I am not convinced that it is possible for a Christian to fight a just war.
Aquinas’s conditions for a Just War – jus ad bellum
The war must have a just cause – eg against invasion, or for self-defence – and not to acquire wealth or power.
The war must be declared and controlled by a proper authority, eg the state or ruler.
The war must be fought to promote good or avoid evil, with the aim of restoring peace and justice after the war is over.
Later conditions developed by other Christians – jus in bello
The war must be a last resort when all peaceful solutions have been tried and failed, eg negotiation.
The war should be fought with ‘proportionality’, with just enough force to achieve victory and only against legitimate targets, ie civilians should be protected.
The good which is achieved by the war must be greater than the evil which led to the war.
Reasons I question the possibility of Just War.
I do not see anything in the teachings of Jesus that allow for Just War of violence by Christians.
I do not see anything in the teachings of the church prior to St. Ambrose that states Christians may be involved in violence.
The prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah began teaching a way foreshadowing non-violence.
How does a Christian soldier stop fighting if he finds out he in an unjust situation?
How does a Christian stop a war that does not meet the just war criteria of Aquinas?
If a country does not have a system to test each military endeavor to determine if it is a just war, can a Christian fight in such a military.
How is a war determined to be just by the US government?
Christians in Germany and Christians in Great Britain both thought they were fighting a just war in World War one. If both sides claim to have Just cause can both sides be following Jesus?
Are we arrogant when we claim our side is right and God is protecting our country when we attack other Christian nations who think they are fighting a just war?
Osama Bin Laden in his letter to America after 9/11 talked about the decades of bombing of innocent people in the Middle East by the US and it’s allies. If he was fighting an invading enemy and thought God was on his side and would help him win, was he fighting a just war?
Some Christians claim that any war the United States fights is a just war. If we allow the government to make moral decisions for us, are we worshiping the government?
If we allow the government to protect us instead of trusting God for protection, are we worshiping the government?
If we support a government fighting an unjust war are we endangering our souls?
What do we do with the teachings of Jesus that contradict Aquinas’ just war theology?
When I was young I was tempted to join the military. I did not. When I start thinking about the answers to the above questions, I cannot come up with good reasons how a Christian could support any empire that has ever existed while following the teachings of Jesus.
Making arguments Taking Scripture Out of Context
Some Christians take Biblical passages out of context to justify violence. A few examples:
Romans 13 says we are to be subject to the ruling authorities, however Paul never gives permission to Christians to disobey God in order to be subject to the ruling authorities.
Some Christians even use Romans 13 to justify wars such as the Revolutionary War. Paul was unjustly imprisoned by a repressive Roman government. The injustice Great Britain against the American colonies was far less. The Revolutionary War was not a just war in the eyes of St. Paul.
I am of the opinion we must read Romans 13 in the light of Romans 12. Is it possible to overcome evil with good when you are bombing innocent women and children.
Can a Christian fight in a military taking revenge for 9/11 and protecting Americas wealth and easy living by protecting oil wells owned by American companies?
I think we must also take these passages in context with Romans 8:28. God always brings about good for those who love him through the actions of evil men. We do not need to join in their evil activities.
For the first 3 centuries of Christianity, three times the Roman Empire tried to wipe out Christians like Hitler tried to wipe out Jews. These Christians remained faithful because God works for the good of those who love him through all things.
We can also compare the good that God brings when our enemies conquer us as compared to the good brought about through God using Babylon to bring about good for the Jews when they were taken captive and taken to Babylon.
God uses evil men to control the violence of evil men.
Some Christians have mentioned to me that when Jesus healed the centurion’s servant, he was demonstrating that violence by Christians is acceptable. The centurion was an enemy soldier. It is possible the centurion was one of the soldiers involved in killing Jews on crosses, as was common at that time.
Rather than demonstrating that violence was acceptable, Jesus was showing us how to treat our enemy. Jesus healing the centurion’s servant is like an American Christian supplying Osama bin Laden with a dialysis machine in 2002. Or an American doctor helping a close adviser of Hitler during World War Two.
Amazingly some have suggested that because Paul compared Christian service to military service that this means it is acceptable for Christians to use violence. In verse 12 Paul clearly says that our struggle is not against flesh and blood. And in 2 Corinthians 10:4 Paul says the weapons we fight with are not weapons of the world.
Ephesians 6 is showing us that fighting evil like Jesus fights evil is dangerous and we will suffer losses. Fighting for Jesus is a real war. More real than any war fought by Kingdoms of this world. But we have the resurrection on our side.
When we sign up to fight for Jesus, we experience true freedom. It is a freedom that does not need a government to pamper us in our faith. A Christian can live under a government run by Boka Horam and die by the sword a few days later and have greater freedom than a Christian living in the United States.
Some Christians claim that we as Christians have the responsibility to use violence if we are in government. Jesus passed the test of government in Matthew 4. Why are we different than Jesus?
God demonstrates in the crossing of the Red Sea that he will fight for his children.
Throughout history many Christians have been miraculously delivered from evil men. More Christians died for their faith in the 20th century than throughout all history before that.
Living as a nonviolent Christian is not safe in this world. But I would like to suggest that is safer to be killed by our enemies when we are loving them than it is to live in the temporary freedom and wealth earned by killing our enemies.
Strongly influencing the Assembly of God in the early years was Arthur Booth-Clibborn.
At age 26, in 1881, Arthur Booth-Clibborn became a Quaker minister, soon afterward at the invitation of General William Booth, Clibborn joined the Salvation Army an married Booth’s daughter Kate. Booth served in the Salvation Army until 1902 when he converted to Pentecostalism
Clibborn’s family were Quakers and Clibborn considered himself a Quaker all his life. Some of his children were founders and ministers in the Assembly of God church.
Another Quaker strongly influencing the Assemblies of God was Hannah Whitall Smith. Smith held to a Wesleyan and holiness theology and a strong Quaker peace stance.
In the beginning, the Assembly of God considered themselves pacifists.
The following statement by the General Council of the Assemblies of God appeared in a 1917 Weekly Evangel article titled “Pentecostal Movement and the Conscription Law.”…
Therefore, we, as a body of Christians, while purposing to fulfill all the obligations of loyal citizenship, are nevertheless constrained to declare we cannot conscientiously participate in war and armed resistance which involves the actual destruction of human life since this is contrary to our view of the clear teachings of the inspired Word of God, which is the sole basis of our faith.” 1.
Booth-Clibborn did not support antiwar movements or arguments that were not Christian. He believed that “moralists” who placed their hopes “in the social effort of man to save his own world on material lines” were doomed for failure. 2.
Today many Assembly of God members are far removed from their pacifist roots.
During the debate about the military service article at the General Council in 1967 one Assemblies of God minister blatantly revealed their quest for acceptance (by American Churches) as a reason for opposing conscientious objection 2.
Proclaimed at the Council of Narbonne, August 25, 1054
1. First, we order that no Christian shall slay his fellow Christian. For he who kills a Christian, without doubt sheds the blood of Christ. If anyone unjustly kills a man, he shall pay the penalty according to law. “Christian Peace and Nonviolence,” Edited by Michael G. Long, Page 59.
What if the Council of Narbonne is correct? What if when we kill a Christian, we “shed the blood of Christ?”
What if when we kill a Christian, we crucify Jesus again?
What if when we join the US military and kill enemy soldiers who are followers of Jesus, we crucify Jesus again?
What if during the Revolutionary War, American Christian soldiers who killed Christian soldiers from England were crucifying Jesus again?
When Christian soldiers from the North who killed Christian Soldiers from the South during the Civil War were they crucifying Jesus again?
When Christian soldiers for the United States killed Christian soldiers in the Philippines, were they crucifying Jesus again?
What if Christian soldiers from the United States, when they killed Christian soldiers in Germany during WW I and WW II were crucifying Jesus again?
Jesus has been calling many Muslims to become Christians. What if when we kill “terrorists” in Iraq or Afghanistan we are crucifying Jesus all over again?
Jesus said, 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
When we join the United States military and destroy homes and fields and kill innocent men, women and children, causing hunger, thirst, illness and nakedness what if we are crucifying Jesus again?
When US pilots napalmed fields in Vietnam, were they crucifying Jesus again?
When US snipers killed innocent men, women and children in Iraq and Afghanistan were they crucifying Jesus again?
Pilate tried to wash his hands, what if when we join the military and work as an accountant or cook, we crucify Jesus again?
What if when we manufacture guns for the military, we crucify Jesus again?
What if when we accept the spoils of war we crucify Jesus again?
I have heard and read several arguments from the new atheists about why it does not make sense to be a Christian. But, based on the evidence, I have found their reasons to be unconvincing.
I think it is always important to keep an open mind and look at the evidence.
Reasons New Atheists give:
Science proves God is unnecessary.
. Genesis creation story contradicts our scientific knowledge, therefor Christianity is invalid.
The archeological evidence does not match the Exodus story in the Bible, therefor the Bible is a fraud.
Moses could not have written the Torah, therefor the Bible is a fraud.
The Resurrection did not happen.
David Hume has shown that Miracles do not occur.
The physical world is all that exists.
Christianity is too violent.
REASON # 1, SCIENCE PROVES GOD IS UNNECESSARY.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. What if as scientists say, the beginning of creation (Big Bang) happened 13.7 billion years ago?
I have read a few books concerning the history of the universe and the history of life, including “Evolution, The Whole Story” by Steve Parker, “Darwin’s Doubt,” by Stephen Meyer, “Scientists Confront Intelligent Design and Creationism,” Edited by Andrew Petto, “Undeniable,” by Douglas Axe and “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME BY STEPHEN HAWKING
About 25 years ago I read “A Brief History of Time,” by Stephen Hawking. As I read, I kept thinking that the universe God created was so amazing. Then Hawking began discussing the theory he had developed to avoid the Big Bang and a beginning of the universe. He claimed his theory proved that there was no need for God, I was amazed. I thought to myself, how could Hawking know what he knows and not be amazed with the universe and see God?
I’ve read other scientists who claim that Hawking’s theory fails to prove that the universe does not have a beginning.
Perhaps Hawking developed his theory to avoid a beginning for the universe because he thought the Kalam Cosmological argument is valid if the universe has a beginning?
“EVOLUTION, THE WHOLE STORY” BY STEVE PARKER
In the book “Evolution,” as I read, I saw the history of God creating life. I had feelings similar feelings as I felt when I read Stephen Hawking. How could someone know all these wonderful things about nature and the history of life on earth and not be amazed by God.
Alice Roberts wrote the forward for “Evolution”. She said, “The concept of humans as a special creation made by an intelligent designer, stands in direct opposition to the idea we are a product of unthinking natural selection.” In this statement Roberts is making untenable claims.
Roberts untenable claims:
“Unthinking natural selection:”
Roberts claims unthinking natural selection. I did not see anywhere in the book where Parker claims to be demonstrating unthinking natural selection. Parker’s book in no way proves unthinking natural selection. God can use natural selection to create animals if he so desires. He could guide each step of evolution and we would not be able to prove scientifically that he did or did not.
“Creation by an intelligent designer is in opposition to natural selection.”
If God is God, he can create however he wants even if he uses natural selection to create. God could use natural selection to create animals if he so desires. If God guided natural selection, then natural selection is not unthinking. Perhaps God planned each step and each step is a miracle. Humans could very easily be very special to God.
What if all animals ever created are special to God?
What if we will find all animals that ever lived in heaven when we get there because God wants to enjoy his wonderful creation forever?
As I read the book, I felt Parker was simply showing the history of life. He was not attempting to make a statement about God. If as Roberts contended, Parker was attempting to prove that God is unnecessary, Parker failed miserably.
SCIENTISTS CONFRONT INTELLIGENT DESIGN AND CREATIONISM, EDITED BY ANDREW PETTO
The authors of the book made many excellent points. They helped me understand better the science behind paleontology. I felt they did demonstrate the great age of the earth, (4.5 billion years) and age of the universe, (13.7 billion years) by using current standards for measuring time. I felt they did demonstrate that young earth creationism is questionable. However, many young earth creationists claim that God created the earth 6,000 years ago but made it appear to be much older. They are not arguing from a scientific point view at that point.
The authors of Petto’s book failed to deliver on their promise to Confront Intelligent Design as a failed theory. These authors failed to prove that life was not created by God and they failed to prove that natural selection is not guided by God.
The authors of Petto’s book try to demonstrate that Meyer and Axe are not defending a valid scientific theory of “Intelligent Design” and they failed.
This book was extremely interesting, and I learned a great amount about paleontology.
“DARWIN’S DOUBT,” BY STEPHEN MEYER AND “UNDENIABLE,” BY DOUGLAS AXE
In these books Meyer and Axe argue for the theory of Intelligent Design.
Meyer successfully shows some of the problems of current theories in paleontology concerning the Cambrian Explosion.
These certainly made a good case demonstrating problems of evolution creating life without a God. I think they demonstrated that it is quite reasonable to study the history of life and believe in God.
It appears to me that Intelligent Design is a logical and valid, but still unproven theory.
Atheists are incorrect, science has not proven that God is unnecessary.
REASON #2, GENESIS CREATION STORY CONTRADICTS OUR SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE, THEREFOR CHRISTIANITY IS INVALID
Genesis was written by Moses in about 1450 BC. Paleo-Hebrew written alphabet was developed at about the time of Joseph 400 years earlier. Any scientific claims made by Moses would align with the scientific knowledge of his time. He was raised and educated in the palace of the Pharaoh of Egypt therefor his scientific knowledge would come from Egyptian science.
Moses may have had written sources from the time of Joseph to include in Genesis.
However, stories before Joseph are word of mouth stories.
Some of these stories are based on fact. The Stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob appear to be based on stories of those who lived the experiences.
We can see in the story of Adam and Eve that man turned to sin and violence. In the story Noah we see that God hates evil. We also see God began revealing himself to man before Abraham.
Genesis is about the history God reaching out to man and is not a scientific text.
If Genesis does not conform to scientific knowledge today, that does not make Christianity invalid.
REASON #3, MOSES AND THE EXODUS
We have archeological evidence in Egypt, the Saini Peninsula, Midian and Israel which show that the exodus, the wandering of the Israelites in the desert, and the conquest of Canaan occurred as recorded in the Bible.
Many archeologists claim that the exodus took place about 1250 BC. In the “Patterns of Evidence, The Exodus” documentary by Tim Mahoney, Mahoney demonstrates that the archeological evidence shows that the exodus place about 1450 BC. When the timeline is corrected, the evidence in Egypt and Palestine line up perfectly with the Bible stories. Mohoney’s Documentary Series includes “The Exodus,” The Moses Controversy’,” “The Red Sea Miracle,” Part 1, and “The Red Sea Miracle,” Part 2.
Archeologist David Rohl studied Egyptian history timeline extensively and has shown how Egyptian archeological evidence relates to the Biblical story. See David Rohl’s book “Exodus, Myth or History.”
Atheist’s such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have used the lack of evidence for the Exodus as part of the foundation for their atheism. We can see from the Mahoney films and Rohl’s book that this is no longer a valid argument supporting their position.
REASON #4, JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD
Many authors have demonstrated very convincingly that Jesus has risen from the dead. If he has risen from the dead, then it is reasonable to believe that Jesus is God. Several authors that have demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt from the evidence that Jesus is risen from the dead. Books include “Evidence that Demands a Verdict,” by Josh MacDowell, The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel.
In reading these and other similar books, I conclude that the new atheists have a lot of work to do to defend their position against this evidence.
REASON #5, DAVID HUME AND MIRACLES
Some atheists base their position on the writings of David Hume. Lee Strobel in “A Case for Miracles,” discusses David Hume’s arguments. Mr. Strobel conducted a survey about miracles in the US. About 94,000,000 Americans believe they have experienced miracles. This contradicts the claims of Hume. Strobel demonstrates that Hume’s arguments are based on presuppositions and circular reasoning.
REASON #6, SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE OF A NON-MATERIAL WORLD.
Probably the argument I have heard the most often in favor of atheism is the lack of scientific evidence for a non-material world. I recently read John Burke’s “Imagine Heaven.”
Many blind people when they have near death experience describe colors they have never seen before.
One girl during a near death experience observed a tennis shoe on the outside windowsill of a hospital window. The girl had no previous knowledge of the tennis shoe. Later the doctor who heard her story, went from window to window around the hospital until he found the tennis shoe.
Many other stories include facts verifiable by a third party, that cannot be explained by physical knowledge of the person experiencing the near-death experience.
Burke’s book does not scientifically prove the existence of heaven or hell described in near death experiences, but it does convincingly demonstrate a spiritual world or parallel spiritual universe to our material world.
Once again, atheists have some explaining to do to defend their position.
REASON #8, CHRISTIANITY IS TOO VIOLENT
Many Atheists claim Christianity is invalid because Christians are too violent.
In a discussion with one atheist, I mentioned that Lenin, and Mao as atheists killed more people than any two Christians ever killed. He rightly pointed out it is against his own personal standards to kill people.
Many of the people killed by these regimes died of unnecessary starvation, caused by Socialist central planners following the guidelines of atheist Karl Marx. “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism.” By Kevin D. Williamson.
Today atheist leaders still impoverish and use violence against their own people in such places as North Korea, China and Cuba.
My friend’s claim that Christians are the most violent and pro-war people in the USA may be true. However, Jesus taught and demonstrated non-violence as the best way to live as a Christian. It is impossible for my atheist friend to claim that because many Christians are violent, then Christianity is invalid.
Many Christians fail to follow the teachings of Jesus concerning violence. That does not prove that God does not exist.
My friend’s case that Lenin and Mao do not represent atheist philosophy is very weak. The violence of Lenin and Mao certainly show one valid possible outcome for following atheism where it logically leads.
Atheists also appear to be more prone to violent suicide than people with a religious affiliation.
Recently a study of “Religious Affiliation and Suicide Attempt “was undertaken. The study was published December 1, 2004 in “The American Journal of Psychiatry.” RESULT: “Religiously unaffiliated subjects had significantly more lifetime suicide attempts and more first-degree relatives who committed suicide than subjects who endorsed a religious affiliation.”CONCLUSION:“Religious affiliation is associated with less suicidal behavior in depressed inpatients.”
Based on the facts, with violence as a criterion for a valid belief system, atheism fails.
I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH TO BE AN ATHEIST
Faith is belief that something is true based on the best evidence we have. With that definition of faith, then I would say in agreement with Frank Turek, “I don’t have enough Faith to be an Atheist.”
JESUS CAME TO SAVE
One atheist asked sarcastically, “What did Jesus save us from?” He does have an excellent question. Who did Jesus come to save?
“On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17
Who are these healthy people who do not need the healing of Jesus?
Anyone who is righteous and is not a sinner.
Anyone who can avoid illness and death.
Anyone who can feed all the hungry.
Anyone who can prevent all homelessness.
Anyone who can cause human flourishing without damaging the environment.
Anyone who can prevent all alcoholism and drug addiction.
Anyone who can change the heart of a human so that he no longer kills and steals but loves his neighbor and turns the other check.
Anyone who does not need to experience the rebirth as explained in John 3.
Anyone who can prevent all child abuse.
Anyone who can prevent all spousal abuse.
Anyone who can prevent all child slavery.
Anyone who can prevent all child sexual abuse.
Anyone who can take away the fear of death.
Anyone who can prevent all wars and conflicts.
Anyone who can bring friendship between God and man.
Anyone who can heal the death and violence in the environment so that Lions eat grass and wolves lie down with the lambs.
Anyone who can heal the universe, so it never dies.
Jesus has promised to heal people and the earth. If he can raise himself from the dead, I think he can fulfill his other promises also.
19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. Romans 8:19-21
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10
To us humans, this healing that Jesus is giving us seems to be taking a long time. But if the universe is 13.7 billion years old and God is eternal, then the healing Jesus is giving us is taking only the blink of an eye.
“it’s a dangerous world out there, and pacifists depend for their safety and security on the generosity and good will of non-pacifists. Prior to the Christianization of the Roman empire, many Christians were not faced with the responsibility of defending the public and ensuring public order.” Were the Early Christians Pacifist, by Jimmy Akin
What if the Sermon on the mount is a sermon of subversion? What if Jesus is teaching poor people the proper way to rebel against an abusive and enslaving government and society? What if the United States is an abusive and enslaving government?
Jimmy Akin attempts to make a case that Christians began to use violence and the military to control people because they became responsible for protecting the public. When Christians obtained political power, it became their responsibility to run government using the violence of government.
Jimmy spends a great deal of time trying to defend his position of violence by demonstrating that the early Christians were not pacifist.
The real question is not whether Christians were pacifist, but is it possible for a Christian to join the military or to use violence to ensure public order while following the teachings of Jesus.
St Ambrose was Roman Governor in Milan. The people loved him, and he became Bishop of Milan by popular acclamation. St Ambrose was government man. Most likely he would agree with Jimmy Aiken that maintaining the peace and governing the people is one of the most important tasks of a Christian. As Bishop, St. Ambrose advocated killing the pagans. Jesus taught going into all the world, baptizing and teaching people to follow everything Jesus commanded.
St. Ambrose’s approval of killing pagans by Roman soldier is similar to our country using the Doctrine of Discovery. The Doctrine of Discovery stems from the papal bull which gave Europeans the right to kill and conquer. Pope Alexander VI issued the Papal Bull ‘Inter Caetera,” on May 4, 1493.
THE UNITED STATES
The United States foreign policy from the beginning has followed the Doctrine of Discovery, where a “Christian” country of greater power has the right to kill and destroy weaker peoples in order to take what belongs to the conquered for the conquerors. Using the Doctrine of Discovery, the United States stole land from the Native Americans and Mexico.
In 1899 the Philippine-American War was fought to enslave the Philippines as a United States colony. The War Prayer, By Mark Twain.
The United States has sent Marines all over the world to protect American financial interests. The Marines have been sent to protect American Banana companies and keep banana plantation worker working at a low wage.
The United States military protects American oil wells in the Middle East. Throughout its history the United States has used its military to obtain wealth and power by killing and enslaving people.
Does Jimmy really approve of Christians joining a military who upholds these values?
THE SUBVERSIVE SERMON
I think the Sermon on the Mount is a great place to start to determine if Jimmy Akin’s premise that Christians should violently defend to the public and ensure public order really follows the teachings of Jesus.
Some claim that the Sermon on the Mount only applies to our personal lives, maybe at the level of social interactions in a small village, but not on a larger scale, especially when it comes to government.
Many people in the time Jesus were enslaved and controlled by the Romans. At the same time wealthy Jews took advantage of their fellow Jews to gain great wealth.
But what if the Sermon on the Mount applies to how the poor are to treat the rich and the oppressor. What if the Sermon on the Mount is the way the poor are to deal with superpowers like Rome and Great Britain and the United States with their great militaries and great wealth?
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-42
Many feel that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is asking us to take the violence like a doormat. But Jesus is showing us how to nonviolently fight for freedom and justice for the weak, the vulnerable and the poor.
Walter Wink explains the Greek word in Matthew 5:39 and suggests a better translation “Do not retaliate against violence with violence.”
Wink says, “Jesus was no less committed to opposing evil than the anti-Roman resistance fighters. The only difference was over the means to be used: how one should fight evil.
There are three general responses to evil: 1) passivity, 2) violent opposition, and 3) the third way of militant nonviolence articulated by Jesus. Human evolution has conditioned us for only the first two of these responses: flight or fight….
Neither of these alternatives has anything to do with what Jesus is proposing. It is important that we be utterly clear about this point before going on: Jesus abhors both passivity and violence as responses to evil. His is a third alternative not even touched by these options. The Greek word “Anistenai” cannot be construed to mean submission.
Jesus clarifies his meaning by three examples. “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Why the right cheek? Try it. A blow by the right fist in the right-handed world would land on the left cheek of the opponent. To strike the right cheek with the fist would require using the left hand, but in that society the left hand was used only for unclean tasks. Even to gesture with the left hand at Qumran carried the penalty of exclusion and ten days penance (The Dead Sea Scrolls, 1QS 7) The only way one could strike the right cheek with the right hand would be with the back of the right hand. What we are dealing with his unmistakably an insult, not a fistfight. The intention is not to injure but to humiliate, to put someone in his or her “place”. One normally did not strike a peer thus, and if one did, the fine was exorbitant…. Masters backhanded slaves; husbands backhanded wives; parents backhanded children; men backhanded women; Romans backhanded Jews. The only normal response would be cowering in submission.
It is important to ask who Jesus’ audience is. In every case, Jesus’ listeners are not those who strike, initiate lawsuits, or imposed forced labor, but their victims….
Why then does he counsel these already humiliated people to turn the other cheek? Because this action robs the oppressor of the power to humiliate. The person who turns the other cheek is saying, in effect, “Try again. Your first blow failed to achieve its intended effect. I deny you the power to humiliate me. I am a human being just like you. Your status does not alter that fact. You cannot demean me.”…
The second example Jesus gives is set in a court of law. Someone is being sued for his outer garment… Only the poorest of the poor would have nothing but an outer garment to give as collateral for a loan. Jewish las strictly required its return every evening at sunset, for that is all the poor had in which to sleep…the poor debtor has sunk even deeper into poverty, the debt cannot be repaid, and his creditor has hauled him into court to try to seize his property by legal means….
Why then does Jesus counsel them to give over their inner garment as well? This would mean stripping off all their clothing and marching out of court stark naked! Put yourself in the debtor’s place and imagine the chuckles this saying must have evoked. There stands the creditor, beet-red with embarrassment, your outer garment in one hand, your underwear in the other. You have suddenly turned the tables on him….
Nakedness was taboo in Judaism, and shame fell on one causing the nakedness.
Jesus’ third example, the one about going the second mile, is drawn from the very enlightened practice of limiting the amount of forced labor that Roman soldiers could levy on subject peoples.
To this proud but subjugated people Jesus does not counsel revolt. One does not “befriend” the soldier, draw him aside, and drive a knife into his ribs. Jesus was keenly aware of the futility of armed revolt against Roman imperial might and he minced no words about it., though it must have cost him support from the revolutionary factions.
But why walk the second mile? Is this not a rebound to the opposite extreme: aiding and abetting the enemy? Not at all. The question here, as in the two previous instances, is how the oppressed can recover the initiative, how they can assert their human dignity in a situation that cannot for the time being be changed. The rules are Caesar’s, about how one responds to the rules- that is God’s, and Caesar has no power over that.
Imagine then the soldier’s surprise when, at the next mile marker, he reluctantly reaches to assume his pack, and now you do it cheerfully and will not stop! Is this a provocation? Are you insulting his strength? Being kind? Trying to get him disciplined for seeming to make you go farther than you should? Are you planning to file a complaint? Create trouble?
From a situation of servile impressments, you have once more seized the initiative. You have taken back the power of choice…
Jesus’ Third Way:
Seize the moral initiative
Find a creative alternative to violence
Assert your own humanity and dignity as a person
Meet force with ridicule or humor
Break the cycle of humiliation
Refuse to submit to or accept the inferior position
Expose the injustice of the system
Take control of the power dynamic
Shame the oppressor into repentance
Stand your ground
Force the Powers to make decisions for which they are not prepared
Recognize your own power
Be willing to suffer rather than to retaliate
Cause the oppressor to see you in a new light
Deprive the oppressor of a situation where a show of force is effective
Be willing to undergo the penalty of breaking unjust laws
Die to fear of the old order and its rules
Quoted from “Christian Peace and Nonviolence” by Michael Long. Chapter 4. “Walter Wink”
Would Jesus want us to join a military that causes the very poverty, injustice and enslavement that he is overcoming? Does Jesus want us to join the government and become the oppressor?
Maybe we Americans don’t like the teaching of Jesus because we are the wealthy in the world, enslaving others with our military? What if we are the goats Jesus discusses in Matthew 25?
What if the whore of Babylon in Revelation 17 is any superpower who accumulates great wealth and military power through enslaving the poor and calling it self-defense and national interest?
Perhaps to be a pacifist who follows the teaching of Jesus is far more dangerous than depending on the government for our safety and security?
Perhaps Jesus would only want us to be involved in government if we refuse to do anything that is contrary to his teaching?
Perhaps if St. Ambrose had seen the Sermon on the Mount as a call to fight against the injustice of the Roman government, he would have used these principals to preach the gospel and bring justice to the pagans? Perhaps he would have refused to endorse the Roman Military?