are capable of turning an aggressor's violence into an opportunity for love, peace, and testimony. By focusing now on the violence that so grips our lives in so many ordinary ways, and by attempting to counteract that ordinary violence in extraordinary ways, we become the kind of people capable of living "out of control" in a violent world. For to be a disciple of Jesus is to be one who knows that justice is out of our own hands and in the hands of God alone." Amen. I totally agree with this point. I wouldn't want anyone to think that I don't agree with it, because it's such an important point. I don't claim to know what someone should do in those specific, rare circumstances, but I think I would tell people asking me the same thing Thom is saying: allow God to develop the right character in you now, so that if you do ever have to react in one of those rare, terrible situations, whatever you do will be out of that well-developed, godly character and thus will honor God. Existence, even in a horrible dilemma, proceeds from essence. I also don't think that Mark was blowing off the rare circumstances question, but was seeking to answer it in a similar way. I do think that, in a local ministry of some kind with non-Bible-college people, the rare circumstances question is bound to come up, and the answers we give better be carefully weighed, because it is better for a millstone to be tied around our neck and for us to be cast into the sea than to mislead one of these little ones. There are potentially serious consequences to these ideas, even if those consequences are unlikely.

I also think that God placed the desire in men, and to a lesser extent women, to protect the family with which they've been blessed. We males are stewards not just of material things but of lives as well. I don't want to make the same mistake as the average secular situational ethicist, but I think that in some of those rare circumstances, reacting pacifistically/non-violently would be the right answer and would honor God the most. I think, though, that in other of those rare circumstances, reacting with force might actually be the right choice, even for someone who has developed a nonviolent character. I do believe it is better to err on the side of nonviolence, which in itself is pretty radical, relative to what most American Christian men seem to believe. Of course, the proper degree of radicalness has nothing to do with the status quo, but with corresponding to the will of God.

On the "just war" idea, I agree that we cannot use the O.T. to justify America attacking Iraq, or to justify any country attacking another. I do think the fact that God was willing to slaughter children, unarmed women, and even armed men, through human agents, is has bigger implications than Thom has specified. Like it or not, the wars that God told Israel to fight were just wars. There is a such thing. Whether there can be such a thing now is another question, but during one era of history, for one nation, there was such a thing. I don't think it's possible for wars fought by nations today to be "just" in the same sense that wars fought by Israel were "just." I don't think that we would hoorah the same kind of heros hoorahed in the O.T. Although, certain gung ho former-soldier former-R.A.s I know might...Those of us who have never been in the military wouldn't. I agree that what some call "just wars" today are different than the religious wars of the O.T. God wasn't *just* trying to get Israel to trust him, though. He was also trying to kill hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people, including women and children in some cases. One reason this kind of war isn't possible anymore is that there is no theocracy now. America isn't God's chosen nation. Our armed forces aren't marching out to destroy those who have chosen to stand against the One True God, knowing full well that it would mean war to do so. They're marching out to destroy those who have chosen to stand against Western Culture through violence. I do not equate the two. Since there is no theocracy, then I expect no political nation to hold to Christian values. If any nation did, it would cease to exist as a nation, once it was conquered by some foreign regime and became the slaves of some dictator. I expect America to operate with worldy wisdom and to protect itself. The standard to which I hold it is lowered, since I don't expect it to behave in a Christlike manner. I think this is the point at which I start to differ from you guys. I think you also recognize that America won't live up to the Christian ideal, but don't think there is any other ideal up to which it ought to strive. I do. It's the one that protects the innocent and provides justice through force, if necessary. When it fails to live up to this ideal, which it often does, then I am disappointed. When it fails to live up to Christ's ideal for the Church, then you are disappointed. I do think that the idea that Mark mentioned above, of countries having a greater positive impact towards the cause of peace through nonviolent means, is intriguing. I do think that most nations, including America, have been too quick to resort to violence. I think that sometimes nations need to step up and take a stand, though, when there is massive injustice, like when America fought against the Nazis. Unfortunately, justice is not the only motivation, nor the main motivation, of most countries fighting in wars. So, I call a war "just" or not based on this lower standard. I haven't read Augustine's just war idea or any other Christians just war ideas. Maybe I ought to read them and their dissenters. I don't know...

One more thing: I don't think that I conflate democracy with free will. I do think, though, that God gave people freedom of choice. The freedom to be masters of their own destiny or to trust Him for their destiny, and thus the "'right' to be God", the right to seek their own glory, the fulfillment of their own will. If a nation wants to base its system on the choice of the people, that's great. I don't think that democracy is perfect, I just think it's the best of the man-made systems. The God-made system is the Church, and the nation-state can't function in the same way the Church does, because that would require every individual in the nation to be a Christ-follower. So, I know that democracy is often evil, and capitalism is often evil, it's just that they're the best secular systems available. I do believe in compassionate democracy or capitalism with a heart or whatever you want to call it. I think that democracy is something the Bible is silent about, as are most things political. I think that God is the higher authority, and that God's people are shown confronting secular governments in the interest of morality and justice, and are shown using the secular systems to suit the purposes of God, which is what we the Church ought to be doing with this democracy. To vote or not is a matter of conscience, not a litmus test of who really is following God's will for political involvement. To vote selfishly or nationalistically is wrong, though. Anyway, I'm rambling again. I don't conflate democracy and free will. I just think that democracy allows people to exercise their free will in more arenas, and is the best man-made system of government, and we Christians can do something with it! I don't think I could agree with Thomas Jefferson or John Knox's political philosophy all the way, but I do think that more can be done for the Gospel because of the playing field levelled by democracy and capitalism, on a broader, far-reaching scale, than has ever been possible before now. Capitalism and democracy are great for the spread of the Good News. Maybe I should say this: democracy and capitalism is good for the breadth of the Church, although despotism, atheistic communism, and sha'ria (sp?) are and have been good for the depth of the Church.

I feel like I'm opening more topics than I'm trying to comment on, so please forgive me for that. Sorry if I seem scatterbrained, too. Peace out!

July 29, 2006 at 3:35 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


Great comments, Jason. We have much we agree on. I have a few extensive comments to make in response to your post, but I do not have the time just now. I'll get on this as soon as possible.



July 29, 2006 at 5:32 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

[This post is inexcusably long. If desired, it can be accessed in PDF format at]

Jason, I think this conversation is just starting to get interesting. I’m glad to be having it, and I’m really glad to be having it with you. Forgive me if this response is a little lengthy. If it is, it is not to overwhelm you into submission (as some of my lengthier posts have at times been interpreted) but rather to articulate nuances and to try to speak with (at least what I consider to be) clarity. Moreover, if I respond to you extensively, that should be taken as a sign of respect. You are infinitely worth “my” time.

You have indeed opened several cans of worms, in response to which I intend to open several cans of whoop-ass — pacifistically. (The last sentence served no end other than that of bad humor.) Mostly because I am not a very skilled writer, I will try to respond to your comments in a piecemeal fashion. It’s just a little easier and quicker that way. The downside of this method is there may appear to be no real logical progression to my thoughts (not that I have ever been accused of being logical). There might, in other words, be redundancy. Again, that is not an attempt to pound you into submission to my views. It is just the unfortunate consequence of my not being a sufficiently disciplined thinker/writer. (For me, thinking and writing are often not separable activities.) At any rate: on with it.

You said: “Will I have to choose to protect my family or stand passively by while my family is injured by some malicious person?”

I say: Of course neither of us knows exactly what the situation is we’re talking about, but I do not think these are ever your only two choices. There are numerous tactics that people without power (without power whether by circumstance or by determination) can adopt in an attempt to avert violence. The options are not just “kill or be killed”; nor even “fight or suffer.” (And of course the real question for Christians is not whether or not we suffer, but whether or not we are capable of suffering without regret.) But in a potentially violent situation there are dozens of tactics available, if we are properly trained to see them and to put them into effect when the time comes. Praying out loud, random humor, unexpected service, prophetic preaching, singing hymns, reasoning, quoting scripture, “going the second mile,” etc. These are just a few general ideas of tactics I could use in an attempt to avert violence. One of my last resorts would be to attempt to direct the violence away from my family and toward myself in the hope that the violence done against me would satisfy. Of course, it may not satisfy. But I don’t expect to be in control in such a situation. Hope is all I would have.

Secondly, the way you’ve framed the question above assumes that I will be capable of protecting my family by means of force. More likely than not, I will not be capable, particularly if our attacker is armed. I could try to wrestle the weapon from him, but that could backfire on me very easily. I just don’t think that would be a smart move, in principle. My wife or child could get shot in the process, and I might have averted that if I had tried another less agitating tactic.

But, the real question is, at least for Erica and me, what is it that I’m meant to protect my family from? While the desire to protect them from physical harm is certainly one that burns strong inside me, as a Christian I know that my job as a husband and a father is to direct my family toward the character of God and to protect them from evil. The “evil” from which I protect my family, however, is not first an external evil but an internal one. A large part of my job is to keep my family from the evil assumption that their own survival is more important than their witness. In fact, it is my job to raise a family capable of seeing that sometimes truthful Christian witness requires suffering. While I certainly would not stand idly by and watch my family suffer, both I and my family will be prepared to limit our defenses to those that do not involve doing violence to our enemies. As Nate Saint said to Steve Saint in The End of the Spear, “We can’t shoot them. They’re not ready for heaven yet.” Yoder makes the exact same point in What Would You Do? when he says, “In order to keep one out of heaven who ultimately wants to end up there anyway, I would consign another to an eternity in hell.” (That’s a quote from memory, so it’s not exact.) I will point out that although this is not the argument I typically use to “seal the deal,” as it were, it is the one that is most significant to Erica. When she watched End of the Spear, that’s the line she thought best represented why Christians (male, female, old, young) refuse to defend themselves by force against force.

Yet the End of the Spear analogy is not exact to our own situation. I am not a “missionary.” If an attacker came into our home for the express purpose of doing violence, that is not the same scenario. But by making the distinction between martyrdom and murder the distinction between whether we are in harm’s way by our own choice or by our attacker’s, we relinquish the very power that Jesus gave to those who are capable of hearing the Sermon on the Mount. The power of our witness is in our determination to be a people of peace even at the expense of our lives. Whether we are martyrs or victims is up to us, not our attacker. By choosing not to secure our own survival by violence, we choose to be witnesses of God’s inbreaking kingdom. That’s what the tactics of the Sermon on the Mount are all about. Our oppressors would dominate us by force, but we have the power to subvert the situation by giving ourselves over to our oppressors. No longer is our fate in their hands. By being willing to suffer loss, and death, we take our fate into our own hands by giving it over to God. If I die at the hand of a murderer, I will have been a martyr, not a victim. I will do my best to make sure that my attacker knows that I freely give him my life, in living or in dying.

Another objection to the analogy is that the natives that killed the missionaries did so because they thought they were defending themselves. An attacker that breaks into my home is clearly not motivated by “self-defense.” Granted. But still I cannot pretend to know what motivates a man to come into my home and do violence to my family. It could be any number of things. It’s possible that he is a hired gun. It’s possible that his family is held captive somewhere and will be killed unless he kills mine. It’s possible that he is a man with a history of violence whom God has been hounding; in a last ditch attempt to silence the voice of God he has come into my home in order to “cross the line” into darkness once and for all. By raping and killing my family he thinks he will run beyond God’s reach. If that is the case, it turns out that whether or not he is beyond God’s reach is entirely up to me. I can try to stop him to the point of lethal force and put him permanently “beyond God’s reach,” or I can try to show him that in his efforts to run from God he has come straight to God’s house, where God has been patiently waiting for him with a message of redemption and power. Of course, he may not be running from God at all. He may just be out to do the worst evil possible for no reason at all other than to do the worst evil possible. But I am in no position to know that.

“But how can society be run this way?” That’s a common rejoinder. Yet it’s a red herring. The politics of the church (and thus for all Christians) is not the politics of the world. On this we already agree. And while I agree with you that not all justice is of the eschatological sort, I think scripture makes it fairly plain that the only justice Christians need concern themselves with is justice of the eschatological sort. I think this is clear precisely because the church’s very reason for being on this old earth is to be the vanguard of the new one. The state’s justice is necessary for the old order. But it is not for Christians. State justice is instituted by God for the maintenance of societies without the Holy Spirit. State justice is not the justice Christians use, because we do not live in the same time as the state. By virtue of our connection to the church of Christ we are caught up in a new aeon. Our job is to witness to what life will be like when God’s reign is revealed. In such a world, there will be no violence, therefore no violence will be found in us. (I’m not just making this stuff up, by the way. This is the way the church talked for almost three centuries before she came under the patronage and influence of Rome. But Rome did not completely silence her. Faithful voices have been heard throughout the centuries.)

Of course, this is what it means to be “in the world but not of it.” We live in a different time. We are not nonviolent because we are nonpolitical. We are nonviolent because from the vantage point of our time we know that true politics is not sustained by violence but by love and truth. Christian pacifism is politics proper. But despite the fact that we do in fact live in another time (which is still properly called time), we are comingled here with a different time. We live both in a time where nonviolence reigns and in a time where violence reigns. But since we Christians are constituted by the former time, we must be willing to suffer. Our willingness to suffer is, moreover, not just a willingness to suffer physical harm and death, but a willingness to suffer oppression, fraud, deception, theft, usury, and every form of evil. We suffer this because Christ suffered this, and Christ suffered this because that is how God’s character determines that the kingdom will come.

While governments, and “rights,” and laws, and such help the earth to stay in orbit, Christians neither have nor need any of these. All we have is witness. We have the “right” to witness to the God found most fully in a crucified Galilean. That is why we subordinate ourselves to the powers of this world, i.e., to “divinely instituted governments,” as it were. Not because such governments secure justice for us but precisely because such governments are not capable of taking justice away from us. Our subordination to the powers, in other words, is the Christian form of rebellion against them. We can submit to them, even such powers as Rome, in the same way that Christ could submit to Pilate: not because Pilate is doing what he should be doing, but because Pilate’s power is not enough to erase the truth of who Jesus and his disciples are. Deceit is the power of Rome, but truth is the power of the resurrection.

(I do not think, Jason, that I am saying much of anything you don’t already know and believe. I am just attempting to spell out what I think are the right implications of what you and I both already know to be true.)

You said: “I do think that, in a local ministry of some kind with non-Bible-college people, the rare circumstances question is bound to come up, and the answers we give better be carefully weighed, because it is better for a millstone to be tied around our neck and for us to be cast into the sea than to mislead one of these little ones. There are potentially serious consequences to these ideas, even if those consequences are unlikely.”

I say: True that. And the door swings both ways. But I will say that just because a “non-Bible-college” person has an honest question doesn’t mean that I’m necessarily going to give her the kind of answer she thinks she’s looking for. Part of what it means to be a disciple is to learn to ask the right questions. I see my task in ministry as facilitating the “renewal of the mind” that Paul talks about. In no way do I wish to belittle the genuineness of anyone’s struggle for the truth. But I think sometimes I will do more harm by allowing them to frame the question in terms that are not exactly Christian. “Kill or be killed?” is not a Christian question.

You said: “I also think that God placed the desire in men, and to a lesser extent in women, to protect the family with which they’ve been blessed. We males are stewards not just of material things but of lives as well.”

I say: I’ve already spelled out a little bit above why I think “protecting” my family is more than just securing their physical safety. While that is something I want and something I will certainly try to achieve within the means that I think are mine as a disciple of Jesus, I also want to protect them from the idolatry of survivalism cloaked in justice language. Christians of the first two-and-a-half centuries were all pretty well agreed that being a Christian was dangerous business for the whole family. While I’m sure fathers and mothers did their best to die in place of their children, or at least to die first, they certainly saw it as inconsistent with being Christian to fight for their children’s safety. We must also remember how thoroughly Christianity challenged the whole family-unit system. Children would have been considered the property of the church first, of biological parents second. (Dobson’s project only makes sense in a bourgeois society, and it has more affinities with Bertrand Russell’s doctrine of the family than with that of Jesus.) I agree that we are stewards of lives, but for me that means we are stewards of witnesses. My children will grow up knowing that their lives may one day be required of them for “no good reason.” In other words, I will not teach them to distinguish between martyrdom and murder as far as Christian deaths are concerned.

I agree that the protective instinct is to a certain extent from God, but our natural instincts have been to a large extent corrupted. My protective instincts are more often selfishly motivated than otherwise. And I think it is my innate protective instinct that makes Jesus’ description of enemy-love so counterintuitive.

You said: “I think that in some of those rare circumstances, reacting pacifistically/non-violently would be the right answer and would honor God the most. I think, though, that in other of those rare circumstances, reacting with force might actually be the right choice, even for someone who has developed a nonviolent character.”

I ask: How and when would you decide which was which?

You said: “Of course, the proper degree of radicalness has nothing to do with the status quo, but with corresponding to the will of God.”

I say: That’s absolutely right. And often the will of God only seems radical to us because we accept the status quo. When we make the will of God the status quo the will of God ceases to seem so radical. A good American should read this conversation and conclude that I’m a depraved religious fanatic. (I’m actually advocating not killing a man even when killing him would prevent him from killing my kids!) But such radical nonviolence is not inhuman where it is part-and-parcel of everyday life. That’s why the Amish and the Mennonites are so good at it. They’re not nonpolitical. Rather they exemplify politics proper. They are witnesses, and to witness is the first and last political responsibility of the church.

You said: “I do think the fact that God was willing to slaughter children, unarmed women, and even armed men, through human agents, has bigger implications than Thom has specified.”

I say: You’re right. I haven’t specified the bigger implications. I think I know what they are though. First, of course, it tells us that Christian pacifism is not based on the assumption that violence is inherently evil. Violence may or may not be inherently evil, but that question does not determine whether or not Christians are to be nonviolent. But the real implications this has are what I have already spelled out in an earlier post. The “holy wars” of the OT were meant to train Israel to rely on God. Women, children, livestock, vegetation, all the stuff God told Israel to destroy wherever they went—those are the spoils of war. To destroy the spoils of war is counterintuitive, especially to a relatively young and weak nation. To take the spoils of war is not only the victor’s right but is the victor’s means of becoming the victor again. That is how nations grow, prosper, become superpowers. But not so Israel. Israel will be sustained by the hand of YHWH and by his hand alone. That is like the theme of the OT. (That Israel’s armies sometimes did take a spoil does not disprove my argument. A lot of stuff went on that wasn’t kosher, but God didn’t punish Israel every time for every offense. Note, however, that God did punish Saul for taking a spoil after he had specifically told him not to.)

You said: “Like it or not, the wars that God told Israel to fight were just wars. There is such a thing.”

I say: The notion of a “just war” didn’t exist until the fifth century A.D. The OT wars were cultic wars. They were done either as worship (paradigmatically David) or for selfish purposes (paradigmatically Saul). If you mean that the wars weren’t sinful on account of the fact that they were commanded by God, I think that’s a really simplistic and tenuous stance to take. We tend to think that God could never be the cause of evil, so whatever he commands us to do cannot be evil. We fail to treat the scriptures as a narrative with a progression leading toward a climax. God dealt with Israel in a way that pedagogically brought them toward the truth of his character found in Jesus. Jesus could have fought a holy war, and he could’ve kicked some unholy ass, but he didn’t. And the reason he didn’t is not because his kingdom is “spiritual not physical” but because it was time for the whole truth and nothing but the truth (so help him God).

You said: “God wasn’t *just* trying to get Israel to trust him, though. He was also trying to kill hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people, including women and children in some cases.”

I say: Umm... I think you haven’t expressed your thought as clearly as you could have, because it sounds like you’re saying that God wanted hundreds of thousands of people, including women and children, dead as an end in itself. I know this isn’t what you mean to say, but you come real close to saying it. If you mean to say that Israel’s armies acted as a divine conduit through which God wrought punishment on evildoers, that’s one thing. But the point of doing that is not just to punish evildoers but to protect Israel from becoming evildoers themselves, i.e., from being defiled by pagan idolatry. The result of Israel’s not killing everyone they were told to kill was that idolatry spread into her camps. Not killing millions of people resulted in Israel’s not knowing how to trust God. If Israel had obeyed God and (1) not taken spoil, and (2) not left survivors behind, Israel would have had to depend on YHWH rather than (1) pagan wealth, and (2) pagan gods. The whole thing was about shaping Israel’s identity so that she would be capable of moving toward the character of God. It’s a progressive movement back to the imago dei (which is not “free will,” or “rationality,” but diversity in harmony: “let US make MAN [plural] in OUR image”). Jesus is the culmination of that movement. Jesus IS Israel as Israel ought to have been, and Matthew goes to great pains to show that, particularly in his first seven chapters.

You said: “Since there is no theocracy, then I expect no political nation to hold to Christian values. If any nation did, it would cease to exist as a nation, once it was conquered by some foreign regime and became the slaves of some dictator.”

I say: First, whatever it would mean for a nation to hold Christian values, it does not follow necessarily from such an event that the nation would be overrun by a dictatorship. God moves the nations. Of course, such an event is not going to happen anyway. No nation will ever adopt “Christian values” and allow those values to determine its political methodology. But that does not mean the church should not continue to call nations to repentance and to a recognition of the universal lordship of Christ. That no nation will ever completely adopt the politics of Jesus does not mean that the church should hold the nations to a different standard. We are an eschatological people with an eschatological message proclaimed in an eschatological voice. To the extent that a nation does not acknowledge the lordship of, specifically, Jesus Christ, that nation is in a state of rebellion against God. It is our job as the church to make that state of rebellion intelligible to the world by manifesting the politics made possible by the recognition of Jesus’ lordship.

You said: “I expect America to operate with worldly wisdom and to protect itself. The standard to which I hold it is lowered, since I don’t expect it to behave in a Christ-like manner. I think this is the point at which I start to differ from you guys.”

I say: Yes, in a sense. While with you I expect America to operate with worldly wisdom, that does not for me necessitate holding America to a different standard than I hold the church.

You said: “I think you also recognize that America won’t live up to the Christian ideal, but don’t think there is any other ideal up to which it ought to strive.”

I say: No. There is an ideal up to which it ought to strive. It ought to strive to the recognition of the lordship of Christ and by way of extension to the adoption of the politics of Jesus.

You said: “I do [think it ought to strive to another ideal]. It’s the one that protects the innocent and provides justice through force, if necessary. When it fails to live up to this ideal, which it often does, then I am disappointed. When it fails to live up to Christ’s ideal for the Church, then you are disappointed.”

I say: While I agree that force is sometimes necessary for the world, it is never acceptable. When it fails to live up to this ideal (of securing justice by force), which it often does, then I am doubly-disappointed. That does not mean, however, that I have nothing to say to America other than “repent and be baptized.” The church can help the state to live up to its own best ideals, but only if the church recognizes that in doing so it is not advocating those ideals. The church’s critique of the state’s failures-by-its-own-standards is a pedagogical tactic the church uses to bring the state closer to the only standard—that of submission to the lordship of Christ and the politics of his kingdom.

You said: “I do think that the idea that Mark mentioned above, of countries having a greater positive impact towards the cause of peace through nonviolent means, is intriguing. I do think that most nations, including America, have been too quick to resort to violence.”

I say: The world is run on lies and violence, so nonviolent tactics will never be taken seriously by the ones who need most to take it seriously (i.e. the superpowers). But if America did take the politics of Jesus seriously, as a nation, much more good would be accomplished than the little good accomplished by its imperialistic wars. If America had taken a third of the money it spent on the war in Afghanistan and spent that on medical aid and food for the Afghani people, America would have made powerful friends both inside and outside Afghanistan. If America had put an end to the activities of the C.I.A. that were part of the cause of September 11, America would have relieved pressure, and made powerful friends. If America had withdrawn its longstanding military presence from the middle-east it would have made powerful friends. If the Taliban attacked America after America had taken these three steps, America would have had the help of powerful friends. Instead, America insisted that it didn’t need powerful friends, that democracy and liberty were powerful enough to defeat terrorism. And now America’s imperialism is openly exposed to the world. America accomplished very little good, but only proved the Taliban’s point. I am not advocating the horrible actions of terrorists. It is only that I am not equating the denunciation of terrorism with the support of American revenge. Nonviolent tactics on America’s part would have made the world a very different place than it is today. Such tactics work. Even when they fail they work because nonviolence exposes the evil of the violent. When both sides are firing, all we have is partisanship.

Tyler said: “I wonder what it is that makes us think democracy is automatically positive. Is it really good to give everyone the ‘right’ to be God?”

You said: “Well, God did. I don’t think that democracy is automatically positive and it can certainly be very negative and evil, a fact we can witness every day in the U.S. or in India. Free will is from God; it is not ‘fleshly,’ it is part of the imago dei. God does not override free will, even when one initially submits to his reign. A side point, but an important one I think.”

I say: Here’s where we get into a wholly different yet significant discussion. Tyler has (I think rightly) metaphorically equated liberal democracy and its partner capitalism with the attempt to “be God.” But, Jason, you made a mistake, I think, by carrying that metaphor of “being God” over to free will. In doing so, whether you realize it or not, you’ve given us an account of free will that is informed by capitalism. Liberal democracy advocates pure choice. The only virtue in a liberal democracy is the virtue of liberty, which when translated means the virtue of writing our own histories. Liberty is not just the freedom to choose what constitutes good and what constitutes evil (i.e. religious freedom), liberty is the freedom to choose evil so long as it does not infringe on anyone else’s “right” to choose either good or evil. “Free will” according to capitalism is the right to pursue happiness, where happiness means capital. Choices, choices, choices. The only evil in a capitalistic democracy is the evil of not having choices. To be “determined” by our past, by our histories, by our traditions, is to be enslaved. To be free is to have no history but the history we chose when we had no history. This may not be what you mean when you speak of God’s gift of free will, but this is what Tyler meant by democracy giving everyone the “right” to be God.

However, you said: “I don’t think that I conflate democracy with free will. I do think, though, that God gave people freedom of choice. The freedom to be masters of their own destiny or to trust Him for their destiny, and thus the ‘“right” to be God,’ the right to seek their own glory, the fulfillment of their own will. If a nation wants to base its system on the choice of the people, that’s great. I don’t think that democracy is perfect; I just think it’s the best of the man-made systems.”

I say: I think this is a distorted account of free will. Free will is not the freedom to choose to do either good or evil. People with free will are not people with “the freedom to be masters of their own destiny or to trust him [God] for their destiny.” This may seem like semantics to you, but semantics is the stuff of theology: Free will is the ability to choose the good. The ability to choose the good is a sign of a will that is free. The ability to choose evil is a corruption of free will. That I can in fact choose to do evil is evidence that my will is not in fact free. But when I am so connected to God that my activity becomes less and less my own and more and more God’s activity through me, I have freedom. To be capable of doing evil is not to be free but to be a slave to evil. To be sure, as Bob Dylan says, “now it could be the devil, it could be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody.” Either way we’re a slave to something, but only slavery to God amounts to freedom. Now I came to see free will this way with the help of Aquinas and Calvin before I realized that Paul had already beaten them to the punch. For Christians, the gift of free will is nothing less than the gift of discipleship to Jesus through the church, for it is only in the slow and arduous process of conforming our will to the will of God that our will really becomes free. Liberal democracy (and liberal here is not the opposite of “conservative,” it describes the whole American system) and its partner capitalism is actually antithetical to the Christian understanding of free will. According to liberal democracy, to be free is to be free from having our lives determined by external authorities. But according to Christianity to be free is precisely to come under such authority, and not just under the authority of Christ but under the authority of Christ as manifested in the church. To be free is to become a person incapable of doing violence to another. According to Christianity, freedom is not something you can fight others to maintain. Freedom is a skill that is acquired as we learn to surrender our lives to the authority of the church.

I know you probably agree with most of this, Jason. But my point is that liberal democracy actually distorts and corrupts a properly Christian account of freedom. A totalitarian actually is in some ways closer to a Christian account of freedom than is a democratic state, not because authority is totalitarian (real authority isn’t), but because in totalitarian states authority is taken seriously and the good of the group is prized above the good of the individual. I am not advocating totalitarian states; I am just arguing that democracy is not the “best of the man-made systems.” While I agree that a democracy is generally preferable to totalitarianism, I can’t quite pinpoint why I agree. There are pros and cons to both, and I think the cons to democracy are more dangerous because they are often invisible. While totalitarianism tends to repress or physically oppress Christians, democracy threatens to make Christianity over into its own image.

You said: “I think that democracy is something the Bible is silent about, as are most things political.”

I say: The Bible is the most political book I know, and Jesus is the most political political-figure ever. Your definition of politics is too narrow, and too worldly, if you really do mean to say that the Bible is silent about most things political. Politics is everything that has to do with how people are ordered together toward a good end or ends. The lie of imperial politics is that anything that doesn’t have to do with “force” is nonpolitical. We have bought into this lie hook, line, and sinker. That is why pacifism is often characterized by liberals (most explicitly and influentially by Reinhold Niebuhr) as the right ideal but politically an irresponsible one. But as Augustine rightly displayed, the final end of true politics is the worship of the God of Jesus as the one true God. That is why the church is here: to display true politics and to expose the lie that lies beneath the surface of all earthly politics—the lie that says freedom can and must be secured by force.

You said: “I think that God is the higher authority, and that God’s people are shown confronting secular governments in the interest of morality and justice, and are shown using the secular systems to suit the purposes of God, which is what we the Church ought to be doing with this democracy.”

I ask: Where are God’s people shown using the secular systems to suit the purposes of God? Let’s talk about that some more. What exactly do you mean, and how would you qualify that kind of participation? Moreover, what makes you say that “using the secular systems to suit the purposes of God . . . is what we the Church ought to be doing with this democracy.” What resources does America have to offer us that we don’t have simply by virtue of our being the church? How is the kingdom better advanced through the American system than through the Indian one, or the Chinese one, or whatever? Finally, what would it even mean to advance the kingdom “using the secular systems”?

You said: “Capitalism and democracy are great for the spread of the Good News. Maybe I should say this: democracy and capitalism is good for the breadth of the Church, although despotism, atheistic communism, and sha'ria (sp?) are and have been good for the depth of the Church.”

I say: Just for the sake of continuing to use your own language, “breadth” without “depth” is no breadth at all. Freedom of speech is a sham in America. All it means is America won’t kill us or imprison us for preaching the gospel. It doesn’t mean America won’t do its best (from the very beginning) to change the gospel into something it can stomach. That, by and large, is what has happened in our churches. It happened in Rome, too, when Christianity became the sponsored religion. It’s what Kierkegaard prophesied against. Patron states cannot stomach the gospel. They must alter the content of the gospel or face their own dissolution. For them it really is kill or be killed. In his 2000 presidential election campaign, George W. Bush told America that his favorite political philosopher is Jesus.

July 30, 2006 at 12:53 AM  
Anonymous Jason Fry said...

Wow. Thom, thank you for your extensive reply to what I said. I found agreement with almost everything you said. You're right that on several points I was not as clear as I could have been and so perhaps I need to clarify a few of those.

I also echo you, Thom, in apologizing for a piecemeal approach to writing this. I feel like there are a kazillion things I could try to say all at once, but saying them one at a time is going to be challenging, especially if I want to remember any of the points that seemed so important when I was reading what you wrote. So, having said all that, I will try to clarify one or two things and may not get to much more, since I have to go play cricket with some college students in a little while (part of my enculturation process).

Firstly, working backward I guess, I want to comment on what I meant by "depth" and "breadth" of the Church. I was certainly very ambiguous there; sorry. I agree that Western Culture, with liberal democracy and the twisting of the gospel into something palatable to modern, secular sensibilities is dangerous to the spiritual well-being of the Church in the West and all over the world. We can testify to it's danger by looking at what the Church has become over the last 200 years or so in the U.S. Democratic Western Culture may be even be a bigger threat to the spiritual well-being of the Church than antiChristian or pseudoChristian totalitarian regimes have been, since the danger from the latter is easier to spot by those who know the Lord, while a lot of people who love the Lord and could agree with us on all the "primary truths" of doctrine have acquiesced to the lies of modernism, materialism, and nationalism in the Western world. I never felt this more strongly than on the Sunday before July 4th, when my church sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic, God Bless America, My Country Tis of Thee, etc. I tried to step on their toes with my anti-nationalism, pro-worldwide-Church themed sermons, but my efforts availed little, it seemed. I guess it is like the antidemocratic, Marxist or fascist systems assaulted the Church frontally, and so the Church saw them coming, whereas liberal democratic capitalism, or capitalistic liberal democracy, or whatever it's called, crept in and subverted the Truth by more subtle means. Okay, so we can probably agree on all that...My breadth and depth comment was that, first of all was to point out that the frontal assault helped to produce what might be considered a "deeper" Christianity, since Christians really had to count the cost when aligning oneself with Christ could result in the murder, torture, and imprisonment of one's self, family, friends, etc. The underground Church, while we shouldn't put it on a pedestal and think it has reached perfection, is not where one usually finds nominal Christians or trivial arguments over church policies and decisions about the color of carpet in the auditorium. Christians under oppressive regimes rely more fully on Christ. So, that's the depth. The breadth that has resulted from liberal democracy and capitalism, which I usually call Westernism (I know I use the term inaccurately; sorry) is the sort of "fullness of time" idea, which many Bible scholars say refers to how A) God's revelation to Israel had progressed to the point where Jesus could be born and fulfill the role of Messiah, and B) at the same time the Roman Empire had unified a huge section of the world and a huge population of people so that the Gospel could move quickly from one ethne to another once it started to spread, and this was strategically important to the beginning of the Church. I think that, due to the spread and influence of Western culture, we are now at the beginning of another era with a lot of potential strategic importance. Capitalism has opened doors to cultures and people groups that were difficult to reach up until now. The mindsets of young people in many formerly closeminded places have changed, so that they are now willing to listen to and consider new ideas about existence, purpose, destiny, and values. And the country with the most economic influence in the world is America, which also has quite a few Christians willing to Go. We Christians need to take advantage of globalization by using it to spread the Gospel. It is easier now for us to get entry visas to Eastern and Middle Eastern countries, if our coming seems to have some economic benefit for the country in question. It is also easier now for Christians all over the world to network and unify their efforts, both evangelistic and edification efforts. So, that's what I meant by the breadth. I recommend "The World Is Flat" by Friedman, in which you may find plenty to disagree with, but which spurs a missional person's thinking to "how can we take advantage of globalization for the sake of the Kingdom?" I think getting into formerly-inaccessible locales with a work visa to train engineers or teach English or create wastewater management systems so you can develop relationships that could one day result in a church-planting movement among a least-reached people group are just a few of the ideas missional Christians have been coming up with in answer to this question.

One point where I vehemently disagree with you, and where you probably suspected I would vehemently disagree with you, is on the nature of free will. I don't think that Paul, Aquinas, and Calvin agree. I don't accept what is commonly called "Total Depravity" as true. So I don't think that when Christ says he "makes you free, you will be free indeed" means that when you no longer can freely choose to sin because the Holy Spirit has sanctified you to the point where the choice of evil or good is an illusion, since you always choose good now and can't choose evil, and so you're freed from the slavery to sin in that sense. I think that, no matter our degree of sanctification, every time we are presented a choice of good or evil, it is a real choice we will make. We will not, at least on this side of the parousia, cease to be able to choose evil. I also don't think that the Holy Spirit must first regenerate our depraved souls before we are able to choose good over evil, or specifically to choose following Christ over rejecting Christ when first we hear the Gospel. I believe our choice to submit to His Lordship is a free one, since we were not totally depraved in the first place. When Christ says we are free, and when Paul writes about freedom in Christ, I think they are, in part, talking about being freed from facing the consequences of our sin, the wrath of God, and so freed from punishment like a pardoned criminal; freedom as a feeling of peace and joy when the burden of striving for your own salvation based on your works is lifted; and freedom from the power of our sin over us, of impersonal evil over us, and of personal evil (the devil and demons) over us, since Christ our advocate answers every accusation, both those from our flesh, from the world, and from the Evil One, with a resounding "Not Guilty". We are not "freed" from the ability to choose evil. That would redefine "free." Yes, we also become slaves of God, but the slavery metaphor isn't about the inability to resist God's will, it's about serving him continually and submitting to him in a way that looks like the master-slave relationship as the Christians in the first century understood it. I know that there are two doctrinal systems at war here, Calvinism vs. Arminianism (actually a very specific branch of Arminianism which, to my knowledge, has no name, but which I've started calling Stone-Campbellism), and we both have presuppositions that we bring to our study of scripture, and so we both believe that our point of view is best supported by those scriptures that seem to make perfect sense to both of us and yet which we interpret differently. I doubt that I convince you that Calvinism doesn't correspond to reality. I do think, however, that this is a good basis for questioning Calvinism: if depravity, a result of the Fall, is what enables us to choose to rebel against God and binds us from being able to consciously choose to follow God's will, how did Adam and Eve, who had not yet fallen, fall? If their choice of rebellion was the cause of their Fall, and yet they were "free" as described in your essay above, how did they make that choice? Were they a blank slate, neither depraved or undepraved, able to choose good or evil freely, and the only two beings ever able to do so, since after the Fall we are either slaves to sin or slaves to God, or what? I think that if we are restored to the pre-Fall state by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit when we submit to Christ, then that means our ability to choose good or evil from that point forward was the same as Adam and Eve's ability to choose good or evil before they chose. Calvinism breaks down for many other reasons, I think, most of them exegetical, but systematically I think Total Depravity falls apart at Genesis 3. Therefore, your definition of "freedom in Christ" does too, since it's the reversal of Total Depravity (Total Regeneration? I don't know what it's called; you're the first person I've read who brought out this aspect of the Calvinistic doctrine of sanctification).

Well, I have other things I'd like to comment on, and I know that both of the above subjects are a little off-track from the original discussion, especially the second one, but I have to go look like an idiot on the cricket pitch.

I love you Thom, and the rest of you too. Oh, and Thom, if I'm not a Calvinist, it's probably because God predestined me not to be, so you can take it up with him (there's my bad humor for this session).

July 30, 2006 at 4:52 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


Great comments, Jason. But your long diatribe against calvinism wasn't necessary. I didn't claim to be a calvinist nor did I espouse total depravity. I'll renarrate what I said about free will in response to your good response when I have the time. Thanks for taking the time to read my humble thoughts.

Wish I could be there to stump you. I MISS CRICKET!


July 30, 2006 at 9:03 AM  
Anonymous Jason Fry said...

You almost certainly would have stumped me. I suck at cricket and I miss baseball. I sucked at baseball too, but it sure was fun to watch from the stands while I ate nachos, which I also miss.

I realize that concluding you were a Calvinist based on your comments above was premature. If you're not, then I applaud you on choosing not to be. If you are, then praise God that he made you a Calvinist. Ha.

I don't understand, however, how you can advocate a doctrine of free will such as you stated above, which might be called "total sanctity" or "total generation" or something with "total" and then a big word after it, and not also hold to total depravity. So, there's my first question, I guess. If you're not a Calvinist, how do you believe in "total sanctity" where one loses the ability to choose to do evil (or where one is liberated from the ability to choose to do evil) yet reject that one was unable to choose to do good before the sanctification process began?

My second point/question/issue would be this: even if you do reject total depravity and thus reject at least four points of Calvinism's five points, and you still hold to the "total sanctity" doctrine, then I think my argument still stands from Genesis 3 that total sanctity would not preclude the ability to freely choose evil. I suppose that the answer you might give to my objection is that since Adam and Even did not have the knowledge of good and evil before they sinned, they did not freely choose evil, they freely chose to distrust and disobey God ignorant of the fact that this was an evil choice. I think, though, that Adam and Eve freely chose to distrust and disobey God, even if they did not know that this was "evil" and that to trust and obey was "good". In their innocence, they still freely chose to sin, which is what the doctrine of total sanctity seems to say becomes impossible for the person who has grown into the image of Christ.

I think another doctrinal consequence of your definition of free will and of total sanctity is that Jesus' temptations were not truly tempting. He, having never sinned and thus having total sanctification from the beginning, would not have been able to freely choose to sin, if free will when totally sanctified means you are liberated from the ability to choose good or evil and are only capable of choosing good. I think that verses like Hebrews 4:15, "Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin!" (CEV) seem to indicate that Jesus' temptations were just as real as our temptations. If you think that the intended audience of Hebrews and the author of Hebrews all had reached the point of total sanctity, and so Jesus' and these believers' experiences were similar in that none of them were able to freely choose to disobey God, then that might leave the doctrine of total sanctity standing as plausible. It seems, though, with all of the exhortations throughout the rest of Hebrews, when the author tells the audience to do good and not evil and to throw off the sin that easily entangles (if they had not yet thrown off the sin, then they had not yet reached total sanctity), that the audience, if not the author too, had not all reached total sanctity yet, and so their experience of temptation was still a free choice between evil and good. Therefore, if Christ experienced temptation in every way as the audience of Hebrews also experienced temptation, then Christ's temptations were actually tempting, and he must have had the ability to give in to them, so that his choice not to give in was a free choice to do good on each occasion. If Christ, who never needed regeneration, still had the choice to do evil, then how can any human be liberated from the ability to freely choose through the process of sanctification? If it is possible for a human other than Jesus to be totally sanctified in their earthly lifetime, then they would only attain the level of holiness parallel to Christ, at most, not beyond the level of Christ's holiness.

There are my two thoughts. Sorry I'm being Mr. Verbose. I guess I really am ready for grad school, at least in it's one aspect of higher page count expectations on what one writes (the deeper level of research required is another story).

Happy Sunday! If anyone happens to see that a Cardinals game is on while flipping channels today, stop and watch a few pitches for me. Thanks! Big Gulps.

July 30, 2006 at 1:16 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


Working on a reply to the calvinism confusion right now. I am getting married on Saturday. The two previous sentences are not logically related.


July 30, 2006 at 11:33 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


Jason, I will begin by saying that we are (and were) in complete agreement about the felicity of your “breadth and depth” metaphor. I understood what you meant, but I just wanted to tease out one angle you hadn’t discussed, namely, that for all its benefits capitalism still does ample harm to the non-capitalist world, and ample harm to the gospel in capitalist societies. Paul never made the mistake of conflating the benefits of Roman rule with the desirability of Roman rule. When two hundred and fifty years later the church began to conflate the two, not just nominalism but out-and-out violence ensued. In less than one hundred years the church went from forbidding its members from being Roman soldiers to requiring that all Roman soldiers be baptized as Christians (sword-arm out of the water, of course). This is the kind of subversive effect that conflating the efficacy of a politics with the morality of a politics can have on the gospel. I don’t want my missional friends to make the same mistake. That’s all. I think we agree entirely here. Moving on from capitalism to calvinism.

First, I should never have mentioned the name of John Calvin, because I think that if I hadn’t mentioned him you wouldn’t have mistaken what I said for anything like calvinism. I like Calvin for his emphasis on sanctification, but I like anyone who emphasizes sanctification. That doesn’t make me a calvinist. I did say that I learned to see free will as freedom to choose the good from Aquinas and Calvin before I recognized it in Paul, but that was somewhat misleading. What I actually learned to do is to reinterpret one aspect of Calvin’s thought through a Thomistic filter: Aquinas taught me to see choosing evil as a corruption of free will, and to see freedom as progressively growing in our capacity to allow God to act through us, and from that realization I began to see Calvin’s point on total depravity in a different light. It may be a light too bright for Calvin himself, but I don’t particularly care whether Calvin likes my reading of him or not. What matters to me is whether or not my reading of Calvin helps me to see the world better than I did before. (Replace “Calvin” in the former sentence with any name and the statement stands.) What I began to see, calvinistic or not, is that Calvin’s doctrine of total depravity (whether or not it’s true; I don’t think it is) is a good reminder to the Arminians that when we act in accordance with God’s will we are acting in the power of God’s grace. That doesn’t mean that I can only act in accordance with God’s will when and if God wills that I act in accordance with his will. I’m willing to bet that God wills that I always act in accordance with his will. What Aquinas helped me to see in Calvin is that the more good we do the less autonomous we are, which is to say, when I act in accordance with God’s will it is, in the words of Paul, “not I but the grace of God in me.” To be free, then, is not to act in accordance with my own will (sheer choice) but to be acted upon, indeed, to be acted through by the grace of God.

The confusion occurred when you took my saying that freedom is the inability to choose evil as an affirmation of the calvinistic doctrine that sinfulness is the inability to choose good. But the one does not follow from the other. One can be true and the other false. In fact, I think one is true and the other false. My saying that freedom is not freedom to choose qua choice, but freedom to choose the good is meant to be a corrective to the common view of free will from within the Arminian perspective. The ability to do good is necessary if I am ever to grow in freedom. I must be capable of choosing the good (without compulsion) if I am ever to become free, the highest level of freedom being the tested and proven inability to do evil. I said that freedom is a skill that is acquired. By that I meant to point to the truth that freedom is not a static state but a complex process, a process one might call sanctification. The process of being sanctified is the process of becoming more and more free. To say that I must be sanctified before I become free is like saying that I must become free before I can be free. To become free is to allow the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit to help us to increase in good activities by becoming aware how infused all of our good activity is by the grace of God. For good deeds done without the knowledge of grace are but sad deeds in good form. So, while I must be capable of choosing the good even in my depravity in order for sanctification to sustain any intelligibility at all, I must also recognize that every good act I choose to perform I only choose because of the grace of God in me. That is why love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control are called the fruit of the Spirit.

You said: “When Christ says we are free, and when Paul writes about freedom in Christ, I think they are, in part, talking about being freed from facing the consequences of our sin, the wrath of God, and so freed from punishment like a pardoned criminal; freedom as a feeling of peace and joy when the burden of striving for your own salvation based on your works is lifted; and freedom from the power of our sin over us, of impersonal evil over us, and of personal evil (the devil and demons) over us, since Christ our advocate answers every accusation, both those from our flesh, from the world, and from the Evil One, with a resounding ‘Not Guilty.’ We are not ‘freed’ from the ability to choose evil. That would redefine ‘free.’”

This is a purely forensic definition of freedom, and that, really, is the redefinition of freedom. While I do not deny that our guilt has been removed because of the atoning work of Christ, justification is not a substitute for sanctification. It makes no sense to say that I am free from sin when I go on sinning. We are only free from the power of sin insomuch as we participate in the work of the Spirit. Freedom is a skill that we acquire as we learn to submit ourselves to the authority of the church, for the church is where the Spirit is. To the extent that we are capable of so submitting our lives, and thus our activities, we are free. Jesus had to learn to be free just like the rest of us. That he did learn to be free, i.e., to be in character with God, shows us that such freedom is a real possibility for his followers. And now, I hope, we are back from our foray into calvinism to the question of the kind of life Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection makes possible for his followers. I have been trying to show why I think such a life must be, at the very least, nonviolent.

I enjoy your humor, Jason. I’m sorry for the confusion, and I hope this conversation continues to mature into a set of shared convictions and practices.


July 31, 2006 at 12:58 AM  
Blogger Tyler Stewart said...

I haven't read everything that has been commented here. I finished Thom's massive comment and am now tired of reading a computer screen. Anyway, these are some thoughts I have had reading through Thom's.

I think it is an interesting question to ask why we are being attacked. If I am being attacked because I have some thing that the attacker wants, i.e. really nice stuff, money whatever, maybe the problem runs deeper than what to do when I get attacked. Maybe the problem has to do with having stuff worth the effort of stealing? Of harming someone for. I’m not making this a blanket argument, but we need not be afraid if our lives are economically devoted to God. This is so for at least two reasons (1) we won’t likely have much that a thief would think valuable; (2) God will vindicate us in resurrection.

As an example of non-violence I am trained by my wife. She works in a restaurant, which as anyone who works in a restaurant knows puts one in an extreme situation. One night my wife was serving some horrible customers, people who treated her so badly I was getting upset as she described the situation to me. Anyway, my first reaction was find those people and bash their heads with a baseball bat. By God’s grace before I could say anything, she said, ‘So after I had that table with their crappy tip after the way they treated me, I went into the back, prayed for a moment and forgave them’ (this is a paraphrase). As I was planning their demise, wondering what the bat would sound like connecting to their jaw bones and spinal cords, my wife is talking about forgiveness. I know that because of my preaching my wife lived the truth of the gospel, and because of her witness I repented. God give us the grace to live truthfully together.

August 1, 2006 at 12:26 PM  
Blogger JD said...

I'll just add that things change.

This aspect has been very lightly touched upon, but is a massive factor.

If you have a wife, as Thom is about to and you then add children, I can promise you - your attitude about self preservation and protection of the growing self (family) will bend your mind into a new attitude.

This is hard to quantify, but true. As my old friend Charlie Peacock says, "You can only possess what you experience."

August 1, 2006 at 10:34 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...



My brother, I respectfully disagree with you. My wife-to-be and I are of one mind in this. And Tyler does have a wife. Moreover, we (Tyler and I) learned to think the way we do about nonviolence by listening to men who have both wives and children. I understand where you're coming from, and there are certainly going to be more responsibilities we take on as we become fathers. Moreover, our minds and our convictions will (hopefully) change over the course of time, and some of that change will have to do with our maturing through new experiences. But experiences themselves, e.g., fatherhood, are not sufficient to form deep, coherent convictions. Fatherhood must be informed by some value system or another, and Tyler and I, among others, are attempting to appropriate the value system of Jesus and his early followers. We have spent a great deal of time in the study of scripture, in theological studies, and in communal discussion evaluating our convictions, forming them, critiquing them, and exploring nuances. Not only do we know where we stand, we know exactly why it is we're standing there. I respect you, and I am grateful for your willingness to be present here, but your advice to Tyler is just a little bit condescending. It almost amounts to this: "You'll grow out of this irresponsible little phase of yours when you can no longer reconcile it with the reality of your real, common sense responsiblities." That "reality," JD, is just the reality we are challenging.

On that note, below are some of my more poetic attempts at challenging this so-called realism. This Saturday I am marrying Erica Daniela Calderon. I will perform one song during the wedding ceremony, and two during the reception. The two reception songs, Danger, Danger and A Wedding Blessing, were written for the marriages of my friends, Tyler & Margo Stewart, and Logan & Aanna Greer, respectively. The third song (the one I will perform during the ceremony) is one I wrote for my own marriage. Mark-Moore-Bloggers will get a sneak-peak at the lyrics. Only three or four people have seen these so far. In each song I try to do a theology of marriage that does justice to what I think is the nature of Christian discipleship. Hopefully, this more poetic approach will help some of those who are too intelligent to be convinced by my theological arguments to see what I regard as the truth of the demands of discipleship.



may you be poor in spirit
may you be rich in grace
but will you give your riches to the poor
and so be poor in every way?

may you be full of gratitude
may all your mourning see an end
may you be grateful for your losses and mourn
the wages of sin

may your mission be triumphant
may you always find a way
but remember the lowly and the powerless
too will have their day

may you take the bread
may you take the wine
may the death of jesus take your life

may you hunger and thirst for righteousness
may you find your fill
find your fill, but will you feed the ones
who hunger still?

may you ever receive mercy
may you find it when you pray
but may you find mercy all the more
when you give it away

may you have everything you seek
may you find it all
but will you dare to seek nothing other
than the master’s call?

may you take the bread
may you take the wine
may the death of jesus take your life

may you make little boys
may you make little girls
make your love, but will you make peace
in war-torn world?

may you find happiness
may your joy exceed your pain
but will you count it all joy to be counted worthy
to suffer for the name?



so you’ve found each other
that’s good. now try to stay together
wear your hearts out on your sleeve, vulnerable to touch
if you have to, pick a fight before the silence gets too much
live dangerously in love

always give more gifts than you’re able to bear
never lose the time to brush her hair
have a staring contest at least once a week
laugh until it hurts your back and both your cheeks
love dangerously, and live

but even thieves love those who love them
take the leap and you will see
what this union is meant to be
a microcosm of world peace
a picture of a new creation dangerously in love

so you’ve found each other
that’s good. now go and find another
put a hitchhiker in your front seat
bring a homeless woman to your table to eat
live dangerously in love

you’ll want to keep her safe, to keep her protected
but remember that your first love was despised and rejected
and when you want to keep him close, wrapped up tight in your arms, say
“the same love that saved me now puts him in harm’s way.”
love dangerously, and live

for even thieves love those who love them
take the leap and you will see
what this union is meant to be
a microcosm of world peace
a picture of a new creation dangerously in love

danger, danger is no stranger
to two lovers of the savior
neither borders nor family ties
can monopolize their loyalty

for even thieves love those who love them
take the leap and you will see
what this union is meant to be
a microcosm of world peace
a picture of a new creation dangerously in love



and the land is covered in bodies of light
like a carnival of human candles in the night
each one marching to the beat of a drum not its own
and the same sun that sets on us rises on all
and the same love that binds us, binds us to our enemies
we are aliens here insomuch as this is our home

and though the bombs fall wherever the powerful choose
yet the wind blows wherever it chooses too
and we will be marching to the anthem of another power
and the earth is full of mysteries
and the scrolls are full of histories
and the soul is full of songs to sing
and this is ours

gonna dance on the edge, on the edge of the earth
at the corner of danger, daring, terror and mirth
gonna jump in the river, this river of wine
this potion of body, soul, spirit and time

and the voice of the ancients comes thundering down
and the laughter of angels and saints resounds
in the beat of your heart as you press it against my ear
and i see a garden of eden again
a world without war, a world without sin
in the dash of your eyes, in their trembling, in their fear

and through sickness and strength, in bounty and dearth,
in joy and in mourning, in heaven and earth
let all of creation bear witness to our vow
though the earth is full of mysteries
though the scrolls are full of histories
though the soul is full of songs to sing
this is ours

gonna dance on the edge, on the edge of the earth
at the corner of danger, daring, terror and mirth
gonna jump in the river, this river of wine
this potion of body, soul, spirit and time


August 2, 2006 at 12:13 AM  
Anonymous Jason Fry said...

Thom, I like your lyrics. They make me think, and I bet they sound really cool set to your music.

I'm willing to leave aside for the moment our side-topic of the nature of free will by just saying that I think your definition of "free" is more narrow than the way the Bible seems to use it, and from your explanation I don't get the sense that you're treating fairly the "now/not yet" tension inherent in New Testament soteriology as applied to the freedom of the followers of Christ. Perhaps that is a topic for you to deal with in a separate post at some later date or something.

Back to the topic at hand, on the lifestyle of nonviolence for the Christian:

I think that, so far, the points brought up by the radical pacifists (all orthodox Christians ought to be radically pacifistic in comparison to the world; I am here meaning those who I consider to be radically pacifistic in comparison with what I believe the Bible to be saying and implying) have avoided the "rare circumstances" which seem to poke holes in the universal applicability of radical pacifism, and have brought up "rare circumstances" that seem to poke holes in the argument of their detractors, namely myself and JD. For instance, when I talk about how I think that in some circumstances force may be necessary, "force" has been taken by the pacifists who wrote above to mean *deadly* force and I am told that I'm sending people who aren't ready for Hell there prematurely in order that those of us who are ready for Heaven can put off going there a bit longer. This is yet another instance of a false dilemma being used to solidify the pacifists' argument, which assumes that there are two ways of reacting: pacifistically or with deadly force. There are certainly circumstances when a Christian must choose between protecting the very life of a Christian and killing someone who is not a Christian. I'm willing to say that I can agree in general with the pacifists' take on this "rare circumstance". I've never met anyone who had to make this choice, and I hope that I never have to make it either. My hope is that my character will continue to conform to Christ's so that if I ever do have to make that choice, I will do what honors God.

I have, however, met people who did things that seemed to them "common sense", which I realize is not common to everyone as Thom pointed out many posts ago, and who were lovers of God, and whose character was in the process of being conformed to His, just like ours is. However, what they did, I conclude from the above posts, would go against the tenets of the pacifists, who would say that God would have been more honored and his Kindom agenda would have been advanced further had they acted differently. These are less rare than the rare circumstance that requires deadly force, and less rare than the felt need to bomb our neighbor, as the original question at the top of this series of comments asks. Here are the two circumstances, what the person in question did, and what I believe has been presented by the pacifists as the options they should have taken if they really were "free in Christ" (i.e. "if they really had the Holy Spirit" or "if they really loved Jesus").

First Situation: a pastor was at the church office on Saturday night, putting the finishing touches on and praying about his sermon for Sunday morning. While away, a man broke into his home and raped the pastor's wife. The man did not break in because he hated Christians, it was a random act of violence. The wife tried to get away but couldn't, so she fought back and injured her attacker, although he still succeeded in raping her. The man fled just as the pastor was coming in the front door, and the pastor let him go because the man claimed to have drunkenly entered the wrong house and he just wanted to leave and go home. When the pastor found out from his wife what had really happened a moment later, he called the police. The pastor and his wife both testified against the man in court and he is now in prison for rape. Note that the pastor did not personally track the man down and torture him or kill him for revenge. The pastor and his wife spent several years dealing with the physical and emotional effects of the rape and have personally forgiven the attacker. Their experience has helped them to know God better and to minister more deeply to other hurting people. This story is accurate to reality according to what this pastor told me happened. I know him and his wife and am in contact with them on a regular basis.

The pacifistic prescription for the above situation, as I understand it from the arguments given above, would be that, first, the wife should have tried other tactics, from talking to the attacker to praying out loud to a number of other non-violent things. Once it became apparent that these were not succeeding and the man was continuing to try to rape her, she should have offered no physical resistence. She could still, of course, plead for him to stop and pray out loud during the rape. After he left, she should only have told her husband what happened so that he could offer her comfort and so he would understand her feelings, not with any motive that her husband might do anything to stop the attacker from getting away. If, in her motives, there was any trace of desire for the attacker to be arrested or be put in jail, that would show that the wife still had a lot of growing to do before she could truly be "free in Christ", because she still was not totally submitted to God's will. The pastor, meanwhile, upon hearing that the man had attacked his wife, should have knelt with his wife to pray for the man. If his wife needed medical attention, then he is allowed to call an ambulance first, before he prayed or while he prayed silently. They should not report to the police what happened. Since it's illegal to not report crime, they would either have to report what happened in submission to the state but refuse to aid the state in their prosecution of the defendant, citing religious freedom, or they would have to not report it at all, and when they in turn were charged with obstructing justice and put in jail, they would rejoice that they were now able to more closely know Christ through experiencing his suffering. The attacker, meanwhile, is allowed to continue to attack and rape women until a pagan woman, or a woman who calls herself a Christian but who has totally misunderstood what it really means to live like Jesus, decides to help the state prosecute the attacker. Since the pastor and his wife have been through this experience, they will be able to minister to all the women who suffer because they allowed the man to continue to attack and rape. Perhaps, through their pacifism, the man will decide to follow Christ and will voluntarily stop raping and attacking, and maybe turn himself in to pay his debt to society.

Second Situation: A couple has a mentally handicapped daughter. While she is at a camp run by the state for mentally handicapped children, she is raped by a camp counselor. When the couple, who are Christians who love Jesus and who try to live according to God's will in all things, find out what happened, they report it to the secular authorities and aid the state in prosecuting the rapist. They learn to depend more fully on God's strength and believe they know Him better through this experience, and they struggle to help their daughter recover psychologically from the rape. This is also a true story that happened to someone I know personally.

What would pacifists have had them do: First of all, the couple should never have sent their daughter to a camp run by the government, since the government does not act in accordance with God's will, so instead of trying to benefit from what it offers their daughter, they are only to confront and help the state more closely follow God's will. Second, if they had only adopted the pacifistic philosophy after having sent their daughter to camp and so the rape stil occurred, and then they found out what happened, they should have sought medical treatment for her but not reported to the secular authorities what had happened, nor should they have helped the state to prosecute the rapist; they should pray for him only. They should turn to the Church for comfort and support, and seek to help their daughter recover psychologically from the rape. They are allowed to personally confront the rapist and urge him to stop raping mentally handicapped girls and to receive Christ. The evil, non-pacifist medical personnel who don't know Jesus will have reported to the state that a mentally handicapped female had been raped and her parents were doing nothing to report it to the secular authorities, so the state would have started proceedings to charge the parents with obstructing justice and probably will have charged the father with rape, until DNA tests rule him out, if the real rapist left any DNA behind. If he didn't, then both parents get to go to jail and the daughter becomes a ward of the state unless some non-pacifist relatives of the parents sue to gain guardianship of the daughter. All three of them, though, will have more chances to be united with Christ in his suffering by reacting pacifistically, in accordance with Jesus' character.

Both of the above situations are true. Both of the above are situations which have parallels to thousands of other "rare circumstances" around the globe on a daily basis. I think that trying to make pacifism universal is not what God would have us do. There are dangerous consequences to our ideas. Perhaps the real question is "Whose dangerous consequences grieve God more?"

On another note, it is true that as we experience life, our understanding of God's will and the behavior and attitude we deem appropriate change. I don't think it means that we decide what is universally applicable in our mid-twenties, and if we ever decide that our point of view was too narrow then we aren't honoring God. I think that having too narrow (relative to Scripture's view) a point of view and trying to make something universally applicable which was never meant to be is what doesn't honor God. If we start out with a too-narrow viewpoint and later allow our viewpoint to more closely conform to God's will, then He is honored. I once asked you, Thom, if you walked in to your house and saw that someone was raping your daughter, would pacifism allow you to physically stop the guy from continuing his rape. You said "no". I hope you've informed Erica of this implication of your philosophy, and I really hope that your point of view changes the moment you first look into your daughter's eyes (if you are blessed with a daughter someday). Furthermore, for you to tell JD that he is condescending and then to write with a condescending tone in response to him is at the least hypocritical and at the most an act of verbal violence. Saying this: "Fatherhood must be informed by some value system or another, and Tyler and I, among others, are attempting to appropriate the value system of Jesus and his early followers. We have spent a great deal of time in the study of scripture, in theological studies, and in communal discussion evaluating our convictions, forming them, critiquing them, and exploring nuances. Not only do we know where we stand, we know exactly why it is we're standing there." as an explanation to JD says to him that he is *not* attempting to appropriate the value system of Jesus and his early followers, that he *hasn't* spent a great deal of time in the study of scripture, in theological studies, and in communal discussion, and that he might know where he stands, but *doesn't* know exactly why it is he's standing there. Those are some pretty big assertions to make. You used to argue that it was ridiculous to assert the inerrancy and infallibility of scripture. I assume that, despite all the study and discussion you did, your experience, along with even more study and discussion, has led you out of that belief and back into believing that we can trust in the inerrancy and infallibility of scripture. Maybe it hasn't, but I hope it has. If it has, it's not because you don't care about scholarship or the discussions you took part in, it's not because you've decided to rely on your feelings instead of a more firm foundation called "philosophy". If your view on pacifism's universal applicability changes, it will be for the same reasons: that your experience, along with further study and discussion, has led you into a deeper understanding than you had before.

Other daily "rare circumstances" that must be addressed: if a police officer becomes a Christian and embraces pacifism as you have, does he need to immediately quit forcefully enforcing the law? Should he resign immediately or should he ask criminals to stop and pray for them out loud and what not? Is "Christian District Attorney" an oxymoron? What about Christian prison guards who use the force of rubber bullets to stop riots in the prison? Are they living outside of God's will? Are they yet to experience true "freedom in Christ"? If pacifism is so central to the character of Christians and so universally applicable to their behavior, why did Luke not record that Cornelius the centurion and the Philippian jailer both resigned their posts immediately upon accepting Christ as Lord? Is it because he stopped telling their story before the part where they embrace pacifism, and it's therefore implied rather than stated that they did so? Luke records other instances where Christians were radically pacifistic, wouldn't those two instances have been worth recording? Scripture is silent, will you speak for it? If I'm on the bus and I feel someone trying to pick my pocket, is it within God's will that I grab their wrist before they run off with my wallet, or should I pray for them out loud even though they may not know English? Do you think God will give me the gift of languages in that instance? Did Jesus pacifistically cleanse the temple with a whip, yelling and overturning the tables of the money changers? Does pacifism only apply to our human neighbors? If we're willing to receive suffering for the sake of God's Kingdom from our fellow man, are we also willing to accept suffering from the world around us if God allows it? Are antibiotics and antiseptic ointments and insecticides against God's will because they use deadly force against God's creation, the non-human victims only following their God-given instincts and getting killed by people supposedly submitted to his will but armed with modern technology? The patristic church had several examples of people who believed that the lifestyle of the Christian must be so radically pacifistic that it included not killing ants or swatting mosquitos. They were early Christians, so they must have been totally right, right?

Well, I don't know how much longer I can keep this debate up. The time I spend here is growing, and my enthusiasm for the discussion is waning. It may be time to agree to disagree. With all our disagreeing, I am thankful for one thing: you still consider me your brother in Christ, and I still accept you as my brother too.

August 2, 2006 at 7:05 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...



Thank you for your comments. I will only say a few things in response:

1) You have not read the literature you say avoids the question of "less rare circumstances." Moreover, "the pacifists" is not a group. Pacifists don't all have one position. Your lack of familiarity with the extensive theological and ethical work of those you're opposing is evident in your generalizations and in the kind of arguments you choose to put to work in your argument.

2) Cornelius lived in Caesarea, which is where retired Centurions lived. Moreover, Luke would not have had to say what is just assumed in his context. More-moreover, I do not accept Campbell's creed of being silent where the Bible is, supposedly, silent. That's based on a too scientific reading of the scriptures. (I realize you're not going to know what I mean by this.)

3) JD is my blood brother. I know him and you don't. He has not spent hours studying the scriptures and doing theology, nor has he spent hours discussing this in community with Christians. That was not a put down. JD will admit this. My saying that Tyler and I were attempting to appropriate the teachings and the life of Jesus was not a denial that JD or anyone else was doing the same. It was to point out to JD that our position comes from having done a great deal of theology.

4) I have had personal, intimate, and explicit conversations with female rape victims about just this topic. I have spent a great deal of time wrestling with what you assume I've ignored.

5) If I came into a room where a man was raping a woman, it is very unlikely that he would continue to rape her, at least until he had me incapacitated.

6) I am not in principle against using force to stop an attack (i.e., pulling a man off of a victim, or the like), but I am wary of using force when force can easily escalate into violence.

7) I am not in principle against involving the police in such matters, but that is a matter for my church to decide. My first call would not be to the police but to the elders. In many Christian communities (not just anabaptist ones), that would be the only call I need to make. Your assumption that the church's resources for dealing with such situations is limited to "psychological care" is an assumption that finds its basis in the political philosophy that makes religion about private matters and politics about public matters such as keeping the peace. The church can post guards at my house. The church can send out men to hunt down the rapist to confront him with the truth. The church can pray. If the state wants to accuse me of rape because I am unwilling to prosecute the real rapist, the state can do so. That just shows how far the state is willing to go to have "justice," to make sure the old order stays old. If I am put in prison for a crime committed against someone in my family by someone else, I would go willingly on the condition that my church attempt to find the man and inform him about it. I suppose that is radical, but I don't know how it's any more radical than what Jesus did--quite less, I think.

8) I am saddened by your quick chracterizations of myself and others, and by your practice of putting words into my mouth to add weight to your own argument. You patience with the conversation is clearly waning, for which I am sorry. But that explains a lot of your arguments. For instance, your claim that I presented a false dilemma between doing nothing and lethal force can only be made by entirely igrnoring what I actually said. That I didn't mention the option of physically stopping an attacker without lethal force does not mean I denied its possibility. I may end up denying just that possibility, but you don't know that yet. I haven't spoken where you've said I've spoken. (This is only one of many instances where this has been the case.)

8) My argument does not depend on its appeal to the early Christians. That is one part of it. But my appeal to the early church is a part of my appeal to the evangelists' witness about Jesus. It is not a bare appeal to second or third century Christians.

9) Your argument that if I am going to be a pacifist then I should not use antibiotics is just insipid. I only mention it to point out that I have no response to it.

10) The doctrine of inerrancy wasn't developed until the Protestant Reformation, and it was only developed to compensate for the loss of ecclesial authority. My not needing the doctrine of inerrancy does not mean that I do not recognize scriptural authority. It is a more complex matter than you seem to think it is. But it was clever of you to bring it up in the middle of your argument that my convictions are unscriptural. Props for that.

11) Our disagreement has nothing to do with thinking different things about the Christian life and everything to do with thinking different ways.

12) Finally, your arguments seem to assume that a Christian pacifist is without power. It is my conviction and my desire that as a disciple of Jesus I am one who depends, like Israel, and like Israel's Jesus, on the miraculous, often baffling power of God. If our love is to have an effect in the world, it had better be strange enough to get the world's attention.

I too love you, Jason. I pray you grow in the grace of Jesus Christ.


August 2, 2006 at 10:35 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


I have just finished having a very open conversation with a friend of mine who is a multiple rape victim. I have no time to summarize the conversation here, but suffice it to say that her status as a victim of rape has not altered her nonviolent convictions. She did not use the police. She also told me some stories of Christian women who have been victims of rape that have sought reconciliation with their attackers without also going through the justice system of the state. They are powerful stories that illustrate much better what I have been trying to articulate here. Sorry I must go. But Jason's rhetoric seems to depend on the assumption that facing reality means using the options provided us by the state. I do not share that assumption, nor does my friend.


August 2, 2006 at 1:20 PM  
Blogger Tyler Stewart said...

I was recently robbed. While seeing a movie, thanks Thom, the face-plate of the CD player in my car was stolen. My wife and I walked to our car and found the face plate as well as all of our CDs and a few rented DVDs gone. Nothing else was broken, we had forgotten to lock the car door, thus the culprit simply opened the door and took the face-plate and CDs. We should have locked the door, but we didn’t. My wife was very upset, more so than me. She felt violated, and this was just a CD player, CDs and DVDs. We drove home, about a 2 min. drive. She was upset because I didn’t call the police right away. Instead we prayed together that evening until we went to sleep. The next morning she was upset because I hadn’t called the police. I called the police, we reported the crime. As I expected nothing came of the police report. Regardless, I explained to Margo that our first and greatest resource is always prayer and not the police. We fought about the issue. We continued to fight until we prayed again about it (this all happened within a few hours). At the time I happened to be preaching through the Sermon on the Mount, as we read the scriptures together we asked for the grace to forgive and live lives of faith trusting that God would bring this thief to death in baptism and new life in Christ. I recognize this isn’t rape, but it is a real situation that happened to us. I have no doubt we did the right thing. As I continue to follow Christ, read scripture, pray and love my wife I am increasingly convinced of the difficulty and necessity of following Jesus’ way of the cross, defeating evil by submitting to it not giving way to it.

Jason, your condescending tone regarding the Christian thing to do in certain situations is very much a false-dichotomy. Following Jesus in a peaceful life is not simple thing it will certainly require imagination and faith in prayer and scripture read by a Church committed to God. Am I a fool for seeking vindication in God? Maybe, but it is the foolishness of the cross. You would do well to ask what a Christian like myself or Thom would do in the situations you have described as opposed to assuming based on an uninformed perspective.

August 2, 2006 at 8:28 PM  
Blogger Tyler Stewart said...

Just thought I would post this story I just found. I would be interested in everyone's reaction.

In the fall of 2002, Rick Garmon's daughter, Katie, became a victim of date rape. She was 18-years-old at the time and a freshman in college. Too humiliated to speak about what had happened—even with her family—Katie switched schools and attempted to move on with her life.
However, the scars of that traumatic event began to fester. Over the next 14 months, she withdrew from her family and friends. She developed an eating disorder and began losing weight. Finally confronted by her mother, Julie, Katie confessed the truth. Fortunately, after a year of fervent prayer and support, Katie was able to overcome the pain and return to a normal life.
Unfortunately, Katie was not the only one struggling with inner-demons during that year. Her father was fighting his own battle against the desire for revenge at any cost. In fact, as soon as he heard the news, Rick Garmon developed a plan to kill the man who had so deeply wounded his daughter:
I pulled back from Julie and everybody else. Get up, go to work, think about the plan, try to forget, go home, try to go to sleep, dream the plan. I plotted to drive through the campus and use my Smith and Wesson .243 caliber, bolt-action rifle…. I'd sit in the parking lot as long as necessary until he walked by. Then I could get it out of my head, and Katie could start eating again.
Katie came home for the weekend two months after the truth came out. It tore me up to see her. She and I didn't talk much anymore. I missed watching the Atlanta Braves with her. I missed laughing with her. I just plain missed her….
Julie tried to tempt her with a great meal on Saturday. Sitting across from Katie, I kept my eyes on my food. It felt as though we lived in a funeral home. The only sounds were clanking of silverware and the clinking of ice. I couldn't take the phoniness. I slammed my chair to the table and took off to my room in the basement. I'd spent a lot of time down there in my getaway room of guns and the sports channel. Methodically, I started cleaning the rifle I'd use.
Then I heard [my son] Thomas trotting downstairs. "Whatcha doing, Dad?" I kept on cleaning and never looked at him. I rocked in my recliner with the gun across my lap.
"Can I help you clean?" I didn't say a word. "You going hunting?" I looked up at him, his eyes so brown they looked almost black, just like mine. He stood inches from my knees. His hair, cut to match a G. I. Joe flattop, just like mine. I kept my gaze on my son and moved the red rag around in circles.
Our eyes met. Thomas's eyes brimmed with tears. He knows. Dear, God. I think my son knows my plan.
I stopped polishing the gun and laid it on the floor by the chair. "Come here, boy. Give your daddy a hug." He wrapped his arms around me tight as a cobra. Thomas's love was somehow stronger than my hatred. His hug began to crumble my rage like a sledgehammer breaking a wall. Chip by chip.
Sweet Jesus, what have I been thinking? My job's not finished. Forgive me. Thomas isn't raised. If I go to jail, he won't have a father. God, help me.
Locking the gun in the cabinet, I made a choice to forgive. God, I gotta let go of this hate. It's killing me. The decision started in my head, not from any feeling. Swallowing back tears, Thomas and I walked upstairs together, my arm on his shoulder.
I came so close.
—Rick Garmon, "My Secret Hate," Today's Christian (May/June 2006), p. 35-36

August 2, 2006 at 8:34 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


One of the stories my friend [the one I mentioned earlier] told me was about a family whose daughter was raped and murdered by a young man. They did not press charges, but of course the state prosecuted him for and convicted him of murder. The mother and father visited the young man in prison, forgave him and led him (personally, up close) to Jesus. They have now unofficially adopted him as their son and are currently raising his children as their own grandchildren.

There was an Amish family in LaGrange, Indiana, riding in their horse and carriage. A car full of young men sped past and one hurled a rock into the carriage. The boys kept driving and were picked up by the police down the road for speeding. The rock they threw killed one of the young Amish girls. But the parents refused to prosecute. The police, of course, were furious. They got the boys on a lesser charge and gave them some prison time. The parents of the dead girl visited the boys in prison and preached reconciliation to them.

I'm sure many of you have heard the recent story of the woman who was held captive by the serial killer. She quoted scripture to him day and night and preached to him, until finally he decided to give himself up.

Tyler told me about Mathilde's husband Abraham Godinez. When he was a child in Mexico he was kidnapped for a ransom. While he was held captive he sang hymns and prayed out loud constantly. The kidnappers dropped him off eventually. Years later, the kidnappers contacted Abraham to ask him whether he could get them into a church without their having to own up to their former crimes. I don't know what Abraham's response was, but the point of the story is that praying and singing hymns is often more powerful and harrowing than force.

I told my friend, the multiple rape victim, what I had suggested to Jason about praying out loud, singing hymns and the like, as nonviolent tactics in a rape situation. I told her how Jason had all but scoffed at the idea, and she responded very sternly: "I can't think of any better, more powerful option. That's the most powerful thing someone going through that could do."

For the sake of others who don't know about her history I cannot reveal her identity, but she is a close friend and a valuable mentor to me. I talked to her over a year ago about the issue of nonviolence and the reality of rape. If it weren't for her deep insight into evil and the strong responses she gave me in favor of an ethic of nonviolence, I'm not sure I would still be a pacifist today. The funny thing is, I'm not sure she would have thought to call herself a pacifist. She just considered not prosecuting but praying, witnessing, and serving the obvious Christian thing to do. (And she hadn't even heard of the Anabaptists.) I know there are other witnesses like her out there. I pray to hear from them too, to strengthen my faith and my resolve.

If the kingdom is going to be ushered in, it will be ushered in by witnesses like her, in meekness, quietness, and with a power the likes of which the world cannot comprehend. Next to her and witnesses like her, I am clearly nothing more than a wannabe disciple. I am an observer, standing back in awe of the fact that what I've said in theory only works in theory because it has worked first in the lives of Christians all over the world. I pray earnestly that one day I will be counted among the numbers of such witnesses, that I and my family would be counted worthy to suffer for the Name.


August 2, 2006 at 11:08 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


Now, this is my second post since Mark Moore told me I am not allowed to post anymore until after my honeymoon. After this one, I'll stop pretending like I didn't hear him.

The question of what to do as a pacifist in an individual situation has pretty well been exhausted by now. I have tried to give some kind of indication of the kind of imaginative skills necessary for leading a life of nonviolence as a disciple of Jesus. Tyler has pointed out that sometimes it is our own sinfulness (in his example, materialism) that gets us into danger in the first place. Tyler reminded us that living a life of absolute trust in God and service to his kingdom is the best response we have to a world that would do violence to us and our children. Now I would like to quote something Mark Moore said way, way up there in this thread. If this conversation is to continue, I think it's time we picked up where Mark left off:

"'I' will probably not ever encounter a terrorist personally or be forced to shoot a burglar who threatens my wife (two common examples against pacifism). Would I take vengeance (or even self-preservation or protection of others) into my own hands or leave it up to God? [Not exactly the only two options, as I (Thom), have tried to display.] This is the most difficult of all the pacifistic conundrums. But isn't that dodging the immanent issue? How do you treat your neighbor who encroaches on your property line, or the driver who forces her way in, or the youth at church who play music too loudly. I suspect that we will never think clearly about national pacifism as long as we perpetuate a culture that encourages us to practice a thousand small acts of personal aggression under the guise of being effective, independent, or driven. Not until we are faithful in little will be faithful in much. Finally, for me it comes down to the issue of faith. Do I really believe in a God who intervenes in world affairs in the present time? Oh, sure, we can believe in a God who created the world long ago, as well as one who will consummate the ages with the coming of Jesus in the distant future. But in most contemporary matters, Christians are Deists, not Theists. Until we come to faith in the immanent God who has the hairs of our head numbered, who is more interested in justice than we are, who is more able to control global affairs, it is doubtful that we (the church) can even have this discussion."

If anyone would like to continue this conversation in my absence over the next two weeks (God help me), I would like to come back and read some thoughts I've never thought before on practical, everyday, and ordinary ways we can develop the nonviolent character that has heretofore been relegated to significance only in times of extreme crisis. Mr. Breeze has elsewhere given us the example of allowing others to cut in line in front of us at the checkout counter. Tyler has explored his and his wife's struggle with theft.
What's your story?


August 3, 2006 at 12:56 AM  
Anonymous Laurie M said...

I'm not sure I have much to add to these words except to say thank you. I have been wrestling with this issue for quite some time and have found myself in a variety of discussions on this topic more often in recent days. I have so appreciated your thoughtful, and thought-provoking, arguments for both sides of this issue. I'm grateful to know that there are Christians out there willing to ask the tougher questions and seek a Biblical understanding to these often perplexing issues.

And while I feel inadequate debating this issue more extensively than what has already been stated, my personal experience compels me to press in.

I have lived in the extreme--where those "rare occasions of terrorism" were *daily* occurrences for my neighbors and friends. I have often thought about the thousands of soldiers who have gone to that country to kill people they do not know for a political allegiance. And then I have asked myself, what would happen if thousands of Christians were willing to go and die (if that's what it would take) for these people who they do not know for a spiritual allegiance? In this day and age it seems as though we are far more willing to kill than to die. It is *admirable* for a soldier to go over to kill these people, but *insane* for someone to want to put their life on the line to love them!

I want to be an extremist for love. I know I have a very LONG way to go, but I believe in a God of scandalous grace. A grace that extends as much to me as it does to Osama.

I concur with Shane Claiborne's statement in his book, "The Irresistible Revolution," that says--"I have pledged allegiance to a King who loved evildoers so much he died for them, teaching us that there is something worth dying for but nothing worth killing for."

August 3, 2006 at 1:43 PM  
Blogger Tyler Stewart said...

Thanks for your thoughts, they are much appreciated.

Also, in thinking through my personal journey to arrive at the place where I am now regarding this issue I see that I have come back around to where I started. When I became a Christian, at a Church that would not advocate pacifism, I thought it would be insane to say that a Christian could advocate violence. In my very little understanding of Jesus (someone could have told a story about Moses and I wouldn’t have known the difference) I thought violence wasn’t an option. It wasn’t until I came to Ozark that I learned you could hurt people and still “love” them. I’m not saying that pacifism is right because I thought so before theologizing a more violent ethic of love, but the revelation was interesting for me.

August 3, 2006 at 6:15 PM  
Blogger Andy Rodriguez said...


My story is opposite, Tyler. Forget about someone raping my wife. As one sincerely trying to follow Jesus growing up in Texas, I thought I was justified shooting someone who was simply trespassing on my property. Really. It wasn't until I came to Ozark, yea, until I befriended the "academics" at Ozark that I learned that non-violence was even sensible for a Christian.

I love what you said. If it is alright, I would like to use your follwing quote in a sermon.

"what would happen if thousands of Christians were willing to go and die (if that's what it would take) for these people who they do not know for a spiritual allegiance? In this day and age it seems as though we are far more willing to kill than to die. It is *admirable* for a soldier to go over to kill these people, but *insane* for someone to want to put their life on the line to love them!"
That is good stuff, and the rest of the American church needs to wrestle seriously with these questions.

Thanks for your previous post. The questions you asked were very good. These are the very ones I still wrestle with. I appriciated Thom and Tyler's remarks and stories. They were great witnesses of how to non-violently respond to some of your examples. But many of your questions were not addressed, and those were the ones I struggle with as well. I dont know what the answers are. Honestly though, I would be very weary if someone claimed to have all the answers to all the questions. I am alright with living as non-violently as much as I know how, and when I dont know how to seek wisdom from God and his bride.

August 3, 2006 at 10:23 PM  
Blogger Andy Rodriguez said...

I think everyone posting on this particular post is for the most part a pacifist. I would be interested in what some of the other bloggers who read this who are not pacifist think about all this. Where are our flaws? What is a "just war?" Can we use to Bible to justify using violence?
What are your thoughts?

August 3, 2006 at 10:30 PM  
Blogger The Strawberry Blonde said...

ARod--Of course you can quote me on that...or use it as your own. I really don't mind either way! They are just thoughts and questions that I continue to wrestle with and hope others will do the same.


August 4, 2006 at 12:02 AM  
Blogger Doug W said...

How bizarre is it when many in the evangelical world (or, at least those with the loudest voices) side with Israeli tanks over the Christians in Lebanon (which I'm told is about 15-20% Christian -- sorry, I don't know where my copy of Operation world went) who are working to show the love of Christ to those who have been displaced?

Watching Nightline last night (Letterman was a rerun), I see Pastor John Hagee (the rootiness, tootiness preacher in all the West -- I always picture him with a ten-gallon hat and a pair of six-shooters) talk about how today's events are a fulfillment of some dusty corner of Ezekiel. And, as a result of such fantastic (literally) exegesis, he has begun "Christians United for Israel," a group that met in Washington with noted GOPers and the Israeli ambassador to the US.

Contrast that with this: It's from Martin Accad, the dean of Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, who are trying to be a witness of Christ in the middle of the Israeli invasion. It's his indictment of US evangelicals who are silent on the bloodlust of Israel.

We've got a ways to go. But, I guess, you all knew that.

August 4, 2006 at 4:12 PM  
Anonymous Jason Fry said...

This one's a doozie, but I'll say my piece and then let it rest for awhile.

I've been putting off posting for a few days, thinking about what has been said to me and what, if anything, I should say in response. Thank you, ARod, for your empathy. For anyone in doubt, if you read the several comments I made above, I am a pacifist, of a sort. I'm not sure about this whole check-with-the-church-first thing, although it sounds great in theory. I think pacifism is the lifestyle and attitude that most glorifies God in the long-term, and that most reflects His character. I do think that it is not universizable, which Thom eventually said, in a way (that's how I took it, at least). I don't believe that to adopt pacifism is to be without power, since we are virtually powerless whether we assert our will or submit to others; God is the only source of power that matters and when we live pacifistically we depend on His power, not our own, which is the way a Christian ought to live. In a situation where some other human is trying to assert their will over ours, when we act pacifistically, we both submit to their power over us and take away their true power over us, since we took the unconventional route of choosing not to battle, rather than potentially being overpowered in battle. I may not be explaining the full idea, but I think I grasp the basics of the "power issue".

As to the other statements in Thom's 12 Theses, rather than answering each one point by point, which would probably be more boring than helpful to anyone other than my own ego, I'll just say that I think a thorough reading of the comments preceding mine will show that I'm not completely illogical, nor did I willfully misinterpret, and my questions weren't totally irrelevant (there is at least one pacifist asking these questions; it's me). I am capable of all those things, but think that there were indeed questions that remain unanswered and which ought to be thought through. I, for one, think that we ought to live and think and love like Christ, which means our ethical system will be some form of pacifism, but be open to the idea that 0.0001% of situations may call for some kind of physical force, and then hope those situations never happen. There are two points I'd like to make in response to Thom, and I hope that in two weeks, after his honeymoon, he reads these and feels less affronted by my previous statements. I assure you these are for the edification of anyone with enough time on their hands to have read everything up to this point:

1. In dealing with governments, I think we should be aware that on at least two occasions Paul, in Acts, used the privileges granted to him as a Roman citizen to further the Kingdom and, at the same time, to benefit his own situation; he asked to be tried in the secular court and he defended himself in the secular court when charges were brought against him; and he asked for and expected the secular authorities to protect his life when there was a plot against it (Acts 16, 22, 23, 24, 25). Scripture doesn't say whether or not he consulted with a local church or representatives from several churches before doing so (being one of the 13 Apostles may have precluded this necessity, if it is a necessity). Paul's situations might be totally irrelevant to ours, but we must at least recognize that on a few occasions, one of the Apostles worked through the government (including the military), rather than against it. Beyond this, there are several converts to Christianity who were in the military or in some kind of politically powerful position, and scripture does not record that any were retired at the time or whether or not those who were not-yet-retired resigned their commissions/positions after receiving Christ. Those who start with the assumption that you *couldn't* be a soldier or politician and also live within the ethical system of the early Church read these texts and think that the texts imply that the soldiers and politicians resigned (or must have already been retired) in order to follow The Way. Those of us who don't start with that presupposition (like myself) think that there is not enough information in the text to determine whether or not they resigned or retired or already were retired, in the case of Cornelius.

2. There are at least two "false dilemmas" in the posts above mine, the first being that one difference between Mennonites and conventional evangelicals is that, when defrauded, Mennonites pray for the culprit, while conventional evangelicals sue the culprit. The excluded third option (there may be more than just three) that I pointed out was that the conventional evangelicals might choose to help the government prosecute the culprit, thus saving others from being defrauded and fulfilling the law of the land, rather than seeking revenge through suing the guy. The second is when I asked about using force, I was told that one can either use lethal force and send a sinner to Hell, or, from a more eternal perspective, one can choose not to use lethal force and perhaps be killed or allow another Christian to be killed, thus giving a sinner more opportunity to know Christ and allowing a Christian to go to Heaven. From the question that I asked, there were more options than simply "use lethal force or be killed," such as using non-lethal force, thus the two options given created what is called a "false dilemma". I'm not saying that the guys writing to me knew they were creating a false dilemma; but being ignorant of the fallacy doesn't make the argument true; perhaps they thought the other options not important enough to mention, so they presented the only two that seemed to matter; the false dilemma was what they communicated but not what they thought they were communicating, in that case. I'm not trying to indict their motives, only pointing out what they stated and why it seems to me that they left something out of their statement that could have been there and should have been there if they wanted to be totally clear and accurate to reality.

Now, back to the conversation on to which this blog has moved...

Yay pacifism! I think John Hagee is one of the most frustrating preachers to listen to or to even hear about, since he's almost always wrong in every way that a preacher can be wrong, from exegesis to application and everything in between. Unfortunately, dispensational premillennialism, along with nationalism, racism, and a generally unChristlike attitude towards those outside of Judeo-Christendom, have been the main characteristics of American evangelicalism and American charismatic/Pentecostalism. Thank God for the "emerging Church". Postmodernism may just save American Christians! How cool is that?!

I love you!

August 5, 2006 at 1:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure whether or not I'm a pacifist or a proponent of the "just war".
Obviously peace should be an outcome of my interaction with the Spirit of God living in my life (Gal. 5.22). Jesus declared "Blessed are the peacemakers...". And Paul instructs us to "live at peace with everyone" (Rom. 12.18). Or we can take note of the Hebrews passage which states, "Make every effort to live at peace with everyone... (12.14). Even Peter encouraged us to "seek peace and pursue it" (1 Peter 3.11).
It's fair to say that we all agree peace is the best avenue for life. Heaven is understood to be a place of peace.
I live in San Antonio, home of John Hagee, and I agree that his messages can be absolutely infuriating. I did not decide to follow Christ to promote a democratic worldview. I did not decide to follow Christ to promote the nation of Israel. I did not decide to follow Christ because of my national pride.
But how do we understand "peace"?
Much of the previous dialogue speaks in terms of physical violence, physical repercussions, legal ramifications. And we have already read numerous examples of these. Examples of rape and war and the rampant legal cases in our country.
But I'm ministering to a family that does not know peace because the father of the house's constant negativity, abusive put downs and drunken fits. Nothing physical.
There is this neighbor of mine who get so enraged every time she drives by this house with pro-life posters (very visual and "graphic" photos).
I know a youth pastor friend who was struggling to receive his last paychecks from the church that fired him, because he questioned why his senior pastor wouldn't preach an "Easter" sermon. The church gave him half his severance pay and kicked his young family of five out of the parsonage.
Can we do more harm to the cause of peace without ever clinching a fist or landing a blow? Can peace be lost because of our pursuit of righteousness? Can I in my religious ferver disrupt peace?
Maybe even better questions can be asked about Jesus.
Did Jesus promote peace when he engaged the Pharisees with his verbal sparing? How does Jesus overturning tables demonstrate peace? How did Jesus' relationships with prositutes and tax collectors promote peace in the spiritual community?
I would argue that Jesus' mission of promoting the Kingdom of God through his teaching ministry and his death on the cross required the lack of peace and disrupted any illusions of peace...yet at the same time promoted a stronger reality of peace. Jesus' words and actions caused hurt feelings and frustrated religious figures, so much so that it lead to the brutal murder of our Lord.
We need to come to a better understanding of justice balanced with peace.

As I write this I am sitting at my desk for the US Air Force (I work for the USAF to support my part time ministry). My job with the USAF will never involve me carrying a weapon or serving in a war zone, but it is constantly drilled into me that I serve the greater mission. My job is working with families, specifically military children, but I am told that because of my full efferts I allow military parents to do a complete job of serving the war fighter. Because I serve military children, bombs are dropped on target.
Do I wake each morning, loving the smell of napalm? No. But I would be delusional if I thought that my job did not promote the US's wartime efforts.
I say this to burst a few bubbles.
If you pay your taxes, like honest American citizens, you support wartime efforts. And there goes your pacifism.
If you participated in the past election, you elected officals who are organizing, promoting, supporting and benefiting from the war on terror. And you are involved.
If you ignore the tragedy in the Sudan and Darfur, are you supporting peace? Missionaries are trained to bring agricultre and education to people groups as they evangelize. But how do you provide that if they are dying because no one stands up for them.

I will not listen to another American tell me that they are a pacifist, and yet does nothing else to promote peace. Ghandi at least began a revolution through his hunger strikes.

"True religion is this, to care for widows and orphans". I feel comfortable throughing in the oppressed, the underpriviledged, the abused, the dying.
I may not do it absolutely right, but I can not stand before God and say I did nothing.

When I was in the third grade I stopped a older bully from stealing lunches by breaking his nose. He didn't ride the bus the rest of the week, but nobody went hungry the rest of the school year either.

August 7, 2006 at 6:27 PM  
Blogger Tyler Stewart said...

You said, "He asked for and expected the secular authorities to protect his life when there was a plot against it (Acts 16, 22, 23, 24, 25)." That is not true. He never asked the secular authorities to protect his life, and his claim to Roman citizenship was only used to the end of proclaiming the Gospel. In Acts 23 when there is a plot to kill Paul, his nephew informs the Roman commander of the plot, but makes no request for protection, such a request would have been absurd. Also you wrote, "those who start with the assumption that you *couldn't* be a soldier or politician and also live within the ethical system of the early Church read these texts and think that the texts imply that the soldiers and politicians resigned (or must have already been retired) in order to follow The Way." It was the position for the 1st and 2nd centuries, until Constantine, that Christians would not participate in the military. Regarding politics, that is a related but separate issue and your case is suspect at best here.

You critiqued Thom's comparison of "Mennonites and conventional evangelicals." Thom did not critique "conventional evangelicals," whatever that means, he did critique Americans, who like Texans, seem to think they have the right, even the duty to sue someone. Besides, NO one is talking about breaking the law here and your question assumes that the only way for "Justice" to be done is prosecution. The Mennonite wants justice too; he just wants it to come from God. Your false dichotomy regarding force holds no weight. No one said that non-lethal force was never a just course, you assumed that. Both Thom and I have emphasized the requirement of a spirit-filled ethical imagination in order to christianly respond to a situation.

I'm sorry you were raised in Texas. What legitimate questions did Jason ask that were not answered? I mean questions, not statements about a position that he is not yet fully informed?

I don’t think we are talking about “peace” like you seem to be using it. What we are talking about is justice. Our question is, “Is it just to use violence?” To which I would answer “no” because I’m a Christian. Jason says “yes” and he is also a Christian, I think he’s wrong.

I appreciate your service to America in the USAF. I don’t want to minimize your dedication, or your Christian faith, but I think you have been misguided. Your concept of just action assumes that God does not exist. You wrote, “Missionaries are trained to bring agricultre and education to people groups as they evangelize [sic.]. But how do you provide that if they are dying because no one stands up for them.” A missionary does not exist to feed people, (s)he exists to spread the gospel, the good news that Jesus is King. Revelation (John’s apocalypse) makes it very clear that those who die to further the Gospel do much with their deaths, perhaps more than they could with their lives. The job of the saints is to patiently wait for God to bring justice (Rev 13.10) just like Jesus did by innocently dying at the hands of murderers. What makes us think that missionaries dying is a bad thing? Or at least a thing that should be stopped? I think that Jim Elliot is a Christian example of Christian missions committed to the cross.

You wrote, "If you pay your taxes, like honest American citizens, you support wartime efforts. And there goes your pacifism." This blanket statement is not true. I pay my taxes because being a faithful Christian does not give me the ability not to, but by being a faithful Christian I support the Church. I do admit this is a troubling issue I struggle with. I repent from casting my vote for Bush and if I could do it over again I would not have voted. It is not the same thing to pay taxes and be a part of the military.

You wrote, “I will not listen to another American tell me that they are a pacifist, and yet does nothing else to promote peace.” First, my pacifism is about Jesus not some abstract definition of “peace.” Second, by existing the Church promotes Christian peace. When I preach the word I promote Christian peace, when we pray we do a lot more for peace than the American government ever has, will or is able to do. Third, I’m asking you to listen because we’re Christians not because we’re Americans.

August 7, 2006 at 9:37 PM  
Blogger Andy Rodriguez said...

Mr. Anonymous,

Thanks for the comments. I as well am from San Antonio. Well, I guess the Hill Country, but I tell the folk here at Ozark I live in San Antonio because they have no idea what Bandera, Pipe Creek, Boerne, or Kerville are. I will mostly respond to Tyler, but I wanted to say howdy.


Remember, I agree with you. At the end of the day you can label me as a pacifist. I have some comments or questions they may indicate otherwise, but they are just for my further understanding. In Acts 22 it DOES seem as though Paul appealed to his secular identification (Roman) as a way to have the secular authorities protect his life. At least from flogging, and if Tertullian is right 6 or 7 men out of 10 died simply from flogging. I still dont see the problem for the pacifist. Is it possible he could have been in such communication with the father that he knew that by appealing to the secular authorities to protect him this time would lead to further advancement of the gospel? Could he have been using whatever means necessary, even if it is "secular protection" so that he could testify about God in Jerusalem (vs 11).

I am also glad you clarified that non-lethal force could be a just course. Thinks can get a litty grey by using a "spirit-filled ethical imagination." But I think this is excatly right. I just want the response to be spirit filled and not Andy filled.

I am not sorry I was raised in Texas. The whole texas part was kinda a joke, but the point I was trying to make is that I and MOST christians begin their discipleship journey as non-pacifist. I think you were a minority by initially thinking that christianity and pacifism can not be seperated. Maybe you had better witnesses and teaching than we did, but if initial thoughts of what Christianity is like make them somewhat closer to the heart of God you are vastly outnumbered.

I think you dealt with Mr. Anonymous' point about taxes quite well. We DO have to pay taxes, thus I guess in a since we do finanically help with the war. But that is not becasue we support violence, but because we are being faithful christians by giving to ceasar what is his.

I agree with you that pacifism is about jesus and not some abstract definition of "peace." And I also agree with Mr. Anonymous that it is impossible to be a Christian pacifist and not care enough to do something about the oppressed. As of right now, I think that Jason and Laurie are being good christian pacifists whether they want to be or not. Instead of moving over to differnt oppressed nations to kill them, they have moved over there to serve them, and ultimately to make King Jesus famous there. We hold you in the highest regard in love. We cannot ignore the famines, and oppression, and starvation throughout the world. And if one day people remember me when I day, I would rather them remember one who lived as a disciple who gave his life (should that be the case) to seeing oppressed people come to know Jesus than as a pacifist.

August 8, 2006 at 1:46 AM  
Anonymous a casual reader said...

these are great posts. this conversation is really long but i think it's worth having.

i don't think that paul's holding rome to its own standards when it was about to commit a crime (flogging a roman) is the same thing as prosecuting a criminal. and it's not as though paul would have approved of the system that kept him from being flogged. a system that flogs only those of "inferior races" is not a just system. trying to compare paul's "use of government" in acts 22 with a christian's decision to prosecute someone who has wronged him is, well, i guess the two don't really compare at all. which pacifist here has said that the government cannot be used? i haven't read that yet. i think the questions concern why and to what extent the government is used, and what means the government uses. i think the point the pacifists are trying to make is that the government does not have a monopoly on justice, as if the only way to have justice done is to prosecute every act of injustice. the pacifists are trying to say that there is a better justice that the world does not understand, one that only the Church can point to. it's a justice tempered by radical patience. am i right, or am i misunderstanding you guys? it's a nice idea but a little idealistic, i think. according to that conception of justice, the world could not see it unless the Church displayed it, but i see no such display in the Church. is it possible that state justice is God's substition for the Church's failure to be the Church?

August 9, 2006 at 3:51 AM  
Blogger Tyler Stewart said...

casual reader-
You have helped clarify something that I have been trying to say, thank you. I'm not trying to say something about America or India, or any government; I'm trying to say something about the Church. The Church has its own political agenda and means, which cannot be accomplished by any worldly government because it is not the Church. I realize this is circular, but jump on the circle with me. You said "i think the point the pacifists are trying to make is that the government does not have a monopoly on justice, as if the only way to have justice done is to prosecute every act of injustice. the pacifists are trying to say that there is a better justice that the world does not understand, one that only the Church can point to. it's a justice tempered by radical patience. am i right." To which I say, "yes, thanks for bringing clarity."

Then you said this is too idealistic, that according to this belief, "the world could not see [justice] unless the Church displayed it, but i see no such display in the Church." Your right, I don't believe the world can know what justice is apart from the Church because I don't believe that the world can know God apart from the Church. However, I see many displays of justice in the Church. I recently referenced Jim Elliot, what about the Moravian Missionary movement? I can think of four or five people that I know who have gone over to Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, I know of a friend who plans to leave for Sudan in the next 4 or 5 years. They are committed to bring the gospel of God's grace to these places, a gospel that brings justice and love. Look at Laurie's story, look at Jason's story. There are hundreds and thousands of stories of people all over the world committed to God's justice in America and all over the world. In fact, I believe that preaching the word, baptism, Eucharist, and the other functions of the Church are the most just things because in them God is most fully revealed. The fact that we don't see these displays of justice is a result of many things. I will mention two significant ones, (1) Unless we are part of a Church that trains us to see, we won't; and (2) The Church isn't perfect. It is full of people like me who betray their witness with harsh words, deception and self-promotion. But Jesus promised us that the Church would not fail, that he would establish the reign of God through people committed to him, and I think that if we learn how to open our eyes we will begin to see that.

You also wrote, "is it possible that state justice is God's substition for the Church's failure to be the Church [sic.]?" Maybe. Romans 12 makes it clear that the state, like all things, exists to serve God whether it wants to or not. The problem with this question, I think, is that it frames the state serving God more than the Church. God uses the state, but his method of bringing the gospel is through the Church. Is this making sense?

The thing about you being raised in Texas was a joke, sorry. My wife, as you know, is a Texan. Interestingly enough, Hauerwas is a texan, or at least was. I don't know what you call someone who was born and raised in Texas but no longer lives there? Andy, I love you.

Everyone, I’m sorry about that last post maybe sounding a little to harsh. Often when I try to write with sarcasm it comes off just plain mean or arrogant. Anyway, thanks for putting up with me and devoting all of us to being more truthful even in the way we say things.

August 9, 2006 at 3:20 PM  
Anonymous Jason Fry said...

I think I agree with most of the critiques of my most recent post. I do want to clarify that I am trying to interpret what has been written according to the Author's Intended Meaning (a hermeneutical catchphrase at the Bible college where several of the above writers have been educated, including myself, for those readers not familiar with the phrase). If I have misinterpreted, I apologize.

Thank you for thinking highly of what my team is trying to accomplish here in India.

I do want to clarify another point of possible disagreement between myself and a few of you guys. I believe that the Church's purpose is *not* simply to glorify God through helping believers know Jesus better and through helping nonbelievers become believers. That *is* part of the bigger picture, I think, and it is the main part, but I would state the Church's purpose as 'To glorify God by being a blessing to the world'. What I mean by this is that while missionaries are involved in community development, medical clinics, relationship building, etc., all with the goal of helping people meet Jesus for the first time and start to develop their relationship with him as their Lord (read: "evangelizing"), if someone who they have helped chooses not to accept Jesus, the effort of the missionary has not been wasted. I think giving a cup of cold water to a thirsty person glorifies God, even if the person doesn't know that you're giving the water to honor Christ. I am just beginning to understand what the "emerging Church conversation" means, but one point that I loved from a book I read was about being "missional". This is different from the typical evangelical Christian's emphasis on evangelism, because it sort of bridges the gap between theologically liberal and conservative understandings of how Christians are to engage the world. To clarify: theologically conservative Christians in the West have tended to do everything for the sake of evangelism, so that any service provided to nonbelievers is for end goal of proselytization (proselyzation?), whereas theologically liberal Christians have thought that the point was to serve without the evangelism part, because that was living out the ethic of love embodied in the example of the cross, etc. So Albert Schweitzer, a theological liberal, spent most of his career as a doctor in Africa, helping the poor, but wasn't interested in proselytizing because he wasn't convinced that the nonchristians needed to be saved from anything other than physical suffering. Being "missional" bridges the gap, because it holds onto the truth of the Atonement and the need to bring the Good News to people who haven't heard or haven't accepted the Gospel, while at the same time affirming that service in honor of Christ is worthwhile even if the one serving does not or is unable to share the Good News alongside the act of service (language barrier, etc.). So, I do believe that Christians are called to be a blessing, and that *mostly* applies in the area of evangelism, but it also means that Christians involved in rescuing child prostitutes or providing legal assistance to illiterate villagers who are having their property annexed by unethical corporations (or other examples that could be mentioned) are doing the work of the Church too.

Since I have adopted the term "missional" to describe myself, it has changed my perspective on what I'm doing here. First, there are already thousands of organizations in India working among the poor, both liberal and conservative Christians, doing every kind of service and outreach imaginable. I can piggy-back on the work of liberals who aren't evangelizing while they serve, because they are still honoring God, and I can come alongside what they're doing, affirm them as serving the same God as I do, and evangelize the nonbelievers that they're affecting. This provides a more united front to outsiders, I think, because instead of the bickering that has characterized mission work all over the world since the mid-nineteenth century, all of us Christians can get along by affirming the worth of each other's service (I'm not saying that I accept all who call themselves "Christian" but who deny the Atonement or the Resurrection as my brethren; I do accept them as serving God while being ignorant of what he's done; these "Christians" need to be evangelized too). Interdenominational fighting has been a barrier to the spread of the Kingdom, adopting a "missional" attitude helps to overcome that barrier.

I am here not just to help the people with whom I come in contact meet Jesus for the first time. Our goal is to disciple a group of Brahmin-background (high-caste; not able to be reached through benevolent outreach) believers so that they, in turn, can plant churches among their own people group through discipling others. Our hope is not, though, simply that they would plant churches or even, in the latest missological terms, facilitate a "church-planting movement". It is that, but it is also that as some Brahmins come to Christ, the Christian ethic will grow in influence in society as a whole, so that corruption, poverty, starvation, etc., can be worked on from two directions: from the bottom up, which benevolence ministries and other NGOs are doing, and from the top down, which society, heavily influenced by Brahmin culture, can do. Some Christians have been skeptical about our motives, since we're going to a country known for its poverty and other physical needs, and we're not working among the poor or needy. We are trying to affect the needy, though, but we're doing it from a different direction and with a much longer-term, broad-scoped strategy.

I am a novice at this "being missional" stuff. I only know that I read what the term "missional" means, according to Brian McLaren, and I said, "hey, that's what I believe!" McLaren is also a big proponent of Anabaptistesque pacifism, and he quotes the same guys as Tyler and Thom quote, so maybe his point-of-view is worth considering. The book I read is "A Generous Orthodoxy." I know McLaren is just intro-level reading for "emerging church" people, but I'm intro-level emerging church, so that's okay with me.

I also stand by my statements regarding Paul's use of government in Acts. I do *not*, however, and I was careful to state this in one or more of my previous posts, think that this necessarily applies to directly to our situations today. There are several reasons why it may not directly apply: 1) We're under a different government/economic system than he was, so any application would require some deductive interpretation, so the term "directly apply" might not be accurate, 2) He was one of the 13 Apostles, so he was not under the authority of the Church, but was more of an embodiment of the authority of the Church; he may not have needed to consult with a church to make decisions about how to use or not use government, if that is something Christians are really expected to do, 3) He was the Apostle to the Gentiles, so his well-being and the effectiveness of God's goal of bringing Gentiles to know himself were, for a time, intertwined. If Paul were killed or imprisoned too soon, the growth of the Kingdom might be stunted at its earliest stage, whereas if one of us dies or is imprisoned by an unethical government that isn't even following its own rules, there are a jillion other Christians who can fall into place behind us, and our death or imprisonment may actually mobilize more evangelists than our life of unhindered service could have. So, I'm not saying that I know what application Paul's interaction with government has for us today, but I'm saying that it *might* have some application for us today, and he did use government in some ways that seem to be precluded by what some of the pacifists who have written in this thread seem to think is appropriate. I hope I have been specific and ambiguous in all the proper places to make my point as I intended to make it!

I don't think that Paul asking for the government to obey its own rules means that he approves of the citizenship program under the Roman system, which gave rights to a few and not to everyone. I also don't think that Paul telling slaves to obey their masters means that Paul believed that slavery was good and ethical. To be a slave who obeyed his or her master for the sake of honoring Christ was good, though, and being a person who tried worked within the system to change the system to where slavery was no longer legal was good too. If more mainstream Christians had been on the side of Markin Luther King, Jr., back in the "civil rights" era, doing ethical things that were illegal in order to change society's attitude and the government's reflection of that attitude in its legal code, the Kingdom would probably have been spread further than it has, since many in the black community felt abandoned by their "brothers in Christ" from other ethnic groups, namely white people, and many of the children and grandchildren of those who marched back in the day are either pagan materialists or are turning to Islam. So here's my question, how does the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s fit with pacifism? It was peaceful, but it was aimed at changing legislation as well as the worldviews of white people, both Christians and nonChristians, and it was black Christians alongside black nonChristians in the movement. I'm not talking about the later, more violent arm of the movement, but about the peaceful resistance part that included MLK.

Okay, enough rambling for now. Thanks for your thoughts!

August 10, 2006 at 9:38 PM  
Anonymous Jason Fry said...

A clarification: I'm not saying that there weren't white Christians involved in the Civil Rights movement. They were just few and far between, and most of the white Christians who remember those days admit that they were not on the side of black activists until the movement changed their mind.

August 10, 2006 at 9:47 PM  
Blogger zach said...

Pacifism sounds so good. Especially, because I do not like, nor approve of the current American involvement in the Iraq. Pacifism is great. Particularly because I do not approve of Israel’s overreactions against Lebanon. Pacifists get to take to the streets and make their voices heard on these and many other issues.

I would love being a pacifist. It sounds great. You get to always talk about peace, so everybody likes you. I mean who wants to claim to be anti-peace? If anybody criticizes you, then you can always just look them in the eye and say, “why do you hate peace so much?” And, you certainly get to make more friends. So many people just love those who love peace.

But that is just icing on the cake. I would really like to be a pacifist, because it seems so …well, peaceful. Everything is so simple and tranquil, with no need to make gradated decisions. A pacifist has a predetermined code to deal with all situations. I mean its more simple then back and white, for the pacifist…its just white. Such a thoroughgoing ethical system would awe even Immanuel Kant. I mean, what an ability to abstract away from all specific life situations and proscribe a praxis for all situations and all time. Consider what beauty there is in such monolithic system and moreover what it allows you do in all your actions. Just think, to be able to enter the world as innocent as doves.

August 13, 2006 at 2:11 AM  
Blogger CynthiaAdams said...


Boy, are you in for a shock. Those who advocate 'pacifism' are very much in the minority. It is not easy. NO one likes you, actually, they hate you. Fellow Christians will call you scum to your face. Bible study patrons will heatedly argue and throw you out if you even hint that our country should not take up arms against the terrorists. I know. It has happened to me. Maybe it's not like that at Ozark. But it certainly is up here in the Chicago area.

To my shame, I have been mostly silent for five years (since 9/11) trying to decide how we can reconcile the response of our nation--by our 'Christian' president--with the words of Jesus in the sermon on the mount.

Thanks to all who have posted here on this topic, and for allowing me to post as well.

Though your discussions seem to be mostly academic and very civil--thank you!!--I am afraid that you actually avoid the issue at the heart of the problems here. The reason we are all now re-thinking pacifism is because of the war. (Would we be wondering about this if it had gone well? No one did when we beat Milosevic in the 1990's.)

Anyway, I just finished a book by Michelle Greenberg called Kingdom Coming. It is about the rise of Christian Nationalism--a title she gives to the Christian political right. Some of their aims can be seen at the website of D. James Kennedy--just google it. They, along with Dobson of FOTF seem to advocate a sort of Christian world domination. According to Greenberg, they don't just want to convert the world to Christ. They want to rule it, physically. And they use the name of our Savior to legitimize their goals. She and her liberal, secular friends are very afraid. And they are getting organized.

Since I once was a student at Lincoln Christian College, and still dive into the Word often, I believe this emphasis on building an earthly kingdom for the Church to rule is the antithesis of what Jesus taught. They do not only advocate self-defense. They advocate war, to remake the world, into an earthly kingdom to prepare for the return of Christ. This is not a good witness for Christ.

The reason pacifism plays into this is probably clear. I'm sure these fellow-believers mean well, and are willing to listen to the Bible. I just don't think they are hearing it. I know there are arguments for just war (go to for more), but these folks don't even know or care about that, apparently. The Bible is all they supposedly follow--so can we not show them from the Bible alone that Jesus' way is the Way of Peace? Why do they advocate how this destruction and war?

PS. I know it is true, since I have been corresponding for a few emails with a fellow with that same America First mentality, who actually told me that the OT Commandment that said not to kill did not mean do not kill, but do not 'murder', so killing in war is okay. He also quoted C.S. Lewis saying that killing is okay if we are not doing so in anger. This hairsplitting is what we are confronting. I know we are not to enjoy hurting others--but doesn't anyone consider that the act of hurting, or killing, itself is also wrong? Correct me if I am wrong, but I think these people are at best misinformed, at worst, deceived. Get your scholarly papers prepared and get published. Now.

Thanks again for all you are doing already.

August 13, 2006 at 6:00 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


Well, Zach and Cynthia, thank you for both of your posts. I appreciate both of your perspectives. Cynthia, I am with you down the line except that I'm not sure the war is the reason we're all having this conversation. I know and read many who have been having this conversation in and out of wartime, for decades and even centuries. I'm having this conversation because I'm in dialogue with them. America also happens to be at war (which is no unusual thing) and that does affect the shape our conversation takes, but I don't think it's the root of our need to talk about these matters. Apart from that one little caveat, you and I are in large agreement. The more I think about it the more horrified I am that Christians in America are so quickly willing to claim Bush as a fellow Christian when his political methodology stands so clearly in contradiction to that of Christ. I mourn with you, and with you I seek new and better ways forward for the church.

Zach, I agree with you as well. I think you're dead right. Any pacifism that is just about "being peaceful" cannot but be a great evil. I made the distinction much earlier between pacifism and passivism. Christian pacifism (to be distinguished from the many different varieties of pacifism) is not about being passive, standing back and letting evil have its way; it's about actively combatting evil with good. It's a shame that passivism and pacifism sound so similar, because they really are two very different concepts. Pacifism comes from the Latin, pac facere, "to make peace." I have always been fond of saying that Christian pacifism is not synonymous with nonviolence. Rather, Christian pacifism is the "violence" of compassion and enemy-love.

Jason, you raise some great questions and I'm going to get to them as soon as I can. As it is, I just flew in from Mexico, and boy are my arms tired!


August 13, 2006 at 6:46 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


I should also point out for all you Ozarkians, the "Zach" posting here is not Zach Allen but my old friend Logical Zach. I'm glad to have Zach back.


August 13, 2006 at 6:51 PM  
Blogger zach said...

Are there name overlapping problems w/another Zach? If I need to distinguish myself I will. Oh, and Congrats, by the way.

Re your comment: is it ok if I just really dislike war. I mean is it ok if I abhor the violence of war, and believe that every life situation has a unique set of circumstances for deciding the right course of action. Is it ok if I meet both of these qualifications, but just don’t call myself a Pacifist? Can I just be Zach?

August 13, 2006 at 11:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


We all love you just the way you are. No need to seduce or confuse us with your new language, what are you, Brian McClaren or Rob Bell? We all seek nothing but the truth and honor all ideas and discussions. Be what you are you beautiful butterfly. Blossom and be set free!!!

Raving Maniac Just Saying What Everyone Wants To Hear on Onion News.

You have been spotted!!!

August 13, 2006 at 11:54 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...



I agree with anonymous that you are free to call yourself whatever it is that you are. If the pacifist label doesn't fit, don't try to wear it. If you think we're trying to force a label on you, you're misunderstanding the nature of the conversation.

As for situation ethics, that's a different beast with its own set of problems. You're welcome to come into the conversation from a situationist's perspective, but so far your comments have only sidestepped the long conversation we've been having.

No one here has denied that there are situations that pose a challenge to a general commitment to nonviolence. This conversation has been an attempt to do justice to some of those situations. Some feel an injustice has been done to them, but Tyler and I, and others, are doing our best at any rate.


August 14, 2006 at 4:03 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...



I have plenty to say about MLK and Ghandi, but perhaps Mark Moore could take a little time out of his busy schedule to share some of his insight into these men and their relationship to the Kingdom. I know that formerly his dissertation was focused on these two men and their similarity to Jesus. I also know that Mr. Moore is aware of key distinctions to be made between the idea of the Kingdom of God and the idea of revolution and social change.


August 14, 2006 at 4:10 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...



This is not a full response to your many great challenges and questions. This is just a few remarks in regards to what I think is a general misunderstanding between us.

It seems to me that you understand me to be representative of some kind of ethic of complete withdrawal from society. My contention that Christians need not and should not use the government to bring their enemies to justice has been met by you with challenges from Paul and Martin Luther King. On the one hand, Paul used the government by asking to be tried in the secular courts. On the other hand, Martin Luther King used nonviolent tactics to effect social change on the governmental level.

I am not opposed to either of these "uses" of government. I have not said that no Christian can ever be involved in government. Nor have I suggested that Christians need not be concerned with social justice. On the contrary, with a little help from Walter Wink I have come to see Jesus' Sermon on the Mount as a political manifesto whose appropriation would have an effect on society much like that of MLK and Gandhi.

Rather, my contention has been that the church is itself the Christian's space for justice, that the church's practices of reconciliation, truth-speaking, prophecy, charity, etc., are the sign to the world of the inbreaking eschatological justice of God. My contention that Christians should not prosecute their enemies in the secular courts is a part of this idea of God's eschatological justice having its "already" home in the church. (Earlier you claimed that I do not do justice to the "already" of the already/not-yet tension of the kingdom. Rather, I think your version of the already/not-yet tension is more informed by a Lutheran Two-Kingdoms dualism than by Pauline theology. The already is a sign of the not-yet; it is not a "sober realism"; it is not "earthly justice.")

In short, I never made the claim that we cannot partner with the government in certain limited ventures. I never claimed that we couldn't piggy-back on government organizations from time to time. All I said was that Christians need not and should not use the government to secure justice for themselves.

To hint at what I will discuss after Mark has given his insight, MLK is a good example of how non-violent tactics work, but his project is not a good example of the Christian task. Your use of Paul never really touches my contention, because in no case you mentioned is Paul ever using the government to prosecute someone else. He is, at the least, holding the government to its own standards when he himself has been accused of crime, and, at most, using structures in place to make the gospel of Jesus more famous.

Next, I would like to respond to the way you took one of my remarks. I said that in a situation where a crime has been committed against me or my family I would call the church before deciding whether or not to call the police. The way you took that saying seems to me to be characteristic of the way you have consistently been misunderstanding me. You took that as a hard and fast rule for me, as though if I called the police before the church I would have been breaking "the pacifists' code" or something like that. But rather than describing a rule, what I was describing was the kind of church that needs to exist if the kingdom of God is going to be seen clearly in the world. I was describing an act characteristic of an individual constituted in such a church. To take it as a rule as you have is to misunderstand the point. The point is that as a Christian my existence is solely constituted by my being a part of the church. The church is (or is supposed to be) the already in the already/not-yet tension. That is why when I hunger for justice I turn to the Holy Spirit (who is in the church) rather than to the old world order. I do so because, as John reminds us, we are in the final hour.

Lastly, I never called you illogical, nor did I claim that you intentionally misrepresented me. I said that you put words in my mouth and argued against those words and that you have been arguing against a general group of people (pacifists) that doesn't exist in general. I also said that some (not all) of your arguments show that you have not read the literature your opponents have read. Of course, you do not need to have read such literature, but you yourself suggested above that maybe it is time you did. My comment should be taken as an encouragement in that direction, not because I think you're deficient in some way but precisely because I think you're so competent.



August 14, 2006 at 1:55 PM  
Anonymous Jason Fry said...


Thanks for the points of clarification. I either agree with you or believe there's a distinct possibility you're correct in what you've written above (i.e., when you say that I'm more informed by Luther than by Paul, that is a distinct possibility, but I don't know for sure whether that's true). Thank you for clarifying for me what you meant. I definitely agree that you have been calling the church to be what it ought to be, the "already" of the "already/not yet" tension in eschatology, the place where we Christians find justice as opposed to the old world order, etc. Thank you. I'm in the process (ten weeks in) of planting what I hope will be a "church planting movement", and I hope and pray that when those churches take shape, the individual believers will have more faith in the Holy Spirit-indwelt church than in their corrupt government, no matter how many governmental reforms are made. The only application of this where we disagree, I think, is where you would say that Christians ought to forego prosecuting, in a secular court, those who have committed crimes (as defined by the government) against the Christians. If there is any legitimacy to trying to be situational within perameters, then this is where I would prefer situational ethics. That's my caveat: I want to leave open the possibility that prosecuting criminals might be okay with Jesus sometimes. You're right that there's no biblical example of a Christian doing that, and I may be more informed my secularized sensibilities than by scripture, but if that's the case then I hope that my experience of scripture will change my mind to more accurately reflect the character and will of God. I respect your principles; I'm sorry that I didn't give you your due respect before. Clarifying your statements helped me respect your position.

There are, of course, a kajillion other areas that you and I disagree, Thom, some of which are above, but we can let those rest for now so that this dialogue can continue.

August 15, 2006 at 1:39 AM  
Anonymous Jason Fry said...

On Christian Nationalism: do you guys think that these Christian Nationalists are representing dispensational premillennial and postmillennial eschatological positions, or, if they are neither in belief, they may be unwittingly holding onto values that come from pop-Christian theology, such as dispensational premillennialism or postmillennialism? (Another example of this kind of dissonance would be when a Stone-Campbell Arminian says, "well, everything happens for a reason!", betraying that their stated theological position on predestination and their actual worldview are not integrated)

Perhaps one's eschatology really is as important as our Bible college professors said.

I'm not saying that eschatology is the only thing motivating these Christian nationalists, I'm just asking how significant a role do you folks think eschatology plays?

And a second point: in my experience on a Bible college campus and at local churches, trying to convince people of the Biblical commission of all Christians to be involved in worldwide evangelism, there are two fundamental obstacles to people adopting a Biblical viewpoint on their own need for involvement in taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth: the first is nationalism, since many Christians seem to think that the Homogeneous Unit Principle is prescriptive, not descriptive, and that H.U.P. applies to who they should pray for and who they should mobilize others to evangelize too. The second is fear of the unkown, or another way of saying it, fear of leaving behind the familiar stuff that they think they need to survive, like family, friends, and American culture.

Also, there are humongous misconceptions regarding America being "blessed" by God and deserving to bask in that blessedness, and false teachings about the supposedly Christian doctrines upon which This Great Country was founded.

To those who hold the misconceptions and false beliefs above, I have tried to convince by quoting Stan Lee, "with great power comes great responsibility," or as I like to misquote it, "with blessedness comes great responsibility". So far it hasn't worked. I don't think they were big Spiderman fans, though, so maybe that's why.

Peace out.

August 15, 2006 at 1:59 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...



I'm not still up. I woke up.


Thanks for your good response. There's no apology necessary. I'm sorry if my unclarity perpetuated any misunderstanding, but I'm very grateful to you for helping me to tease out what it is I actually think. I might not have known as clearly as I do now that this is what I think if you hadn't "misunderstood me" on some points.

Finally, I want to stress again that my saying Christians need not and should not prosecute those who commit crimes against them is not a hard and fast rule but a description of the kind of church the church ought to be and is capable of being. I did say earlier that I would not be opposed in principle to involving the police but that my first call would be to the church. My hope would be that my church is capable of helping me and my family to seek reconciliation rather than retribution (even in its most well-meant sense). The few stories (of the many stories out there) I told earlier of Christians who did not prosecute but sought and offered reconciliation were meant to supplement my more theoretical claims. The stories show what is possible even when what is possible seems impossible.

There seems to be not that great of a divide between us Jason, only a hesitation on both our parts to take the small step over to the other's side. My hesitation to step over to your side (i.e., needing to make clear that prosecuting remains an open possibility for Christians) is rooted in this: I can't shake the conviction that prosecuting with good intentions and heartfelt regret (a very Lutheran idea) and praying from home for the criminal's salvation is not “violent” enough, at least not for my taste. This approach could quickly become an easy and safe out that allows for a charity that is less than Christian. (Over a year ago you called me on the “slippery slope fallacy,” so I’m aware I’m using a slippery slope argument.)

Yet by describing as normative the practice of not prosecuting but rather seeking face-to-face reconciliation with criminals (whether the criminal is in or out of prison) I am trying to help Christians better to remember the eschatological character of justice and better to understand what forgiveness is. To many Christians, Christians I know, forgiveness is easy (or easier) as long as it can be done from a distance. I have seen witnesses, witnesses I know, testify with their lives that forgiveness is never so easy, and that the extreme difficulty of real forgiveness is what makes reconciliation not just possible, but more probable. There is power in radical love for one's enemy.

As one involved in theological ethics, my concern is to help Christians do the hard stuff of love by making what seems extreme sound commonplace, by making the life of Jesus normative for Christians, by making our christology our ecclesiology. Jesus asked his Father to forgive his murderers; he did not ask his Father to bring them to justice. Thus he opened up a whole new world of possibilities for his disciples. That’s how I see it, and that's why I hesitate to come the three inches over to your side. I too respect your position which is not, apart from this and possibly a few other small caveats, all that different from my own.

Again, Jason, I thank you for the challenge you've given me to be clearer about what it is I think. Your second post is where I'll turn from now on when addressing you.


August 15, 2006 at 4:37 AM  
Anonymous THOM IS MARRIED!!! said...



Might it be smart to place the bit on Christian Nationalism and how it plays out in our eschatology and obidience to the Great Commission in a different post? I know they are related to the current discussion, but I dont want to get talking about about millennial views and missiology and people not be able to ask questions about pacifism/just war.

... (I do like typing those little dots!)

August 15, 2006 at 3:39 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


Great idea. It's over and done with.

Everyone commenting on the issue of nationalism, millennialism, Christian support of Israel discussion, please post your comments on the thread entitlted "Nationalism & Millennialism."

Thank you.

... (the dots are aesthetic spaces)

August 15, 2006 at 4:22 PM  
Blogger Tyler Stewart said...


I'm a bit confused by your comment. You are saying that you are a Christian Pacifist? I think yes.

Also you wrote, "Though your discussions seem to be mostly academic and very civil--thank you!!--I am afraid that you actually avoid the issue at the heart of the problems here. The reason we are all now re-thinking pacifism is because of the war." Let me say thank you for thinking our conversation "academic and very civil" we do try, though often fail. With that said, I have a couple of questions/comments regarding your comment. Are you saying that the War is the "issue at the heart of the problems here"? And by that which war do you mean (the war in Iraq, the conflict in Israel, some other war)? My rethinking of pacifism came before either or these two wars, when America was not in an (official) war. Certainly the wars, as Thom said, affect/frame the conversation. But being a pacifist for me at least will have little (practically speaking) to do with fighting in a war and much to do with Pastoring/teaching a Church full of people who are, like myself, too often living in the old order of things— forgetting that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount and showed us the narrow road of the cross.

Christian Pacifism has a lot more to it than simply being against war. I’m sure that you already knew that, but I’m just trying to be clear. The Church is a politic, it is the way people (the particularly peculiar people who have committed to Yahweh as he has made himself known in Christ) to organize themselves together. The question is what is this politic? What does it look like? Does it look like George W. Bush and the Dobsonites? Does it look like Mennonites/Anabaptists? And our most important question and self-critique, “Do it/we look like Jesus?” It may seem ridiculous, but much of my thinking has been changed by asking this simple question. I just cannot see Jesus advocate killing someone, especially those who have done him wrong, the more I learn about him the more convinced of this I become. I wonder how does our understanding of Jesus’ politics affect how we respond to the Dobsonites, the Bush-bumper-sticker-next-to-their-Xn-fish types?

Are the "they" you're referring to in the latter part of your comment the advocates of "Christian Nationalism"?

I read your profile and I’m very interested in your story. How is it that you got where you are now? When and why did you convert to Catholicism? Are you currently married? Why did you get a divorce the first time? If these questions are too personal than just say so.

Your wisdom and words are very welcome here, thanks for your thoughts.

August 15, 2006 at 4:56 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


Miss Laurie McDaniel,

If you read this I need to get your email address because I have something to ask you. Please email me



August 18, 2006 at 10:16 AM  
Blogger CynthiaAdams said...


Thank you for your comments/questions. I'll start with the easy stuff first.
You said, "How is it that you got where you are now? When and why did you convert to Catholicism? Are you currently married? Why did you get a divorce the first time? If these questions are too personal than just say so."

No, not too personal. Just a long story--get comfortable.

Basically, the answer is this: After we worked in the Lincoln church several years, had 4 kids . . .
1) We joined a Cult (Evangelical Orthodox Church started by Pete Gilquist of Campus Crusade) Studied Irenaeus, Polycarp, Origen, Vatican II. LCC thought we were crazy and abandoned us to our apostasy.
2) After 4 years, the cult shunned us. Cried every day for a year. No church for us. God must hate us. Depression.
3) Husband ignored me for 2 years, no talking. I joined the Catholic Church. He abused our children. I planned suicide, counselors advised divorce.
4) Moved away, then unable to find a church, we lived in poverty for years. I got a BS. in Math and a job in Chicago, but still struggled to make ends meet. Now ex-husband did not support his children.
5) Met and married an agnostic and very angry man. Loved him, but every day was like living in Beirut.
6) After 4 years and another child I asked him to move in with his sister. Loved him but could not live with him. My children were scared to death. Divorced five years later.
7) Started going to church at a 'new' kind of Catholic Church--had not been to one for 12 years. Met my current husband Ed there.
8) We have now been married almost 9 years, though the Catholic Church may consider us to be living 'in sin', since we have remarried, not in the Catholic Church (though we had a nice Baptist preacher and lots of Scripture), after divorce without benefit of a church annullment. However, since my husband's previous 3 marriages were not in the Church, even though he was a Catholic at the times, he is not required to have them annulled. My first marriage, however, since I was a Christian and married a Christian, though it was not a Catholic marriage, does require annullment. Civil remarriage without annullment is sin requiring excommunication, but 'shacking up' is not. Welcome to the hairsplitting world of St. Acquinas and modern Catholics. Of course, I did not know any of this when I married on any of these occasions. That came later. I actually only found out after my husband got involved with the Knights of Columbus. Our parish, Holy Family Catholic Community, in Inverness, IL (just down the road from Bill Hybels' megachurch Willow Creek) does not enforce the Pope's rule about denying us communion. Our priest is kind of, as he says, not on the short list for monsignor. They let anybody in. Which is why this parish worked for me when so many before were cold and forbidding.

Trust me, no rebukes are required from any of you, okay? I remember my sins on a daily basis, and just thank God that in my weakness He is made strong. He is glorified because even a foolish woman like me can learn, can find hope in His mercy, even after all these years. I have learned a couple of things in all these sojournings. God is always faithful. He is always good. And He never gives up on us. He is like the Hound of Heaven, seeking us, and pulling us back from the abyss. It really amazes me that God was able to use the Catholics to bring me back. His Spirit blows whereever He wills.

Now, though, I think God is pulling me in a new direction. I just can't receive communion there anymore. I make myself when Ed has some Knights thing and I have to go, but I don't feel right about it anymore. It's the priest sex-abuse thing. I know you all don't buy into John 6:54 and the transubstantiation thing, but I did. Until now. The Church's position is that those same hands that molested little boys could then, a few minutes later, shamelessly hold the Body and Blood of our Lord, and God would still honor their prayers, and ours. My logic on this is that: If the priests' state of grace has no effect, then why do we need him at all? Why does he have to be ordained, why believe in the laying on of hands and apostolic succession? I can stay home and pray my own prayer asking God's blessing on my loaf of bread, and glass of water. Like the Roman Centurion, I know that God is in all places at all times, and that I am in communion with Him and the whole Church right here anytime I acknowledge the presence of the Lord here. Geography does not limit God's actions.

Okay, that is a little elementary, I admit. Fact is, I cannot give credence to their position defending those who covered up these crimes--things that should not even have been whispered in Paul's day. I feel God has told me to just not go there. Unfortunately, my husband does not share my views. He just stays home because I am not going and he's embarrassed to show up without me. (And he's a little lazy, sometimes, too.) But he won't go to another Church, ever, and is still active in many Knights functions, to which I accompany him. It's a small price to pay for the wonderful marriage this man has given me. Sure he's kind of a paranoid nut who sometimes hints that I want to kill him, and is suspicious if I don't eat the same food he does, refuses to buy life insurance for fear I will do him in, and often criticizes my 'tone' or 'the look in your eyes' inexplicably. Did I mention he was a policeman for 31 years? Ed is a wonderful, loving, sensitive, and yes a little crazy, man, but I love him and consider it my penance in life to put up with his weird idiosyncrasies. In the beginning he was sometimes violent, but since I quit working he is no longer threatened, and we usually get along okay. Whenever he acts up, I just shout that he's not getting rid of me that easily, he's stuck with me, so get over it. He settles down. You see, Ed and I both lost our mothers at a young age. We both fear abandonment. We help each other. And I know he is God's gift to me. In spite of the sin in my life earlier. I have wrestled with questions of going back to my first husband, trying to be obedient finally to Jesus' teaching; but I think that bridge has burned. Once the marriage vow is broken through 'adultery' (remarriage), I don't think it can be put right again. Now, I hope this marriage is valid with God. It seems to be. Just in case, though, Ed and I have now lived as brother and sister for several years, so even the Catholics can't believe we are living in sin, should they dare to ask. Truly I am very blessed.

Now, my children are mostly grown, three graduated from college, two are married and converted to Catholicism as adults--at a more conservative parish than mine. The agnostic's son is, no surprise, an agnostic. But we are still praying for him. I now have a grandchild and another on the way. Life is good.

In fact, my husband and I on a daily basis pinch each other and declare we have already died and are living in Heaven now--it's so good I feel guilty. Guess I have finally learned how to be a Catholic!

Now, about your other questions: Christian pacifist? Well, I am a Christian and I am now wrestling with the pacifism issue because of these recent wars (Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Lebanon/Gaza/Israel). That is why I said what I did. But another respondent corrected me to let me know that many of you have been pacifists for years.

I don't know why I wasn't really. I guess I believed the story that we had to defend the defenseless, and that's what we did in WWII. Of course, I know that isn't true, now. When VietNam was happening I was attending LCC. No one talked about pacifism. Most 'Restoration Movement' Christians even then were Republicans, supporting the war. It was the liberal Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Episcopals who didn't. When I confronted Dean Webb at LCC about the war and the peace movement he let me know for sure that the war was the right thing. So we were not pacifists then. Most of my classmates thought it was right even though they did not want to go fight.

Now, since 9/11 I have been rethinking these things. I think others are too. But you all are way ahead of me here.

Now, I just read the Scripture and take it as it comes. When we do that, Christians really have no choice about this. This isn't an 'iffy' area--not open to interpretation or opinion, really. Either one takes Jesus's words as spoken, or one ignores them, as I did, as unrealistic when applied to society at large. I know there are some who now say that most of the Bible is not true to the original words, so we can't trust any of it. (Just read, Misquoting Jesus, author unremembered. An interesting book, but I don't agree with his conclusions. Without the Bible, even as mishmashed as it is today, we would be lost. We have to trust God that maybe, just maybe, those notes in the margins were supposed to get included.) However, I don't believe the Sermon on the Mount is included in those challenged areas anyway.

So I am just learning 'pacifism'. I am learning that this was the position of the Church for about 300 years. Catholics today, though officially always seeking justice and peace, often support war, even this 'unjust' war. After we invaded Iraq my church had a Q&A session on Just War Theory, another hairsplitting exercise that draws mainly from Augustine, Acquinas, and other important theologians. It is what I call the 'work-around'. When I was employed in IT, we often used that expression to come up with a problem solution, because the best solution was not politically acceptable, or was not workable. Just War Theory gives Christians an excuse to go to war just like the Annullment Process gives Christians an excuse to get out of marriage. It's like Jesus said about divorce--that was given to appease the people. These ideas give the Church a way to imagine they have control over areas in which they have no control. In Catholicism, especially, a lot of time is spent arguing back and forth about ways to control what happens in this world, and in the Church. Everyone has his little fiefdom to protect. Everyone wants to matter, somehow. Consequently, on any given evening, go into any Catholic Church small-group meeting and you will find the people talking about why or why not priests should be allowed to marry, why or why not women should be priests, and what kinds of procedures and words should be allowed during the mass. Sometimes they also talk about social justice and Just War Theory. But the pastor will never get up on Sunday morning and tell the divorced people they are living in sin if they are fornicating with someone they are not married to. Never. They will never tell the people that war is against the teachings of Jesus. Never--they have the Just War Theory. They will say that a particular war 'may' violate the Just War Theory. Talk about lukewarm. Mostly they teach from the Gospel of the day and encourage people to get involved in ministry and to spend their 20 minutes with God every day. They do not preach against specific sins: lust, drunkenness, gambling, gossip,etc., though they do preach against sin in general. I shouldn't criticize. . . they still help a lot of people. I find it annoying though because I feel that God wants the Church to stand up to this perversion of His teaching. The Bible does not encourage Christians to go to war. You guys here know that, but it seems that many do not, and they do not honor Him with their wrong teaching. I hate to judge others--and normally can not, since I am myself guilty of so much sin--but it is just wrong to say those things about Jesus. He did not say those things.

Okay, I understand that pacifism is way beyond the war thing--and I agree with you on that. It is a 'Way' of life. Jesus is the Way, get it?

I agree--it's all about Jesus. Who He is and how we can reflect His glory. We must be lead by the Holy Spirit, not the Spirit of this world. I think some of the these Christians who defend the wars and the American dominion over the Earth only view it as an intellectual exercise. This is a 'position' on a controversial issue, like abortion, or women speaking in Church, nothing more. I don't think they realize this is what being a 'follower' of Christ is all about. Jesus said, 'My sheep hear my voice. My friends obey my commandments. Love one another. Love your enemies. Love God with your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength; love your neighbor as yourself', Love, love, love. This is the gospel, too.

Unfortunately, some evangelicals have reduced it to 'just' the scheme of redemption, as though Jesus was just a robot sent to die and save us, who had no vision of what His kingdom should be like, no kingship, no demands from us. We are just using Him to get saved. I don't think that kind of thinking honors Him or His sacrifice. If we don't obey His commandments, He will not defend us before the Father. His commandment is love. Love does not ever include killing someone. Period. Ask any child.

You know when the cult threw us out, I was so messed up and confused, I couldn't understand it, and kept trying to defend those who threw us out. My 7-year-old son said very clearly, "No, Mom, they just didn't love us." And he was right. Sometimes the right answers are very simple and clear. We just don't want to hear them.

August 21, 2006 at 1:11 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


What a testimony! Thank you for laying yourself bear here with us, Cynthia. We here are mostly all memebers of churches that are tough on personal, individualistic sins, but blind to corporate social sins. Our churches support the "war on terror," American imperialism and all that too. Some of your struggles are ones that we share with you.

I would urge you not to give up on the church, no matter how fractured and imperfect it is. It will not get better if good people like you are not there to witness to what the church is supposed to be like. While it is true that God is everywhere and that you don't need a priest to commune with him, you also know that there is no lasting communion with God apart from the coming together of his people. The church, however distorted, twisted and broken, is an integral part of that kingdom lifestyle you spoke of above. Pacifism isn't just about not killing; pacifism is an activity--it is peace-making. The church is supposed to be the space and time made possible by the peace of Christ. It is the reconciliation of man to man and man to God. While the church is by and large corrupt, it is still God's principal way of making peace in the earth. The church is God's peace being made. I encourage you to be committed to God's church despite God's church. That is what I had to do before I discovered for myself that God's church really is a possibility. It just isn't a possibility for anyone not willing to make it a reality.

Peace to you, Cynthia. We are committed to you as we are to our own selves.


August 21, 2006 at 8:51 AM  
Blogger Tyler Stewart said...

I just want to echo Thom's words. You are part of the body of Christ, know that you're sins are forgiven, you are covered in the blood of Jesus. Jesus and his Church love you.

August 21, 2006 at 10:11 AM  
Blogger CynthiaAdams said...

Wow! Thanks for kind and welcoming words. About the Church--I have not at all given up, even on the Catholic Church. I love the catholic Church, but not so much the Roman Catholic Church--the earthly institution. I know we are all sinners saved by grace, and even the earthly manifestations of the Church will have flaws aplenty. That is why we don't call this world Heaven.

One last thing about this, and then we can get back to pacifism. The problem for the earthly institution is in the hierarchy and the power it provides. This structure is traced back to Origen, who advocated for 'holy order'. Not a bad idea, really, but it appears to be similar to the structure of Roman government, and institutionalizes the sin of pride, a mortal sin, if you remember, a sin that will lead one to death.

Some would say that my actions now are the result of my own pride. It is separating me from the manifest source of Christ's revelation on this earth, and from the grace conferred by regularly receiving into my physical body the same Body and Blood of the Lord, who said we must eat his body and drink his blood or we will not have life within us. (John 6:53). This is how they maintain the power. Trouble is I have a history of finding grace through God's Spirit alone, without the grace conferred from the mystery of the Eucharist--or at least not at the hands of Catholic priests. I am such a rebel. What are ya gonna do? Here I stand, I can do no other. I miss worshipping with fellow believers, but they don't have to be RC. Unfortunately, some of the local Prot. churches are real gung-ho warmongers. Hate that. Also, the Husband won't go. So I just have to wait to see what the Lord will provide that way. He knows my needs. I'm okay out here in the desert for now. You guys help a lot.

Now back to active pacifism. How does that work exactly? What do active pacifists do in any given day?

August 21, 2006 at 1:17 PM  
Blogger Andy Rodriguez said...


Your last question is a great question. The reason no one has answered yet is because if we actually write down how to actively live as a Christian pacifist we would recongnize that we are not doing a very good job of it. Remember, Christian pacifism is not passivism, rather it is quite active. If on a given day the christian pacifist should be doing everything possible (giving to the poor, loving enimies, praying for those who persecute us, selling our possessions, preaching the gospel even if it requires moving to Iran or Japan or Zambia or Dallas) I might stop and realize that I am not doing a very good job of doing these, and I might have to change some things.

You question is a great one. What does a pacifist DO on any given day. An answer might be easy to give but very difficult to live. I do want to know, however. And that is how I want to live. But it just might require radical change, and I am not sure if I am ready to be that convicted.

August 25, 2006 at 4:32 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...



My apologies for this delayed response. The delay is in part, as Andy pointed out, due to my not knowing quite how to answer your question truthfully without at the same time exposing my own moral failures. But it is also just because I wanted to say what I have to say well.

Andy is going to be a peacemaker in a country overseas. (I'm not sure if it's a secret, so I won't say it until Andy does.) Our friend Jason Fry is a peacemaker in India. I try to be a peacemaker in Joplin. There are several ways to do this, but the first and the most important task of Christian peacemakers is the task of upbuilding the church.

The church is God's sign to the world of his peaceable kingdom. The church is, literally, "where it's at." By involving myself with the life of a church, by teaching, by praying with other Christians, by confessing and forgiving sins in community, by encouraging right conduct and by discouraging destructive conduct, I am making peace.

Erica and I have a friend who was on the verge of divorce. We began meeting with her, and before long we were meeting with both her and her husband, and their two children. That is peace making.

My father was the sworn enemy of my step-father. At my wedding I had the two of them read from Ephesians 2 together, on the power of Christ to make one new man out of two men formerly divided by a wall of hostility. That is peace making.

I try to be tender with my wife, and I try not to argue with her just because I know I can win (regardless of whether I'm wrong or right). I try to answer her softly (though sometimes my idea of soft and hers don't exactly match). I try not to let the sun go down on our anger. That is peace making.

My wife and I try to prepare each other for a life of peace making by reminding ourselves as often as we can that our marital union is not final or absolute. Although it will last as long as the both of us are alive, it does not monopolize our allegiences. We try to remind ourselves that the very same love that binds us to one another is the love that binds us to our enemies, to those who might one day seek to harm us. That is not peace making, but it is character development. I hope it's good preparation for peace making.

I try not to gossip. I'm not always successful, but when I am, that is peace making.

My good friend and mentor Mike Ackerman has reminded me that peace making involves challenging evil, confronting sin, and combatting excess with radical moderation. When we speak up about a sister or a brother's sin, that is peace making. When we confront our culture about its materialism, that is peace making. When we speak out in public about unjust wars, that is peace making. But most importantly, when we give the world a viable alternative by giving them a good church, that is peace making.


August 26, 2006 at 1:02 AM  
Blogger Andy Rodriguez said...

It's no secret. I am going to Japan.


August 26, 2006 at 9:34 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


Salada to saucua naka de arimas.


August 27, 2006 at 12:20 AM  
Blogger CynthiaAdams said...

Fellow laborers

How gracious of you to share your heart-felt experiences trying to live out the words of Christ. Truly, peacemaking is the essence of how God deals with us and therefore it must be the essence of our dealings with others and the objective of all we do. You have given me furiously to think here.

Your prayers have not been without effect on my behalf, brothers.

Today I accompanied my husband to the mass at our church. The first reading was from Joshua, where God says, "I know you are living among the Amorites. . . nevertheless you must choose today whom you will serve, the god of your fathers, or . . ." the god of the conquered peoples around them. (paraphrased, obviously! You know the readings in Catholic churches have been selected since time began, and repeat every three years, according to the dates in the church year, okay?) What I heard in this, since I was praying hard for ears to hear the Lord's words for me personally today, was 'Okay, sure, these people are lukewarm, they worship with their lips, but their hearts are far from me--they are like the Amorites. Worship the god of your fathers--my grandfather was a Baptist minister/missionary--so I am thinking, Back to the other church? Return to those who brought you into the faith, the passage said.

But the next reading was a psalm (which is sung), "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord." Okay, I'm good with that. Love that. It was so good to worship together.

Next the reading from Ephesians about submission to the spouse, and the mystery that the spousal relationship is a type for Christ and the Church. I heard "He is your husband, I gave him to you, Love him, go along with him on this, and it'll be okay with Me." Okay, I'm good with that, but Ed wants to stay in the RC church. How can this jive with the first idea? This is why it's dangerous to just grab Scriptures as having specific messages for individuals. (I know this--but I still pray for it.) Then get this! I almost laughed out loud. The next reading is the Gospel from John 6:60-69 (This I remember!) which begins "This is a hard teaching", and I'm thinking "You got that right", and although it seems this passage is obviously referring to the discourse on how Jesus is the bread of life, it also seemed to me at this time to refer to all the hard teachings we encounter in following Him, like submit to the husband, or turn the other cheek, or reach out to bring peace with people who fear or hate us.

I'm sure you all think I am some kind of nut, but today I came to some conclusions about my church dilemma. I'm going back--not so much because I am submitting, since I am not sure that is what Paul (or whoever) was really talking about there. But it triggered the realization that this marriage is my mission from God--and your words have helped me here. God has not called me to preach to those in foreign lands, or to write amazing interpretations of Scripture, or even to find a cure for cancer. God has given me one little thing to do, one candle to keep alight. It is my job to model Jesus to the paranoid I have married, to really demonstrate peacemaking on a daily basis with this man who has spent a lifetime in fear of all others. Part of that activity, for now anyway, is to find some way to accommodate his need to continue in this church, with me by his side, and to know that God knows my concerns and He is working on it. It's sort of like he said to me, "Yes, there are issues there, but you just leave that to Me. I still have work for you here. Love your enemies." Then, significantly, a lady got up and spoke aboout the Service, Justice, and Peace Ministry. They have many activities planned for the coming year, including sending funds for Catholic schools, raising money for poor people overseas, many things. None of them address anti-war activities. None. After the mass--a Patriots' mass honoring police, firemen, and military--and the singing of a rousing tearjerker about freedom and liberty, I stopped into the Justice Corner to inquire about activities regarding our wars overseas. The woman directed me to the table collecting care package stuff to send to our troops. (Nothing against that, but where is the voice against war?) Anyway, when I spoke further with her she indicated that I should contact Catholic Charities who does much more on a global basis. So they currently are doing nothing--not protesting, not writing letters, not organizing. Nothing. When Chicago has a peace march--they are not there. I think I should point out to them that the first part of peace is to stop the shooting and bombing. This church is practically ignoring the war, except to pray for our young members who are deployed to fight. They don't mention it otherwise. Maybe there is work for me here.

Anyway, like it or not, I am going back to Choir on September 7, and I will make my husband show up more than once a month. If he wants me involved, we are going to go regularly. And I am not going to be that quiet submissive wife. If I am going there, I am no longer going to be silent. He may regret taking me back. I will be kind, and soft-spoken, but I will not be silent. They need to hear the other side. They'll probably ask me to leave by next year. Oh, well. At least then they will have heard this word, "Love your enemies." I can only pass on what I hear.

Thanks so much for your insights. You folks are like fresh air--so full of hope, and peace, clear-thinking and the Lord's Spirit. So few people really try to live the Gospel. I am in awe. Tears. Gotta go.

August 27, 2006 at 5:04 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...



Our prayers (mine and my wife's, Tyler's and his) will be continually with you.

I think the decision you have made is exactly the right one. I am inspired by your commitment to discipleship to the point of submitting to your husband even when it hurts.

And I DO think God has you there, in that church (which is so very much like my own church, and the majority of American churches) for a good reason. Pray, work, preach, and plead for peace.

I recommend you get your hands on a copy or two of No King But Caesar? It is a great little easy-to-read but well-informed book on pacifism as Christian discipleship written by a Roman Catholic lawyer, William R. Durland. It is available used from starting at $9.79. Here is a link to the book on Buy one or two copies, read it, and pass it around your church to people you think might respond well to it. Start a prayer meeting dedicated solely to praying for peace in war-torn nations throughout the world. You can even get pro-war patriots involved in that; just tell them it's a spiritual exercize.

Other books I highly recommend are:

The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder

The Original Revolution by John Howard Yoder

The Upside-Down Kingdom by Donald Kraybill


Resident Aliens by Hauerwas & Willimon

All of these talk about Jesus, the church, and nonviolence. I have listed them in order from most academic to most accessible.

My favorites are The Politics of Jesus and Resident Aliens. The reason I recommend you start with No King But Caesar? is because it is written by a Roman Catholic. If you pass that around your church it'll have more street cred than Politics of Jesus (written by a Mennonite) and Resident Aliens (written by a Texan Methodist with a PhD from Yale).

My email address is Write me if you need anything at all.

Make peace where you are. Your RC church is "where it's at."

Peace of Christ to you.


August 27, 2006 at 11:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading all this made me think of my own personal wrestling with Romans 14. In it Paul discusses "disputable matters"--i.e. behaviors that offend the conscience of some Christians but not others. In verse 22 he gives the following command, "“So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.” I'm still struggling to determine which areas of my vocal life need to become obedient to this command. I pray that God will grant all of us wisdom in this regard.

September 19, 2006 at 11:06 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


Thank you, anonymous. Your concern is a good one, but I do not think the issue of violence/nonviolence is a Romans 14 issue. The early church didn't treat it as a Romans 14 issue (the norm was that Christians were not soldiers in wartime). In Romans 12, Paul didn't treat it as a Romans 14 issue (Paul taught rather clearly that the way Christians overcome evil is with good: Paul, like Jesus, taught Christians to love their enemies and not to play the vengeance game). Moreover, when Jesus taught us not to violently resist evil, to love our enemies, to imitate the Father's behavior, he concluded with a very dire exhortation: he said that anyone who hears his words and puts them into practice is standing on firm foundation, and anyone who hears his words and does not put them into practice is destined for destruction (Matthew 7). I think this issue is integrally a discipleship issue, and according to Jesus discipleship issues are salvation issues. For precisely what it means to be saved is to live the new kind of life made possible by Jesus' own life. Without that new life, salvation becomes a vacant concept, a Christianized version of a Greek stoicism that treats material things as evil and spiritual things as good.

In short, if Christ and the apostles DID teach nonviolence as a normative ethic for Christians, it cannot be reduced to an issue of individual conscience, anymore than the command not to lust after another man's wife is a Romans 14 issue. The church is here to witness to Christ's reign by living the way Christ lived in obedience to the One who raised him from the dead and gave him authority over all creation. Christians have no other task. Christianity is not a religion: it's an occupation. It's what we do.


September 20, 2006 at 10:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear brother in Christ,

I agree with you that some issues are “Romans 14 issues” and some are not. I also agree with your conclusion that “If Christ and the apostles DID teach nonviolence as a normative ethic for Christians [then it is not a Romans 14 issue].” I also agree that some ways of being pacifistic are directly enjoined in scripture. As you correctly point out, Romans 12 makes it obligatory for Christians to “Bless those who persecute you.” (14), “Live in harmony with one another” (16), “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.” (17), “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you live at peace with everyone” (18), “Do not take revenge” (19), and “overcome evil with good” (21).

However, I am not yet convinced that complete nonviolence (towards humans?) is expressly taught in scripture. For example, I can imagine a situation in which a minimal amount of violence would be necessary in order to prevent an attempted rape from becoming an actual rape. I.e. a Christian could come upon a man in the process of attempting to rape a woman and have only a short amount of time to intervene.

I could imagine a Christian brother who plausibly believed that this violence was not evil or vengeful. In fact it would probably be a blessing for the rapist insofar as the psychological healing he would need to undergo after this event would be lessened if the rape was not successful.

Another brother’s conscience might be weaker and not permit him to violently intervene.

Thus, until you offer more conclusive evidence that complete non-violence is scripturally mandated, it seems like a clear case of a Romans 14 issue.



September 20, 2006 at 1:19 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


Anonymous, I appreciate your post. I have a few questions:

1) Have you read the discussion above in its entirety? Because if you have had, you might see that the question you're posing is not as simple as you're posing it. For instance, your question assumes that a pacifist is devoid of any resource other than force to stop a rape in process, when in reality, if I were to come upon a rapist and had the means to stop him, the rapist would very likely not stick around to find out if I will in fact stop him. If, on the other hand, I do not have the means to stop him (e.g., he has a weapon, or he is bigger and stronger), the question of my using force is irrelevant.

2) Why does the one absolutely opposed to violence have the "weaker" conscience? Why do you assume it's not the other way around? I think that you framed the matter this way reveals a strong bias in your thinking. Moreover, that seems to me to be stretching the applicability of the meat-sacrificed-to-idols logic in a way that no early Christian would have done. Nonviolence was ubiquitously considered a discipleship issue in a way that eating or not-eating meat was clearly not.

3) What, for you, is going to constitute "evidence"? Are you looking for an NT proof-text that talks about what a Christian should do in a rape situation? Clearly you won't find one, but that doesn't automatically make it a Romans 14 issue. I suggest you do some reading in the early Church Fathers. There you will see how the earliest Christians after the apostolic era understood these matters. There is a great summary of the early church's consensus on violence in Roland Bainton's Christian Attitudes to War and Peace.

4) Why are you anonymous?


September 20, 2006 at 3:19 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...



In nowise has any pacifist here claimed that a commitment to nonviolence automatically rules out the use of restraint in some situations. Of course, the question of restraint is a tricky one, because restraint can easily escalate into violence. But that does not rule it out. The point many pacifists here have been trying to make is that such situations are never a cut-and-dry case of passivism vs. activism. Our goal has been to elaborate more alternatives than violence, or than forceful restraint, to help develop our typically very stagnant moral imaginations.

I hope this is not the case with you, but often times rape situations and the like are used to undermine pacifism wholesale. As Mark Moore pointed out a long while ago, the real question is not, "What will I do in an extreme situation?" but "What peacemaking activities will I engage in now that will form my character to be equipped to respond nonviolently when those extreme situations come around?"


September 20, 2006 at 3:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My replies:
1) I have not read the discussion in its entirety yet. If my question is already addressed previously I apologize. I don’t believe that my point depends upon the details of the rape example. Perhaps I could make a more general claim (of which the rape example is an instance). That claim is:
- It is possible that there exist examples of non-evil, non-vengeful, (loving?) violence.

2a) In Romans 14 the “weaker conscience” = the conscience that prohibits the behavior. The “stronger conscience” = the conscience that allows the behavior. In my example, the “behavior” was doing violence to stop rape. So using Paul’s terminology the pacifist has the “weaker conscience.” I can say with complete sincerity that I was not attempting to bias the discussion or use pejorative terminology. I was simply mimicking Paul. (As a matter of fact I am a complete pacifist myself and believe that _I_ have a weaker conscience.)

2b) As I understand the text Paul was establishing a general precedent. On issues that lack clear biblical teaching each believer is to obey his or her own conscience (i.e. the Holy Spirit) and act in love. Part of acting in love includes keepings my beliefs on these issues “between me and God.” (So I probably shouldn’t have admitted to being a pacifist in 2a). However, I will admit that I am still struggling deeply with this text. My nature is to be extremely outspoken about any and every issue related to Christianity. The Holy Spirit has convicted my conscience about my own disregard for Paul’s injunction in Romans 14:22. Part of my entering into this discussion was to see if I was understanding it correctly by giving it a “test drive” on an issue. The thoughtfulness of yourself and other bloggers encouraged me to use this forum.

3b) I’m not looking for a NT proof-text. I’m looking for whatever it is that separates “disputable matters” from non-disputable matters. And as far as I can tell, my own complete pacifism lacks the scriptural support necessary to rise to the level of a non-disputable matter. As another example, I consider the immorality of homosexual monogamy to be disputable, but the immorality of homosexual promiscuity to be non-disputable as there are clear biblical injunctions against the latter but not the former.
(Thanks for the Bainton reference, it sounds excellent).

4) I am anonymous for a host of reasons. Some of which have to do with my personal conviction to become a less vocal person. I’m not sure how posting anonymously helps me accomplish that goal but… it feels like it does. If you would prefer that I not post anonymously I understand. Additionally, I have a history with OCC (please don’t assume it is a bad one as it is not) and I would like to engage with this blog without any baggage and without any future consequences.

Thanks for your time.

September 20, 2006 at 4:26 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...



Thanks for your time. I certainly hear your heart. And I appreciate the good clarifications you've given. You've cleared up a lot of misunderstanding.

Here are some of my initial responses:

1) Loving violence would not have been a concept all that intelligible to early Christians. Ambrose and Augustine are responsbile for translating love of enemy into restraint of enemy. Early Christianity would have interpreted love of enemy as either absolute nonresistance or at most nonviolent protest. Now the concept of loving an evil person by forcefully restraining their evil is almost common sense, but that was not always the case. I would contend that such a view of enemy love is incongruous with the biblical testimony.

2a) I would still challenge the assumption that the absolute pacifist has the weaker conscience. While that seems to work analogically (in both cases the weaker conscience refrains from action; in both cases the stronger conscience participates), I think it takes the analogy too far. In the case of meat sacrificed to idols, no harm is being done to another human being when the person with the stronger conscience exercises his or her liberty. The mandate to love the enemy and to overcome evil with good is a positive mandate, requiring not passivity but a different kind of activity--one that sometimes might look like inactivity to those who don't know the whole story. But the absolute pacifist is not doing nothing when s/he refrains from violence. Rather s/he is witnessing to the character of the Father. Therefore, the analogy doesn't hold. If the weaker conscience is the one that refrains from activity, then the weaker conscience cannot be the pacifist, for the pacifist's activity is activity in the imago dei, activity par excellence.

2b) While I agree that Paul was, in Romans 14, establishing a precedent, the issue wasn't whether there was "clear biblical teaching" on the matter. Moreover, the precedent set by the meat sacrificed to idols affair is one of what is permissible as far as liberty is concerned. The stronger brother is the one who is able to partake in what has now been made good according to the new law of Christ. In the case of pacifism, the issue is different. It is not a question of permissability. It is a question of imitation of Jesus, and of how to overcome evil, even the evil of an extreme situation. Positive statements were made in this regard by Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, Luke, and most of the significant church fathers. Moreover, Paul gave clear biblical teaching about meat sacrificed to idols: he taught that it was okay. That did not thereby discount the logic of the stronger/weaker brother precedent.

3) While I agree with you that the extent and form of Christian pacifism is to some extent a disputable matter, I do not think that is because scripture is unclear, nor do I think that automatically slots it in the Romans 14 sphere. The issue in Romans 14 is not disputability but whether one is comfortable partaking in what was formerly considered unclean. Abstaining from meat sacrificed to idols does no one harm. Clearly, the same cannot be said for the one who abstains from nonviolent resistance.


September 20, 2006 at 9:37 PM  

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