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The following simple flow diagram and accompanying comments place Romans 13:1 – 7, a passage often used to justify Christian service in the military, within its larger context of Romans 12:9 – 13:10.

Left-click separately on each image to view a larger version.



 

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The Myth of Justified Violence: Many of Us Have Been Brainwashed From Childhood

by Dennis Byler

For as far back as there are written records of civilization, people have been fed the myth of “justified violence” from earliest childhood. The classic presentation of this myth is the story of the reluctant hero who resists his sacred duty, established by the gods, to defend the defenseless and protect the weak. In this tale, the unmitigated evil and villainy of those who do not respect life eventually compels the hero to come to his senses, avenge innocent victims and slay the evildoers. And at that point the gods intervene to right every wrong and bring forth a new age of peace and prosperity.

This plot is easily recognized in literature and film. It is conscientiously worked into children’s stories, helping shape their moral attitudes. As a children’s story, the plot sticks to its purest form in Disney’s The Lion King. Perhaps the most memorable film version is the 1952 movie High Noon, in which the pacifist convictions of Quakers are shown to be wickedly irresponsible in the face of the real, nitty-gritty evil in this world. It is also the plot of many other films, such as Braveheart and The Patriot, and much of television.

About 13,000 years ago, humanity adopted agriculture and animal husbandry, and populations grew to the point where, for the first time, large concentrations of people dwelt together in close proximity. About that time true warfare arose (as opposed to the occasional skirmish involving small numbers of nonprofessional fighters). At this time also religion arose (as opposed to a haphazard collection of beliefs and superstitions). One of the functions of religion has always been its usefulness for making this most unnatural (actually bizarre) behavior of warfare seem necessary and unavoidable. For these purposes, I include as “religion” more recent, superficially secular, phenomena such as nationalism, fascism, communism and many other ideologies. These substitute some abstraction other than gods, yet they are religious in the power of the loyalty they inspire, a loyalty so emotional, unquestionable, worshiped and beloved as to motivate people not only to lay down their lives but be willing to kill.

Exceptional individuals will always be willing to die for others, and to kill as well; but the willingness to do so on a massive scale, and for such abstract causes as justice or nation or peace or God, requires the whole society to be mobilized to indoctrinate its individuals from earliest childhood with moral tales along the lines of The Lion King.

The myth of justified violence is everywhere. It is so pervasive and unavoidable as to amount to systematic, continual brainwashing. It is the most consistent and constant moral grounding found in TV programming. Its repetition is so unceasing, it ends up being taken for unshakable moral truth. The myth of justified violence is so irresistible in its ceaseless repetition, so foundational to our earliest training in human values, morals and attitudes, that most Christians are unaware of how profoundly pagan, how unChristian or anti-Christian, this myth is. (more…)

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Art work by Paul Milliman

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Bainton, Roland H. Christian Attitudes toward War and Peace: A Historical Survey and Critical Re-evaluation. Nashville: Abingdon, 1960. [The standard book on the subject]

Yoder, John Howard. Christian Attitudes to War, Peace, and Revolution. Edited by Theodore J. Koontz and Andy Alexis-Baker. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2008. [Overlaps with and expands on Bainton]

Yoder, John Howard, with Joan Baez et al. What Would You Do? A Serious Answer to a Standard Question. Expanded ed. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1992. [Addresses the following question and those similar to it: “What would you do if a criminal pulled a gun and threatened to kill your wife?”]

Yoder, Nathan E., and Carol A. Scheppard, eds. Exiles in the Empire: Believers Church Perspectives on Politics. Studies in the Believers Church Tradition, 5. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press, 2006. [Addresses the arguably apparent paradox of “being committed to proclaiming and living the gospel authentically, while also being citizens in an imperial superpower.” (taken from the back cover of the book)]

Lewis, Ted, ed. Electing Not to Vote: Christian Reflections on Reasons for Not Voting. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2008. [The title is self-explanatory.]

“Polls Apart: Why Believers Might Conscientiously Abstain from Voting,” by John D. Roth appears in both of the last two books (Exiles, 243 – 51; Electing, 1 – 9). A draft of this essay also may be found here.

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They will beat their swords into plowshares. Isaiah 2:4

Affirmation:

The Bible teaches non-resistance and peacemaking. This is the only conclusion at which one may arrive from a prima facie reading of the New Testament. For example, it is clearly taught by the life and teaching of Jesus and the teaching of the apostles.

Evidence:

Prophecy: Jesus is called the Prince of Peace in the prophecy of Isa 9:6.

The angelic announcement of Christ’s birth: It concludes with the benediction, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:1).

The example of Jesus: Jesus did not resist the violence to which he was subjected—beatings, lashing, and the cross—even though he could have called upon the armies of heaven to rescue Him (Matt 26:53). Furthermore, he did not retaliate in any way. Instead, he trusted God (1 Peter 2:21–23).

Selected teaching given by Jesus and His apostles:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God (Matt 5:9).

Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven (Matt 5:39, 44, 45).

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord. On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:17–21).

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness (James 3:17–18).

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, whoever would love life and see good days must  turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it (1 Peter 3:9–11).

Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:21, 23).

Selected examples of appeals for peace and unity made by Christ and His apostles:

Jesus’ prayer for unity: John 17

Paul’s appeal to unity based on the example of Jesus: Phil 2

The symbolism of the Lord’s Supper: 1 Cor 10

The purpose of the death of Christ: Reconciliation between God and people, in other words, the removal of enmity and the restoration of peace.

The consequence of the reconciliation of God and people: Peace and unity between people and people groups.

Conclusion:

Peacemaking and non-resistance seem to be the overriding characteristics of the story lived by those who are disciples of the Prince of Peace and children of His Father.

Brief Responses to Common Objections to the Biblical Teaching

What about war in the Old Testament? (more…)

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