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Christian pacifism is the theological and ethical position that any form of violence is incompatible with the Christian faith. Christian pacifists state that Jesus himself was a pacifist who taught and practiced pacifism, and that his followers must do likewise.
There have been various notable Christian pacifists, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Leo Tolstoy, and Ammon Hennacy. Ammon Hennacy believed that adherence to Christianity meant being a pacifist and, due to governments constantly threatening or using force to resolve conflicts, this meant being an anarchist. Other pacifists however, such as peace churches, Christian Peacemaker Teams and individuals such as John Howard Yoder make no claim to be anarchists.
Many of the Early Church fathers interpreted Jesus' teachings as advocating nonviolence. For example:
I do not wish to be a king; I am not anxious to be rich; I decline military command... Die to the world, repudiating the madness that is in it.
Whatever Christians would not wish others to do to them, they do not to others. And they comfort their oppressors and make them their friends; they do good to their enemiesâÄ¶. Through love towards their oppressors, they persuade them to become Christians.âÄĒThe Apology of Aristides 15
A soldier of the civil authority must be taught not to kill men and to refuse to do so if he is commanded, and to refuse to take an oath. If he is unwilling to comply, he must be rejected for baptism. A military commander or civic magistrate must resign or be rejected. If a believer seeks to become a soldier, he must be rejected, for he has despised God.
For since we, a numerous band of men as we are, have learned from His teaching and His laws that evil ought not to be requited with evil, that it is better to suffer wrong than to inflict it, that we should rather shed our own blood than stain our hands and our conscience with that of another, an ungrateful world is now for a long period enjoying a benefit from Christ, inasmuch as by His means the rage of savage ferocity has been softened, and has begun to withhold hostile hands from the blood of a fellow-creature.
Consider the roads blocked up by robbers, the seas beset with pirates, wars scattered all over the earth with the bloody horror of camps. The whole world is wet with mutual blood; and murder, which in the case of an individual is admitted to be a crime, is called a virtue when it is committed wholesale.
Those soldiers were filled with wonder and admiration at the grandeur of the manâÄôs piety and generosity and were struck with amazement. They felt the force of this example of pity. As a result, many of them were added to the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ and threw off the belt of military service.âÄĒDisputation of Archelaus and Manes
After the Roman Emperor Constantine converted in A.D. 312 and began to conquer "in Christ's name," Christianity became entangled with the state, and warfare and violence were increasingly justified by influential Christians. Some scholars believe that "the accession of Constantine terminated the pacifist period in church history." Nevertheless, the tradition of Christian pacifism was carried on by a few dedicated Christians throughout the ages, such as Martin of Tours. Martin, who was serving as a soldier, declared in 336 "I am a soldier of Christ. I cannot fight." He was jailed for this action, but later released.
Since then, many other Christians have made similar stands for pacifism as the following quotes show:
The Scriptures teach that there are two opposing princes and two opposing kingdoms : the one is the Prince of peace ; the other the prince of strife. Each of these princes has his particular kingdom and as the prince is so is also the kingdom. The Prince of peace is Christ Jesus ; His kingdom is the kingdom of peace, which is His church; His messengers are the messengers of peace; His Word is the word of peace; His body is the body of peace; His children are the seed of peace.
To our most bitter opponents we say: âÄėWe shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you.âÄô
Love without courage and wisdom is sentimentality, as with the ordinary church member. Courage without love and wisdom is foolhardiness, as with the ordinary soldier. Wisdom without love and courage is cowardice, as with the ordinary intellectual. Therefore one who has love, courage, and wisdom is the one in a million who moves the world, as with Jesus, Buddha, and Gandhi.
A number of Christian denominations have taken pacifist positions institutionally. The best known are referred to as the "Historic Peace Churches" and include the Quakers, the Mennonites, and the Church of the Brethren, although not all members of these denominations are necessarily pacifists.
From the beginning of the First World War, Christian pacifist organizations emerged to cater for Christians in denominations other than the historic peace churches. The first was the interdenominational Fellowship of Reconciliation ("FoR"), founded in Britain but soon joined by sister organizations in other countries. Pacifist organizations catering to specific denominationss are more or less closely allied with the FoR: they include the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, Pax Christi (Roman Catholic), the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, the Methodist Peace Fellowship, and so forth. Some of these organizations do not take strictly pacifist positions, describing themselves instead as advocating non-violence, and some either have members who would not consider themselves Christians or are explicitly inter-faith. However they share historical and philosophical roots in Christian pacifism.
Walter Wink writes that "There are three general responses to evil: (1) passivity, (2) violent opposition, and (3) the third way of militant nonviolence articulated by Jesus. Human evolution has conditioned us for only the first two of these responses: fight or flight." This understanding typifies Walter Wink's book, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way.
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