I haven’t written about this for a while but I was recently challenged by a friend to clarify and explain my position. This is going to take a while and require more than one post so I’ve decided to start series that I’m calling Pacifist Lamentations. Maybe there are other bloggers out there who want to join the conversation. Comment below or write your own post with the hashtag #pacifistlaments and maybe we can start a healthy conversation about this important issue.
The first thing everyone needs to know about living life as a pacifist is that it is a very difficult path to walk. I came to this position through years of struggle and holding onto it is a constant exercise is submission to what I believe to be the overarching will of God. It’s that point, in part that gives a lot of people fits. Many of the people I have discussed this idea with vehemently disagree with me that pacifism, even in part, could be God’s will. But before I attempt to explain my point here I need to back up a bit.
I was raised in a Mennonite church in Southern Ontario. Mennonites are perhaps the most visible minority group that publicly identifies as pacifist. As a kid I took that position at face value. It wasn’t until the first Gulf War, when I was just 18 years old that I really started to examine what it meant. My best friend at the time decided to join the army reserves as a summer job and as I started my own job search for the summer I said to my mother that as a Mennonite I didn’t have that option. She challenged me on that comment. She said that sometimes she felt that a lot of Mennonite teenagers hide behind the pacifist banner without ever really examining it, they don’t understand why they are pacifists they just used it as a convenient excuse not to make hard choices about what they stand for.
That stung a bit. It stung because it was coming from one of the most important people in my life. And it stung because it was true.
A few days later I told my mother that the reason pacifism made sense to me was that I believe all human life is sacred. That satisfied my mother and I filed it away as a catch all answer for anyone else who would question me on it.
And that worked for about 20 years.
Back in 2007 I moved and joined a new church. For the first time since I was seven years old I started to attend a church that isn’t connected to the Mennonite denomination. The church I now attend is a part of the Brethren in Christ denomination. If the Mennonites are in the minority within the Christian church, the B.I.C. are an even great (smaller?) minority. And I soon discovered that this particular church at least is even more committed to pacifism than my Mennonite brothers and sisters growing up. Once again I was forced to re-examine my position on the matter.
This time I embarked on a journey through scripture that is still unfolding eight years later. The deeper I go the more convinced I become that God’s will is for his people to remain on the side of pacifism and non-violence.
It all starts in Genesis 1.
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. [Genesis 1:27]
Just twenty-seven verses into the word of God it’s that one word “mankind” that brings me up short. It’s inclusive. There is no one, not one person on the face of the earth, in all of history or the future to come who is not, and will not be made in the image of God.
The implications of that realization are infinite.
What does it mean to be made in God’s image?
For one thing it means that you are made in the image of love. “God is Love” [1 John 4:16]. It means you possess within you the potential for infinite love. And it means you are infinitely valuable.
So as a pacifist I lament the loss of this realization in my fellow Christians. We have become isolated from one another and we have forgotten that we are all intended to be family. The image of God is broken. War, indeed all violence seeks to dehumanize the “enemy”. But I can’t support that position with scripture.
When I see pictures and videos of men, women and children committing violence to one another my heart breaks, and I am convinced that it breaks the heart of God. When I see images of refugees wandering in the wilderness, hungry and cold, I see God. When I hear my fellow men and women complain that there are too many of “those” people in our neighborhoods and how we need to protect ourselves from anyone who is different, I mourn the loss of community and connectedness.
We are all image bearers of God. We may be broken and distorted images of Him. Many of us may have forgotten our divine connection to another. But we are all made in the image of love and I for one cannot justify violence toward anyone in whom I see the face of God. And in case you haven’t been paying attention, that’s everyone.
“To love another person is the see the face of God.” Victor Hugo