Last year in college, within the space of one week, we students were informed by two different lecturers that Jesus did use the whip in clearing the temple, and didn't use it to clear the temple.
There was no schism between lecturers, there is unity in Christ, but a non-uniform understanding of the incident and its meaning. How does that affect our view of pacifism, war, especially in relation to where we find ourselves today?
11 November is Armistice Day here in Britain and Veteran's Day in the USA. We thank soldiers for our freedom and we thank Jesus for saving our souls. We misappropriate John 15:13 as if it is about dying for one's country, for one's country men.
War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing, as the song goes.
We claim defence against our enemies instead of turning the other cheek. We make our lives out to be worth more than our enemies, yet Jesus did not do this. He had legions of angels at his command, we have Typhoons and B1 bombers at our beck and call. The legions stayed put, we scramble the planes. Jesus had to die, to undo the powers of evil, we are merely maintaining the status quo. Really? Have we not become drunk on war? What if we were to turn the other cheek? Would we be dragged through the streets, crucified and martyred, and would it be for any good?
11 November is also St. Martin's Day, the celebration of Martin of Tours, the original conscientious objector to war.
Is it too easy to say that Just War theory and pacifism are just two ends of the spectrum that need to be held in tension? Surely if something is wrong, it is wrong for everyone? Would we say the context of the liberation movement in the USA in the 1960s could afford to be non-violent, MLK being the latest namesake of St Martin, considering that it would be covered by newspaper and television journalists? If so, then what about the unseen sufferers, surely they deserve salvation from oppression, by violent means if necessary.
This is where I struggle. Machine Gun Preacher, the new film which I have not yet seen, is about Sam Childers, a man who as a Christian felt he had to liberate children from the oppressive Lord's Resistance Army in Southern Sudan through use of military tactics and violence. Would a pacifist Christian endorse such actions? What would that pacifist say to these children? "Sorry, my beliefs mean that I cannot liberate you from Kony's men and his ways. My non-violent approach cannot prevent the violence you will suffer. Sorry."
A film I did see that had a similar tone was Tears of the Sun. Bruce Willis' character feels he needs to atone for all the wrong he has done as a military man, and at one point is able to save a number of defenceless women and children from horrific slaughter, through the use of his highly technical Navy Seal weaponry and training. The resultant rout of the oppressors with clinical efficiency and outright force was.... satisfying. I admit it. I enjoyed seeing innocent people spared from slaughter.
Clearly full scale war and specific rescue missions require different approaches. Maybe if our armed forces were as concerned about, and engaged with, the smaller, less lucrative theatres of conflict, we could trust our leaders a bit more.
But what would Jesus do, and what does Jesus do about these things?