Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"...for all who draw the sword will die by the sword." (Matthew 26:52)

Our friend Aaron Arpasi is graduating this Wednesday from the police academy. He is #1 in his class based on all of their various testing. This means he will be a good cop and will bring excellence and good judgment to the police force. As a community, we are proud of him and how he will serve our neighborhood. We are also a little nervous because of how many cops get shot in and around Baltimore. But we trust him to the Lord as we do with anything else.

This sparks some questions in my mind about the role of Christians and violence. Those who believe violence is necessary and good because we are in a Fallen world do not see a problem with a Christian being a police officer or a soldier.

Those in the Christian tradition who are pacifists believe Christians should avoid all forms of violence and should not have occupations that require violence. They leave violence up to the nation-state and tell members of the Kingdom of God to live out a Kingdom-ethic. In their mind, a Kingdom-ethic, as described by the Sermon on the Mount, demands at the least non-violence and probably pacifism.

So what do we do with this difference of opinion in Christianity which has been there down through the ages? St. Augustine tried to resolve it with the just-war theory. But Catholics and Protestants alike massacred each other for years in the 30 years war based on that doctrine of war.

The only ones who didn't kill other Christians because of theological differences were the Anabaptists. They were and still are strong pacifists (Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, Brethren). But their non-violence almost got them wiped off the face of the earth by their fellow Protestant and Catholic brothers who promoted violence in the name of God.

After the 30 years war, the nation-state and the separation of church and state was born. For peace to prevail, the idea was that a person's loyalty needed to be tied to a politically controlled geographic region rather than a certain theology. That way various theological beliefs could cohabitate within one culture.

And this works great within a democracy. But what happens when various forms of socialism and fascism take control of nation-states? In a word: holocaust. And a rebirth of the just-war theory became strong once again.

And really that is where we find ourselves today. As the Christian community we are split on this issue. Here are some tough questions for us to answer:

- Is it "loving our enemies" to go to war and kill them?
- Is it "turning the other cheek" to wipe out an army?
- Are these commands of Jesus meant for just the individual and not the state?
- What is the state's role in using violence?
- What is our role in violent action as we follow Romans 13 and submit to the state?
- Should Christians be soldiers? If so, how does a soldier love his enemy?
- Should Christians be police officers? If so, how does a cop love his enemy?
- Is a pacifist ethic meant for this world or only the next?
- Is non-violence realistic in a fallen world?
- Does non-violence have to mean "inaction?" Can their be an active, resisting form of non-violence?
- Can real pacifism only exist in a state which uses violence to keep the peace?
- Does war ever really create peace? Or does violence just lead to more violence?
- If Christians are called to be peace-makers, does that ever include the use of violent force?
- If Jesus is our example, and he chose to suffer and died rather than create a violent revolution, is it ok for Christians to advocate violent revolution for the oppressed?
- Is there ever such a thing as a war that is "just?"
- Is true power the use of force or not needing to use force?
- Can there be a peaceful society without war to protect its sovereignty and police to protect its citizens?

Ok, lots of questions, I know. It seems to me that pacifism is only a viable option if there is a greater force above you that you can trust to use violence to bring justice. I believe this is why we see more secular pacifism in the U.S. and other democratic nations.

A secular pacifist in a democratic state can rely on the state to provide the violence necessary to have a peaceful society. So this allows the person to believe in non-violence. They trust the power of the state to be violent when necessary (if another country were to invade or if a criminal is on the loose). But this can often appear to be hypocritical. While they challenge their fellow citizen to be "peaceful," they themselves live in the peace that was provided by the violence of the state.

Christian pacifists have this same paradigm in play, only, it's not hypocritical. And instead of "the state" being the greater force above them using violence, it is God. The Christian pacifist tries to imitate Jesus and His trust in His Heavenly Father.

Jesus didn't have to physically or verbally defend himself. He knew God was just. Jesus trusted God the Father to be the Righteous Judge and the Mighty Warrior. He trusted God's violence and justice to be perfect, so he had no need to be violent. This doesn't mean Jesus never got angry (money changers at the temple) or that Jesus was passive (he often actively opposed Jewish leaders). But Jesus never resorted to violence and instead left the violence and retribution up to the Father.

This is what the Christian pacifist does as well. It's not that they don't see any value in violence. It's that they don't see any value in violence done by humans. They leave the violence and justice is up to God.

So, I believe that whether you believe in just-war, active non-violence or pacifism, violence is necessary in this fallen world. I think everyone agrees on that. The difference is in how much we participate in that violence (as the hands of God) and how much we leave up to God alone.

Where all Christians have common ground is that we all hope and strive for the day when the Kingdom of the world has passed away and the only thing remaining is the Kingdom of God. And then finally, we will have peace.


At 11:38 AM, Blogger Rebecca said...

Tough blog. I’m stumped reading it. I used to be pacifist in college through September 2003, until (and this is going to sound shallow) I lived on S. Ann Street in downtown Baltimore and our house was broken into three weeks after we moved in! ☺ I think what made me change my mind was that 1) we had an alarm system 2) it was the middle of the day 3) we lived 5 blocks from the mega-police station downtown and the cops didn’t arrive for an hour and a half!!!!

I think then I started to value the Defense of the police, but certainly I am extremely opposed to police brutality! I don’t like to see abuse of power, which unfortunately is pretty common! Minor or major, it is a power over me, and me not having control over them is scary.

But I believe that defensive action is necessary. Whether police or army/marine corps/natty guard/air force, defense to protect the country is a must. However, where we draw that line is the main political argument for the past several years. Abuse of the power is scary, and (as seen previously) I’m against it pretty much outside of our US borders.

I think it would be awesome to see a country without guns. Yeah, I love shooting them too! But if it meant many less deaths (ex: England, other countries that ban guns for civilians) than I’m for it. It would also mean that my good friend Aaron would be less likely to be shot.

It’s sad because Christ was non-violent. God certainly in the Old Testament was not. However, now that Christ has died and rose from the dead, Satan is defeated. And death is certainly a Satan-favorite. But we have to participate in it to protect others? It’s a scary thought to think we might borrow ‘evil’ (murder) for a short time to do ‘good.’

I wonder if this question will ever be answered, or if, like you said, we’ll just have to agree to hope for the passing of this sinful world.

PS we should buy Aaron a helmet, some arm guards, and some leg guards so he is completely bullet proof (just not his chest). And it's cool that not only will he be a cop, but he'll be a leader, a psychologist, a pastor, a peacemaker, a rescuer, etc etc etc. But he'll also be an enemy to many. :( However, he’ll be one of the few cops I’ll not be mad at when he pulls me over for speeding down Bel Air road ☺

At 12:02 PM, Blogger Mark said...

Rebecca wrote: "I think it would be awesome to see a country without guns."

Maybe, but there is a town in the U.S. that makes having a gun mandatory and they have seen a marked drop in violent crime.

It seems like if no one were to have a gun (blackmarket or otherwise), that would be good. Or if everyone were to have a gun, that would be good. But we live between those two extremes and that causes problems.

Since humanity got kicked out of the "garden" we have been doing violence to each other (Cain & Abel). As you said, sin entered the world and death came with it.

Maybe our role as the Christian community is to be a prophetic voice both to the people advocating war and to the people advocating pacifism.

To those who want a just war, we challenge them to be truly just in the way they wage war. And we call for peace.

To those who want pacifism, we challenge them to act. We call them to bring justice to the oppressed whenever possible.

At 12:40 PM, Blogger Jeff Mount said...


Your reason for moving away from pacifism is NOT shallow. What if you had been in the house at the time the break-in occurred? I believe it would have been wrong to NOT fight back, using whatever means necessary to stay safe.

Also, a comment on guns. England has long-since banned guns. So what happened? Knife attacks went through the roof. Every minor criminal carries (and uses) a knife...harder to track, harder to ID forensically, and easier to get access to and dispose of post-crime.

Also, if you are seriously concerned about police abuses, vote locally for better funding for law enforcement agencies. There is a pretty clear link between well-funded agencies with really good training and absence of police abuses. Everything from equipping officers for more situations to more extensive hiring practices (which all cost lots of money) helps to reduce such dangers. Baltimore County Police have some of the best people and best training on the East Coast, and even in the country. Baltimore City, on the other hand, has some of the worst.


Surprised you left out the Eastern Orthodox tradition. When it comes to violence between Christians, the party line is that they are pacifist (even though they haven't always practiced this belief). This led to them employing heathen mercenaries because the penance for killing in battle is the same as 1st degree murder for them.

One of the interesting things about the Just War theories is that no serious theologian has used it to justify individual-to-individual violence until recently. It was always seen as state vs. state.

One thing that doesn't occur to many people is that the violence that the Early Church encountered was persecution and martyrdom...which Jesus clearly calls us to either endure or run away from. So, as a self-defense instructor, my conviction is that I can defend myself and my loved ones from an attacker who is trying to elicit violence for thrill...or wants to steal something or victimize us in some way. But, if my attacker is attacking me BECAUSE I am a Christian, then I'm obligated to join Christ in his suffering of unjust violence. What do you think?

At 12:41 PM, Blogger Jeff Mount said...

By the way, my comment about knife violence in England just goes to show that access to weapons is not fundamentally the problem-it's the fallen nature of man. Changing gun laws aren't BAD per se, but they'll never solve the problem...only transformation in Christ will.

At 2:15 PM, Blogger Mark said...

I think judging the motives of a would-be attacker is nearly impossible. Unless they, for some reason, told us why they are attacking us, we would have no idea the actual reason for their attack. And even if they told us, we wouldn't be able to know if they were telling the truth.

And then there is the whole concept of trying to determine what is "persecution" and what is not. If being a Christian means being fully human, living as God intended humanity to live, then anything that reduces my humanity could be considered "persecution" or "martyrdom."

I think the line is too fine and nearly impossible to distinguish. To complicate the matter, the line between what is "defending" and what is "attacking" is nearly impossible to discern.

At 9:47 AM, Blogger Jeff Mount said...

Are you sure it would be so difficult to determine? I'm pretty sure black people in the south found it easy to determine that the motives of their attackers was racist. And I would think Christians in fundamentalist Islam nations are pretty sure why their church was attacked.

The thing I do agree with is that, given how violent encounters occur, it would be next to impossible to make a clear-headed decision about a reason for self-defense in the midst of a situation.

As far as discerning the difference between what is "defending" and what is "attacking", I'm not sure what you mean by it being nearly impossible to determine. Are you talking on an individual level or on a national level?

At 10:34 AM, Blogger Mark said...

Jeff wrote: "I'm pretty sure black people in the south found it easy to determine that the motives of their attackers was racist."

Maybe, but would a black person in the south today know the motives of an attacker? I don't think so.

Jeff wrote: "And I would think Christians in fundamentalist Islam nations are pretty sure why their church was attacked."

I don't think so on this one. A Christian could be attacked because they are American or because they are Christian. Fundamentalist Islam often doesn't separate the two.

Which leads me back to just how hard it would be to determine someone's motive for attack and whether we could label it "persecution." It requires a bit of mind reading.

As far as the difference between "defending" and "attacking", I think that is also difficult to determine on an individual and national scale.

Were we defending the Jews or attacking the Nazi's in WWII? Or both. Or does defending necessitate attacking?

Were we defending Kuwait or attacking Iraq in the first Gulf war? Or were we defending our oil? Does defending oil constitute defense or attack?

Were we defending our nation from WMD's or attacking a dictator in this current war? Or both? Or were we defending the Iraqi people from their own leader? Or just preemptively attacking a threat?

Or how about on an individual level. If I see someone about to pull something that might be a gun out of their jacket at a 7-11 and I hit them in the face to prevent a would-be robbery, is that defending or attacking? If I wait until they pull out whatever is in their jacket and then hit them, does it change the definition of what I did?

If it was a real gun does that make it defending? If it was a toy gun for the guy's son's birthday, does that make it an attack? And how would one know the difference when throwing the punch.

I think these things are extremely complicated. And making fine distinctions are nearly impossible. And like you said, trying to make a good decision in the heat of the moment is even harder.

At 1:09 PM, Blogger Jeff Mount said...

I picked a black person in the south specifically because the culture was that of animosity toward blacks. Hence, it's easy to tell.

And, if you asked an Islamic terrorist if they shot the person because they were American, or because they were Christian, they would probably say, "Yes." If they are synonymous, again, easy to tell that because the attacker sees it as one and the same, their reason encompassed a religious hatred as well as a cultural one.

I agree with what you said on both those examples, but I fail to see why it would make it any more confusing.

As far as the question regarding whether or not we are attacking or defending, it's a false dilemma. By attacking, you seem to mean "committing offensive acts of violence," whereas most people would connotatively understand attacking as "initiating a violent act." It's the initiation that determines the attacker. The defender may respond with a COUNTER-attack, but in that instance it is moot to try to determine whether it's one or another. It's clearly both. A defender is defending oneself by counter-attacking a would-be attacker. A person who thinks they would be capable of defending themselves WITHOUT counter-attacking will not last very long.

As far as the 7-11 example, the law states that as soon as intent on the part of the attacker is established, any action to prevent the committing of a crime is viewed as self-defense or defense of others. So, it would quite literally be up to a court of law to determine at what point the term "self-defense" would apply legally. They would be using a combination of case law and all the rest to determine this. But if your concern is with the vagueness of what could rightly be called "self-defense", then your beef is with the United States legal system, not with the ethics of violence.

I know this may seem nit-picky to some, but whatever a person's opinion would be on these issues, it's vitally important to make clear decisions beforehand. If a person decides to be a pacifist, then stick with that and go for it. If a person decides that their own conscience would be clear defending themselves and loved ones, then one must make that decision before they find themselves in the midst of danger. My fear is not that people would disagree with my working definition of "attacker", "defender", etc...but that they would not take the time to decide what they believe about it, because indecision is statistically the most dangerous place to be of all.

At 4:43 PM, Blogger Mark said...

And this is my point exactly. If it takes an entire court preceding to try to determine what is "self-defense" and what is
"attack" then we can assume that this a difficult distinction to make.

So if we are in such a situation, it is hard for us to determine what is defense and what is attack. So an ethic that believes "I can defend but not attack" is a slippery one. The definitions of those words are so subjective.

If a person makes that their stance on violence, they basically are saying "I will use violence when I think its necessary and won't when I think its not." And this obviously leads to problems. Everyone has a different idea of "necessary."

This is a problem for the two guys in the 7-11 example. If someone decides "I will be a defender but never an attacker" it still doesn't clear up when to use violence.

In the same way, it doesn't clear up when to use violence to say "I will not fight back if its 'persecution' but will fight back if its not."

As the person getting hit, you can't know if the reason you are getting attacked is because you are tall or white or Christian or rich. So trying to determine your attacker's motive doesn't help in you determining whether to use violence or not.

At 4:37 PM, Blogger Jeff Mount said...

I agree it's often something we can't know. But, if we can know it, we should operate by it. I'm pretty sure the Christians in the Roman Empire knew why they were having violence done against them...the New Testament writers seem to be comfortable making assumptions about that.

You said: "This is a problem for the two guys in the 7-11 example. If someone decides "I will be a defender but never an attacker" it still doesn't clear up when to use violence. "

A person who understands the dynamics of violence would never say something. It's quite literally nonsense-a contradictory idea. In your example, the only way to BE a defender is to, in some manner, be an attacker. So it doesn't clear up the "when", not because the "when" is impossible to know, but because that is answering a different question...the "how".

By the way, there are legal standards about self-defense/defense of others. The court proceeding is merely to decide formally whether or not a given situation meets those standards. For instance, a person can attack a potential attacker once that person has demonstrated knowledge that the potential attacker has 1) intent and 2) ability to carry out an act of violence. Also, there is scope to which one can defend themselves--not lethal force against a non-lethal threat, and lethal force against a lethal threat. So it's not as though there is a void of instructional standards for self-defense. Besides, if the problem of understanding acceptable definitions of self-defense is really as difficult as you make it, then it seems I've been wasting my time professionally for the past two years.

At 4:43 PM, Blogger Mark said...

Jeff wrote: "Besides, if the problem of understanding acceptable definitions of self-defense is really as difficult as you make it, then it seems I've been wasting my time professionally for the past two years."

Indeed. A pacifist would agree that you have been wasting your time professionally for the past two years.

But I like what you do. I think self-defense is a good thing in the hands of a discerning and humble person.

At 7:26 AM, Blogger Jeff Mount said...

Oh, okay :) For a little while it sounded like you thought there was no way for a person to know when and how to use it rightly.

But that's the other thing. I personally know one person who is truly pacifist-i.e.-he believes if his wife was being attacked that it would still be sinful in God's eyes to use violence to protect her.

When Keelin and I were talking about this same subject, he described himself as an aspiring pacifist...he thinks it's an ideal he may or may not be able to live up to. I thought that was pretty interesting, but I'm not even sure I'm that far along the scale. It just seems like God designed us with such a will to take a stand, and so many times in history that will has been ultimately life-giving.

At 7:46 AM, Blogger Mark said...

I am still not sure we know when and how to use it rightly. I would guess that if there is a right way to use violence, most people don't know it.

I think history reveals humanity consistantly using violence poorly. There are, of course, a few exceptions.

I do think violence is necessary for justice to be possible in a fallen world. But I would still probably consider myself a believer in "active/resistive non-violence." And I agree that the peace a pacifist aspires to is an ideal that we all should aspire to.

At 11:06 PM, Blogger tali said...

side note: can two states engage in violence without one man injuring or killing another?

At 8:00 AM, Blogger Mark said...

I think any nation-state with a police force is engaging in violence. They are enforcing laws with the threat and use of violence.

So I guess, hypothetically, a state could have citizens who all obey the law and correct themselves with only the threat of violence. Then violence could be "used" but no one would get injured or killed.

But if one state is using violence against another, someone is sure to get killed or injured.


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