For 16 centuries most Christians have stood within the just war tradition. For the sake of restraining evil, protecting the innocent the innocent neighbor, and promoting peace and justice in a vicious world, Christians have, reluctantly and as a last resort, taken up the sword. Both in my head and in my gut, I understand this argument. A part of me would like to embrace this position, but I simply cannot reconcile it with Jesus.
I sense that vast majority of ESA and PRISM readers stands in the just war tradition. But today, as we all ponder how best to deal with terrorist states like Iraq, I want to tell you why I am committed to nonviolence.
The bottom line for me is that the Carpenter from Nazareth was God-become flesh, and I believe he clearly taught his followers not to kill. Every statement about killing and war that we have from Christian writers from the first 300 years asserts that Jesus taught his followers never to kill.
Jesus came as the long-expected Jewish Messiah, announcing that the Messianic kingdom of God was now breaking into history and that the Holy Spirit now empowered kingdom people to live the way the Creator intended, even though unbelievers still lived in sinful rebellion. That is why Jesus reversed Moses’ easy divorce law, demanding that his followers return to the Creator’s original intention for marriage. And that is why Jesus summoned his followers to love even their enemies. Jesus’ commitment to nonviolence becomes clear at many points. Unlike the traditional warrior Messiah, Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a humble donkey rather than a war horse (Luke19:28-40). At his arrest he rebuked Peter for taking up the sword (Luke 2:49-50). At his trial he informed Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world in one specific regard – namely, that his followers did not use violence, even to protect their just, peaceful leader (John 18:36).
The clearest text, of course, is Matthew 5:38-48. Jesus is obviously talking not about personal private life but the public arena of law courts and Roman occupation. Rejecting “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (the central principle of near-Eastern and Old Testament jurisprudence), Jesus says: “But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer” (v38). He also told his followers to respond nonviolently when taken to court or compelled to carry burdens by Roman soldiers (vv.39-41). Jesus was not advocating passive acceptance but rather nonviolent resistance, using words and actions that were compatible with love for the evildoer. Nor is Jesus’ call to nonviolence intended only for the millennium when Christ will reign in peace on this earth and evildoers are no more. “I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in Heaven” (vv.44-45). No, Jesus was advocating nonviolence for the present when enemies persecute, maim, and kill. Jesus is my lord. I cannot conclude, with people like Reinhold Niebuhr, that, yes, Jesus taught nonviolence but since it doesn’t work in a fallen world we must reluctantly reject Jesus’ position. His followers are called to live his kingdom ethics, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in this present broken world.
Some people think pacifists must abandon politics. I disagree. I can argue for what is just and good and appeal to fellow citizens in my democratic society to vote for better laws and policies. I can point out that very often people in the just war tradition fail to live up to its strict requirements, including the insistence that war must be a last resort. (Have we really tried all other options in the case of Iraq?)
What would happen if large numbers of Christians rejected violence and war? Broad-based nonviolence movements throughout history have proven highly successful. Gandhi’s nonviolence conquered the powerful British Empire, and Martin Luther King’s nonviolence changed American history. Within our lifetime, nonviolence has won stunning victories: in the Philippines (against the dictator Marcos), in Poland (Solidarity’s peaceful resistance of Soviet communism), and elsewhere. Furthermore, the God-Man who called his followers to nonviolence in the first century is now the Risen Lord, King of Kings, “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5). Who knows how he might intervene if large communities of Christians chose to love rather than kill their enemies?
I do not pretend it would be easy. Following Jesus has been, and always will be truly costly. Undoubtedly many people would be killed, and our goods would be seized and our rights trampled. Jesus’ way – the way of the cross – has always been costly. But we should acknowledge, too, that socalled “successful, just” modern wars have also seen the deaths of tens of millions of people.
I dare to pray for the courage never to kill any being made in the divine image, because I know from Jesus that death does not have the last word. Even if millions of Christians die because they believe Jesus does not want them to kill others, the final word will be resurrection.
Click http://amzn.to/1UIkbBe for more books written by Ronald Sider.
Ronald J. Sider is a Canadian-born American theologian and Christian activist. He is the founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, and is currently a professor at Palmer Theological Seminary, the seminary of Eastern University located in King of Prussia, Philadelphia. Sider has published over 22 books and has written over 100 articles in both religious and secular magazines on a variety of topics including the importance of caring for creation as part of biblical discipleship