This morning my wise grandpa offered a phrase about pacifism that evoked several chuckles and is just too good to forget. He said,

Becoming a pacifist is like becoming a vegetarian. You know it’s good for you, but it’s too hard to give up the baloney.

People often dismiss pacifists as idealistic radicals who are out of touch with reality. But the fact is that we (pacifists) recognize the failure of redemptive violence to create peace, and we see that violent methods only instill hatred and beget more violence. It takes frustrating patience and effort to discover creative peaceful methods, but this is necessary to practice the Christian ethic of peace.

The pacifist goes further than believing in imaginative, peaceful responses to violence. The path toward war is often one that nations take in order to build and secure their empires. As a pacifist, I not only reject the use of violence, but I reject the empire mentality and instead choose to follow the peaceful kingdom of the sacrificial lamb. In this alternative kingdom, worldly power and security are meaningless in comparison to humility, love, and eternal life.

My favorite national holiday might be Martin Luther King Jr. Day (partly because it’s usually the same day as my birthday and mostly because of the pertinent wisdom of MLK’s words), and I find it somewhat ironic that the U.S. can recognize the good he contributed to society and yet fail to heed the majority of his messages that condemn war and encourage people toward efforts that will end poverty. He has some really good stuff to say about pacifism:

True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to an evil power… It is rather a courageous confrontation with evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflicter of it, since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart.

The word “pacifism” immediately turns some people off, and thus we might do better to create new ways of referring to our hunger for peace. Instead of calling himself a pacifist, my uncle refers to himself as a peacemaker. I also noticed that in the entire book Jesus for President, there is a clear call to promote peace and refuse to participate in violent actions (supported with careful Biblical study), and yet the word “pacifist” is not used once. Dorothy Day might refer to pacifists as willing cross-carriers:

You just have to look at what the gospel asks, and what war does. The gospel asks that we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the homeless, visit the prisoner, and perform works of mercy. War does all the opposite. It makes my neighbor hungry, thirsty, homeless, a prisoner and sick. The gospel asks us to take up our cross. War asks us to lay the cross of suffering on others.

An organization that I have the utmost respect for is Christian Peacemaker Teams. Their mission is based on the foundational question, What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war?

It’s quite the question to consider. Especially if you’re sick of baloney.

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