Don’t Be a Hero…Be a Pacifist

March 23, 2011

Spring is in the air…along with war.

It’s just kind of a perinneal thing, that old “necessary evil.”  So as the missles fly over Libya, Iraq winds down, and Afganistan is business as usual (read: very little progress), people get to choose again if they “support the troops,” or if they’re “peaceful pacifists.” 

Christians have it extra tough to try to see eye to eye on war.  I suspect that someone who opposed the war in Iraq has a fundamentally different view of America than a guy who supported the war.  But then we throw Jesus into the mix, and we’re just a mess.  We can’t decide what Jesus meant about “turning the other cheek.”

So whether you’re a pacifist, a war hawk, a lover or a fighther, I think I’ve got you all covered…

Don’t Be a Hero

Okay, let’s say you’re at the bank where you work, and the place gets held up by a bunch of masked men with guns.  You’re on the floor with your coworkers, and you have an opportunity to take out one of the bumbling henchmen while he’s not looking.  The background music is getting pretty intense too.  What are you coworkers all telling you?  The same thing they always do at a time like this.

“Don’t be a hero.”

That’s what everyone says.  When the chips are down, don’t be a hero.  Just do what the man with the gun says.  Be a pacifist.  But you can’t be a pacifist and a hero.  The hero is the guy who takes down the terrorists or carries the kitties out of the burning building.  The pacifist in every movie is the guy who pees his pants.  Even though we think of the Messiah as a pacifist, we’d probably hesitate to call him a hero in our typical sense of the word.

Violent Pacifism

Being a pacifist is all well and good.  If you don’t want to defend yourself, fine.  It’s not cowardly.  Seems pretty gutsy to tell your enemy to do his worst while you take it.  But what about defending someone else?  I know Jesus said when someone slaps you to turn your other cheek to them so they can slap you again.  But say someone else is getting slapped?  Are we supposed to turn their cheek for them so they can get slapped again?  That’s when pacifism breaks down – when your “righteous” non-violence allows more violence to exist against defenseless people. 

Do I have to wait for someone to be robbed and beaten half to death by the side of the road to step in and be a ‘good Samaritan?’

The President is going on a big anti-bullying campaign these days, which happens to be very relevant to Libya.  It’s not about oil.  Libya produces 2% of the world’s oil, so don’t try to justify your pacifism with that delusion.  I do not understand non-violent pacifists who frown on confronting ruthless dictators who slaughter thousands of innocent people.  You tell your chronically bullied, emotionally broken child to turn his other cheek to a bully.  The next time your kids are fighting, just be a pacifist and let them eat each other.  It’s the same thing.

Pacifism in America is really convenient.  We don’t have anyone attacking us.  It’s really easy to say we wouldn’t defend ourselves while other people are on the front lines defending us.

The Game of World Domination

But wait!  I know only half of you are spitting at your computer in righteous indignation.  Let me see what I can do for the rest of you.

You probably liked my last point.  Being a pacifist just seems un-American, doesn’t it?  As American Christians, we speak softly, but we carry a big stick.  You and I know that there’s plenty of God-ordained violence and war and nation invading in the Old Testament.  And we know that Jesus never told Roman soldiers to stop being soldiers.  So we’re proud to send our soldiers over to take out a guy who looks like he gets beauty tips from Mickey Rourke.

And isn’t that just as convenient and cozy for me as pacifism is for the next guy?  I can say I “support our troops.”  What does that mean?  I put a sticker on my car?  I take some flak from my pacifist friends?  What are they going to do to me?  They’re pacifists!  I’ve never enlisted.  I’ve never had to ration my own food or buy a war bond.  I’ve never lost anyone I love in war.  It sure is easy for me to say a tyrant should be taken out, when I’m not the one to do it.  Maybe I should be less concerned with making sure I’m not a pacifist flower child, and more concerned about the rampant pacifism and indifference in my heart when I see my actual neighbor in need.

It just doesn’t seem like you can really figure out if you’re a pacifist or not until it’s your own life on the line.

What do you think?  Do the seemingly pacifist words of Jesus apply to nations?  Are we supposed to be radical pacifists, or do we draw the line when it means being a good Samaritan?

By the way, I’ve got a special short post going up tomorrow and all you bloggers out there won’t want to miss it.

29 responses to Don’t Be a Hero…Be a Pacifist

  1. Hi Matt,

    Them’s fighten words, Partner!

    This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.

    Jesus may love you, but John Wayne is on my side.

    Obviously, Jesus meant I am to take the crap the world dishes out the same way He did. I’m to platt a whip, and overturn tables, and kick ass…. or not.

    “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously”.

    When it comes to defending others, the adrenalin surges and I want to jump in and prove to the world that I am indeed Batman. It’s an ego thing. I forget the Lord said, “Vengeance is Mine. I will repay”.

    Can God take care of His own?

    Can He possibly get along without my help?

    Do I really want to get between my neighbor and his wife when they are fighting with butcher knife and BBQ fork?

    As far as nations are concerned, I pray that our leaders are wiser than I am, that they know things I don’t… But I can’t help but wonder, why Libya and not Cuba? Why did Farook and Idie Amein, and the Columbian drug lords not get bombed in indignation?

    And can we successfully target individual bad guys who bug us? Osama Bin Lauden, Manuel Norega, Saddam Hussain, Koemane, Stalin, Hitler, and a bunch of other guys whose names I can’t spell–we don’t have a great track record in such matters.

    And do we want to set up a retaliatory situation of revenge tennis in which we take out their president and leaders, and they take out ours?

    Somebody wise said that: insomuch as in me is, I am to live at peace with all men. And I am to forgive enemies because I have enemies.

    I think it boils down to whether or not I believe there is a supernatural factor at work in this world. Do I believe in a just God who will do justly? Or must I take matters into my own hands.

    But, you better not bully me. Better be nice to me. The Bible says the meek shall inherit the earth… And when we take over, we’re going to kick off some kneecaps!


  2. i assume the underlying principle of “do not kill” is the sanctity of life. so a valid question would be whether or not we are in a position to choose which life is more valuable in a given situation? or which should be defended? because (in one of these situations) to be violent is to defend the oppressed, while to refuse action is to defend the oppressor.

    if violence and pacifism are set against one another, the best choice is love. we all agree on that. we simply disagree on how we demonstrate that love. i firmly believe righteous love protects the oppressed, not the oppressor. and if force is my only action, force i will use. [fortunately, i’ve never had to use force to the point of death — but only a little shoving….]

    what a lot of this comes down to is which ethical theory we subscribe to. i believe any honest and realistic approach will acknowledge that at times God’s laws will conflict with one another. protecting the innocent seems to me to be one of these times. [i’m in the middle of a series on my blog concerning these moral dilemmas and difficult ethical choices.]
    JamesBrett recently posted..rahab’s exchange- moral absolutism

  3. By the phrase, “throwing Jesus in the mix,” it sounds like you are suggesting that we approach politics with a a preconceived notion of what Jesus would do and then we just mix him in with what we already want to believe.
    Jeremy @ confessionsofalegalist recently posted..Do you wear a costume

    • No that’s not what I mean we should do…although you make a good point about how many Christians actually do approach politics! :) I just mean that politics is complex and heated enough, and you add in the fact that everyone thinks they know what the Messiah would do, and it gets really toxic.

  4. Thanks for not resolving this at all, Matt!

    Seriously though, I think you hit the nail on the head with the part about defending others. That is where it gets tricky, and that’s where we all end up with “But what about the Holocaust? Should we have let that happen?” Something in me just says we have to step in to stop violence, even if it requires a measure of violence to do so. I could be wrong. I’m glad I haven’t had to make the choice yet.
    David N. recently posted..On Writing- Guest Posting at Shawn Smucker’s Blog

  5. It seems that if we work at, it we can pretty much make that Bible say whatever we want. Here is my take.

    In the Bible there were no protests by Christians. In fact it was a very good idea to live the life, not advertise it. Public speaking was about the Gospel and folks eternal homes – not about Cesar. It is still a good Bible to do so.

    In the garden Peter was carrying a sword; it’s a fact. I assume that this was for protection, and yet none of the 12 came to the rescue of any damsels or children. The question is this: do we just go willingly with the violent certain of our faith and our eternal home? Isn’t what Jesus did? If it is not entirely that, then we are going to need some on the spot wisdom. I suppose if we don’t hear from God, we are just going to react – then we could be wrong.

    I don’t have problem disarming an offender who intends to take a life, or cause harm to another.

    In terms of Libya, why not take out the leader? I am pretty sure we know where he is. I think the war is just another stupid move for America along with Iraq. I am not even sure taking out the government of Afghanistan was such a great idea. I thought we were going after Al Queda? No? I mean if they are the problem, how come we are not in Pakistan?

    I don’t think that we as a nation need to police tyrants around the world. There must be a deeper motive, because we allow injustice in many other places. Darfur, Tibet, Cambodia, China – the list goes on and on.

    I believe that we should not be an aggressor. I disagreed with Bush and I disagree with Obama on that issue. I didn’t have any issue hunting down Al Queda – the rest, I am not seeing it in terms of blood (and I suppose treasure). I don’t think it Biblical to be an aggressor.

    Break into my house, try to rob me in the parking garage, or start a shootout at the mall, and I have a bullet for you – I promise to warn you once.

    As always, excellent discussion, Matt!
    David recently posted..Did You Ever Think

    • Yeah the problem is we can come to a conclusion in our minds about what we ought to do, but then there’s always real world discrepancies – why aren’t we in Pakistan? Or Afganistan may have been the “right” choice, but the way it’s turned out hasn’t been good. We just kind of have to settle for taking a side and knowing it’s not going to be perfect.

    • Thank you for this.

      The new (in the last 50 years) US policy of policing the world bothers me a lot. It smacks of arrogance – of which we have plenty. Imperialism does not sit well. That was not the intent of creating this country.

      It also bothers me the choices we have made with the “policing.” At the time, North Korea seemed a much greater threat to me than Iraq – but going there would have been dangerous! Iraq posed little threat to us, in spite of the press that it was given.

      On the other hand, we do know someone whose job it was to take care of the ordnance in Iraq and he said the reasons that “no weapons of mass destruction” were found was the definition of such was so narrow (basically the weapons had to be actually armed and ticking to count) that it ruled out all of what they found.

      I still do not believe Iraq was the problem Bush presented. In fact, at the time i believed any measure should have been taken to take Bush out rather than allow him to take us into that war.

      I have no bullets for anyone. But i do have a lot of strong opinions.
      Kathryn recently posted..Title

  6. I get all sweaty when I see Jesus and pacifist in the same sentence. I get that Jesus said to turn the other cheek, but He also said “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword”. (Matthew 10:34)

    So…when we have war and my fellow brothers and sisters is Christ rally around the pacifist pole, I’m trusting Christ as my hero, not as the one laying on the ground next to me waiting for the bank robbers to leave.

    This was a REALLY great post Matt. Very, very thought provoking stuff I’ll be marinating in all day.

    And also? I think Gadaffi looks more like an MC Hammer fashionista than a Mickey Rourke one, but I’m willing to turn the other cheek on that.
    Marni recently posted..Yeah- Im back

  7. Matt,

    I loved your last paragraph. I think that is where most Americans stand on war. We have the ultra hippies that protest and annoy, and we have the super conservatives that are in your face Glenn-Beck style (and annoy).

    Neither one has any right to speak on the matters. When I hear ‘support our troops’, I think about supporting each individual troop, not the USMC, USAF, etc. Only the guys who are living out war have any say on whether we should be at war or not. I respect the young soldier who says he hates war and can’t believe people would treat each other with death, as much as I respect the young soldier who is becomes a warrior for the U.S.

    I think the most important thing over-looked is that the war is not over when these soldiers come home. We are supposed to support them, but are quick to forget about them when they are not on the battle field. There are mental issues to be dealt with, and we as civilians are the ones that must rise to the occasion.

  8. In regards to the Libyan action most of the affirmations and dissent tend to, as usual, travel down party lines. Now Obama may be able to wave his little flag: “But it was all perfectly legal. The United Nations said so.” But look at the abstentions, five of them, including Russia and China, countries that know how to play the diplomatic game according to the only rules that matter (to them) – those once laid down by Niccolò Machiavelli. Now, as western missiles and bombs once again rain down on an Arab country, the Russians are expressing regret over international military action, taken after a “hastily approved” UN resolution.

    But the contradiction also lies on the fact the Arab League is behind this, so the objection goes. Yes, they are, against repression in Libya while some of their hypocritical members enforce it in Bahrain. And what of Yemen, what of the people of Yemen, do they somehow matter less than the people of Libya?

    The blight of the USA over the past couple decades has been that we always seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time; or we show up too late, or never get there at all. I will not even get into Rwanda, and Darfur.

    Having served in the military in multiple theaters of war, what perplexes me is the ignorance of our great world leaders and their complete incomprehension when it comes to the Arab world, the tribal nature of the Arab world, the tribal nature of places like Libya!The rebels are not strong enough to remove Gaddafi by their own efforts, that much is clear, just as the Iraqi rebels were not strong enough to remove Saddam after the First Gulf War. So, what’s next? Mission creep, that’s what, either supplying the rebels with arms, causing yet more loss of life, or sending in ground forces to end the deadlock that this precipitate action is likely to create. Bombing alone is unlikely to remove Gaddafi. Just wait to see how Al-Jazeera reports, just wait to see how it goes down in the Muslim world when the first school or hospital is hit by a ‘smart’ bomb.
    I know the USA loves to be the worlds police, but what is the USA going to do when the Chinese start killing their civilian population when they protest the police state they live in? Not like they haven’t done that before.

    The point I want to make is that if bombs and guns were going to bring peace to the world, they would have accomplished their goal by now. Having been in war, I now prefer to now put my trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and look forward to the day when we beat our weapons of war/swords into plowshares.

    Great Post!
    In Jesus Christ,
    Mark recently posted..Does your church Kick Butt

  9. Ahh, the old “Pacifists are liberal hippies” argument. I appreciate your willingness to confront the issue, but their is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be a pacifist. I am a full blooded American, serving my country as a member of the United States Army . . . but I am a pacifist. A pacifist is not one who idly lays to the side in the midst of atrocities. A pacifist is a person who sees that the shalom (wholeness, completeness) of God is something that should be available to all, and does everything possible to stop those who are hindering shalom–short of violence of course. This is a can of worms here, so I will be brief. The fact of the matter is we have known ALMOST nothing but violence for our entire existence as human beings, that we fail to take into account the times when non-violent resistance has been equally effective.

    Do I think we can stop Libya without violence? Not easily, and not quickly. And certainly not without a change in attitude of MANY people. However, there were numerous examples of people resisting the nazis during WWII without using violence, and in standing up to them, Christians effectively kept nazi powers from capturing Jews. It did not work for all, but it was tried, and they succeeded. My heart aches when we consider that there are only two ways of solving problems–violence, or curl up in the fetal position, cry, and let violent people terrorize. There is a third way, but we rarely consider it because it is not easy.

  10. Appreciate your point here about while it’s fine to turn the cheek for yourself, we do have a responsibility to help the oppressed. Having said that, it always gets confusing for me when it comes to war, especially if it’s a civil war as in the case of Libya (since we’re not sure about if the new dictator will be any better and since history shows that outside interference in civil conflict often prolongs the conflict). Also, there’s the issue of just which oppressed groups do we help and which do we not; since we obviously can’t help everyone. Definitely no easy asnwers!
    recently posted..Can you be uncompromising AND loving

  11. “It just doesn’t seem like you can really figure out if you’re a pacifist or not until it’s your own life on the line.” I think that’s exactly right.
    katdish recently posted..Permission to laugh

  12. I think you can be a pacifist and a hero. I point to Le Chambon, France during WWII. They never came to violence but they saved many Jewish people and stood up boldly to the Nazis. They told them there were Jews among them but they would not tell them who or where. There is a documentary as well as a book–Lest Innocent Lives or Blood be Shed. You also have Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. who lead non violent “revolts.”

    Second–pacifism is not something which waits until our lives are on the line in my opinion. My speech can be violent. “I just wanted to knock some sense into him.” “I wanted to slap the smile off her face.” I can be more non-violent in my speech.
    I can pray for my enemies. I can refuse to generalize my enemies. To blanket the Muslims with words like–“they don’t respect life like we do”–is to make them inferior to us. I can stop doing that in word. I can change my attitude.
    Perhaps if I live as a pacifist in the small things–in my attitude and words–perhaps that will help me when my life is on the line.
    Just my thoughts.

  13. I am not very good at turning the other cheek. I will admit that. It is an area I am growing in lately, which I only found out about because I actually turned my cheek several times with the same person. But I don’t always feel like I forgive them truly in my heart, so I’m not sure which cheek I’m turning toward them at this point. I’m letting God work on me on that.

    I do have a problem with turning the other cheek to you hurting someone else. You can physically push me without me engaging you in a fist fight, because I’m not 9 years old anymore. If I saw you push my wife or son, though, I wouldn’t think twice about fighting you. In fact, if you pose a threat to them, I would preemptively strike you, before you caused them any harm. Even if you were accidentally posing harm by being stupid at a Christian rock concert and you were about to knock my wife down, I would put you on the ground quickly and efficiently and explain the dangers of your folly. This may or may not have happened in Polaris, OH.

    The guns I legally keep in my home tell me I am a lousy pacifist, because I would use at least one of them the moment someone broke into my home. Actually, my wife would, because she’s a better shot than me, and she’s a mom.
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  14. I am one of the scatterlings of Africa, a displaced exile from Zimbabwe to the extent they would even deny I was born there. For 30 years Zimbabwe has staggered under the weight of Robert Mugabe’s tyranny, far worse than anything Gadaffi has dished out.

    To be honest, if he were taken out, and his henchmen with him, it would surely have a bit of redepmtion about it.
    Andrew recently posted..The problem with Fitzy’s world view

  15. Matt, you make great points for both sides. And I agree with each and every commenter. Especially those that point out that war is selective.

    Wouldn’t it be great to keep politics out of war? Then we could just look at the situations – the people being displaced or killed because they are the wrong tribe or religion or not as strong.

    I do know that Jesus didn’t promise peace (except the peace with passes all understanding :)) in the world, he promised persecution and trouble. But standing up for our neighbour, that is important. Whether that neighbour is being quietly persecuted or publicly beaten. And there are different ways and means for different situations. Not every situation calls for a strike force. And not every situation will be solved by prayer.

    I guess I’m glad I’m not having to make decisions on the world stage, but I can (and do) pray for those who do. And I write, and I question and I seek God’s leading on what He wants me to do.

  16. Hello Matt,
    Heady stuff. My husband’s grandparents are both World War II veterans. I’m thankful they, and others like them, went to war. All of us, someday, will have to answer for our unwarranted aggression and violence.

    Lazy Silly Girl

  17. As usual I’m late to the party. Still, I’ll just add my bit, just in case someone reads this far down :)

    People often quote Matthew 10:34 in suggesting that Jesus was not a pacifist. Here it is in context:
    “34 Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth.
    I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
    35 For I have come to turn `a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law –
    36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
    37 Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me
    is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
    38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
    39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

    It seems to me, then, that Jesus is saying that His followers will be the victims of the sword … that others will use it against them (hence the statement, “whoever loses his life for my sake”), not that the followers of Jesus ought to wield the sword against others.

    • I think you are correct. In this passage in particular, i think he is speaking about what WILL happen naturally from following him, rather than encouraging us to create this.

      I think Christians (& folks in general) create a lot of circumstances in life & then look to God to take responsibility.
      Kathryn recently posted..Title

    • I believe that is a better interpretation of what Jesus meant when we look at the context of the chapter as well as when Jesus says “blessed are the peacemakers” and “turn the other cheek.”
      This is the interpretation theologians like Ben Witherington III and NT Wright have expressed.

  18. Is that what Ben Witherington III and Tom Wright say as well? I didn’t know that. Anyway, it seems to make sense. Given the number of times Jesus speaks out against a violent response, and never speaks in favour of a violent response, then I struggle to see how we can Biblically justify violence.

    Matt asks, “Are we supposed to be radical pacifists, or do we draw the line when it means being a good Samaritan?” I believe it is possible to be a ‘radical pacifist’ and still resist tyrannical governments. War is not the only option available when an individual or a nation wants to do the right thing and be the ‘good Samaritan’ and help others in need.

  19. Well if anything I don’t know why ultra-pacifists watch movies that are the opposite of that – what hypocrites.

    • Commoner – I’m a pacifist who has watched a few murder mysteries in my time, but I’m not a murderer. I watch it for the entertainment value, not because I want to endorse the behaviour of the villain. If you’re a non-pacifist, do you watch violent movies because you like the idea of blowing someone’s brains out with an AK-47 on a Sunday afternoon? Of course you don’t … just because you watch something or read something doesn’t necessarily mean you endorse it or want to copy it within your own life.