Like many evangelicals, like most North Americans, I grew up in healthy respect and reverence for our veterans and our military. My own grandfather fought and was wounded in World War 2. I devoured novels set in war times and the spine is battered on my much-beloved copy of Rilla of Ingleside. War is hard, yes, I knew that, but when it’s just, when its necessary, the good of it outweighs the evil, it can be used to do a tremendous amount of good.
It may sound funny to some of you, but my pacifism actually started over violence in hockey. Yes, I can now come out of the closet and admit that I am a Canadian that does not like fighting in hockey. (Heretic!) I love hockey but, when the gloves dropped and everyone rose to their seat to pound the glass and holler their approval for the dance, I felt sick. Once that step toward abhorring violence was taken, it was hard not to find it everywhere. The glorification of violence as a means to solve conflict is everywhere in our culture and I was that lame person that couldn’t stand mixed-martial-arts battles and railed against video games and movies that depicted war or crime as an adventure, even arguing we are “a generation of virtual sociopaths.”
My pacifism began to grow legs when I lived in the United States for 8 years. When the war in Iraq began, the political climate in our area was strongly in flavour of military-based, unilateral action. The war was promoted as a “just war” – the argument that when a war meets certain philosophical or religious purposes, for the greater good or rescue of people from evil, that it is considered “just’ in the eyes of God and his people, an inescapable path for doing good through evil means. (For instance, many believe – and I still do in many ways – that if any war met that traditionally Christian criteria of a just war, it was World War 2.)
The war in Iraq did not meet just war criteria for me – in retrospect, many would agree. As the political propaganda grew and war was equated with patriotism and, even more oddly, with spiritual practice or faithful following of Jesus, I struggled. I worked in a military-based bank, I loved and respected the Canadian and American military, I was proud of my own family’s military history, developed an small understanding of their lives – and a deep respect for their honour and choices. But I grieved for what I suspected was ahead for the enlisted, the officers, the national guard, the country, the people of Iraq, the world as a whole. I grappled with the sentiment since 9-11 of robust, nationalistic, flag-waving patriotism and how many evangelicals believed Americanism (or American interests for those of us that are not American) and Christianity were somehow one and the same.
If you weren’t for us, you were against us.
I began to read more about pacifism as the pamphlets filled my mailbox and news editorials became more and more passionate in favour of war. It deeply appealed to me.
At first, I grappled with war from a purely pragmatic standpoint. It was expensive. The military-industrial-complex that Eisenhower spoke of so warningly was in fearsome operation and I couldn’t fathom how this was going to cost in human life, in political capital, in sheer dollars for the world. And then I was surprised – which is shocking itself – to discover a long history and tradition of Christian, faith-based pacifism. Apparently, there were whole groups of Christians throughout all of history that took a stand for peace and for active peacemaking precisely because of their faith. Despite the sometimes-bloodthirsty pages of Christian history, there has always been a remnant of believers that were convinced that Christ has modelled a path of non-violence for us to follow, not resisting even unto death.
And they were not lame or weak-willed. Think Martin Luther King Jr., St. Francis, Dorothy Day, the martyrs of our faith. I began to understand that peacemaking is not a hippie-thing, a sit-on-the-sidelines-of-history cop-out, letting someone else or someone else’s kid do my dirty work. There wasn’t any patchouli to my decision making process and despite my love of long dresses and flowers in my hair, I wasn’t singing yet. The more I read, the more I prayed, the more that this seemed the path for me. Peace-making began to seem brave and active, it began to feel courageous to stand counter to our culture of war and violence and destruction.
I’m an pacifist for many reasons now – some pragmatic, some moral, almost all faith-based.
I believe life is sacred. The soldier is sacred, made in the image of God, and I cannot think what it does to a person to commit acts of war, to lift up arms against another, to kill another human being. My heart is ever with our soldiers and their beautiful families, even though I could not take that path myself in good conscience. Even the enemy is sacred, made in the image of God, loved. (I am one of those crazy people that think that God is love, that since my Father loves my enemy, that I, too, am called to an active love for them.) The “collateral damage” – that awful, cold term for those that are caught in the crossfire, the women, the children – is sacred, each life precious in the eyes of God. My pro-life ethic has become a lot more consistent as the years have gone by. War is never redemptive.
And I believe that love is stronger. Love will win in the end. Love will triumph, love is wider, deeper, more wild and generous and redemptive than we can fathom and I will choose the tough love.
My allegiance is first and always to God, to the ways of Jesus. And so, even though I am thankful for my country, even though I do appreciate it and work for the good of the city and the country in many ways, when the two are at odds – as in the choices of war or violence – my faith and the hope for peace wins every time.
But my pacifism is uneasy because I don’t know how it looks all the time, how best to live an ethic of life, peace and love in a culture of violence and war. I know that pacifism is not total and absolute abhorrence of all violence – instead, to me, it’s a policy of non-aggression and active peace-making.
And the everyday peacemaking can be hard. It was easy for me to look at the Iraq war and call it wrong. It’s not so easy to pursue peace in my every day life, to choose a life of non-aggression, to release anger, rage, trespasses, to forgive, to actively advocate for peace and wholeness in the world around me, making space for God’s ways. I don’t know how it always looks to choose love in a way that exemplifies my commitment to the cultivation of the fruit of the spirit in my own life, such as peace, joy, goodness, love, faithfulness, gentleness and so on.
I am uneasy because sometimes I cry out for justice instead of mercy, failing to see that in Christ those two things are not separated. I can’t always find the way of peace or love.
But I choose peace. I have set my feet on the path to find out how to live active peace-making, to identify boldly as a pacifist.
As Shane Claiborne wrote, “As a Christian, I am convinced in the power of non-violence by the greatest nonviolent act in human history: Jesus dying on the cross, even for his enemies.”