Friday, April 29, 2011

My enemies are just like me: Thoughts on Christian pacifism Pt 1

Isaiah 53:6
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned- every one- to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

I think it only fitting to start off this blog series by laying the foundation with the simple understanding that, as stated by the prophet Isaiah, we all like sheep have gone astray and Jesus has paid for the sins of us all. This may seem like a no brainer but it bears repeating. It's easy within our class structures, within our races, our religions, our isolated countries (especially America), even our own neighborhoods to consider those not in our group to be so different from us that they become wholly "other". This can be seen clearly in something as seemingly insignificant as a high school clique or something as heinous as the gradual displacement and extinction of the Native Americans from their homelands. When we lose sight of our common brotherhood, of the dual truths or threads that hold us together, namely, that we are all sinners and all deeply loved by God, it's easy to overlook or even justify loss of life in the pursuit of our own welfare.

This understanding has come sharply into focus for my friends Claire and Brent. Recently they felt the call of the Lord to go as long term missionaries to a Muslim country. They have spent their time since making this decision taking classes, learning all they can about cross cultural ministry, and most importantly falling in love with the Muslim brothers and sisters that they haven't even met yet. Recently one of their good friends informed them that he would be joining the Marines and going to war. As a close friend and their brother in Christ, they were burdened in a fresh way by the fact that their friend would potentially be put in a situation where he would be targeting the very people they were called to love and minister to. They decided they would sit down to chat with him and find out where his heart was in the matter. It was a rough conversation filled with racial slurs and defensiveness and an unwillingness on their friend's part to consider any view but his own. As Claire shared this with our community group this past week, there were tears in her eyes. She found herself conflicted between love for her friend and love for her future people.

I recently read an interview with Bernard Lafayette, who was instrumental in the non-violent protests and sit-ins of the Civil Rights movement. When asked about what methods were used to train him in non-violence he replied:
"...The entire training program was to get people to think about how to put yourself in another person’s position and see the world through their eyes. That was so helpful for me in being able to embrace nonviolence. We practiced "loving, not judging" your opponent, but thinking about the fact that there was a reason your opponent behaves the way they do. It's important to understand that if you want to bring about change. We learned that the idea is not just to get rights, but to behave in such a way that we would win our opponents over."

According to Lafayette, the key to keeping people firmly in the "us" camp instead the "them" camp is to put yourself in their shoes. Ask the important questions about why they are behaving the way they are, even if the way they are behaving is horrendous. 

In our own way, we're all horrendous. That doesn't mean our sin doesn't mean anything. This isn't some lame attempt at moral relativism, just a firm reminder of the truth- that my enemies are just like me. My black heart of sin is just as much in need of a savior as theirs. 

"I have come to give you life
And to show you how to live it
I have come to make things right
To heal their ears and show you how to forgive them

Because I would rather die
I would rather die
I would rather die
Than to take your life
How can I kill the ones I'm supposed to love
My enemies are men like me
I will protest the sword if it's not wielded well
My enemies are men like me"

-Derek Webb, My Enemies Are Men Like Me

More thoughts next Friday...


  1. Very well said. I love it. And I love Claire and Brent

  2. Love all these words....they echo the feelings in my heart!!!

  3. Thank you for your thoughts Charissa. What books have you been reading on the subject?

    "War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today."
    - John F. Kennedy

  4. I'm not sure that pacifism and non-violence are the same thing. What do you think?

    I'm not asking for the sake of asking - I'm asking because I have a feeling you will be heading towards non-violence instead of pacifism.

    Or maybe they can (but not must) fall under love.

    I'm really interested to see where this goes. Especially as to whether or not it applies to all of Creation, or just humans.