June 30, 2002
There is one update at the bottom of this post.
Richard, a ticked off but thoughtful writer, objects:
I think I heard you say that it is okay for Christian pacifists to live in a country whose safety is protected by soldiers. Presumably, these are not Christian pacifists, better yet, not Christians at all.Since actions such as the bombing of Dresden, Hiroshima, or Nagasaki cannot be considered just war according to traditional Christian doctrine, you could be arguing that all who "benefit" from such actions must agree with them. I will assume that you mean "disagree with using violence to stop the Nazis justly," which for Christians would mean according to Christian just-war criteria (however they are applied).
... It strikes me that anybody benefiting in the slightest from violence carries some of the moral load. It does no good to say, I disagree with (for example) using violence to stop the Nazis, when you are doing very nicely in a Nazi-free nation.
I don't see pacifists avoiding any scrap of responsibility for state-sponsored violence, even a just war, unless they are doing all they can to shut down the instrumentalities of such violence.But a pacifist Church is not identical with a pacifist state. The state is authorized by God to use force in the service of justice (Rom. 13). In fact, Christians are commanded to support their authorities' just exercise of force.
All along I have been arguing on the basis of texts like Romans 12-13 not that Christians may not support just violence, but that Christians shouldn't practice violence, even as civil authorities, because they are called to a different kind of ministry.
They can't simply hold up their extremely clean hands for others to admire. Their hands are no cleaner than anybody else's.A tone has often surfaced in this debate that reads Christian pacifists as moral Pharisees showing off their personal purity for the sake of self-glorification. Undoubtedly there are people who have this attitude. There are people who pray and fast to be seen, and people who pray and fast to be faithful (Matthew 6). Likewise, there are people who show off their "moral superiority" by sticking flags on their cars or warblogging while others do the fighting. But there are also people who wave flags and warblog just to support an effort they believe in.
Attacking the character of someone arguing for (or against) pacifism is really just constructing a straw man. I have been assuming the best of my anti-pacifist writers and readers: That they earnestly desire to do what is right in both their country's eyes and in God's. I believe that of Richard too. Is it really asking too much to return the favor, and exercise a hermeneutic of charity?
I see my position not as evidence of any "moral superiority" on my part, but as an imperfect pointer to Jesus as the world's only Way to peace with God, neighbor, and self. Nothing more. I haven't said much about myself in these debates; I've tried to stick to the arguments.
They must fight, figuratively speaking, with all their strength against the nation's capacity to use violence. They must be dead at the hands of security guards in their efforts to infiltrate secure locations. They must be in jail for similar offenses. They must burn recruiting offices when empty, of course and take down recruiting posters. They must earn no taxable income. Or go someplace where the protections provided by such state efforts do not exist.Would you say something similar of all Christians, even all citizens, who are living under a regime conducting an unjust war (or, synonymously, a war waged unjustly)? Mustn't they be doing all in their power to stop the injustice including (since they aren't pacifists) resorting to the just use of force?
If not, why not?
And if so, then can you justify the actions of Jesus, his disciples, and the first few centuries of Christians, who didn't do these things? We don't see apostles being martyred to stop Roman slavery or the Jewish War, or jailed for tax evasion. While they were themselves nonviolent, they didn't object to the state's use (or even abuse!) of force so vehemently that its cessation became their top priority. They paid their taxes (after all, Jesus said so).
If not, then they are simply free-riders. Like that's a surprise.St. John the Apostle, free-rider. That is a surprise!
You seem to assume that the only way the Church can sacrifice in service to its wider society is by assisting the state in its violent pursuit of justice. I read Paul to claim that the Church best sacrifices in service to God, neighbor, and self is by doing what no government can ever do: be the Church (Rom. 12:1).
Let me offer a few secular analogies for what I mean: Medics and war correspondents. These perform social services by not fighting in wars. What they do is indispensible, and it can only happen if they refuse to fight. They aren't necessarily "anti-war" or unpatriotic. Yet they are not free-riders, nor are they seen as such, even when they are not themselves in harm's way.
I want Christians to see discipleship as something even more indispensible and sacred than the holy office of journalist. I want us to take our commission to offer all nations forgiveness of sin and peace with God and neighbor as something so precious that we wouldn't trade it even for the high privilege (I am not being sarcastic) of enforcing justice.
While sharing this desire, Hauerwas is even willing to settle for a Church that at least feels remorse when our people trade reconciliation for weaponry. But many of the posts I've read lately think even that is asking too much.
I don't expect non-Christians to our services it this way, at least not at first, and so I am willing to endure their disrespect while we do what only makes sense in light of the resurrection. But when even Christians think full dedication to the ministry of reconciliation is "simply free-riding" and no longer deserves the label "Christian," then is Hauerwas really out of line to claim that "American Christians are 'more American than ... Christian?'" (Christopher Johnson had a problem with that line. Are you listening, Christopher?)
UPDATE: Here are excerpts from Richard's response:
Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved from five million to ten million lives. After the catastrophe that nearly sank the world which resulted from leaving the aggressors of the First World War to their own devices, there was no, zero, possibility that the same mistake would be made again. Unconditional surrender it would be. And no price would be too high. The price of having failed to do it before was already too high. One document surfaced listing the possibility of using thousands of tons of poison gas on Japan.This is simply a utilitarian argument: "It is appropriate to end x civilian lives in order to save y lives," where y > x. The patriotic version of this can sometimes turn into "It is appropriate to end x civilian lives in order to save y of our own citizens," where y > 0. It doesn't always happen, but it happens.
Offhand, I can think of a time in Jesus' life when utilitarian moral calculus is invoked: "Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, 'You know nothing at all; you do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.' He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they took counsel how to put him to death" (John 11:49-53).
Among American hawks, the debate over military tactics generally revolves around these two sides, the "utilitarian" and the "patriotic." Where here is any appeal to the Christian faith? Where is there any respect even for the just-war tradition that Christians pay lip service to, then conveniently ignore when it would get in their way? Where is there any sense that Christians are anything other than generic citizens? Do we have any special vocation as a community of disciples of a nonviolent Lord who reigns above every authority? Do we have any spiritual gifts? Any talents whose use is more helpful to restoring justice than the use of weaponry? Any duty to think creatively about how we should contribute grace rather than force?
I cannot see anybody in good conscience enjoying the fruits of liberty bought by the killing and dying of others without both humble gratitude and carrying the load of that killing and dying."That killing and dying." Christians should be grateful for unjust wars that bear fruit for them, and never mind the casualties. No price too high. We repent only of actions that don't succeed. Utilitarianism is an elegant reversal of the old adage. "What doesn't pay is crime."
While gratitude is not inevitable, carrying the load is not a matter of accepting it. If you live here, you have it. Pacifists, if they are to avoid carrying that load (without, of course, missing a meal in the earning of it) simply must leave, in order to leave their load. Or they must fight with all they have to end the state engines of violence. Or their load increases.So a state that has acted unjustly must unconditionally be destroyed, or else those who live under it are hypocrites. I can see this as a sort of secular pacifist appropriation of the Declaration of Independence (in which an unjust ruler has given up the authority to govern), but not as faithfulness to the traditions of Jesus and his Church.
I am going to say it again: Arguments like these are the best evidence that Stanley Hauerwas is right about American Christians being more American than Christian. (If you're innoculated against hearing this allegation when it comes from Stanley, then consider Speak Up for Just War or Pacifism by Paul Ramsey, a fixture of liberal Protestant Christian ethics who wants Christians to learn how to talk like Christians again about these matters, rather than just parroting the wider culture.)
You quoted a part of Scripture where we are commended to return good for evil. That presumes that killing a thoroughly bad actor is evil. I say that needs to be demonstrated, not merely asserted. Unless you can demonstrate that, you could be saying that killing really bad guys is actually returning good for evil. Not evil for evil.You are right that the just use of force is distinct from evil. However, the context of "do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21) is (above) "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; .... No, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by doing so you will heap burning coals upon his head" (Rom. 12:19-20), and (above) "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. ... for [the authority] is God's servant for your good" (Rom. 13:1, 4). Taking vengeance upon oneself, which isn't so far from "killing a thoroughly bad actor," is what Paul means by being "overcome by evil." The paradox is that the Christian who wields the sword in vengeance is overcome, but the Christian who "lives peaceably with all" (Rom. 12:18) overcomes the enemy.
If as a Christian you don't like the assertion, then you'll need to take it up with Paul.
Incidentally, Paul's point is profound, and often overlooked in these kinds of debates. Nonviolent Christian discipleship doesn't avoid confrontation in order to free-ride, but confronts evil with good. Paul is not telling the Church in Rome to stay under the radar, but to take decisive actions of love against their enemies. For these convictions, he has repeatedly put himself in harm's way. He has done hard time. He will soon pay with his life. He is no Bill-Clinton-hiding-from-the-draft.
Thanks to Richard for his reply. While it ably illustrates a longstanding tradition in American political ethics, it is not a Christian case for Christian violence.
At church today we committed nine students to a short-term summer mission in Thailand. They are going to a hospice for HIV-positive orphans who have been abandoned by their parents. They are there to hold them, talk to them, and in general treat them like children of God rather than human refuse. Participating in this ceremony, it occurred to me that after contending that nonviolent Christians must be blessings to their peoples, I should actually show you examples of what I'm talking about. This won't be as entertaining as flogging the prayers of Stanley Hauerwas, but it might be worth your while anyway.
Those students are already an inspiring example. But for an example that more directly answers some of the questions and objections that have been coming up lately, I want to quote a page from James Wm. McClendon, Jr.'s Doctrine (359-360). (I studied with Jim at Fuller Seminary when I was doing my Master's work. Jim died eighteen months ago, and he is sorely missed. I think he is probably the smartest person I have ever known, and he put his intelligence to work in the service of faithfulness.)
A remote and poor mountain village in southeastern France, Le Chambon sur Lignon, was mainly populated before Hitler's invasion by congregants of a French Reformed church and by a smaller, more rural congregation of Plymouth Brethren, the latter a biblically conservative baptist (sic) movement. The Protestant Temple was served by André Trocmé, a clergyman of profound social conscience who was committed to nonviolence. Those circumstances Le Chambon's remote mountain location, the staunch independence of the Protestants, who remembered their Huguenot origins, the even more radical independence of the Plymouth Brethren, and the activist nonviolence of Pastor Trocmé converged to produce an atmosphere totally unreceptive to developments in Vichy France. The French had surrendered to Germany in June, 1940, and an anti-Semitic national government under the leadership of Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain, who emulated Hitler, controlled the unoccupied South. So when on the one hand orders came from Vichy to 'deport,' that is, send to the camps, the Jews who had taken refuge in mountainous Le Chambon, while on the other hand Trocmé proclaimed from the Temple's pulpit that the people must create a "city of refuge" where no Jew's or other victim's life was forfeit, the Chambonnais responded to the pastor's sermon, not the anti-Semitic decree. This, said, Trocmé, was "lest innocent blood be shed" (cf. Deuteronomy 19). The Christians concealed their refugees, forging their papers, hiding them in the thick woods, disguising them as family members, escorting them when appropriate to the Swiss border. In all, perhaps 5,000 lives were saved, all without use of weapons or harm to anyone else, though some Chambonnais were arrested and deported to their deaths. Three convictions seem to have guided their behavior during the crisis years: the Old Testament model of an ordained refuge, Trocmé's broad interpretation of the Sixth Commandment (Exod. 20:13), and their Sermon-on-the-Mount style of nonviolent action. To these must be added a profound sense, especially by the Plymouth Brethren, that these hunted Jews were God's chosen people. One German-Jewish refugee, approaching a Brethren farm to buy eggs, was asked if she were Jewish. Frightened, she admitted that she was, and was startled to hear the farm wife call to her husband and children, "Look, look, my family! We have in our house now a representative of the Chosen People!" (drawing on Philip Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There, Harper, 1979, 182f).More to come in future days, I hope.
... We may if we like identify with the Chambonnais rather than the 'Christian' commander in Hitler's death battalion. Yet we are entitled to do so only if we agree to follow Jesus in a way that will not again lead to the anguish of the Jews. This is finally a question of community: What kind of community will make it impossible for believers in Jesus to be at the same time enemies of his brothers and sisters according to the flesh (Matt. 25:40)? What kind of community will reject the link with the state's coercion that led so many Christians into the maelstrom of violence? What kind of Christian community can reclaim its heritage from before the time when "the parting of the ways" denied the Jewish footing of Christian community?"
June 29, 2002
(There are three updates at the bottom of this post.)
David Ross accepts the inapplicability of Luke 22 to support Christian violence. I'm glad I could be of service! Now his case rests on Romans 13 and on Matt. 5:39-40 and Luke 6:29 or, more accurately, on a hypothetical text that both Matthew and Luke seem to "misunderstand":
It is actually the apparently pacifist proof texts, "turn the other cheek" and "take my shirt, too" (Matt 5:39-40 // Luke 6:29), that show the way. These two are matched to different contexts in Matthew and Luke, hinting at a common origin in a sayings gospel that preceded both. Matthew was very probably a pacifist ("take up the sword, die by the sword" - Matthew 26:52), and as mentioned above Luke was uneasy about defensive violence too. Accordingly, if one assumes the Q hypothesis, both Matthew and Luke misunderstood this saying when they placed it in context.From the look of Ross's site, he is a devoted source critic (that is, one who investigates the sources of the material that ends up in the canonical biblical texts). I enjoy a little source criticism now and then, but it's the canonical texts that are authoritative.
Ross argues that because of Matthew's pacifism and Luke's uneasiness with defensive violence, they took the saying in an opposite direction from its original tradition. So Jesus was not a pacifist, but his evangelists all turned him into one. On the basis of (a) a hypothetical text (b) supposedly overturned by the gospel writers themselves (c) against the pro-violence traditions of both their Jewish Lord and their own Jewish people (d) Christians should embrace violence in self-defense. Am I the only one who thinks this is, er, a bit of a stretch?
The second text and this time it's a real one is Paul's words to the Roman Church:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is Gods servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are Gods servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. (Rom. 13:1-7 NRSV)This text is why I am a "Church pacifist" but not a "state pacifist": because rulers may legitimately exercise violence. In fact, when they do, they do it under God's own authority.
But the question I have been pursuing is whether it is appropriate for Christians to practice violence. And to understand Paul's answer, you have to read Romans 13 in the context of Romans 12, which precedes it:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.These words are conveniently forgotten by most interpreters who endorse Christian violence. The two passages together offer a very different picture than Christian violence. Jesus' disciples are to "repay" evil with good, and leave it to God (who authorizes just civil violence) to mete out punishment with the sword.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:9-21 NRSV)
Now this text properly speaks of vengeance rather than self-defense, so perhaps it is less definitive a text for my position than it might at first appear. But it certainly does not endorse Christian violence either in retribution, self-defense, or defense of neighbor.
To arrive at the argument that Christians may do violence to others, one has to imagine 'Constantinian' Christian authorities who bear the sword. They carry Caesar's badge, and when they're on the clock, they are God's authorities to practice violence (though of course only insofar as that violence is practiced justly).
One of my objections to Christian participation in state violence comes to this: Though God commands Christians to do what they can to restore someone to fellowship with God, repaying evil with good, Caesar commands police and armed forces to do what they can to enforce justice, defending against evil with violence. As a Christian, if I see someone sinning (especially a fellow Christian), I say "Repent!" As a cop, if I see someone committing a crime, I say "Freeze!" So as a Christian cop, what do I say? Do I pray with sinners, or do I read them their rights?
The latter, obviously. The state can't afford to have their police (or their soldiers) suddenly turning into pastors. Someone who hesitates to use force puts both fellow officers and innocent "civilians" at risk. When people call 911 or governments declare war, they quite rightly want some Romans 13, not some Romans 12.
But that means a Christian who in Caesar's service is effectively out of service, unable to reconcile sinners to God, until the shift is over. Is policing really the best use of this person's time? Is it really an appropriate use of their spiritual gifts (again, enumerated in Romans 12)? (Why not be, say, a firefighter?)
It is one thing to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. It's another thing to let rendering to Caesar take priority over rendering to God. When Christians sign up to become Romans 13's authorities, it always trumps the actions Paul demands of all Christians in Romans 12.
"No one can serve two masters." Why do we keep trying so hard to contradict Jesus here?
UPDATE: Ross amiably defends his use of "Q", the hypothetical sayings source, over both Matthew's and Luke's contextualizations of Jesus' "turn the other cheek" tradition. I still trust the Church that wrote, received, trusted, and canonized Matthew and Luke, and I think going to this length to establish Jesus' non-pacifism illustrates how strong the contrary traditions are. I agree with his basic point that the "turn the other cheek" tradition is actually defiant rather than passive. But it's nonviolently defiant as Jesus, his original disciples, Jewish Christians under threat, Roman Christians under persecution, and the mainstream apostolic tradition was until the rise of Constantinianism. Helpful reading here is Walter Wink's Engaging the Powers (which, er, I haven't read).
The idea that Jesus must have espoused violence after his Jewish tradition, then have been overturned by all four gospel writers, stretches credulity. And while Matthew and Luke certainly seem willing to alter traditions (I already mentioned Luke's reversal of Mark's "Truly this man was the Son of God"). But is one thing to "spin" traditions in complementary directions, and another thing to spin them in contradiction. It is also one thing for the Church to follow Jesus against the rival Jewish schools of his day or to distinguish its developing self from Judaism when Jewish leaders are among its persecutors, but quite another for the Church to overturn a tradition de novo, rejecting both the tradition of Jesus and the tradition of his and their original culture. When this is done, we need to see hard evidence before accepting it.
Furthermore, in the decades before the gospels are written, there are controls on the Jesus traditions that end up in the gospels. Broadly speaking, they are controlled by the dominant traditions of remembrance that circulate in the churches founded by Jesus' apostolic eyewitnesses. And I see no other canonical writings, later Church tradition, or other evidence from these communities that there is some earlier tradition of Jesus endorsing violence which then gets reversed. Paul's letters predate the gospels, and he seems rather familiar with the traditions that end up in Matthew, but he makes no arguments for violent self-defense (or even defense of neighbor). The Church that "controlled" the original traditions (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-26, 1 Cor. 15:3-7) circulated the gospels they found adequate to those traditions. Good reading here is Richard Bauckham's The Gospels for All Christians.
Luke intending to show Christianity is "something entirely distinct outside" Judaism? Nah. It's a school within Judaism that is eventually rejected by the others.
UPDATE: Another reply, now on "Romans 13 against Romans 12" ("against"?!). Rather than taking issue with reading Romans 13 in the context of Romans 12, Ross says
That works fine when you are a 10% minority under an enlightened Caesar like, say, Philip the Arab. It works less well when 90% of the nation is Christian. Suppose the nation is invaded by heretics who proudly deny the Gospels and wield the sword, as happened in, say, Christian Syria and Egypt circa 650 CE. In theory, the heretics ought to look about them, learn from the example of the peaceful Christians about them, and convert (or else drift away). Giving the lie to that theory, we have majority-Muslim populations in Syria and Egypt, and their Christian populations are being persecuted out of existence. If God has made a promise to protect those of His flock who will not protect themselves, He has failed them utterly.In other words, Christians should follow Scripture until it puts them at risk. If Jesus had done that, there would have been no crucifixion. This faith is about a guy who in the Garden of Gethsemane refused to surrender to the ultimate temptation to protect not just his skin, but his very legacy. As Jesus lies dead on the cross and his (former) disciples cower while they wait for the other shoe to drop, it all lies in the Father's hands. And that incredible display of trust sets the stage not for defeat, but for the victory of Easter. Jesus is "our Passover" (1 Cor. 5:7). The whole Christian faith rests on God having kept a promise to protect those who will not protect themselves.
Here's a different interpretation of Ross's historical illustration. By 650, Church pacifism has been abandoned for centuries in both the eastern and western Roman empires. The Islamic conquest is not about pacifists getting screwed for trusting in God. It's about an eastern empire corrupted and fatigued by the political enforcement of official theology (which is now a litmus test for patriotism), whose state church does fight and loses.
Let's pretend that pacifism, rather than Constantinianism, had ruled the day in the eastern empire at the time of Muhammad. What would have happened then? I think a church so well trained in the way of the cross would have known how to "obey God rather than men" and make life hard for their new rulers. It could have done what the Hebrews did to Pharaoh, the first Christians did to Rome, and Gandhi did to the British. It could have offered loyalty without subservience. It could have followed Matthew in defiantly turning the other cheek, handing over the cloak, and going the extra mile. It could have refused to stop witnessing and building churches. In fact, a well trained pacifist majority Christian population could make themselves so unattractive to tyrants that no ruler would want to expend all the resources necessary to conquer them! But three centuries of Constantinianism left the eastern empire unprepared for the trials it would face, and it succumbed to a persecution just strong enough to weaken it and just mild enough to outlast it.
(I'm not casting stones at these people, just trying to learn from their mistakes.)
What I hear in Ross's argument is what I hear almost every time Christians advocate that we practice violence: pragmatism. It is dressed up as reason or realism, but it generally just boils down to "do what seems like it's going to work" rather than "do what Jesus commanded."
The logic of the cross is "the foolishness of God" and "the weakness of God" (1 Cor. 1:18-25). It's counterintuitive, to say the least. People who actually obey it find, as Jesus found, that it outwits the wise of the age and defeats the powerful. People who only adopt it when it looks on other grounds like it's going to work aren't actually obeying it at all.
UPDATE: David thinks my point about Byzantine Constantinianism is irrelevant:
Telford counters, irrelevantly, that Syria and Egypt fell due to centuries of state-enforced orthodoxy, weakening both state and church. (At least, irrelevantly for this essay. It would fit very well with my other essays.) In this instance, I am not talking about why the Byzantine state lost the initial battle. I am talking about why the Byzantine church lost the long-term war. Why did the Islamic conquerors not convert to Christianity after the conquest?The Byzantine Church in conquered lands was still in political communion with the state religion of an enemy empire. It was (and remains) constitutionally unable to free itself from its own political theology. Having lived by Caesar's sword, it was dying by Caesar's sword. Having supplemented the weakness of God with the strength of the world, it lost the power that had once survived an empire. What Muslim tribe, newly rich from the plunder of much of the Mediterranean, was going to join that?
This goes to a point I made in one of my earlier posts. I am increasingly convinced that mission is inevitably compromised by Christian participation in state violence. Why does the Christian mission in India struggle so? Well, pretend you're Indian. When you think 'Christianity', what comes to mind? The Church of England, that's what. Ready to join now?
As for a well-trained population of pacifist resisters, if the ruler is tyrant enough, he can starve or slaughter the foot-draggers into oblivion like so many Tibetans. "Christian pacifism" does not work.It worked for Jesus. It worked for the first Christians (or were Nero, Domitian, Marcus Aurelius, Decius, and Diocletian, not tyrannical enough?). It worked for Anabaptists and Quakers, whose nonviolent resistance, religious toleration, and capacity for political loyalty despite it all helped give America and Europe a new tradition of religious freedom, even for non-Christians and secularists.
But we are getting away from the original point of this exchange: the biblical dimension of David's case supporting Christian participation in state violence. So far I've heard that Matthew and Luke must be explained away by appealing to "Q," and Romans 13 is to be read contextually only up until this stops "working."
"Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus revealed to His disciples the future hostility they would face and encouraged them to sell their outer garments in order to purchase a sword (Luke 22:36-38; cf. 2 Cor. 11:26-27)." For what occasion, exactly, are the disciples expected to use this sword? Carving bread?My reading is that Jesus had his disciples bring along swords so he would be "regarded among the lawless" (fulfilling Isaiah 53:12):
He said to them, "When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?" They said, "No, not a thing." He said to them, "But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, 'And he was counted among the lawless'; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled." They said, "Lord, look, here are two swords." He replied, "It is enough." (Luke 22:35-38 NRSV)Jesus wants his disciples armed so he will look seditious, even though he is neither committing nor encouraging sedition. (After all, Luke needs to explain to readers how a man crucified by Rome for sedition is innocent. The centurion's words in Luke 23:47, "Truly this man was innocent," make that point too. If Luke is modifying the text of Mark 15:39, this is no trivial change.) When arrested, Jesus chastises his fellow Jews for wimping out and grabbing a cheap indictment in an "hour of darkness" rather than pursuing a fair theological fight in the Temple. And when his disciples actually try to use even their two pitiful swords, he rebukes them (Luke 22:49-53).
This episode warrants neither violent Christian self-defense, nor "Christian treason." Rather, it sets Jesus in solidarity with Israel's oppressed, exonerates him from the Roman charges against him, shames his Jewish detractors, humiliates his vigilante disciples, and fulfills his role as Isaiah's Suffering Servant.
UPDATE: I forgot to point out that this fiasco is the one instance of the New Testament Church using the sword (and in another's defense, too!).
If you want to examine (or counter) the New Testament's arguments for pacifism, the best place to start is John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus.
The e-mail exchange at InstaPundit is a well edited overview of where the thread on Stanley Hauerwas is likely to end. It became increasingly obvious throughout the discussion that Glenn Reynolds was in fact taking the issues seriously, and I thank him for that.
I'm sorry to have upset Angie Schultz, who read me in ways I don't intend to be interpreted:
(1) I do not in fact think America is to blame for 9/11; or, more accurately, though America did take military, political, economic, and cultural actions in the Middle East that aroused the ire of Al Qaeda, I don't think that this warrants an attack on the United States, let alone a terrorist attack.Reynolds wonders how a nation could be humbled and destroyed apart from its own blood being shed. Jesus and his original disciples were instruments who humbled the Roman and Jewish nations nonviolently. I hope (wish?) this is what Stanley had in mind in that prayer. And I'm sorry he used the word "destroy." That was out of line.
(2) I think firing off a few missiles projected an image of dismissal, arrogance, and complacency to Americans, who were lulled into a false sense of security. When that sense of security misbegotten pride was ripped away in 9/11, it is what I think students were repenting of.
(3) Not only am I not "sorry we are not more accomodating of" Osama bin Laden, I am delighted that the United States is pursuing him militarily.
(4) Christians who serve in the military are still Christians. I don't go for the whole tiny remnant of the one true Church thing. I just wish Christians of every nation, including this one, would learn to put their responsibilities to the Church of Jesus Christ radically before their responsibilities to civil authorities. Stanley's "Nazi" talk is inflammatory and creates more heat than light, but at its root, he is simply pointing out that American patriotism-before-Christianity is a pale glimmer of the priorities that produced National Socialism (which managed to co-opt almost all of Germany's Christians, and which found meaningful opposition only in the "Confessing Church" movement that put the authority of Jesus before the authority of the state).
(5) Should American Christians really not serve and let the "non-Christians" (and "compromised Christians") do their bloody work for them? I've responded to that very good objection at the end of this presentation. But for the moment, I should at least hope that "fighting nonviolently" would include missionary efforts all over the world, not just in countries where Christians are allowed. It would include Christians serving as medics and in other roles where they can bring reconciliation and healing to places of war, even at personal risk. It would include active engagement against violence not only from Americans but from those who are America's enemies actions Glen H. Stassen calls "Just Peacemaking". These are not just actions that protest against war, but which intend to "abolish war". These and other practices (including prayer and worship) are what I mean by "fighting nonviolently."
(6) If these practices are appropriate activities, and if state practices of just violence are also appropriate activities (though not for Christians), then relying on God's power is not the same thing as refusing to exercise our own. As a colleague puts it, "pacifism is not passivism."
More than anything, I am saddened that Christian pacifists are failing to show others (both Christian and non-Christian) that Christian pacifism can be a blessing not just for Christian pacifists, but for everyone.
John Howard Yoder, a Mennonite pacifist who has written well and widely on the topic, appeals to Jeremiah 29:7 for a vision of what the Church should be. Jeremiah 29 is God's message to an Israel now exiled and sent off to live in Babylon among their conquerers, among a people who worship different gods. The message, however, is that they should "seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to YHWH on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." This is the proper spirit of Christian pacifism.
I wrote below to a Christian who serves in the military that I thank God for those who fight to defend my country. I want people non-pacifists too, non-Christians too to thank God for those who fight nonviolently. God intends the Church of Jesus Christ to be a blessing to every nation in the world. A blessing, not a parasite! When the Church fails to live up to that charge, either by being violently irresponsible or by being nonviolently irresponsible, we become an affliction, not a blessing. Furthermore, when people notice, then God's name is not praised among the nations, but blasphemed.
A distinction has to be made here: It might be one thing to be a blessing to your people, and another thing to be thought of as a blessing. Christians are commanded to be the former, in the hope that eventually they will also be the latter. I don't expect non-Christians immediately to understand how a prayer for God to humble a nation can be a call for that nation's preservation and strengthening, not its destruction. I don't expect people in a culture whose institutions of patriotism are often a lot healthier than its Christian institutions to see that putting the Church before America is the best way to bless America. But Christians shouldn't glorify in these perceptions. We accept persecution and martyrdom when they come, but we pray for them to end. I'll quote this verse again, because it's so important: "Maintain good conduct among the nations, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation" (1 Peter 2:12). That's what the Church has to live up to.
What grieves me and many fellow Christians about Hauerwas-type rhetoric is how often it fails to show people that Christian nonviolence can be a blessing. Part of this, I think, is that it comes wrapped up with an improper political economy which needs to be reformed. But part of it is the rhetoric itself. Reynolds finally says, "Screw it. You want to be a martyr for Christianity, fine. Get a load of Bibles and take them to Saudi Arabia. But don't fool yourself that the rest of us share your beliefs, or desire your fate." I'm impressed that he and others held onto the discussion this long before they lost their patience. Reynolds is absolutely right that Hauerwas routinely enters a public space where he expects to be heard and received by people who aren't Christians. I do too. To try your patience mocks the hospitality you've shown us by listening in the first place. We shouldn't make it so difficult for you to hear what is really a very simple argument.
I understand why non-Christians would "dismiss" Christians who think that putting the Church before America will bless America. It's counterintuitive and it rests on events the crucifixion and resurrection whose ramifications and reality non-Christians don't accept. However, the object of our witness is make that dismissal harder and harder to maintain, not easier and easier.
Furthermore, I expect Christians, pacifists or not, to accept the political ramifications of the First Commandment. When a country, a family, or a person puts anything before God, it goes monstrously wrong. We got a taste of that when the White House named "Operation Infinite Justice" last fall. Muslims were upset, for they understand that only God's justice is infinite. Where was the outcry from Christians? No one can serve two masters, Jesus said. If Christians stand by while civil authorities usurp ultimate authority, then talk of Neros and Nazis really will be appropriate.
Without the inflammatory rhetoric, would the Christian pacifist argument be heard? In the last few days I have tried to clarify both Stanley's point of view and mine more calmly. It earned me, among other things, hostile e-mail from both a Christian and an atheist. Is this because the well is too poisoned to allow Christian pacifists to communicate effectively?
If so, both pacifist and non-pacifist Christians deserve some of the blame. Believe me, when I first encountered this stuff, I was as upset as they were. Often Stanley's rhetoric encouraged me to put it through my culture's left-right grid and conclude that he is just another politically correct left-winger. "Evangelicals = Nazis" is not the kind of talk that encourages evangelicals to take him seriously!
The sixties certainly haven't helped clear things up, either. They created a dominant image of pacifism so corrupt and decadent that Den Beste has to remind readers of what pacifists used to be. Now, when we think of nonviolence we no longer think of Mennonite medics saving lives, or a Southern Christian Leadership Conference that fought nonviolently as it endured atrocities far beyond the petty tyrannies listed in the Declaration of Independence. We think of college campuses where draft-dodgers mock soldiers who are sacrificing their lives to fight totalitarianism.
Stanley and his school of disciples certainly enjoy picking fights. They are predominantly teachers and pastors, who enjoy the rare luxury of having a stable audience for months or years of intensive instruction. In the classroom and the sanctuary, the advocate controls the debate. Provocations have time to work. Objections can be met and misinterpretations dispelled immediately. Opponents relate face-to-face, so that friendships build that can tolerate the friction. I have a hunch that some of the problem comes when they transfer their classroom rhetoric to books, articles, and interviews where the conditions are different. Then their arguments create smallish circles of true-believers, most of whom know each other, and large circles of offended outsiders, who are innoculated against further interaction. They cease to be perceived as a blessing to the nations, and often they cease to be a blessing.
That the two populations intersect Christian pacifists mainly teaching in post-sixties academia tends to foster interaction and cross-pollination between the two communities. While that holds out the hope of evangelizing and redeeming the secular anti-war left, it also tends to affect Christian pacifists. (I have already commented on its effect on the National Catholic Reporter article that started all this.) It does create arrogance, elitism, and dismissiveness among some Christian pacifists. It also means that Christian pacifism will become appealing, for the wrong reasons, to all the American liberal Protestant leaders and laypeople who are more formed by American liberal politics than Christianity.
Yet I think some readers share the blame when they are unwilling to put in the effort to break their own stereotypes. It's both amusing and frustrating to be made out as a leftist American liberal Protestant. To quote Kathy Shaidle, "you don't know me." I'm a conservative pacifist, if you like. I'm an evangelical, a Pentecostal, an anti-Constantinian (that is, someone unhappy with alliances between church and state), a businessman, a stockholder, a registered Republican. I have mentioned my critical support of the war against Al Qaeda! I hope dismissive readers keep trying, and I assure them that I will keep trying. Evangelicals should always keep trying. (Frankly, I think Stanley discovered long ago that many people were simply unwilling to listen and then provocation became for him the best way to shake a few out of their old categories. Maybe he's blowback from militant Christians!)
Again, explanations are not excuses. The Church has to witness in whatever circumstances it finds itself. To anyone who can't yet see Christian nonviolence as a benefit that our country and every country cannot afford not to have, I admire your patience, I thank you for comments that can help us diagnose where we are going wrong, I apologize for every time the Church has fallen short of what it should be, I recommend that you look to Jesus of Nazareth (and not to Stanley Hauerwas, me, or anyone else) as the last word on the Christian faith, and I hope somehow, someday, we can convince you.
I remain firmly unconvinced by Work's assurances. Hermeneutics schermeneutics: Hauerwas only has the right to speak because millions of soldiers died for his butt. That he shrugs that off so arrogantly is what's appalling.I love the word "schermeneutics" and hope to find some excuse to use it sometime. Anyway, this repeats a point she made earlier:
I still say pacifism is a sin, because it is a privilege that only exists at the expense of another's life.Hmmmm. What would the first three centuries of Christian martyrs have made of that claim?
Today is the Roman Catholic vigil of Sts. Peter and Paul, two witnesses to the resurrection who took the message of forgiveness to Israel's enemies. They spoke at God's command, regardless of whether their societies gave them the 'right.' When brought before the authorities for preaching peace with God without the permission of his people's authorities, Peter responded, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29 RSV). Paul was not afraid to invoke his rights as a Roman citizen when his "right to speak" was being infringed (Acts 25:11), but nothing could stop him from following Jesus' charge to tell the story. They paid plenty of respect for civil authorities, even those persecuting them (Acts 23:1-5). Both sealed their confessions with their lives just a few years before Rome prosecuted the Jewish War that destroyed their homeland and made their surviving people homeless for two millennia.
That was the blood of Jesus at work, not the blood of soldiers.
"But that was before Constantine," someone might say. "Now the state protects our freedoms." Well, I am glad I'm not a Christian in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Pakistan, China, North Korea, and so on. I pray and work (though not enough) for persecution to cease. I thank God for the gift (not the privilege) of preaching the good news unfettered, and for the people who have sacrificed their lives to maintain that gift.
But now I owe my ultimate allegiance to the people who protect my 'right' to do what God has commanded anyway? Now I'm sinning if I don't kill to protect them in return?
Where is that logic coming from? It sounds like the Social Contract, not the Christian faith. If society becomes our object of highest loyalty, then we have become idolaters. We're no different from those who sacrificed to images of the Emperor. If we allow any gift from some other authority, however wonderful, to purchase the allegiance that belongs to God alone, then we cease to be followers of Christ alone.
Much of Stanley's career is dedicated to showing American Christians how thoroughly they have already let others buy them off. His argument is not regurgitated sixties liberalism that claims all war is wrong. It is the robust vision of the Church that dominated until Constantinianism gave Christians offers of toleration, then establishment, then temporal power that Christians couldn't refuse. Today we live in a world where even Christians can't believe that other Christians could think that there are missions more important to the Church than the preservation of modern nation-states. They interpret the gospel according to the categories of modern liberalism. Stanley isn't arrogantly shrugging off the deaths of soldiers. He is pleading with the Church not to sell its soul.
Incidentally, Christian pacifists aren't the only ones who should be on his side here. Even Christians who accept "just-war" theology (for instance, obedient Catholics) support civil violence only conditionally, and may participate only as long as the authorities who wage it do so justly and "justice" here isn't society's shared understanding of justice, but God's justice. If their country engages in a war that isn't theologically just, Christians cannot participate, regardless of who is dying to protect them. (Since the American military does not allow recruits to participate conditionally in military actions or to be discharged when war takes an unjust turn, this pretty clearly precludes faithful Christians from American military service, unless they serve willing to face courts martial and dishonorable discharges when the time comes to withdraw.)
In Muslim countries there's a corollary to the gagging of the Western Church. Lulled by a few centuries of Constantinian 'protection,' Christians submitted to the demands of their new Muslim rulers to stop preaching in public, building new churches, and engaging in any behavior that contradicted the Shariah. What the Emperor had given, the Caliph had taken away. The persecution was just mild enough to silence Christian witness and gradually choke out the Christian Church. Christians in communist countries face even starker choices.
Has the same gagging been happening in America? I think it has, so mildly that few Christians have noticed it. I delivered this address at a Westmont chapel on "persecution awareness." One speaker focused on classic persecution of the kind happening in Sudan. I was charged with speaking on persecution in America. I wrote this before 9/11 and today I would change its rhetoric, but I wouldn't change its basic message. (You have to read Revelation 3:14-22 first. It will probably be hard to believe that the writer is a lifelong Republican who just three months earlier voted for George W. Bush, but left-right categories are as ill-fitting for people like me as they are for libertarians.)
Offering all the peoples of the world the good news of peace with God and neighbor is not the right of a citizenry, but an obligation of the Church. It is incumbent on all Christians, regardless of what regime does or doesn't protect their civil peace. If Christians train ourselves to preach and follow the faith only when and where it is acceptable to our wider culture, then we are no longer preaching or following the faith, and our 'right' to speak is useless anyway.
Fortunately, we will have the obligation, for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable (Rom. 11:29).
One last thing: If it's a sin to live from another's death, then it's a sin to be a Christian. Communion bread and wine are free, but they aren't cheap.
Here goes with a hermeneutic of charity directed towards Stanley Hauerwas and Glenn Reynolds, both of whom I continue to respect:Title: Save Us from Our American PowerThe 9/11 attacks, in other words, seem to have been exactly what Hauerwas was praying for. I hope he's happy. Here's my prayer in response:
Hauerwas puts in an editor's note: "I wrote this prayer after the United States sent missiles into Iraq because Iraq had allegedly tried to kill George Bush when he visited Kuwait. President Clinton showed he 'meant business' by bombing them."
Here's the prayer: "Graceful Lord, we find ourselves living in the most powerful country in the world. The pride and self-righteousness such power breeds are beyond compare. No power exists that can humble us. We are tyrants of all we survey. We decide to bomb these people, send rockets against those people, kill those we call terrorists all because we can. We are the most powerful people in the world. It is hard not to be caught up in such power. It is intoxicating. Save us from it. Sober us with the knowledge that you will judge this nation, you will humble this nation, you will destroy this nation for our pride. Send us a reminder that you are God, that you alone have the right of vengeance, and if it be your will, make those we bomb instruments of your judgment. At the very least, save us from the 'normality of killing.' Amen."
Dear God, at the very least, save us from the inanity and excessive self-regard of those who choose to say they are Thy servants and mouthpieces, but who only seem interested in humbling others' pride, and whose positions always seem to mirror those of Mother Jones. Except that even Mother Jones is showing some sign of a backbone these days. Perhaps I should say The Nation -- which seems to see nothing more offensive than American "boastfulness." In Thy mercy and power, please grant these smug Pharisees in their well-paid sinecures a clue. Amen.
First, can we agree that power tends to corrupt? Being culturally or economically or politically or militarily powerful creates a temptation to prevail by intimidation. In the classroom, I have power over my students: power over their transcript, power from knowing the subject better than they do, power from writing the syllabus and nearly unilaterally controlling four months of discourse, power from age and solidarity with fellow faculty, power from leading the class in prayer. I don't deny having that power, and I don't run away from it. In fact, I try to model its responsible use, because in one form or another, power will come to all of my students.
I love America. I appreciate the blessings it offers the world, and the world's Christians. I'm glad Americans are fighting Al-Qaeda (though I want them always to fight justly, and I wish Christians would fight nonviolently). What's wrong with praying against the temptations that go along with being a part of the world's only "hyperpower"?
Powerful institutions inevitably throw their weight around. Sometimes their motives are benevolent, sometimes not. Always their motives are born out of the context of their power, a context that leads to distortion. (Yes, contexts of powerlessness lead to distortion too. The powerless need to pray against a different set of temptations.)
Firing off a missile or two to "send a message" was a common enough response from the Clinton Administration. It projected the image (and the reality) of a country dismissive of its foes, arrogant about its power, and complacent about its future. It enraged and encouraged America's enemies.
On 9/11, a shocked America struggled for interpretation of an event whose scale was "biblical" and symbolism apocalyptic. People had turned symbols of American power against themselves. At my school's memorial service, even before we knew who had perpetrated the act, we instinctively repented of our triumphalism, arrogance, and complacency as a nation, and more seriously, as people who claimed to be disciples of Jesus. We turned to the prophets who had done the same when tyrannical opponents of ancient Israel had defeated God's chosen people. They read the atrocities of idolatrous Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Assyrians, Greeks, and Romans as signs of divine vengeance against a people whose smug self-assurances of God's eternal favor had caused them to forget the source of real and lasting power.
This interpretation wasn't about moral equivalence or chickens coming home to roost. It wasn't something that the prophets took pleasure in or celebrated, but something they hated and mourned, and said God hated and mourned too.
Over and over, the Bible's prophets and singers, both Old Testament and New, announce that God humbles the exalted and brings to nothing the powers of the world. All the powers, not just the ones that are relatively abusive, because sooner or later all of them begin to trust in their own deliverance rather than in God's. "He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree," Mary sings in the Magnificat (Luke 1:51-52, RSV). She's talking about Rome (in a gospel that, among the four gospels, is the friendliest to Rome). She's talking about Rome's humiliation, but she's ultimately talking about Rome's salvation.
When we pray that prayer on Sundays, what thrones should we be thinking about?
Many of my fellow evangelicals have long comforted themselves with the fantasy that the powers humbled and brought to nothing in Revelation are the Soviet Union (well, up until 1991), Iraq, the European Union, the United Nations (!), China ... but they generally fail to mention the world power that dwarfs them all. This is so even though many of these same evangelicals are committed to the Holy Trinity of the Christian Right (advocacy for school prayer, opposition to abortion, and opposition to homosexuality) and, in other rhetorical contexts, they are bitterly antagonistic to the agents of American government that obstruct their neo-Constantinian vision of a "restored Christian America." Why the inconsistency? I think the answer is more nationalistic than theological. Their patriotism is a blind spot distorting their theologies and their interpretations of history.
Now I don't expect the casual reader of a prayer reproduced on the Internet from one of Stanley's books somehow to understand the way the Bible and the Church interpret catastrophes. It's only natural that this prayer comes across to Glenn Reynolds as "the inanity and excessive self-regard of those who choose to say they are Thy servants and mouthpieces, but who only seem interested in humbling others' pride, and whose positions always seem to mirror those of Mother Jones." And while I don't really think anyone is to blame, I regret the misunderstanding. (The antidote to further misunderstanding is training in how Christians read apocalyptic texts. Perhaps a commentary on Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel, or Revelation would help.)
Nevertheless, I don't want the possibility of misunderstanding keep Christians away from prayers like these. Churches that aren't praying this way have often been turning 9/11 into an occasion to pray just like the Pharisee who thought his piety and power were signs of being just fine with God, and who went away unjustified as a result (Luke 18:9-14). In Al-Qaeda, Iraq, North Korea, etc., America faces such obviously evil foes that the logical fallacy of "reductio ad Hitlerum" suddenly seems apt. The temptation to melodrama is then almost impossible to resist.
Yet "every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:14b). Those are the words of a man who stands against the corruption of Herod's Judah and Caligula's Rome and defeats them by humbling himself before God and refusing the temptation to exercise violence. (Sure, they kill him first, but that tactic backfires in a big way.)
American power will turn, has turned, all of us into "smug Pharisees in well-paid sinecures" even Stanley Hauerwas, Glenn Reynolds, and Telford Work unless we constantly pray for God to search out our hearts and expose our self-deceptions. Stanley's prayer helps me do that better than Glenn's. Advantage: Hauerwas!
P.S. I wrote my own prayer after 9/11, around New Year's Day 2002.
In school I was taught to exercise a "hermeneutic of charity" when reading others' work. That just means I should interpret others' work with a love ordered properly to God, neighbor, and self, rather than just reading self-servingly. It means not homing in on one weak aspect of an argument when the overall structure is sound, and using the weakness as an excuse not to take the strength seriously. It means not resorting to ad hominem arguments or cheap-shots.
My fellow students and I had to be taught that because it doesn't come naturally. Far from it. Furthermore, it isn't the spirit of public discourse in this culture. (Who would watch pundit shows on TV without the fireworks?) So interpretive charity is hard to learn, hard to remember, and easy to forget. This is all the more true when the ones we're reading haven't done unto us (or our side) the way we're supposed to do unto them, or when the stakes are high when the argument goes to the heart of who we are and what we stand for.
I have repeatedly fallen short here in private, in writing, before students. There are probably examples of failure right here on Clutter. But when I am reading and writing about someone I know, the personal relationship forces me to exercise charity. In fact, when I am reading the work of friends, I have to counter the opposite temptation: Downplaying and tolerating their failures.
I've seen this happen in the little network of weblogs I visit. Just yesterday, in the comments section of an lgf post, one writer made a point that was vulnerable to counterattack, which soon happened. Then came another comment: "Don't worry, everyone. This writer is OK. He's with us." And immediately the tone of the discussion changed. Fortunately, it became friendlier while staying critical.
All this is to preface my response to the latest round of Hauerwas-bashing in the blogosphere. Does he deserve it? Some of it, sure. I've said so. But now I keep hearing his name batted around with Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Al-Qaeda, and so on all the usual suspects. He's a leftover from the sixties. He's an elitist. He's smug and happy about 9/11!
That's not a hermeneutic of charity.
I'm not worried about Stanley being offended by all this. I'm worried about a discourse that is being dismissive, looking for the worst possible light to shed on a particular statement or prayer of Stanley's. An Augustinian would call this a hermeneutic of concupiscence (wrongly ordered love, usually of self) rather than a hermeneutic of charity. It seems justified after all, we're just sticking up for our side, we're defending ourselves against the enemies of Western civilization, we're fighting a war against people who want to kill us all, we're attacking a cancer in liberal American academia. But it's sinful. In the Gospels, it's the rhetorical strategy of the Pharisees. It violates every quality of love Paul enumerates in 1 Cor. 13. It is jealous and boastful, arrogant and rude, irritable and resentful, insisting on its own way, rejoicing in wrong.
Furthermore, unlike love, it fails. It is counterproductive. For one thing, it makes me suspicious when someone I don't know is being casually trashed. I agree that Michael Moore sounds like an ass based on what I've seen about him and from him on the Internet. But how much of this is well deserved, and how much is just self-serving rhetoric? In blogspeak, how much of it is "Fisking" (that is, to refute and debunk another's irresponsible claims, or in Ken Layne's memorable words, to "fact-check your ass") and how much is "Hauerwasing"?
I'm not about to spend my time or money reading Moore's book to find out, any more than you're going to spend time and money reading a book-length Hauerwas project. We all have better things to do. So most of the time we're just going to let the rhetoric make up our minds, aren't we?
It's fun to Fisk and it's fun to Hauerwas. I know; I have done both. But Hauerwasing innoculates us against arguments that might have been worth considering. It alienates us from people we might have come to agree with. It polarizes discourse into weak little communities of self-assurance. It wounds and eventually kills those who practice it.
If this society fights its intellectual battles this way, its ideological victory will be harder to achieve, and when it comes, it will be hollow and artificial. It will be a matter of power prevailing rather than truth.
I'm already hearing an objection out there: Yeah, but that's exactly what Hauerwas and other Christian pacifists are doing. Well, my exposure to their work has given me the background to assure you that many times it isn't, but sometimes it probably is. None of us is entirely free of these bad habits, especially when they're culturally reinforced and circumstantially encouraged. Then what's the best way to respond?
Initial misunderstandings are unavoidable. Get ourside your community of discourse and try for a couple of hours to join an unfamiliar one, and you'll see what I mean. I am neither surprised nor offended when my lectures and assigned texts are misinterpreted by students still finding their way in a new context (or, has happens just as often, when I misinterpret them.) I have nothing against people who, reading Hauerwas out of context, are drawing the wrong conclusions. That's how it is in this world especially with a writer whose rhetorical strategy often aims to provoke readers into thoughtfulness, rather than guiding them gently.
Sustained interpretive negligence is another matter. If students have decided to dismiss an argument, I'm not going to take their opinions seriously until I see a change.
Note that Fisking can be charitable, because being loving is not just the same thing as being nice. Sometimes, it is the opposite. In the text I've already cited, Paul is Fisking the schismatic Corinthian church harshly, and pastorally. I once found it necessary in my college paper to demolish the arguments of a beloved student. Through the sheer grace of Jesus Christ, sacramentally mediated at a campus footwashing, our friendship survived the trauma. Augustine, who wrote so much about interpretive charity, was capable of bitter invective against his Donatist and Pelagian opponents, for they were enemies of the Truth. Sadly, he was also capable of ad hominem arguments against antagonists like Julian, especially in his final years. These have impaired his legacy.
My distinction between Fisking and Hauerwasing depends on a substantive response to several very good points made in the last few days against his work, and against Christian pacifism in general. Thanks to those who have offered them. These are on their way.
June 26, 2002
To any new readers (brought here via Glenn Reynolds or Kathy Shaidle): Thanks for coming! Here's a little background:
In the following posts I argue for what I call "Church pacifism." This needs to be kept distinct from state pacifism. To argue that Christians should not kill is not the same as arguing that a nation-state, or municipal police, should never resort to force to keep the peace and defend citizens. In a nutshell, I believe the Bible describes a Church that is charged to honor civil authorities, speak prophetically to call them to act justly (whether in times of war or peace), and pursue a mission that is incompatible with their own violence. I make that argument most explicitly here (Adobe Acrobat required) in a presentation I made at Westmont College several weeks after 9/11.
However, pacifism isn't really my "thing." I teach Christian doctrine, Christian history, worship, and Judaism and Islam at a Christian liberal arts college in Santa Barbara. (And my mentor at Duke was Geoffrey Wainwright, not Stanley Hauerwas.)
Thanks to a military man for this e-mail about Stanley Hauerwas. I sincerely appreciate its clarity, thoughtfulness, and patience, and hope this responds in kind:
I don't think you understand how profoundly insulting and wrongly Mr. Hauerwas' comments were to the majority of Americans. First, Mr. Hauerwas' comments make clear that he is a member of the "left liberal box" in which you seem to think he doesn't belong. Mr. Hauerwas states that he worries about "how goodness can become deeply corrupted by its innocence. ... most of the time innocence is deeply immoral because it is such a lie not to acknowledge that we live in a very complex world that we benefit from, and we don't have to acknowledge the havoc our benefits depend upon." This is nothing but Marxist claptrap. Our prosperity does not come as a zero sum game and at the expense of the rest of the world. The benefits of our society do not depend upon "havoc" for their existence. They depend upon the fact that we have millions of law abiding hard working people who are fortunate enough to live in a country with a rule of law and a just government.
I think I do understand how profoundly insulting those comments are, when I think of how they sound without prior exposure to the man, his teaching, and his books. This is why part of the blame goes to the NCR for reporting them the way it did, and part to Stanley for supplying them in the way he did.
I should add that Kathy Shaidle's response to my original comments (get permalinks, Kathy!) made me worry that I came off as condescending. If so, I apologize. Teaching enough undergraduate classes can turn a prof into a chronic lecturer!
Anyway, you're right that Hauerwas sees capitalism as immoral (though not, I think, as zero-sum). And here he is drawing on Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, not Karl Marx. At any rate, my point in writing is not to defend his economics I'm appreciative of free enterprise, though critical of American consumerism. I wish he would have distinguished people like you and me, who have different economics, from citizens who choose to remain ignorant of the true cost of the goods and services they take for granted. In fact, I remember hearing comments about "willful American ignorance" especially from people whose careers were in foreign intelligence and the military.
Although he does not spell it out, Mr. Hauerwas clearly implies that the 9-11 killers were somehow driven to their act by the United States' own actions and oppression. Its just a clever way of saying we got what we deserved because our prosperity comes at the rest of the world's expense. If that doesn't put Mr. Hauerwas in the same intellectual class as Susan Sontag and Edward Said, I am not sure anything would.Terrorists "driven to" their acts, so that America has gotten what it deserved? I don't hear it in his rhetoric. America reaping a harvest of resentment from a half-century of economic and political imperialism? That sounds more like Stanley. And it is hardly controversial to note that Al-Qaeda is at least partly motivated to end American presence in Saudi Arabia and support of Israel. However, Stanley doesn't seem to be talking here about so-called "root causes" of 9/11, but of the American response to 9/11. Have Americans remained conveniently innocent since September's wake-up call?
Politically, yes. I'm persuaded by Daniel Pipes' argument that this administration's deference to Saudi Arabia, which is a leading engine of militant Islamism, is motivated in part by economic interests in ways that don't serve the national interest (let alone find Christian justification!). Lou Dobbs is basically right, and everyone knows it: The threat is militant Islamism and its supporters, not "terror" per se. (Dobbs should have specified militant, not just "radical," Islamism.) With a few exceptions, Washington isn't admitting these things. One reason for that is a laudable effort to protect Muslims who should not be caricatured as militants. But another reason is that Washington doesn't want to upset the Saudis.
And popularly, yes. I agree with Mickey Kaus: The ads that claim drug use is feeding terrorism are just silly. It's the money you and I spend on gas that finances the current war against America. If people connected the dots, there should be a lot fewer SUVs on American roads this summer. Either Americans aren't connecting the dots, or Americans are more interested in travelling in (and selling, and fueling) our cars than in keeping Saudi oil money from poisoning Islam, destabilizing the Middle East and south Asia, and influencing American policy. I have a feeling it's some of both. We would rather not change the lifestyles that are empowering America's enemies, so we blame our drug consumption rather than our oil consumption. If this is what he means by immoral innocence, then I agree with him.
Worst of all is Mr. Hauerwas' characterization of Americans and their beliefs. He states, "A people who have been bred to shop then can quickly become some of the most violent people in the world...exactly because they're dying to have something worth dying for." I live in work in the profession of arms. I am surrounded by young people who are willing to give their lives in defense of this country. Perhaps living in some bobofied suburb and being surrounded by drugged out, spoiled brats at decaying elitist institutions of higher education like Duke has given Mr. Hauerwas a warped view of American society. The Americans I see plenty live and fight for and not "dying to have something worth dying for".Well, I agree, and I said so in my post.
You might be interested to know that when I was TA'ing for Stanley, he once distributed a Wall Street Journal article on the Marine Corps, detailing the transformation that happens as Marines are trained away from being "drugged out, spoiled brats" and turned into soldiers. The change sometimes leaves them feeling ambiguous about defending a country full of people like their old selves. He didn't distribute that article to trash the military, but to hold up the example of an institution that produces people of character. The Church, he firmly believes, needs to be more like that.
I don't think Stanley was referring to soldiers when he spoke of "some of the most violent people in the world." He probably meant the American body politic. Admit it: There's been some fearsome rhetoric out there since 9/11. I don't hear military people calling for wiping out civilians in Muslim countries systematically. I mainly hear it from warblogs written by civilians (and especially by former liberals). It has surprised me that people who call themselves peaceful can turn Machiavellian so quickly. I don't know how widespread the sentiment is. Unlike Stanley, I'm not ready to blame capitalism for it.
Perhaps that is because we are the ones who will do all of the dying, as opposed to elitist theologian college professors who don't seem to stand for anything much less die for anything other than their own intellectual vanity.Did you read the article? "Christians must be ready to die, indeed have their children die, rather than betray the gospel," he said. "Christians are not called to be heroes. We are called to be holy."
Standing for Jesus Christ, who laid down his life for the world and calls his disciples to do the same, isn't standing for nothing.
Let me make the point with which I think Hauerwas would be sympathetic: Christians across the world are suffering and dying, often for nothing more than their confession of faith. While a few are fighting back, most are responding nonviolently, following their Savior to their own crosses. These, not "elitist theologian college professors," are the Church's moral exemplars, because they are following the moral example of the King of Kings.
One final thing: Stanley is a Texan whose father was a bricklayer. "You want to know what I'm like?" he asked me once. "Rent Lone Star." (Er, I never did.) He's probably still driving the crappy car he drove in the nineties. He once left a conference I was attending in California early because he had to make a meeting at his local Methodist Church. He's about the last academic who comes to my mind when I imagine "elitist theologian college professors." (Why would theologians want to be elitists anyway, when no one thinks anymore that theology is an elite profession?)
As Christian pacifists, both yourself and Mr. Hauerwas should thank God every morning that there are people in this country who don't share your beliefs and are willing to risk their lives to protect this country.You know, I do. (Well, not every morning, but I should.) I've thought long and hard about that.
We Christian pacifists need to be the kind of people that you thank God for every morning, who are willing to do something no military tactic or policy can accomplish: advance the good news of forgiveness in Christ for all people, even at the risk of our own lives.
Make no mistake about it, the Islamists are coming to kill us. They coming to kill us, our way of life, and most importantly our beliefs and values. No amount of prayer or unilateral cooperation will stop them."Us" Americans? Well, militant Islamists are coming to kill anyone who will fight their program of imposing "Islamic" rule worldwide. "Us" Christians? Definitely. They are already hard at work killing and enslaving Christians in their own countries. I am under no illusions here.
Though I haven't given up on prayer either.
Yes, you are correct in your blog that the United States and Canada live in peace without the threat of force. However, neither the U.S. or Canada desires to kill the other. When one civilization does desire to kill or destroy another, no amount of understanding is going to stop them. You simply cannot reason with some people.That's why I thank God for people who will fight to defend me.
It's also why I thank God even more for the opportunity to show everyone both the people who want to defend me, and the people who want to destroy me the way that leads to the redemption of our societies, to the life of our bodies, and to the joy of peace with God and with each other. The military of a nation-state can't do the God-given job of the one holy universal Church.
What grieves me about that NCR article and the response it has evoked is that it makes readers like you less likely, not more likely, to thank God for us. "Maintain good conduct among the nations, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation" (1 Peter 2:12). I hate to fall short of that charge, or see others fall short.
If you do not believe me, take a tour through the Holocaust museum and tell me exactly how the people responsible for that could have been reasoned with? The only way to stop them was to kill them.That's the way they were stopped. But the Church created anti-Judaism, institutionalized it under its centuries of Constantinian rule, and then let it fester into modern anti-Semitism. Maybe the best way to stop
them would have been for Christians with more discernment not to start them in the first place.
That requires a Church that is disciplined by the Gospel above all else. And this discipline is hard to cultivate and enforce when Christians serve in any organization tribal, economic, familial, cultural, military which demands that its rules, however reasonable, be the final arbiters.
It is only a matter of time before those responsible for 9-11 get access to nuclear or chemical weapons and use them to kill every American they can find. How can preventing that not be worth killing and dying?A correction: Al-Qaeda will kill as many Americans as they need to in order to achieve their objectives. Their interpretation of Islam is utilitarian.
Jesus certainly tells his disciples that God and neighbor are worth dying for, but I don't see him telling them that anything is "worth killing" for.
Since plenty of Americans who aren't Christ's disciples are willing to kill in one nation's defense, why must those who are give up the one call that God has charged them with, to go and make disciples of all nations, in order to assist them? Is military service really a proper use of Christian spiritual gifts, let alone the best?
Who is to build the peace that will outlast pax Americana? If Christians kill rather than offer forgiveness, how will the world achieve the peace that will end all war?
Many in Muslim countries think Westerners are automatically "Christians." They think this because for over a thousand years, it has been true: Church interests have served state interests. Until the Church distinguishes its tactics and goals from the tactics and goals of other institutions, how will missionaries ever succeed in showing Muslims a gospel that doesn't come with strings attached? How will they see that Christian faith isn't a form of political or economic imperialism?
If you and Mr. Hauerwas cannot see that, then I truly pray for the moral state of your soul.You took a respectable share of your day responding to my post, and I am honored. I'll take your prayers, but there's something I would appreciate even more. Show me how my Christian students, who are old enough to serve in and be attractive to the military, are faithfully following Jesus by signing up to fight this war. Show me how their personal military service would be the way of uncompromising, biblical, Christian discipleship. I'm ready to change my mind, but until someone shows me, I'm not at liberty to do so.
P.S. One thing I am sure I didn't read in that NCR article was Stanley Hauerwas using ad hominem attacks against people who disagree with him. Could that please stop, everyone?
June 25, 2002
Stanley Hauerwas is the laughingstock of the week on many of the weblogs I frequent: Glenn Reynolds (twice), The Wall Street Journal's Best of the Web, Kathy Shaidle, Andrew Sullivan ... all because of an interview in the National Catholic Reporter. Next stop, The New Republic's Idiocy Watch.
That hurts. These are good people I respect, and Stanley is also a good person I respect. I took and TA'd his classes at Duke. I was one of his more critical students I have never been down with Aristotle, I'm still willing to rescue H. Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture rather than abandon it, I'm not even a Yellow Dog Democrat, I have nice things to say about seeker churches like Willow Creek and church-growth gurus like George Barna, and so on. Nevertheless, I was thoroughly blessed by the experience, and remain grateful for and admiring of the brilliant way Stanley guided my education, cultivated friendships, and emptied himself for me and especially for his Doktorkindern.
Stanley has a gift for soundbites, but it's a mixed blessing. The mission that drives him is a prophetic one: Get the Church to see that the Church has to put the good news of Jesus Christ first before country, before family, before self, before what others think is true or else the Church has failed its mission and its Lord. Christ's radical call to discipleship has ramifications that reach uncomfortably into every niche of our lives, into every commitment, into every cherished practice that can become a stronghold of the gospel's enemies. (And just about every one can.)
Stanley's rhetoric is a mixed blessing because sometimes it gets in the way of his own mission. As reported, his remarks seem intended to put off everyone in his audience that doesn't already understand and agree with him. Sometimes that's an appropriate rhetoric Jesus employs it once in a while and in his original context (a gathering of Catholic Workers) it probably worked. But then they were strung together in an article that still presumes but no longer supplies the proper context, and offered on the web to readers who have no real access to that context, they become distorted, misleading, and irresponsible.
Whose fault is that? Perhaps the webloggers who have read it out of context (but how could they do otherwise?). Perhaps the editors who posted it on the web for uneducated readers to find (but who wouldn't post an interview with the "theologian of the year"?). Perhaps the writer who reported without contextualizing (but wasn't he initially reporting to a readership that could understand?). Perhaps Stanley himself after all, they're his soundbites (but was he supposed to tailor comments made in one room to a worldwide audience?).
Patrick O'Neill's rhetoric didn't help. "A shocked, angry and grieving nation yearned for bloody revenge"? I don't remember a whole nation calling for bloody revenge so much as swift neutralization of a terrible threat. A "post-9/11 hysteria that left virtually no room for dissent"? The only hysteria I remember on Capitol Hill was when anthrax invaded the mail room and I remember plenty of dissent, much of it more hysterical than the positions it was dissenting from. O'Neill's rhetoric may have been right for the room, and maybe for Stanley too, but it imprisons Christian pacifism in a modern left-liberal box where it does not belong.
The soundbites are, of course, just Stanley being Stanley. Now they've backfired. And with good reason: some of them were caricatures. I don't remember Americans "confronted by people ready to die as an expression of their profound moral commitments" whose "willingness to die stands in stark contrast to a politics that asks of its members in response to Sept. 11 to shop. I remember national awe at the actions of the New York Fire Department and hundreds of millions of dollars raised to support their families. I remember Wall Street shrugging off massive losses after the markets re-opened and a Christmas season that was purposefully less about consumerism than it had been for a long time. I remember a memorial service at the National Cathedral, a citywide vigil at the Santa Barbara Mission, and flags (not dollar bills) adorning every other car on the road.
I also remember being thankful that I belong to a Christian community that was able to be something like the community Stanley wants for every Christian. My last memory of life on campus on September 10 is a walk home after class, during which I met a circle of students gathered under the starlight strumming and singing hymns. My first memory of life on campus on September 11 is an unforgettable noon chapel service at my school on 9/11 at which we knelt and wept and sang psalms of penitence. While most of America was stuck in offices, stores, cars, and fields, we were reminding each other of the story of Jesus Christ, and drawing from that story more strength than any patriotic gesture could provide. Stanley is right, absolutely right, that the Church in America largely failed its people last fall. At our people's hour of need, many Christians remembered the American story more vividly than the one Jesus entrusted to us alone. We forgot the good news.
Anyway, wherever the fault lies in that NCR story, we all need to be more careful we who read and we who report, but especially we who speak. The point needs to be made that Jesus' disciples are not called to fight American wars. Even just ones. This is not because war is wrong or because nation-states should never be waging wars, but because the Church has been called to something else, a battle that no nation-state should wage. Many of my posts below, along with articles on my website (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), are efforts to say more about that battle, its relationship with the world's battles, and its necessity to the present and future health of the world. I am trying to distinguish them from typical arguments of the anti-war left, because they are fundamentally different arguments. In this case I consider Christian pacifism compatible with qualified Christian rhetorical support and appreciation of an American war on declared enemies like Al-Qaeda and its allies a war in which Christians themselves need not and should not participate. (Journalists and webloggers tempted to call this hypocritical should look into a mirror first. Fighting for a people is not the only way to bless a people.)
In the form bloggers are reading them, Stanley's remarks are just going to make it harder than ever for both Christians and non-Christians to see that. He went and pulled a Jerry Falwell, a Barbara Kingsolver. Now liberals, conservatives, and libertarians alike will be all the more likely to confuse Church pacifism (which Stanley champions) with sixties-style new left national pacifism (which he doesn't). Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr will look even more like the sober, responsible public theologians, and their detractors will look even more like wackos. First Things will feel all the more vindicated.
I wish I knew what it is about 9/11 and its aftermath that has done this to so many people, now including someone I deeply respect. Damien Penny has repeatedly claimed as a sort of tagline that the whole world is going insane. Maybe he's right. Maybe the stress of seeing people use planes full of hundreds of people as bombs to kill thousands more, and all in the name of God, is just too much stress. It is disorienting to see evil writ this large in our own day and in our own land, rather than in history books and foreign news pages. Maybe our critical faculties are being strained beyond their capacities to explain a sin that, like all sin, is ultimately inexplicable. Moreover, maybe the sins of 9/11 have exposed sins in us we had long suppressed. Our natural propensity to justify ourselves in the face of such horror (whether we are Americans or Palestinians or Saudis or Europeans, Christians or Muslims or Jews or agnostics or atheists, pacifists or warriors, Republicans or Democrats or otherwise) is stressing our ideologies beyond the point of distortion, and so we all find ourselves saying stupid and malicious things. I know I have repeatedly had to repent of attitudes, thoughts, words, and deeds that I held before 9/11, and that have been forming in me since. (I am not alone, right?)
Maybe and this would be a good thing 9/11 has broken us out of our little ingrown communities of friendly discourse and created new conversations. We could then expect a long, painful time of readers adjusting to unfamiliar speakers and foreign contexts, and writers responding to new objections to their old and comfortable arguments. This could be a time for patriots to take seriously the challenge of Christian pacifism, and Christian pacifists to take seriously the challenge of well founded patriotism.
But explanations are not excuses. It is irresponsible to lob rhetorical grenades into a social discourse already this volatile. I know Stanley, O'Neill, and the NCR are just trying to get people to examine their commitments in light of the unqualified lordship of Jesus Christ. That is already essential and all the more essential in times of emergency. There are better ways to do it. People are now listening who weren't listening before. If speakers don't show them extra consideration, they are going to stop listening.
June 10, 2002
There have been several very interesting posts lately on pacifism. Steven Den Beste (no utilitarian he!) does his usual wonderful job, arguing that pacifism is not "scaleable" (that is, pacifists can live only as minorities who free-ride on their surrounding communities' uses of force), and that pacifism is also not "sustainable" (that is, workable over the long term) policy. Inside Europe (scroll down) repeats Orwell's contention that "civilization rests ultimately on coercion" and that violent civil coercion is inevitable, negotiable only in its degree.
The following meditations are rough, and not really ready for prime time. But these posts are sparking some thinking I want to get down in writing.
First, Orwell is right. Christians of all people should know that this side of the New Jerusalem, civil peace rests on the threat of force. I was living in Los Angeles in 1992 when the rule of law was lifted for a time, and I watched all kinds of normally orderly people turn into rioters as a result. Pacifism as a strategy cannot rest on human benevolence, or it becomes a utopian fantasy that enemies (such as the Nazis of Orwell's day) use to their advantage.
There are exceptions to this rule, in very small settlements of people for whom social bonds are strong enough that the threat of ostracism keeps people cooperating. But they are exceptional, and increasingly so as the world urbanizes and globalizes.
Jews and Christians have lived pacifistically especially in contexts where the rule of law was enforced from without: Babylon and Persia, the Diaspora, the Roman Empire, and Muslim empires. Millions have lived quietly in environments where, frankly, they had no alternative.
When peace is less secure, Christians (and now Jews) have tended to abandon our earlier convictions. It is probably not accidental that Augustine's account of just war comes in a work responding to Alaric's sack of Rome in 410.
The most striking and memorable exceptions to this rule are Christians who manage to continue practices of pacifism even in violent times: martyrs during times of Roman persecution, Anabaptists in medieval Europe, and Christians today in times of persecution (of which there are many). These are stories so remarkable and noteworthy that they have earned their protagonists the honor of "martyrdom," or witness to the good news of peace so secure and hope so firm that its bearers will not take up the sword even to defend themselves. (It is a pity that militant Islamists are militarizing and ruining the word "martyr.")
To shift now to Den Beste's argument, I find it basically convicing. It is only a quibble for me to respond that there might be certain conditions where pacifism is a scalable (I am dropping his extra "e"), sustainable state strategy. If it is multilateral rather than unilateral, then the logic changes. Americans and Canadians get along with undefended borders not because of NAFTA or NATO, but because we enjoy a high level of mutual trust and shared interests not to fight each other. South Park notwithstanding, an invasion by either side is basically unthinkable, and not just because of the imbalance of power between the two states. There is no theoretical reason why these qualities favoring bilateral and multilateral pacifism could not someday be replicated worldwide.
It is also just a quibble to respond that domestically, pacifism can be quite scalable and quite sustainable. Vast majorities of a population can be pacifist without compromising the peace. First, a largely pacifistic population will have evolved effective nonviolent coercive strategies (such as shame). Second, the minorities of non-pacifist citizens are a pool from which police can be recruited. As the share of committed pacifists grows, presumably the share of the population that is not engaging in crime grows too, so the needs for domestic police decline.
(By the way, I do not think it is hypocritical for pacifists to rely on non-pacifist police forces to counter aggressors. You can see why at the end of this article I delivered in October 2001 on patriotism and Christian identity. If you care, you can find there an argument for pacifism on the part of the Church level alongside the use of force on the part of the state.)
A large society probably cannot "scale" pacifism to 100% of its citizenry, especially if it is multicultural. The amount of cultural homogenization and social transformation to permit large-scale domestic or international pacifism in multicultural America would be breathtaking. So my responses here only offer more optimistic estimates of the scalability and sustainability of pacifism, not fundamental critiques of Den Beste's argument.
However, I am more interested in a question that Den Beste is not especially interested in: Whether pacifism is a scalable and sustainable Church strategy. Here too the case is difficult for many Christians even to imagine, because they are so used to Constantinian arrangements with state governments. But where the Church is not in a formal alliance with the governments of its wider societies, pacifism is a live option.
When Christians are a small minority, or when we are not trusted with state power (as in many traditional Muslim communities, communist states, and postcolonial societies like China), then pacifism is practically the only option. The biblical-historical analogies here are Jews in Babylon and Christians in pre-Constantinian Rome during times of peace. Here sustainability comes at the price of scalability. A growing church will eventually face a different context.
The situation is most precarious when Christians are living in contexts of war and chronic injustice. Here we find ourselves pressed into the service of defending wider societies by the means of those wider societies. It is in these times that pacifism looks unrealistic. But when the battle is over, regardless of the outcome, the community finds itself with a lasting legacy of state favoritism, and with entanglements that compromise its freedom. The biblical-historical analogies here are Maccabees and Zealots whose work "defending" Judea eventually cost Israel its home after the Jewish War of 66-70, as well as whatever trust its Diaspora had gained from Rome. Jews were forced to settle for the sole remaining option of pacifism. (I find no New Testament precedents, even in Luke-Acts, which of the New Testament documents is arguably the friendliest to Rome.)
When Christian communities cross state lines (especially in times of conflict), multilateral pacifism is both scalable and sustainable. In fact, it may well be that it is the Church's only truly scalable and sustainable option! When Christians abandon pacifism and take up the sword, the greater community they represent is inevitably both allied and fragmented along the lines of the states they have chosen to defend. Just war practices, then, are sustainable and scalable only at the cost of mission which is to say that they are not so sustainable and scalable after all.
Consider that in Augustine's day, the Christian Church is a Roman Imperial Church, orthodoxy has become a matter of national security, and churches outside imperial Rome's orbit have found themselves under the suspicion of their respective states because of the Roman connection. Christian participation in the military security of the Roman Empire comes at the cost of the Christian mission in the lands of Rome's rivals. To be trusted, Christians in neighboring Persia must be Nestorian; in Germania, Arian. North of Rome, mission of a kind will continue, but Arianism will persist for centuries (having become a Constantinian loyalty oath of its own). Eastern Roman mission will succeed in Russia and fail pretty much everywhere else, and state-Christianity will die by the sword in the era of Muslim empires.
After many centuries, colonial missions finally begin to bring Christianity into new lands again, but it is centuries before churches in colonial lands can become truly indigenized, and many missions fail because of lingering imperial connotations (in Muslim lands, Japan, China, India...). Even today Christian missions suffer (though they also sometimes benefit) from their associations with "the West", meaning the colonial West.
A Church sided militarily with its original people could never have become open to including Gentiles. A Church not sided militarily with its empires could never have become indifferent or complicit in eradicating Jews. If Christ's Church is truly to be a global Church whose fortunes are not tied to the fortunes of empires if it is truly to be sustainable and scalable, as he intended it to be what is so unrealistic about pacifism? Is it not the most realistic, appropriate long-term strategy for a church that straddles empires over both space and time, whose King rules all kings?
I will continue pondering the significance for pacifism on world mission, and appreciate anyone's comments.