Christian Pacifism: Relevant Beyond Syria

By Stephen Mattson 09-04-2013
Create Peace sign, nagib /

Create Peace sign, nagib /

As the United States prepares to “officially” become involved in the Syrian war, Christian pacifism has reemerged as a much-discussed and relevant topic. Unfortunately, the concept has been somewhat misrepresented, undervalued, and often downright demonized within evangelical communities.

Critics often assume Christian Pacifism is some sort of radical political movement associated with marijuana-smoking hippies who are anti-government conspiracy theorists. To make matters worse, pop-culture (and much of Christian culture) has made pacifism seem, well, passive — as if pacifists are unpatriotic and un-American heretics who refuse to enlist in the military and avoid physical confrontations at all costs. They are characterized and perceived as weak, scared, and gutless.

In reality, the beliefs that form Christian pacifism are spiritual and scripturally founded around the life of Christ. And whether you agree with the theology, it’s hard to passively dismiss the Biblical argument for pacifism as some sort of crazy mumbo-jumbo.

But many people fail to realize that Christian pacifism goes beyond just being philosophically opposed to war and violence — it’s about being a peacemaker. Instead of anti-violence and anti-war — it’s pro-peace. It’s not just about avoiding war and violence, it’s about bringing peace. There’s a big difference.

Christian pacifism is proactive, doing everything possible to bring about peace (without the use of violence). Pacifism isn’t an ideology reserved only for when nations and armies go to war, but it’s a personal decision that should be incorporated within our everyday lives.

Pacifism is helping a refugee assimilate to a new culture.

Pacifism is volunteering at your local school.

Pacifism is respecting your boss.

Pacifism is forgiving your coworkers.

Pacifism is picking up trash.

Pacifism is caring for our environment.

Pacifism is loving your spouse.

Pacifism is sheltering the homeless.

Pacifism is ignoring an insult. 

Pacifism is not participating in gossip.

Pacifism is asking forgiveness from a neighbor.

Pacifism is not cussing out the person who just cut you off on the highway.

Pacifism is not participating in derogatory jokes.

Pacifism is encouraging your friends.

Pacifism is volunteering at a nursing home.

Pacifism is being patient when your child refuses to stop crying.

Pacifism is telling the truth.

Pacifism is attending counseling to work through interpersonal conflicts.

Pacifism is working on racial reconciliation.

Pacifism is ending slave labor.

Pacifism is fighting for equality.

Pacifism is promoting social justice.

Pacifism is serving the world around us.

Anti-war and anti-violence is Christian pacifism’s most popular association, but it’s more holistic than we realize, and pacifists are often hypocritical when they promote anti-war views but then use destructive behavior — like verbally abusing their spouse and children. When they do this they are contradicting themselves, trying to promote peace without being peaceful.

Are we violent with our thoughts? In our hearts? Do we gossip? Do we hate? Do we get jealous? Are we striving for peace within our home, workplace, church, and neighborhood? Do we love those around us? This is the essence of Christian pacifism.

If we fail to promote peace within these small venues — the hundreds of interactions we have each day — things can escalate and eventually turn into larger problems. In reality, war and violence is a failure of pacifism at its most basic level, not between countries and armies, but between individuals — within daily routines.

Christian pacifism demands bravery, honor, sacrifice, and service. Ultimately, we should follow Christ's example, who strived to bring peace and restoration to a hurting world, eventually dying on the cross for our sins. Jesus was a peacemaker — the Prince of Peace. 

In the end, being a Christian pacifist is about working 24/7 as an ambassador of peace, with everyone around us, no matter what environment we’re in. How can you bring about peace today?

Matthew 5:9   Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Stephen Mattson has contributed for Relevant Magazine and the Burnside Writer's Collective, and studied Youth Ministry at the Moody Bible Institute. He is now on staff at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.

Image: Create Peace sign, nagib /

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