Are Christians required to be pacifists? One of the key verses that must be considered is:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45)
This would seem to answer the question. If we are to love our enemies, surely that means we cannot use any force or violence against them.
I read in one book on Christian pacifism an argument based on this verse about why Christians shouldn’t call the police when a crime is being committed, even a violent crime. It was argued that by calling the police, you may be setting up the criminal to be receiving violence from the police. That would not be the loving thing to do to the criminal. Even if it is done to protect the victim, the author suggested that this verse is teaching that we cannot choose the victim over the criminal as deserving the more loving response.
However, I think we need to dig a little deeper. Reading it in context, does Jesus’ aim really seem to be teaching pacifism in all situations?
I believe that Jesus is teaching about who we are to love. Although the Old Testament taught the importance of loving neighbours, many interpreted that as being your own community, ethnic/religious group and people that seem to deserve love. Jesus is arguing that love should be shown to everyone. The parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) would be a good commentary on this passage. The Samaritan showed love toward the Jew, even though in their society, they were considered enemies.
What does this mean in terms of loving enemies in difficult situations?
Let me begin with the example of the violent criminal. Should such a person be arrested by the use of force? Is that the loving thing to do? Being loving is not necessarily about making one feel comfortable or giving them what they want. I would suggest that the loving thing to do is stop the criminal from committing more crimes, especially violent crimes. Not only is it loving toward the criminal, I believe that the Bible does provide a distinction between the abuser and the victim and that we need to protect the victim.
What about in a military context? If there was a Christian in the army in a combat situation, would it be possible for that soldier to love their enemy? I believe that there is. We have seen many examples of terrible things that take place when soldiers hate their enemies. But a Christian soldier can follow the ethical guidelines for how to treat the enemy. They can seek to take prisoners and not to abuse or hurt the prisoners. They can provide medical care to the injured enemy. They can focus on achieving the tactical victory over trying to kill as many of the enemy as possible.
While there are times when people are forced to serve in the military against their will, most often the people who are serving in the military go into it understanding that they may lose their life in combat. Considering this, the way a soldier who loved their enemy will look much different from one who hates their enemy. This is why we should fight against propaganda that seeks to dehumanize the enemy.
I believe that if armies follow the rules of Just War, that it is possible to love our enemies and still be involved in military activity.
What do you think?