Must Christians be pacifists?

In a post praising Stanley Hauerwas, Will Willimon mentions among Hauerwas’s great contributions to the church his emphasis on pacifism.

Hauerwas argues in strong terms that following Jesus requires pacifism, and he has criticized Christian theologians such as Reinhold Niebuhr who make arguments on behalf of some sort of just war theory.

The United Methodist Church’s Social Principles would likely draw Hauerwas’s criticism. We deplore war, but do not rule it out, for instance here:

We deplore war and urge the peaceful settlement of all disputes among nations. From the beginning, the Christian conscience has struggled with the harsh realities of violence and war, for these evils clearly frustrate God’s loving purposes for humankind. We yearn for the day when there will be no more war and people will live together in peace and justice. Some of us believe that war, and other acts of violence, are never acceptable to Christians. We also acknowledge that many Christians believe that, when peaceful alternatives have failed, the force of arms may regretfully be preferable to unchecked aggression, tyranny and genocide.

Or here:

We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy, to be employed only as a last resort in the prevention of such evils as genocide, brutal suppression of human rights, and unprovoked international aggression.

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, wrote that war was a reproach to Christianity itself, a position which might make him more of a pacifist than our denomination.

So, in honor of Hauerwas, I am wondering how central pacifism is to Christianity. I tend to be persuaded by Reinhold Niebuhr that Christians cannot avoid all violence and war. I suppose I end up pretty close to the United Methodist position that finds war a tragic necessity at times. I’m not convinced I am correct about this, and like all Christians I long and hope for the day when we learn war no more, but I do not see that that day is upon us. Not yet.

What about you?

The eternal damnation of Kirk Douglas

In Harm’s Way is an old movie, but an interesting one to reflect upon from a pastoral point-of-view. In the movie, Paul Eddington, played by Kirk Douglas, is a skilled naval officer with deep flaws. He drinks too much and has a volcanic temper. Near the end of the movie he rapes a young nurse. When the woman commits suicide, he runs off on a suicide mission of his own that secure vital information for the American forces.

He is part hero, part villain, although the movie clearly gives him respect for the qualities that make him useful in war.

I’m sure most people don’t ask this question, but I found myself wondering about the eternal fate of the Eddington character. Of course, he is fictional, so this is hypothetical. And, of course, were he not fictional, it is not my job to judge the living and the dead. That job is taken already. And yet, I was musing about this.

Eddington’s rape of the nurse surely is not outweighed by his other good qualities.

At the resurrection, when the sea gives up its dead, and Paul Eddington stands before the throne, do his rape of that girl and other sins outweigh whatever good qualities and virtues we might say he had? Does he partake of the life in the heavenly city or is he cast into the lake of fire?

I can hear multiple arguments.

If we have a high view of holiness, then it is hard to imagine any option other than the lake of fire. Other than a worldly sense of honor and loyalty, we see little in his character that sounds like Jesus. Even his self-sacrifice was fleeing the consequences and shame of his crime.

But then I think of Abraham haggling with Yahweh over Sodom and Gomorrah. For the sake of even a handful of righteous people, won’t you spare the city, Abraham asks. And God agrees. For the sake of what is good in Paul Eddington, will God spare the man whose evil is plain to see?

It is enough to make me sympathetic to the Roman Catholic creation of purgatory and Rob Bell’s recoiling over the notion of eternal torment for temporal sins. Given a choice between heaven and hell, I’m not sure where to put Eddington for eternity. I suppose that is why I do not have the job of deciding such things.

Dispatches from Mitwaba

Bob Walters of Friendly Planet Missiology has been writing about the outbreak of violence and the work of the church in the North Katanga area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

As always, Bob helps break up the simplistic pictures we in the USA often have about the church in Africa. These are well worth your time to read. They also call for prayer.

Dispatch 1

Dispatch 2

Dispatch 3

And lest you think this is just about church work and has nothing to do with you, allow me to quote from the end of Bob’s third dispatch about the corruption and poverty facing a mining community:

I could appeal to your compassion for a suffering people. I could appeal to your sense of justice. This just isn’t right. But we are not just observing a people in need, or an unjust system that needs challenged. We are a part of this web.

The minerals that come out of these mines become our cell phones and lap tops. The mineral coltan is the coolant in every piece of consumer electronics. Without coltan, our cell phones would heat up and explode in our ears. No coltan, no electronics industry; and the world’s supply of cotan is in the mountains of eastern Congo.

The issues that fuel this war have not been settled. It is clear from recent events that when UN troops are removed, the country will fall back into open warfare. This is not a civil war for freedom or regime change. This is a grab for trillions of dollars worth of minerals that are essential to the global economy. Uganda wants it. Rwanda wants it. The government in Kinshasa wants it. The governor in Lubumbashi wants it. Local war lords want it.

The poor people of Mitwaba want safe drinking water, schools, health care, and a simple, descent life. and a roof for their church.