Living Like Jesus With the World: Answering Common Objections to Nonviolence

(Yesterday I looked at Romans 12 and looked at what it means to live like Christ. Many have said that this in no way applies to politics or social issues, but is only a personal matter. Today’s post will answer that objection.)

We’re gonna take yesterday’s post beyond ourselves today.

Many of those who oppose Christian pacifism hold to the stance that the verses I post here, be they from the Sermon on the Mount, from the book of Acts or from Paul’s writings, only apply to the individual. Jesus never said we had to oppose war or support nonviolence, so why should we infer that we ought to? Besides, pacifism on a governmental or national scale doesn’t work in practice at all.

There’s several objections here, so I’m going to try to keep this succinct.

1. Jesus never said it, therefore we don’t have to do it.

I’ve touched on this previously when I talked about the centurion awhile back.  This is a kind of argument known in the world of logic and philosophy as a “no-see-um” argument: if you don’t see it, it’s not there.  This is not a logical fallacy exactly, but often can turn into one.  Like an ostrich burying its head in the sand to hide from predators (which doesn’t actually occur, I know), the opposition likes to think that because they don’t see a command to be nonviolent, that it is therefore fine to go forth and support war.

I think this argument is a little silly. There are many things that the Bible does not explicity promote or oppose (try to find a verse opposing abortion or homosexual orientation).  However, we are able to draw from inference from what IS there what we can and cannot do.  When we read “do not murder,” we can infer that God also means the unborn. When Jesus says “love your enemies,” can infer from that there are no exceptions to that matter, because what God commands is far more overarching that just our “personal” boundaries.  Which leads me to my next point…

2. This only applies to the individual.

How shortsighted can you get!? Everything the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Covenant teach us naturally go far beyond our individual bounds, or it would never have gone as far as it has! If Christianity is an individual matter, then there is no need to “go into all the world preaching the good news” as we are commanded to do!  Christianity extends far beyond the individual into their community and on into the world, and that includes the commands and ethics that come with it. No law stands as an individual matter, nor do the commands of Christ. Even more, they don’t just apply to Christians, either.  We don’t opt to treat our Christian brothers and those outside the church with scorn.  Such an organization would implode from lack of support.

No, we must apply it beyond ourselves.  When Paul says, “so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all,” he doesn’t just mean “those who are also peaceably with you and no one else.”  Jesus didn’t mean “those who give you a hard time at work,” when he said “love your enemies.”  Your enemies are those who call themselves by that title, and that’s a lot of people, even some who might not  know you, but hate you for your color of skin, your ethnicity, or your nationality, and you are called to love them with the same love Christ loves you with.

3. Nonviolence wouldn’t work on a governmental/national level.

I don’t have an explicitly Biblical argument here, other than to point out how the church moves: from the ground up. To attempt to enforce such a religion from the top down would lead quickly to its demise.  Love must begin among the people and spread to our leaders if it is to take any sort of root.  Jesus didn’t go straight to Caesar and try to “convert” him; he went to lowest part of society and worked up from there.

Now, as for nonviolence not working as a politic, some seem to think differently.  Though I have not read him fluently enough, Gene Sharp, a member of the Albert Einstein Institution, has many nonviolent publications spanning from the use of nonviolence to overthrow tyranny to utilizing it as a governmental ethic. His works have been utilized worldwide to spread nonviolence and topple dictatorships, most recently in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria.  A lot of his works are available for PDF download from their website, so if you have further questions, I recommend you go there and look.  I’ll examine some of Gene Sharps writings at another time.

In closing, to people in this camp, I leave you with this quote…

“People try non-violence for a week, and when it ‘does not work,’ they go back to violence which hasn’t worked for centuries.’ – Theodore Roszak

Well, what about you?  Are we too shortsighted with what Jesus taught?

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