Find Me

Find new posts at!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Pacifism and "Red-Letter Christians": A Letter from a Friend

"On the one hand" today. "On the other hand" later this week.

Hi Cory and J,

On Wednesday I read this blog post written by a current U.S. soldier who is in the process of becoming a conscientious objector. I found it to be very powerful, especially the link to a clip of Tony Campolo telling a story he heard from Philip Yancy about a Christian purposefully blowing out the brains of another Christian (in war).

I will gradually be viewing this video series, which the blog author says was instrumental in his conversion.

That's all for now. I try not to become one of those people who is always passing something on for you to read or watch, but this really hit home for me.



I finally read this. Thanks for your patience. I didn't take the time to watch the videos or read the links though.

First, I want to say that I admire this young man tremendously for being so principled—for seriously grappling with the Scriptures and being willing to stick his neck out alone and go against the grain because of his obedient love for Christ. That's awesome.

Nevertheless, let me bluntly warn you that I have a MASSIVE level of irritation with the so-called "Red Letter Christian" concept (notwithstanding my great respect and appreciation for my fellow American Baptist, Tony Campolo).

The irritation can be summed up in two critiques.

First, prioritizing the "red words" as "the words that Jesus said" implies that the "black words" are not ALSO "the words that Jesus said" through his Spirit who inspired the prophets and apostles. I have sharp distaste for the deliberate construction of a "canon within the canon," no matter who makes it and no matter what its shape (notwithstanding the Christ-centered exegesis of the Old Testament modeled by Jesus and the apostles). It violates Jesus' own theology of Scripture (cf. Matt. 5:17-18 in the Sermon on the Mount of all places; also John 10:35). I greatly resent a theological ethic of state use of force that presupposes the superiority of Matt. 5 over Rom. 13.

Second, peace-and-justice Christians do not improve the inferior hermeneutic of politically conservative Christians; they simply invert it. Political conservatives read what the Bible says about showing distributive justice and mercy to the poor, and interpret it in the most narrowly individualistic fashion—that it is all about voluntary charity from one individual to another. Then they read what the Scriptures say about war and retributive justice and construct a far-reaching social ethic regarding the state's use of force.

All peace-and-justice Christians do is flip this around. They read what the Bible says about the poor and construct a complex social ethic of state-administered wealth (or at least income) redistribution and social safeguards on the market. Then they read what the Bible (actually only a portion of the Bible) says about war, violence, and criminal justice and interpret it individualistically—"I can't shoot a person and love him at the same time, so war is wrong." Note that at no place in this young soldier's testimony does he say a word about what the Bible says about the state's obligation to its citizens and the scope of its God-given authority.

The right method for theological-ethical construction is to take what the WHOLE Bible (Christocentrically interpreted) says about wealth and poverty and derive (1) an ethic for individuals and (2) an ethic for societies and states, then to do the same for what it says about war, violence, and criminal justice. The ethic for individuals may in some ways easily cohere with the ethic for societies and states. In other ways the ethics may coexist in paradox (e.g., "Individual, don't steal; state, tax and redistribute"; "Individual, don't retaliate in kind; state, retaliate in kind, preemptively if necessary").

Finally, though, I am glad for Christian pacifists, because they force the rest of us to be careful that we don't get lazy by just giving lip-service to "war as the last resort." Also, pacifists have been motivated to pioneer peacemaking strategies that prevent conflicts from getting to "the last resort" or backing it down once it gets there. Every Christian should support and celebrate this, and too often we don't. Nevertheless, I have never seen a case made for thoroughgoing pacifism that does not appear to me to be biblically narrow, selectively individualistic, and unbalanced.


No comments:

Post a Comment