I have been thinking about pacifism a lot recently. It is an interesting topic that I feel like the Church doesn’t talk about a lot (other than Anabaptist circles.) I am a pacifist, realizing that the term itself has a million different meanings. Let me unpack that statement for you with a quick look at my story to becoming a pacifist.
Growing up in a rather patriotic American home and having two grandfathers having served in the armed forces – an Army captain and Navy enlistee, I was “destined” to have a rather patriotic approach to my understanding of life and faith. At the age of 17, I was wrestling with my occupational direction. Feeling a call to ministry, yet also having a desire to serve my country I explored a few options that might have allowed me to embrace both.
One option was becoming a chaplain’s assistant for the Pennsylvania National Guard. Frankly, the idea of combat frightened me, but I was willing to do so, if my country needed it. When I discovered the chaplain’s assistant option, I realized that I may not need to be in direct combat. (Ironically I would later find out that a chaplain’s assistant was essentially the armed guard for the non-combatant chaplain.) I assumed that the National Guard would not be regularly called into active duty. So I decided to see where the conversation would go.
I remember the day that I traveled to the National Guard base where I would begin signing papers with my recruiter and a few other key leaders. I shivered on my way to the base – partially because of anxiety and also due to it being a cold Spring morning. I walked into the base with my long dyed-red hair (I was in a rock band at the time…) and I never felt more out of place next to all of the soldiers with buzz cuts.
As I sat in the office waiting for a chaplain director, I made smalltalk with my recruiter. After the chaplain director arrived in the office, my mother got a phone call (my mother was with me to sign papers, since I was still a minor.) On the phone was my dad letting us know that my sister had a seizure and that a medical team came to care for her. It was in that moment that we didn’t know what to do. I’m sure that my mother knew the right thing to do, but I was unsure. In that moment, we both made the decision that we needed to leave to make sure my sister was alright. As we jumped in our Jeep, I remember feeling a sense of anxiety, worried that something terrible could have happened to my sister.
To make a long story shorter, my sister turned out to be alright, but I would experience a complete change of calling over the next several weeks. Within the weeks following that incident I began to come across pacifist theologians such as: Shane Claiborne, Rob Bell, Greg Boyd, and Bruxy Cavey to name a few. My Anabaptist friends began talking with me about the things I was reading, thinking, and feeling. To be completely honest, the whole situation messed me up. I’m not saying that God made my sister have a seizure so I wouldn’t join the military, but that situation certainly made me wonder if I was making the right decision. My exposure to peace theology was changing me and challenging me. This was an iconic moment in my life when I clearly remember God telling me that a choice I was making was not the right choice. I didn’t hear this in audible words, but it was a feeling I was sensing in my spirit.
Over the next several blog posts I want to spend some time looking at pacifism and passivity. Unfortunately, we confuse the two ideas. When I share my story with people, I will always have the fear that people will misunderstand my journey to pacifism as an evolutionary passivity. Passivity is a reality for a lot of people who claim to be pacifists. I am guilty of this at times too. It’s easier to say we aren’t going to get involved with a situation than it is to try to make peace. The next few posts will focus on:
1. The Anabaptist development of peace theology
2. Mainstream Christianity’s move away from pacifism
3. Modern approaches to pacifism: in the church and in culture
If you are reading this from a perspective of one who believes in just war, please keep an open mind to what I am sharing. This has been a journey for me and I am not attempting to convince anyone of a right or wrong way of thinking and living. To make a few things clear: I am thankful to live in the U.S., I am thankful for the men and women who have risked and lost their lives to defend my freedom, and I still appreciate the heartfelt convictions of those with whom I disagree.