Category: pacificism

On Becoming Somewhat Anglican #4: Attending the Church of St Martin, a Soldier For Christ

st-martin-tours

A sign at the front of my parish church, St Martin in the Fields, records that the building was erected in memory of the sons and daughters of the suburb of Kensington who served and died in war. Today was the celebration of its sixtieth anniversary; the memory of the dead would still have been fresh in 1953. There are other connections to the military. We prayed today for chaplains serving the defence force. On the wall is an honour roll of the dead. We also hold a special ANZAC service each year.

I am a pacifist, and believe non-violence is a central part of the ethics of the kingdom. But the Anglican Church is never going to be a pacifist denomination, or even have a general tendency in that direction. It still holds the vestiges of its status as the state church, serving as a place for communities to mourn dead soldiers and make spiritual sense of war. I have sympathy for that; the juggernaut of war crushes ordinary people and leaves survivors needing to make sense of it. Yet, naturally, it is a point of great tension for me.

Imagine my joy, then, of learning that I attend a church named for a conscientious objector. Martin of Tours is a wonderful saint for Anglicans – a soldier wrestling with his conscience. In a wonderful irony, he was born in 317, during the reign of Constantine, a period which can be seen as the turning point toward a militarized church. He was a Roman soldier who eventually decided his faith in Christ prevented him from fighting. Jailed as a conscientious objector, he offered to go before the enemy army unarmed. In some versions of the story, the enemy army fled; in others, the battle didn’t happen as peace was negotiated first.

This would be an interesting point at which to probe our saint’s example. Are we called, too, as Christ’s saints to lay down the sword, and refuse to kill our enemies? The temptation is to see Martin of Tour’s actions as the extreme, somewhat legendary, and completely unrealistic actions of a saint called to perfection, while the rest of us have to live in the real world. Yet the message of saints is surely meant to be that one does not have to be Jesus Christ to attempt to live a holy life, and that real men and women who follow Jesus can do it also.

Perhaps Martin of Tours was chosen as the name of the parish because he is the patron saint of soldiers and it seemed appropriate for a memorial church. It seems a historical irony, or perhaps a holy paradox that he would be designated thus. Built into the designation is the call to each soldier who calls on him to wrestle with their conscience as he did and decide what it means to be a “soldier of Christ”.

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[Book Review] Christian Attitudes to War, Peace, and Revolution / John Yoder

Christian Attitudes to War, Peace, and Revolution
John Howard Yoder; Theodore J. Koontz and Andy Alexis-Baker, editors.  Brazos Press, 2009.

Reviewed by Nathan Hobby.

Like Preface to Theology (2003), this book is the material for a unit Yoder taught, edited posthumously. It was published in rough form as a textbook for students taking his unit. The students who had access to this original publication for decades before the rest of us were very fortunate. This book is longer than anything else ever published by Yoder and is a significant work. It is a historical survey, tracing in Yoder’s refreshing and provoking way the attitudes of Christians toward war, peace and revolution through the centuries.

For me, the book is a lesson in the importance of history, a testament to the importance of knowing the history of a subject before you can claim to understand the subject at all.  In their preface, the editors’ sum up the book’s power:

In stating other perspectives in their strongest form, a surprising history unfolds. For Yoder, the history of Christian attitudes toward war and peace is clearly not a mainstream account that sees the church faithfully responding to the gospel by outgrowing its early pacifism, maturing and coming to accept responsibility, including the need to wage war. But neither is it a story of simple decline from the New Testament to the Anabaptists, as some within Yoder’s Mennonite tradition have told it. The most striking aspects of this story are the resilience through the centuries of the gospel of peace, and the abiding power of Jesus’s hold on people that invites them to imitate him in seeking peace and shunning violence. Again, and again, Yoder demonstrates, people throughout history have seen Jesus, and been drawn into the power of the cross. (p.8)

One striking example, which I’ll summarise at length as an example of Yoder’s method, is his re-reading of the Middle Ages in chapter 9, “The Peace Dimension of Medieval Moral Concern”. Yoder describes various ways in which violence and war were restrained in the Middle Ages (476-1453), and the church embodied a partial peace witness. These include:

  • Holy times and places – fighting was forbidden in certain places (cemeteries) and at certain times (Good Friday, after sunset)
  • Penitents – when a person confessed to a major offence, they might commit several months of their life around being a penitent, perhaps going on a pilgrimage as a penitent. A penitent was to be nonviolent and unarmed. ‘In the life of medieval Europe, therefore, people renouncing violence because they were Christian were a visible minority.’ (p.119)
  • Priests admonished princes when they went too far. There was an element of accountability.

Yoder argues that the shifts involved in the Reformation actually increased the church’s support of war:

Protestants have been taught to think of the Reformation of the sixteenth century as undoing the mistakes of the Middle Ages – papacy, sacraments, justification by works, and other things. But on the morality of war, our model for interpreting the Reformation has to be turned around. The Protestant Reformation goes further in the direction of making war acceptable. (115)

Yoder identifies a number of ways in which this happened:

  • The Reformation dismantled confession and penance, both of which had restrained bloodshed.
  • The Reformation desacralized the world – everything was equally holy, or equally unholy; there were no holy places or holy times to avoid bloodshed.
  • Instead of the priest admonishing the prince, the chaplain emerges: ‘In the Reformation, the Protestant chaplain increasingly gives a religious mandate to what people do, whether it is celebrating marriages or justifying causes and crusades… The preachers are the people to make the case for the next war.’ (p.119)
  • The Reformation created nationalism – wars in the Middle Ages occurred within the Roman Catholic Church. Both parties ‘were at home in the same world, had the same moral heritage, and used the same yardsticks. They had a sense of being part of a wider civilization… The Reformation broke up the unity of the church and of the empire. It set aside the notion that enemy nations and adversary institutions have a claim on us. The beginning of nationalism in the modern sense – the notion that a nation constitutes a moral unit with no accountability to a wider community or culture – is a product of the Protestant Reformation.’ (p. 120-121)

The obvious objection is the Crusades of the Middle Ages. Yoder spends a couple of pages dealing with them, but not with the same questions we have in mind, and so his explanation is not satisfactory. He looks at how the Crusades were justified by priests (and the limits – not always followed – which they placed on them) and the sense in which the Crusades were a synthesis of the holy war and the just war. He seems unaware of the damage the existence of the Crusades do to his case.

Another chapter of particular interest to me was “Pacifism in the Nineteenth Century”. The nineteenth century seems to have been so formative for the current state of the evangelical church, seeing the rise of Churches of Christ, the Brethren, Wesleyanism and just afterwards, the Pentecostal movement. Within each of these restoration and renewal movements was a seed of pacifism –  now lost. Yoder makes this astute comment about Pentecostalism:

The Pacifism and racial integration of the movement as a whole were not deeply rooted, because Pentecostals did not believe in being deeply rooted. They thought history, theology and church structures did not matter, so they had no historical consciousness from which to sense a radical ethical position in the world. (262)

Interestingly, in Yoder’s account, Pentecostalism abandoned its original pacifism firstly in order to evangelise troops in World War One. He writes, ‘By the time of World War II, they created seminaries, because military chaplaincy required a seminary degree. They did not believe in seminary for their churches, but they gave chaplains a seminary degree in order to get them into the army.’ (263)

At the end of this chapter, Yoder asks a question deeply relevant to the AAANZ today:

Should we concentrate on trying to talk with institutional churches with long-established theological positions? If we are interested in propagating a witness against violence, should we instead look to the non-traditional renewal frontier, where people do not have as many good reasons for not listening, but also will be not as profound in their support or as thorough in their appropriation if they do hear? (270)

The ‘non-traditional renewal frontier’ which comes to mind for me is the house church and emerging church movements, and it seems to me that he has anticipated their response well.

There is just so much history I didn’t know in this book. The next chapter, “Liberal Protestant Pacifism”, paints a fascinating picture of the brief flourishing of pacifism amongst the liberal Protestant mainstream in the 1920s, which came fully unstuck with World War Two. He mentions in passing (p.277) the pacifism of three evangelical/ fundamentalist heroes – Jonathan Blanchard (founder of Wheaton College), Dwight L. Moody and William Jennings Bryan (creationist villain of the Scopes Monkey trial). He says that their successors have ‘falsified’ the record because of ‘their tactical alliance with the heirs of creedal orthodoxy and social conservatism’.

The book has its origins in the 1960s and was last revised by Yoder in the 1980s. The change in context since then is apparent; it is a pity we don’t have Yoder’s thoughts on the ‘War on Terror’, the acceleration of post-Christendom and the effect of church growth and the megachurch on Christian attitudes to war and peace.  He devotes a lot of space to responding to his great sparring partner, Reinhold Niebuhr, only to write in an obviously late addition, ‘By the early 1980s, Reinhold Niebuhr is less known or read, while the analysis of which he was the classical spokesman is more and more taken for granted.’ (p.308) His comment is more true now, which makes it feel tiresome at times to read so much material in response to Niebuhr.

Yoder is never easy to read, and at 472 pages this book is mountainous. (We owe our thanks to the editors, who judiciously trimmed it from a much greater length, as well as tidying up the manuscript extensively so that it is less repetitious and makes more sense.) It helps to remember that it is the substance of a semester-long unit. But who, then, is going to read this book? How many of us are willing to commit ourselves to the equivalent of a semester-long unit (albeit without the exam or essays or extra readings) on our own? Probably not many of us. If it seems too daunting, perhaps you should buy it and read four or five chapters. Save the rest for another time.

Yoder on Peace and War in the Middle Ages

John Howard Yoder’s Christian Attitudes to War, Peace and Revolution (Brazos, 2009) is a posthumously published, edited version of the notes Yoder distributed for his course in the subject.

In chapter 8 ‘The Career of the Just War’ and chapter 9 ‘The Peace Dimension of Medieval Moral Concern’, I am startled by his analysis of peace and war in the middle ages – but then, being startled is one of the joys of reading Yoder, and something I should have expected by now. He is always re-reading and reframing things we take for granted.

The early church was pacifist; the Constantinian church compromised this position, but Yoder describes various ways in which violence and war were restrained in the Middle Ages (476-1453), and parts of the church embodied a peace witness. These include:

  • Holy times and places – fighting was forbidden in certain places (cemeteries) and at certain times (Good Friday, after sunset)
  • Penitents – when a person confessed to a major offence, they might commit several months of their life around being a penitent, perhaps going on a pilgrimage as a penitent. A penitent was to be nonviolent and unarmed. ‘In the life of medieval Europe, therefore, people renouncing violence because they were Christian were a visible minority.’ (p.119)
  • Priests admonished princes when they went too far. There was an element of accountability.

Yoder argues that the shifts involved in the Reformation actually increased the church’s support of war:

Protestants have been taught to think of the Reformation of the sixteenth century as undoing the mistakes of the Middle Ages – papacy, sacraments, justification by works, and other things. But on the morality of war, our model for interpreting the Reformation has to be turned around. The Protestant Reformation goes further in the direction of making war acceptable. (115)

  • The Reformation dismantled the confession and penance, both of which restrained bloodshed.
  • The Reformation desacralized the world – everything was equally holy, or equally unholy; there were no holy places or holy times to avoid bloodshed.
  • Instead of the priest admonishing the prince, the chaplain emerges: ‘In the Reformation, the Protestant chaplain increasingly gives a religious mandate to what people do, whether it is celebrating marriages or justifying causes and crusades… The preachers are the people to make the case for the next war.’ (p.119)
  • The Reformation created nationalism as we know it today. Wars in the Middle Ages occurred within the Roman Catholic Church. Both parties ‘were at home in the same world, had the same moral heritage, and used the same yardsticks. They had a sense of being part of a wider civilization… The Reformation broke up the unity of the church and of the empire. It set aside the notion that enemy nations and adversary institutions have a claim on us. The beginning of nationalism in the modern sense – the notion that a nation constitutes a moral unit with no accountability to a wider community or culture – is a product of the Protestant Reformation.’ (p. 120-121)

    The obvious objection is the Crusades of the Middle Ages. Yoder spends a couple of pages dealing with them, but not with the same questions we have in mind, and so his explanation is not satisfactory. He looks at how the Crusades were justified by priests (and the limits – not always followed – which they placed on them) and the sense in which the Crusades were a synthesis of the holy war and the just war. He seems unaware of the damage the existence of the Crusades do to his case for the Middle Ages being a period where the church’s understanding of just war and its practices restrained war.

    However, the value of these chapters is as a corrective to the generalisations we tend to make about period of histories, including the assumption amongst evangelicals that the Reformation was purely and simply a turn for the better. It is also an instructive study of the ways in which, in the midst of a church which is not pacifist, we might hope for restraints on war and violence and practices which promote peace.

     

    Are Not Soldiers In Need of the Gospel?

    A quote from the appendix to Guy Hershberger’s 1969 3rd edn of War, Peace and NonResistance, where he answers various practical objections.

    13. Are Not Soliders in Need of the Gospel? Therefore Does Not Army Service, Especially Service as an Army Chaplain, Provide a Fine Opportunity to Testify for Christ?

    It is true that the soldier needs the Gospel as much as any other man, and that the nonresistant Christian should not hesitate to bring it to him if he can do so without being part of the military organization. But to be a member of an organization whose task it is to kill would certainly disqualify one to preach the gospel of love and nonresistance. (p. 314)

    I wish he had expanded on his answer at much greater length. But a nice start.

    Listening to a military chaplain

    Yesterday at church a military chaplain spoke about his work and I’m still feeling upset.

    The slideshow had photos of all the chaplains in army fatigues, and of soldiers they were ministering to posing with large guns. Then a photo of a group in army fatigues praying, presumably before going out to do their duty.

    I tried to keep my mouth shut, but I spoke up during the talk when he brought Jesus into it, relating how he was giving a sermon to military chaplains during the Iraq War about how they needed to follow the way of Jesus – including, he said, loving your enemy! I don’t understand how you can be giving solace and support to an invading army and talking about loving your enemy.

    I think from his perspective he sees chaplains as a restraining hand on soldiers, keeping them comforted and in good mental and spiritual health so they don’t commit war crimes or atrocities, so that in the heat of the moment they don’t shoot civilians.

    But I think war crimes and civilian deaths are not an aberration but an inevitable consequence of giving people guns and trying to take over a country or even trying to ‘keep the peace’ by eliminating insurgency. (Try separating insurgents and civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan anyway.)
    The chaplain was gracious, and let me ask a question at the end. I asked how, even standing in the just war tradition as he must, he can embed himself with a military force which is fighting wars which do not meet the just war criteria. (And, I wish I’d added, have killed one million people, between the Iraq and Afghanistan War, according to some estimates.)

    He said that under the Geneva Convention he is a non-combatant.

    I find this unconvincing; you’re in military uniform and you’re supporting troops, meeting their spiritual needs, and thus lending legitimacy to what they’re doing.

    I think all disciples of Christ should refuse to co-operate with the military, in every country.

    I hate making a show of myself these days  – but I couldn’t let this pass without comment.

    I thought that I’d found a church which would be broadly pacifist in outlook. Someone told me that it is important to the church to hear different viewpoints, and hence have a military chaplain speaking. But support for the military gets heard at every church in Perth. I don’t know of pacifist churches in Perth, except the Quakers and perhaps Wembley Downs Church of Christ. And the Peace Tree Community, who are sort of a church. There should be at least a few churches in Perth where non-violence is a non-negotiable, where it’s seen as integral to discipleship. Where we don’t just politely say helping troops is a good ministry to have, but where we say that’s not what Jesus wants.

    The early church and war

    Back on my ANZAC Day post, there was some discussion in the comments about the early church and war. I haven’t done much reading on this, but The Mennonite has a good introductory article by David Brattston, putting forward the case for a strong witness against participation in the army by Christians in the first three centuries.

    ANZAC Day

    The regenerated do not go to war, nor engage in strife. They are children of peace who have ‘beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning forks, and know no war’ (Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3). … Our weapons are not weapons with which cities and countries may be destroyed, walls and gates broken down, and human blood shed in torrents like water. But they are weapons with which the spiritual kingdom of the devil is destroyed. … Christ is our fortress; patience our weapon of defense; the Word of God our sword.
    – Menno Simons

    It’s strange that war raises so few problems for most evangelicals. Or actually it’s not so strange. It’s where the Constantinian mindset is shown most strongly today. Your average evangelical can’t see how being a disciple and being an Australian might come into conflict. For them, discipleship is about private, spiritual freedom; war is about political freedoms. (They can’t imagine a political dimension to the kingdom, they can’t imagine the kingdom as a new way of ordering life in the midst of a broken world – but why would they? They don’t see it in their churches!)

    For most evangelicals, their primary political allegiance is to Australia, rather than to the kingdom. It’s this primary allegiance which allows them to fight wars against our country’s enemies, despite Christ’s injunction to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. But the church should be ‘a holy nation’ which transcends national borders and refuses to fight. If our first loyalty is to Christ, we can’t go fighting wars; we would be killing our brothers and sisters (Christians in the other countries) as well as our enemies. We would be failing in our duty to imitate Christ; we would be imitating the world.

    ANZAC Day seems a kind of syncretism to me. Too many evangelicals like the way the average Australian sounds a bit religious on ANZAC day. They are happy for the world to quote ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’ in connection to the ANZAC legend, because at least they’re quoting the Bible. I’m fairly sure that there will be a number of preachers across Perth appropriating the ANZAC legend tomorrow in their sermon and drawing a parallel to Jesus laying down his life for us.

    But war is a tragedy. In our concern for honouring the horrible deaths and suffering of so many soldiers, we tend to avoid critiquing the political agendas of empire that caused those deaths. We forget that Jesus died in an act of reconciliation, while our fathers and forefathers died in an act of war. They were brave and they were probably selfless; but, alas, they were not fighting for the kingom of God.

    So what should a pacifist do if he or she is in church in Perth tomorrow and hears the preacher draw a connection between the ANZAC legend and Jesus’ death? Don’t speak out during the sermon; it’s rude and it will never achieve anything. Don’t turn your back, that’s rude too. Should you keep your mouth shut? If you do, you might die inside as I’ve been dying inside for several years keeping my mouth shut about so many things. Should you start some respectful conversations? Yes, probably. It won’t lead anywhere quickly, though. But if you’re a pacifist, you already know that.