The question of loving our enemies in war is very divisive among Jesus’ followers. Some believe we should never participate in war, while others develop a military family heritage. I cannot say my view is the one all believers must hold, and I cannot say that those who disagree with me are less serious about Jesus or his teaching than I am.
Let me share how I came to my position and why I hold it.
How a Library Book Seriously Inconvenienced My Life
I was raised in a small church with very little awareness of church history. When I was a senior in high school, I discovered a thrilling book in the library called Handbook of Denominations. I never realized how connected denominations were and what they believed.
The book listed contacts for the denominations, and I corresponded many of them. The Mennonites sent me material on pacifism that was quite compelling. I had never considered pacifism before, but after giving it a lot of thought I became a pacifist.
The change was inconvenient. My Dad, a Baptist minister, served in the Air Force during the Korean conflict. He took my new belief as a personal affront and a rejection of his proud service. Later, I left the Baptist church.
The timing was also inconvenient; we were in the middle of the Vietnam war. My friends at school talked about the draft. The parents of one friend offered to send him to Canada if necessary, but I didn’t consider going to Canada; I was prepared for prison.
As it turned out, my draft board granted me conscientious objector status.
How Vocal Pacifism and Evangelical College Didn’t Mix Well
During my senior year of college I became co-editor of the school newspaper.
We received a submission with the title X College Joins Hand with the Military; it was about the chaplaincy program. We ran the notice, but I wrote an editorial on how our denomination used to embrace pacifism. This started a back-and-forth that became a tremendous controversy, and finally I was removed as co-editor.
Pacifism was NOT popular at the school. I knew perhaps eight pacifists among students and faculty. But even they did not all agree with me. One student insisted no Christian could be a member of the military.
Classical pacifism involves non-resistance as well as opposing military service, so a pacifist professor took me to task for taking Kung-fu, even though I tried to explain that I was creating a third option between reacting to an attacker or being victimized–stopping the attack.
How I Changed from Pacifism to Valuing Others
As my understanding of Jesus’ teachings matured, I realized some of the biblical support offered for pacifism was inadequate. I came to believe that, though Jesus taught us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek instead of reacting to provocations with hate, anger, and revenge, he did not teach total non-resistance under every circumstance.
A second foundation for my pacifism was refusal to kill someone who might go to hell. For many years people asked me the common question of whether I would kill someone who was attacking my wife or child. I always answered No. I could not send someone to hell.
I no longer believed in hell or total non-resistance.
As I realized I could possibly kill someone in the unlikely case of imminent danger to my family, I no longer called myself a pacifist. However, I still valued Jesus’ teaching for us to love others as we love ourselves. People are still more important than property, and they are more important than my trivial ‘rights’.
Should I as a Believer Go to War?
I cannot answer this question for another person. But for me the answer is an unambiguous No. I will not be forced to participate in war.
People often mention the necessity of stopping Hitler; it is perhaps the clearest case in recent memory for going to war. But few wars are truly wars of simple defense, they are ongoing confrontations between enemy groups with roots deep in the past. Defense of the nation often becomes protecting the ‘interests’ of the nation, and we end up killing for purely economic and political reasons.
However, even in a case such as the predations of Nazi Germany I cannot participate in the government’s war effort either as a soldier or in a factory. If threatened with death for not serving—I will die. But that is all I can give; I will not kill.
Killing is not the way Jesus approached bad people; he loved them and offered them new life. When an enthusiastic crowd tried to force him to become their king against Rome, he refused. His purpose was not political; his purpose was to bring the good news of the Father’s love, reconciliation, and eternal life. The agenda of the country does not trump the agenda of the kingdom of God.
I certainly don’t expect every believer to share my view. It’s a personal commitment to Jesus’ teachings as I understand them. Others understand the question differently. I’m interested in how you understand it.
Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos via Compfight cc
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