Sunday, 13 November 2011

To whip, or not to whip, that is the question.

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? 


  1. Hi Doug! Great thought-provoking post :)

    '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."

    "Dying as a result of the unjust acts of others is, in the end, not as difficult as living with an injustice you have committed" - Socrates
    Discuss...: )

    Do we trust in God to vindicate the oppressed and bring all sinners to account? Would that belief be as strong as the immediately perceived impact of killing the assailants?

    Just a thought, not the end product.

    (Emma - of course)

  2. Hi Emma, (I knew it was you all along!).

    I think Plato also said something like: "Only the dead see the end of war".

    My very unfinished thoughts: For sure, we should not be committing injustice, but what is the greatest injustice, letting the suffering go by, or doing something that is possibly unjust or possibly just, in stopping it. Two wrongs don't make a right, but when we're armed and conduct war on issues such as oil, surely we can use some of our power for good?

    On God vindicating the oppressed, yes, He will. But will we be vindicated for doing nothing? And how far do we expand that, should we not do anything, because, for example, he will vindicate those who suffered under famine?

  3. It's a really tough one, definitely not a black and white issue. I still don't know what I think. To do nothing would of course sit very uneasily on the conscience to say the least. But can we not kill but still do something? You could do whatever was physically (self-defence) and spiritually (prayer and social action) in your power to stop it without killing, you'd just be unsuccessful in the world's eyes (by being shot) - but you'd still be doing something.

    If my hypothetical child was taken, I would want them back, end of. By whatever means? Who can possibly say unless in that situation...

    The soldiers coming to rape and kill were probably abducted themselves as children and brought up as soldiers, so by killing them you're arguably killing those same, older children, who were taken against their will. The line between aggressor and victim isn't clear cut.

    I can see the logic of your second point - but it works the other way too - where do we stop in terms of armed conflict - should humanitarian armies be despatched in countries where FGM is practiced?

    It's such a broad question - how do we act in the face of injustice? God clearly tells us to act out against injustice by being just ourselves, then famines wouldn't happen. But does he tell us to resort to armed conflict? Those whom God has appointed as governing authorities yes, but citizens? What about when the governing authority has breached the rules of it's legitimacy? What does the Bible say about this?