Does Jesus call us to irrational pacifism?
By Antonio (Tony) Aja
There is a lot of noise these days about ‘’war and rumors of war’’ from many parts of the world, including our own nation.
What I mean by ‘’noise’’ is the rhetoric and actions taking place in countries like North Korea, Southern Sudan, the Middle East, Venezuela and other countries where people live in constant danger because of war and political upheaval.
Specifically, North Korea has been testing rockets capable of delivering a nuclear bomb to U.S. soil. Moreover, some politicians in the U.S., especially those who have the power to make such decisions, have made statements threatening strong retaliation.
Therefore, we may be moving into the existential reality of facing a nuclear war, which ultimately will mean the end of our world as we know it according to most experts.
We recently observed Hiroshima Day in the PC(USA) liturgical calendar. Congregations were encouraged to remember that fateful day at the end of WWII, when an atomic bomb was used for the first time to destroy an entire city. A few days later another atomic bomb destroyed Nagasaki, another Japanese city. Thousands died those two days and even more have lived with grave illnesses after being exposed to radiation.
We can debate the issues related to the decision to drop the bomb. Some say the bombs fall under the Just War category, decisively ending the war with Japan without taking over the country. The action preserved the lives of many U.S. soldiers who could have been killed during an assault on the Japanese islands.
Saint Augustine was one of the first theologians who articulated the Just War doctrine for the Western Church. Later Thomas Aquinas and others expanded on it.
Basically this theory claims that God has given the authority and the power to governments to engage in war, as long as war is for a good and just purpose and not for self-gain. Also, the purpose should be to punish the evil perpetrated by a government.
Moreover, the establishment of peace must be a central motive and the end result of any Just War.
With all due respect to St. Augustine, Aquinas and other pastors in my beloved denomination, I do not agree with this philosophy given the life, the teachings, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This doctrine appears to adopt a Machiavellian worldview. The end doesn’t justify the means, even if the outcome is supposed to be peace.
As a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and by virtue of that office, along with my pastor colleagues, also a theologian and a Christian ethicist by default.
The PC(USA) supports peacemaking in a variety of forms (See the most recent language from the 222nd General Assembly (2016)), including Just War when absolutely necessary.
So let me ‘’let the cat out of the bag’’ so to speak, and tell you that I consider myself what I have labeled an ‘’irrational pacifist.’’
I don’t believe there is ever an excuse for war. I don’t even accept the Just War Doctrine as we find in the statutes of many Christian denominations.
So please bear with me as I use some of our denominational resources to try to summarize why, as a Christian, I despise war no matter the motive or the circumstances…
The predecessors of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy produced a great document that has relevancy for us today and will help you understand my views. The following are excerpts from CHRISTIAN OBEDIENCE IN A NUCLEAR AGE A POLICY STATEMENT ADOPTED BY THE 200TH GENERAL ASSEMBLY (1988) PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (U.S.A.)):
‘’Both Christian individuals and the church have responsibility to the God of peace and justice as known in Jesus Christ and responsibilities to society and government for the maintenance of the highest possible degree of peace and justice.
Thus, we affirm the following:
We are called to be faithful to Jesus Christ and the biblical vision of peace and justice and to work for its manifestation in every possible way.
We are called to work through established social and governmental structures for just peace which requires order and equal justice for all citizens.
We are called to expose and oppose every violation of the spirit of God’s rule of peace, righteousness and justice. This means that our “Yes” to God’s will for peace may require a “No” to civil authority, resulting in noncooperation or civil disobedience if the policies of the civil authority fundamentally contravene God’s purpose of peace for the world.
Certainly, the current situation of nuclear arms buildup is extraordinary and unprecedented in human history.
The church in the nuclear age must shift its energies from considerations of just war to the urgent and primary task of defining and serving a just peace.
Shalom is the intended state of the entire human race. It involves the well-being of the whole person in all relationships, personal, social, and cosmic. Shalom means life in a community of compassionate order marked by social and economic justice.
Peace without justice is no peace. The great biblical visions of global peace—swords into plowshares, every family under its own vine and fig tree—are fundamental to thinking about just peace.’’
I may be naïve, but I strongly believe that in order for us to be real peacemakers, we Christians and our allies in every nation must work for the transformation of society and communities so that equality, compassion and justice as envisioned by Jesus Christ would yield peace in every nation of the world — and hold our governments accountable when they choose not to work for the common good!
I saw in the news that White House staff members participate in Bible study led by an evangelical pastor. I pray that by reading God’s story of compassion, love, grace and justice toward all, as well as the words of Jesus and his actions, their hearts and minds would change so that God’s Shalom community can become a reality in our nation and our world.
Tony currently serves as pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is the current moderator for the National Hispanic/Latino Presbyterian Caucus (PCUSA) and an adjunct professor at McCormick Theological Seminary. A former refugee from Cuba, Tony has developed new ministries with refugees and immigrants in both Florida and Kentucky.