Saturday, August 29, 2009

Thoughts About Peace and Pacifism (Part One)

I am a pacifist, and have been one for much of my life. A pacifist for me is someone who will not use violence against other people for any reason. There are those who would define the term more broadly and include violence against other animal species. They may have a legitimate point, but I'm not exactly at that place in my life, and for the purposes of this series of entries I will limit the definition to violence against humans. However violence against humans can be included in acts that threaten human health and life, such as destroying vegetation and crops by spraying Agent Orange as was done during the Vietnam War, or the use of depleted uranium in Iraq and elsewhere which will be causing potentially fatal tumors in children for millions of years. Those actions are just as wrong as killing people,

My pacifism is based in my Christian beliefs. I grew up in the Mennonite Church in Lancaster Co., Pennsylvania, one of the increasing number of places in the world with a high concentration of Mennonites. I was taught from my earliest memories that it's wrong for me as a Christian to participate in warfare, to get in fights with other people, or to try to get even with someone who wronged me. I repeatedly heard the stories of Dirk Willems, the early Mennonite, or Anabaptist as we were called then, who gave up his life to rescue an enemy from drowning in a frozen Dutch river, or the story of two brothers, members of the Hutterites, who were tortured to death in a military prison in Kansas because they refused to put on the uniform and participate in World War 1. I am currently a charter member of and on the leadership team at Hyde Park Mennonite Fellowship in Boise, Idaho, although the thoughts and beliefs I present in this series and anywhere on this blog are my own. I'm not writing or speaking for anyone else.

I graduated from Lancaster Mennonite High School in 1966, during the Vietnam War. Although many young men were being drafted and sent to Vietnam, I not only was not drafted, I didn't even know anyone who was drafted, or who joined the military. All of my friends and nearly all of my acquaintances were Mennonite pacifists like myself. Some would say that I was sheltered and out of touch with the reality of the world where wars rage and people suffer immensely, but who would argue that being sheltered from the violence of warfare is a bad thing? There was no chance I would have participated in the military, if drafted. Becoming a soldier was unthinkable. There was no way that I could have disgraced my family and shamed my parents and grandparents more than by joining the military and participating in warfare.

As Mennonites our pacifism, (or, as some would prefer, non-resistance), is based on solid historical and Biblical foundations. Roland Baintan in his book "Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace" writes that for the first three centuries of Christianity, all Christians were pacifists. Soldiers were not allowed to be church members. The Christians who lived closest to the time of Christ believed that pacifism was mandatory for Christians. The treatment of enemies by Jesus and his twelve apostles was strongly pacifist. None of them were allowd to use violence to defend themselves from their enemies, and when Peter tried to protect Jesus by using the sword, Jesus rebuked him.

The number of Biblical and other reasons for being a pacifist are almost endless. In this series I will be presenting what I see as reasons to reject participation in warfare or any kind of retaliatory violence against humans. However I want to emphasize that being a pacifist does not mean that one is passive. On the contrary. The two words, pacifist and passive are more likely to be antonyms than synonyms. A passive person is one who is nonchalant, apathetic, one who doesn't care. In order to be a pacifist one has to care deeply. For a Christian pacifist, that caring will include enemies, including enemy nations. During the two most recent wars we've all seen the messages on bumper stickers, on magnetic signs, and even on some Christian church signs. Many of them include the phrase, "God Bless Our Troops," which is a profoundly anti-Christian way of directing our requests for blessings. The Christian approach, which has been used in prayer at our church many times, is to request God's blessing for all the troops. Taliban troops and Iraqi insurgents are also created in the image of God. Like us, they are people Jesus came and died for, precisely so they would not have to die for their sins.

You might argue, perhaps with some justification, that the Taliban and Iraqi Insurgents are evil, oppressive people, with no respect for human life. Others would claim, perhaps with equal justification, that they are just protecting their homelands from a vicious foreign invader and occupier. I've noticed that one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, that one person's war lord or insurgent is another's liberator. Any person or country who uses violence for whatever reason is destroying freedom. Killing people destroys freedom. A dead person has no freedom of speech, press, or religion, no choices on election day, and no democracy. We may claim that sometimes it's necessary to use deadly force against those who might take away our freedoms, but in doing so we are also guilty of destroying freedom. And in all of these violent military conflicts, those most likely to be killed or injured are always the innocent, that is women and children. From 75 to 90% of all the victims of wars since World War 2 have been innocent civilians, and that is as true for victims of US military actions as for the military actions of any other country.

Leonard Nolt

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