Why I am a Shalomite: a (reblogged) sermon for Remembrance Sunday

by Richard on November 8, 2009

By Kim Fabricius

I want to explain something to you this morning, something that is important, something that is very important. As far as I am concerned, because — as I hope to explain — as far as I can tell, it goes to the very heart of being a Christian, a follower of Jesus. All my sermons have titles. I thought of calling this one “Why I Am a Pacifist”. But the term is too loaded to be of any theological use. So the title is, instead, “Why I Am a Shalomite”. It’s a term I made up. “Shalom”, as you know, is the Hebrew word for peace, and includes the notions of human well-being and creation perfected — so it means — well, that’s exactly what I want to explain!

Of course a shalomite is, in fact, a certain kind of pacifist, but this certain kind is, crucially, a different kind of pacifist. Let’s looks at some other kinds.

You can be a pacifist for all sorts of reasons. I suppose one reason that we have to consider, because it is a charge that is sometimes made, usually with contempt, is that people are pacifists because they are cowards. Or, another slur, because they are unpatriotic. Well, I suppose that may be true of some folk, but personally, I don’t know any, and I have never met any pacifists who aren’t pacifist by conviction, reached only after a lot of deep thought, and who also don’t love their country (but not my country right or wrong, which is like my husband drunk or sober). And while it is true that being a pacifist between wars is like being a vegetarian between meals, being a pacifist during war is a burden, not a bolthole. Besides, it would be as unfair to accuse all pacifists of cowardice as it would be to accuse all soldiers of brutality.

So let’s get on with the more realistic and reputable reasons why people are pacifists. First of all, it is clear that you don’t have to be a Christian to be a pacifist. Indeed, in terms of religion, most people would associate pacifism, quite rightly, with Buddhism. But you don’t even have to be ‘religious’ to be a pacifist. There are plenty of what you might call ‘humanist’ pacifists, some of whom are anti-religious, because they can quite rightly point to the religious element in many, if not most, wars. Humanist pacifists, in any case, base their position on such ideas as ‘reverence for life’, or, if they are utilitarian, on the results of war, on the futile devastation and endless cycles of violence and counter-violence that seem to be endemic to war.

And then there are Christians. Christians too can be pacifist for all sorts of reasons. One they might call belief not only in ‘reverence for life’ but in the ’sanctity’ or ’sacredness of life’. The great theologian, musician, doctor and missionary Albert Schweitzer thought in these terms, and so too did Ghandi. ‘Sanctity’ adds the note of divine blessing to ‘reverence’. Nevertheless, the accent is on life, specifically human life, and it is a statement more about human life than it is about God. It is an argument from creation rather than the Creator, and certainly than the Redeemer.

Then there are the historic peace churches, whose origins lie in the Radical Reformation of the 16th century, the most familiar to us probably being the Quakers. This position is distinguished by a specific vision of the relation between the church and state. And so too, more radically still, is what has been called Christian ‘anarchist pacifism’, represented by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have no real vision for society at all, not least because they think it ain’t gonna be here very much longer.

Finally, there are what I call ‘post-just war pacifists’. These are Christian pacifists of a recent vintage. Motivated by a careful respect for just war theory that goes back to Augustine in the 4th century (its secular roots go back even further, to Roman Stoic philosophers), they may have reluctantly conceded the moral possibility of participation in wars in the past on certain stringent conditions. Such conditions include righteous conduct, proportional means, appropriate discrimination — namely the safety and protection of innocent civilians and the avoidance of non-military targets — and also a reasonable chance of attaining war’s only legitimate aim, namely the establishment of justice and a lasting peace. But, say post-just war pacifists, the advent of nuclear weapons and other WMD, weapons of mass destruction, make it most unlikely, if not entirely impossible, that these criteria can ever be met again. To use a Monty Python expression, they are now ‘ex-criteria’. Today, therefore, the only option is pacifism. Observe, again, the thrust of the argument: it is pragmatic, it weighs up evidence and possibilities and calculations of casualties. Technically it is still based on what theologians call ‘natural law’, it is based on reason rather than revelation, no substantive appeal is made to the Bible or to Jesus.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are some good reasons here for being a pacifist. And I should add that there are plenty of good reasons for not being a pacifist. Not all people who wage and take part in wars are knaves or fools. Like pacifists, they no doubt act in good faith, and display many virtues along with it. Insofar as Remembrance Sunday has any Christian value and validity, that’s where it lies and that’s what we may justly celebrate: the courage, the self-sacrifice, the commitment to a better, safer world. Nevertheless, I am not only not a non-pacifist, I am not a pacifist for any of the reasons I’ve described. At best they amount to a cumulative case, the arguments adding up to what nowadays is called a ‘tipping point’. But I am a Christian pacifist for a single reason, and a reason that has nothing to do with results. Which is not to say that there are no results attached to my reason — there are indeed; indeed I would argue that my reason is in fact the most practical and realistic reason of them all, but they are not why I am a Christian pacifist. And because there is this one, single, unique reason why I am a Christian pacifist, I prefer to call myself by this neologism of mine: I am a Shalomite.

To come to the point. As the American theologian Stanley Hauerwas puts it - because he puts it so much better than I could: ‘Non-violence is not one among other behavioural implications that can be drawn from the gospel but is integral to the shape of Christian convictions.’ And further — and to the point of the point: ‘Nonviolence is not just one implication among others that can be drawn from our Christian beliefs; it is the very heart of our understanding of God.’ You see I am a Shalomite — and I believe that at least all Christians and, in principle, all people should be Shalomites — not because of anything I know about the world or human beings, or through a calculus of war and peace, ‘but because of something I know about Jesus’ (William Willimon) and because of something Jesus knows about God: namely, that God is a God of Shalom, that (to adapt what St. John says about God and light and darkness [I John 1:5]) God is non-violent and in him there is no violence at all. And what is Christian ethics, what is the very heart of following the way of Jesus, if not learning to be like the God of Jesus? And how do we learn to be like the God of Jesus if not by obeying the teaching of Jesus? And what is the teaching of Jesus if not ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48)?

We are called to be like God: perfect as God is perfect. It is a perfection that comes by following and learning to be like this particular man Jesus of Nazareth. That is why being a Shalomite is not an ethic of principles, laws, values, or consequences, but an ethic that derives from and demands that we attend to the life and teaching of this specific individual who challenged his culture of violence by engaging in active non-violence, and who ended up on a cross. End of story, you might say, because Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the end of story, the climax of the story, God’s story of creation and redemption.

I don’t need to say anymore. That is my explanation of why I am a Shalomite. And I don’t intend to, because I don’t need to, and it is not in my power to anyway, to try to persuade you to be a Shalomite too. At the risk of sounding presumptuous — the risk, in any case, that a preacher takes every time he climbs the pulpit and dares to proclaim the Word of God — only the Holy Spirit can turn you into a Shalomite. But neither is it the point of the pulpit to give you your marching orders, because only God can do that too — and he does do it, from the cross, which is whence Christians receive their marching orders, not from the Union Jack or the Welsh Dragon. But, no, the way I see it, if I can just get you to see it, you’ll figure out what to do all by yourself: see, I mean, this alternative world and alternative life-style described in the gospels and proclaimed and embodied in Jesus, which is the real world, a world of grace and truth — and, yes, peace — the real world compared to which the so-called real world, the world of power politics, of wars and rumours of war, is nothing but a grotesque shadow destined to disappear in the full glare of the sun of righteousness.

So my job today is done as I conclude, “Look! See! God’s New World! God’s New People!”

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Tim Chesterton 11.08.09 at 2:57 pm

Amen!

2

Mark Byron 11.08.09 at 4:38 pm

If I’m understanding you, “God is non-violent” is your underlying premise. How do you explain His seeming split personality in the Old Testament? There is plenty of God-performed violence, even taking out the ethnic-cleansing that the Israelites did; Sodom and Gomorrah and the fire upon the priest of Baal in their throwdown with Elijah are the two that come quickly to mind.

I think you’re on sounder footing going with a turn-the-0ther-cheek ethic for pacifism than this approach.

3

Kim 11.08.09 at 5:43 pm

Hi Mark,

That is, of course, the stock response. And it’s not like I’m unaware of these passages about the Lord of hosts. But at the risk of Marcionism - I’d prefer to call it a radical Christological reading of the OT - as goes for Jesus’ ethics, so goes for Jesus’ theology: “You have heard it said of old … but I say unto you …”

4

Beth 11.09.09 at 5:13 pm

Mark,

Here’s the difference - that was God doing those things. They were demonstrably done under divine commandment and with divine approbation, unlike any similar violence since. We might argue that, since the incarnation of Christ, God simply wouldn’t support any such action. But regardless, there is no act of post-Biblical violence that can claim evident and revealed divine backing. If God wants to smite people, he can, because he knows perfectly that such action is justified. No human being has the right or the knowledge to make such a judgement. So until God comes down from heaven on a burning pie saying “kill the heathen”, Christians have no right to take it upon themselves to kill people.

5

John Scott 11.09.09 at 10:17 pm

Don’t quite now what pacifist anarchism means, but Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t participate in war because of the command by Jesus to “love your enemies and pray for those persecuting you,” mentioned here by Jesus, and also, because Jesus took no part in politics, other than in witnessing to politicians. He said his followers were “no part of the world,” just as he was “no part of the world.” Also, the Apostle Paul stated, “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, sprititual, powerful by God to overturn strongly entrenched things.” “A slave of the Lord does not have to fight, but to be gentle towards all.” How could a Christian in the United States kill another Christian in India, if there were a war with India, or Germany, as took place in WWII, it is incongruent with Jesus’ teachings.

In ancient Isreal, it was a little different situation, when it truly was, “one nation under God,” and the nations warring against Isreal were on God’s extermination list, because of depravity, the Canaanites being those who sacrificed their children to their god, all sorts of depraved things, like Sodom, so God decreed their removal, as a whole, even though there were still some of those who were saved, like Rahab in Jericho. With Christian today, it is a different situation, and Jesus raised the bar, as it were, for Christian conduct, so true Christians do not participate in carnal warfare, but their only warfare is spiritual.

6

Michael Snow 06.25.12 at 1:09 am

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