Friday, June 18, 2010

A Kind of "Pacifism" that Leads to War

I have been struggling with the issue of pacifism for nearly twenty years now and my academic work includes a doctoral thesis and book on John Howard Yoder. Yoder, or at least the early Yoder, taught a Christological pacifism for the Church as part of the witness of the Christian community to the eschatological Kingdom of God.

Unlike the liberal pacifism of the Social Gospel movement, which urged modern nation states to disarm unilaterally after World War I and thereby made it safe for Hitler to re-arm and start World War II, Christological pacifism does not expect non-Christian governments in a fallen world to be pacifist. Paul was clear on this point in Rom. 13 and the Sermon on the Mount is for the Church, not the unbelieving world.

The problem is that Mennonites from the beginning of their history to the present have been tempted to make the call to pacifism the content of their message to the world instead of the Gospel of salvation through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ with pacifism following as the result of faith and discipleship. When the Church asks the world to be pacifist without being converted, it in effect denies original sin and implicitly downgrades the necessity of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. It becomes a subset of liberal Protestantism.

The Mennonites and other peace churches are always tempted by liberal pacifism and, from my experience with Mennonite scholars, they succumb to this temptation more often than not. A controversy is currently going on concerning the proper interpretation of the work of John Howard Yoder and the currents are flowing in the direction of co-opting him for the side of liberal pacifism.

I went to the Mennonite Central Committee website hoping against hope that I would not find them taking the usual anti-Israel line in common with the secular and religious Left. I was hoping that they would not be advocating a "peace" in which Israel simply allows Hamas and Hizbollah to blow it to bits. I was hoping that the Mennonites would see peace as the mission of the Church rather than a political program for nation states in a fallen pre-Second Coming world.

I was disappointed. Below is a portion of a press release in which the MCC joins with the Marxists, liberationists, social gospelers, socialists, the EU, Hamas, Iranians, Turks, etc. in condemning Israel for defending itself. The press release calls for the unilateral lifting of the blockade of Gaza by Israel immediately. It proposes no mechanism by which arms to Hamas may be kept out of Gaza. It makes no demands of Hamas or its sponsors. It does not condemn Hamas for rejecting a two-state solution or calling for the destruction of Israel. In the name of peace it calls for a policy that will surely lead to war, bloodshed and the killing of civilians.

If this is pacifism, I would like to distance myself as far as possible from it. The use of the words "pacifism" and "peace" is positively Orwellian. The "liberal pacifists" unwittingly helped pave the way for the first Holocaust and they have learned nothing from history.

Here is the press release entitled: "MCC urges governments to end the Gaza blockade."
WINNIPEG, Man. – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is urging the governments of the U.S. and Canada to work constructively within the international community to restore the normal flow of goods and people through Gaza-Israel border crossings.

In letters to the U.S. president and Canada’s foreign affairs minister, MCC urges them to support an impartial and independent investigation into Israel’s deadly response to the Free Gaza flotilla on May 31.

The convoy, carrying 10,000 tonnes of much-needed aid, was attempting to enter the Gaza Strip by sea and break the Israeli blockade that has a devastating effect on the livelihoods and lives of Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinians. The convoy was intercepted by the Israeli military before reaching Gaza and clashes led to the deaths of nine people.

Daryl Byler, MCC’s representative in the region, said hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza live in dire conditions without employment and basic supplies because of the Israeli blockade.
Read the rest here.

This is modern Progressivism but it is not historic, orthodox, Christianity. In my heart, I want to believe Yoder would not be so naive, but it is hard to prove what he would or would not say today, a decade after his death.

But it would appear that those who claim his mantle today have enlisted him in modern Progressivism. Let there be no mistake: Yoder interpreted through the lens of modern Progressivism is a heretic and a dead end theologically - just like theological liberalism in general.


Gordon Hackman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gordon Hackman said...

I like the distinction between liberal pacifism and Christological pacifism. I think it's helpful and clarifying. What do you think of Stanley Hauerwas in this regard? It seems to me that what he embraces and promotes is a Christological pacifism, but I wonder of you feel he ever crosses the line into liberal pacifism.

Adam Baker said...

I agree with Gordon that the distinction between liberal and Christological pacifism is interesting, but (not knowing you) I am almost certain that you do not apply this distinction uniformly. After all, do we fault people for repeating the moral teaching "Do not murder" (for instance) because they say it as secular humanists rather than as Christians? I don't, myself. They don't have the full theological background to give the commandment its fullness, but they do have something right. To prohibit non-believers from teaching Christ's teachings, generally, does not seem to me to do believers any favors in the public square, much less contribute to the distribution of God's common grace.

But aside from that, Christian pacifists cannot but advocate pacifism for all people. Consider the alternative, in which a pacifist were to say, "You guys fight it out. As Christians that stuff is beneath us." Obviously, this would open pacifists to the claim that they are cowardly or lazy, happy to let others in the society do the dirty work. So truly, there is no honest alternative but for the pacifists to continue to advocate pacifism, whether or not the audience become followers of Christ or not.

The transition to the discussion of the Gaza blockade seemed a bit rough. I believe it is being used rhetorically to identify the MCC with "liberal" causes. Fine; they do seem left-of-center.

Though it's tangential to the subject of pacifism, I wonder if you are aware of what the Gaza blockade actually is. I typed "gaza blockade" into Wikipedia, and found links to a multitude of credible sources. One, a BBC article, cites Israeli court documents as to what are permissible imports into Gaza. Forbidden items include fruit juice, jam, and chocolate.

Now, if you're aware of this and somehow think that the menace of Palestinian terrorism is somehow lessened by denying their civilian population access to snacks, I apologize for making a presumption. But even in that case, I am happy for the opportunity to point out in public that the actions of the Israeli government is at least as much directed against the Palestinian civilian population as it is against whatever militants are in Gaza.

Craig Carter said...

First, if the MCC agreed with your analysis than would it not be more logical for them to give up pacifism and join the army when their country called them to serve?

Nobody is talking about "prohibiting" non-believers from following Christ's teachings. I don't know where that came from. I'd be delighted if Hamas decided to become pacifist, but I'm not counting on it happening by tomorrow.

Second, on the Gaza blockade. You might want to exercise critical discrimination about reports from the noteriously anti-Israel BBC.

Look if it is all about snack food, why not allow Israel to search incoming ships for weapons and let all non-military materials through? Israel does that at the land checkpoints. But you will notice that the calls from all over the world to end the blockade never include a provision to ensure that rockets are kept out of Gaza. None of the great "humanitarians" seem interested in preventing Israeli women and children from getting murdered by Hamas. So is it just about snack food? I think not.

One last point, if the civilians in Gaza are suffering why does the world not demand that Hamas disarm and stop threatening Israel? If it weren't for Hamas' suicidal, genocidal, self-destructive fanaticism the civilians of Gaza would have no problems.

As it is, Gaza receives more aid per capita than any other place in the world.

Adam Baker said...

Okay, I guess your response is mostly about the blockade. I mentioned the Wikipedia page so that you could check a variety of sources. And the BBC article was based on Israeli government documents; perhaps they have an anti-Israel slant, but it's quite an accusation to say that they are making things up out of thin air. I guess we could try to send a box of chocolates into Gaza to know for sure.

That "anti-Israel bias," by the way, is the same in every single non-American news outlet. (Which might suggest that there is a pro-Israel bias in the American media...)

It's not as if you restrict military supplies you also have to restrict foodstuffs.

That's quite something to suggest that Palestinian militants are responsible for whatever Israel chooses to do. That's called total war. Generally frowned upon--not just by bleeding hearts but also by people who had relatives in Savannah, Dresden, etc.

Craig Carter said...

"That's quite something to suggest that Palestinian militants are responsible for whatever Israel chooses to do."

Why is that wrong? You are saying the same thing in reverse. You want Israeli civilians to be killed by Hamas rockets just because the Israeli military does something to Hamas? Why is the lack of peace never the fault of the people who keep starting the wars?

Adam Baker said...

No, of course I never said that. I don't want anyone to get killed. I'm a pacifist, remember? (Perhaps I didn't say that explicitly before.)

Yet even people who want to defeat their enemies on the field of battle usually refrain from involving civilians to the extent possible. The U.S. troops fighting the current wars, for instance, make an effort to minimize the impact on the civilian population. This has been a theme of international law for one hundred years or so.

I will say that if keeping chocolate out of Gaza would end the conflict, I would support that wholeheartedly.

Steve said...

You write, "the problem is that Mennonites from the beginning of their history to the present have been tempted to make the call to pacifism the content of their message to the world instead of the Gospel of salvation through repentance and faith in Jesus"...

I see precious little evidence that this is the case throughout much of our history. It is really a very recent invention, but now it has become quite virulent. I am a Mennonite, former student of Yoder at AMBS. I tried to demonstrate that Yoder is an evangelical in an article called "On Flushing the Confessional Rabbit out of the Socio-Ecclesial Brushpile" in the CGR,Spring 2006.

Steve Dintaman