...are the ones that make the biggest difference

5.17.2007

I am a pacifist

For many reasons I cannot fully identify, a convergence of factors in my life has pushed me to reveal this little fact about myself; I believe in Christian non-violence. I do not "admit" this because I am in no way ashamed of it. My reasons for not revealing this prior to now have been relatively simple - I didn't want the baggage of the term, I didn't think it really mattered whether or not I made this fact known, and, admittedly, out of a certain self-centeredness. See, I didn't become a pacifist after I left the military, I became on while still in the Army Reserves, on deployment, in fact, and filed for a discharge as a conscientious objector (which is rather frustratingly still pending). This latter information, more than the pacifism, seems to bother most people. Nevermind that I served honorably, even admirably, and with a high degree of effectiveness in my military job. Nevermind that I was recognized for my achievements, that my enlistment was actually extended beyond my initial contract or that I precisely followed the Army's own system for dealing with these kinds of things (as opposed to going AWOL & fleeing to Canada) - an admission to actually filing for the discharge seems, in the minds of a great many Christians, to taint me as a coward, a hypocrite, a de facto Nazi and/or terrorist and an overall worthless piece of garbage not worthy of respect or consideration.* So, not wanting to subject myself to this kind of nonsense and to avoid the knee-jerk reaction of those who would use this knowledge to dismiss my arguments about war (especially our current national endeavors), peace and the marks of Christian love, I kept it to myself. I preferred to make my points, proffer my opinions and debate topics undercover, as it were. Which actually never made any kind of difference since people generally assumed that for all my resistance to this war or this bit of violence I ultimately agreed with them that war & violence are acceptable in general.

I not only realized that my debating strategy was ineffective, but I also realized, thanks to a re-reading of The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder, that my understandable aversion to being electronically spat upon is also an understandable aversion to bearing my cross. If I truly believe that a key component of the Gospel is a call to non-violence, and I do, then I should be unafraid to make that known. I should be honest about that not only because I should be prepared to suffer for my King and the message of His Kingdom, but also because letting people know about my commitment to non-violence is in itself a way of preparing them to ask some hard questions. Part of the Army discharge process for a CO is an interview by a chaplain and the chaplain I spoke with had clearly never been presented with even the possibility that Christians may not be able to participate in violence. He seemed genuinely surprised that such a view existed, outside maybe the Amish or some similar group. So to state my pacifism (and like Hauerwas, it is not a word I like) is to refuse to answer the questions as they are posed by our present culture by showing that there more possible choices than just 'A' or 'B'; there are, in fact, entirely different questions to be considered.

So, there it stands. I am a pacifist. I will tell more of how I got to this point in the future, as well as discuss some specific issues or works that I'm reading. If you have questions, suggestions or just want to debate, you can email me - littlefights@gmail.com, or leave a comment.

*I was called all of these things and more on Christian web-forums when I discussed my then plans to seek a discharge.

2 comments:

Mikhail said...

I'm really happy for your faith in Christian nonviolence. I started to understand the truth and love of nonviolence in the Bible about one year ago. It has radically transformed my relationship with God and people. One interesting definition for pacifism I recently read is, "The rejection of using power." I think there there is a lot of power in active nonviolence. I call it nonviolent power. Some people might think you reject the use of power, unlike MLK or Gandhi, if you call yourself a pacifist. Peace.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Like you, I am a Christian pacifist who was a soldier. My chaplain had heard of gospel nonviolence--and did everything he could to talk me out of it, to brand it as heretical.