By: Victor Stanely Jr. and Marcia Smith
The Violent Christian Pacifist
“Murder is a tough thing to digest, it’s a slow process, and I ain’t got nothin’ but time…” These words are uttered by Jay-Z on the song Dead President II. The words capture the thinking of a certain type of person whom I like to call the “Violent Christian Pacifist.”
Pacifism is a broad term. Merriam-Webster’s definition: opposition to war or violence as a means of settling disputes. Most Christians, especially for the first 400 years of the faith, held to pacifism.
Pacifism became less of a given within Christianity following the conversion of Emperor Constantine and his declaration of tolerance for Christianity. As Christianity became more and more intertwined with the affairs of the state, pacifism was in many ways diminished within the Christian ethos.
From Israel to Us
Let’s take a quick look at thinking differently about war and violence within the Christian life. Micah 7:9-13 provides a look into God’s attitude and feelings toward sin:
The voice of YHWH cries to the city—and it is sound wisdom to fear your name: “Hear of the rod and of him who appointed it! Can I forget any longer the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is accursed? Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales and with a bag of deceitful weights? Your rich men are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth. Therefore I strike you with a grievous blow, making you desolate because of your sins. (ESV)
God seeks justice for He is a just God that cannot tolerate sin and injustice. The verses preceding this declaration by God call on Israel to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before their God (Micah 6:8). Yet Israel ignored God and allowed injustice and corruption to run rampant throughout the nation, and because of this the God of peace brings violence against His people to punish their sin.
Here’s the thing: we are actually called by God to do the same violence to ourselves. Paul makes this very clear in Galatians 5:16-17, 24:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do… And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (ESV)
Crucifixion is a ruthless way to die. It is a very violent process with spikes being driven through a person’s wrists and feet after being horribly beaten; death finally comes by suffocation. In this Galatians passage Christ commands us, His people of peace, to crucify our own flesh, to carry out this act of violence against the sin in our own lives just as He did on the cross and against the sin and corruption of Israel. We must suffocate the desires of the flesh by refusing to breathe life into those passions. We as Christians are children of peace who practice pacifism, and also paradoxically carry out the violent act of crucifixion against our flesh, daily.
Paul tells us that we must go to war. He says in Ephesians 6:11-12:
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (ESV)
So, we go to war against those things in the spiritual realm, not against the world. However, those things in the spiritual realm manifest themselves in the present world. Thus, we do war against pornography, sex trafficking, the exploitation of men, women, and children, and the twisted morality of the secular sexual ethic. We wage war against the Evil behind the evil in this world.
What does that look like for us today?
Wars consist of many small battles. Here are three war zones along with battles plans for each combat scene.
How do we win the war against objectifying and exploiting others? By winning the small battle of not taking that second look at your attractive neighbor when he or she walks by. By giving instead of taking and by taking every opportunity to serve. In this way, we work to suffocate our lust. If you cannot win the small battles then you won’t win the big battles.
How do we win the war against the corruption of our children’s imagination? By bringing them up in a household that operates on dignity and gives them human value; by raising them to explore the beauty of creation’s landscapes and colors; by teaching them stories of hope and sacrificial love. If we don’t create these scenes of formation then they will inherit them elsewhere. The world will give them a false family, they will be invited to explore not creation but one another, and they will inhabit stories of abject despair.
How do we win the war for our marriages and close relationships? By confronting our spouses and Christian brothers and sisters about no longer immersing themselves in distorted narratives of love. I (Vic) will forever thank the women in my life who continually challenge me with very frank and sometimes uncomfortable conversations on sex and sexuality.
Through all of these small battles, we combat the undercurrent of sexual perversion that runs through our homes and societies. We can fight these battles because Jesus has won the war and we are able to conqueror sin because Jesus was murdered by it and then resurrected over it.
Again, we are people indwelt by the Spirit of Peace, yet, paradoxically, we are called to pick up weapons of violence and war, namely our cross on which we crucify the flesh, and the Sword of the Spirit that is the gospel of peace. The paradox is a profound one, but it is the only one that will give us life. Peace is a weapon, one He died to give us, and it’s one we desperately need in our lives.
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Marcia Smith grew up in Brazil and is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute. Her hobbies include art, songwriting, and soccer. As an artist, she loves exploring the relationship between theology and art.
Victor Stanley Jr. is a student at Liberty University’s Rawlings School of Divinity pursuing a degree in Biblical and Theological Studies. He serves as a missionary to Asia through the missions organization Outreach to Asia Nationals (OTAN) and also teaches their weekly missions discipleship group in Lynchburg, VA. Vic also serves as a member of the church leadership team at his local church, Church of the Good Shepherd in downtown Lynchburg, VA. Vic simply desires to faithfully and humbly serve God wherever He may lead him. You can read more of Vic’s writings at www.hebrews4.com