November 23, 2004
Pacifism and passivity

Over at Icthus NJD has taken on a rather thankless task in this corner of the blogosphere and defended Richard Niebuhr. Responding to me in the comments, he says:

I have nothing against Yoder's notion of divine patience. I think it is perfectly honorable to patiently endure suffering--if you are the one suffering. If it is others suffering, the command to love one's neighbor as one's self should compell us to help them, not merely proclaim injustice to fulfill our own consciences. This does not mean no one who is not suffering has no right to point to the way of Jesus to those who are suffering, but they must first ask what it is they are to do. Of course Barth was right about the German church leaders, they should have stood up to Hitler. But where was Barth asking of more from himself?

So, I think, if one wants to say that patience in the face of suffering is the only response for everyone, even those who are not the ones suffering and even those who indirectly benefit from the suffering (like all of us Americans do), then they ought to go and join in the suffering themselves.

This seems to be more a criticism of the hypocritical behavior of certain pacifists than a criticism of the theory, but it raises a good question. Should Christians in places like America go "join the suffering" of their fellows in, say, Sudan? And if so, how? It seems to me that such action shouldn't have to be inconsistent with the "sectarian" philosophy that Nate is criticizing, but Yoder, ensconced as he is in the church of the first century, hasn't dealt with this question so far as I've read. So, all you Hauerwas disciples out there -- what do you think?

Posted by Camassia at November 23, 2004 11:45 AM | TrackBack

Well, I don't like the dichotomy:

pacifism is from pax facere, to "make peace" -- it does not require silent suffering. Passive is from "passus sum", to suffer. Different roots, different theologies.

Posted by: Hugo on November 23, 2004 12:02 PM

OK, I confess to the newsperson's sin of liking catchy alliterative headlines. But what I'm really asking is, how would Christians "make peace" in situations where their brethren are suffering, in a way that wouldn't engage in the sort of statecraft that would be impermissible to Yoder et al.?

Posted by: Camassia on November 23, 2004 12:53 PM

It seems to me that the righteousness of soi-disant peace-makers will be known the fruits of their actions. To justify making war in order to make peace, one had better have very pure motives and stick to those motives before, during and after making the decision to make war.

Posted by: Rob on November 23, 2004 01:43 PM

I received my Christian Peacemaker Teams newsletter and one of the stories was about two peacemakers who were severely beaten in Hebron as they escorted Palestinian children to school (because children had been getting harassed by settlers). So there are some who do join the sufferings of others.

I agree with your point in the comments that the issue is not transformation per se, but the means of transformation. Also, his quote "But I see nothing honorable in having patience in the suffering of others while one's self is free from it, and, having power to relieve it, does not" presumes many things, among them that violence will relieve the suffering while not causing greater suffering and that pacifists would do nothing at all to relieve suffering.

Posted by: Jennifer on November 23, 2004 02:33 PM

Let me clear something up: I am a pacifist. I am all about non-violence, and I do believe that this is the way to transform society. I think it is a false dichotomy that is being drawn by some ethicists that say Christians must stand outside society to be against violence. I believe that Christians must stand inside and against society simultaneously. I believe we should work to transform the systems of this world that do good and evil to do more good and less evil. Simply because we seek to transform the government or the culture does not mean that we trust in these things, this is a falsity, only that we understand that they have profound effects on people's lives, both for good and ill.

Posted by: NJL on November 23, 2004 04:21 PM
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