Patriotic Pacifists?

One of my favorite critical voices (who somehow believes she is more conservative than I am) observed on my most recent post that Greg Boyd is being somewhat inconsistent.  She observed:

Mr. Boyd’s views are inconsistent if he believes it is wrong to fight for one’s country but just fine to celebrate America’s freedoms. Those freedoms were won by America’s soldiers through war, so he is essentially being thankful that other people did something he believes to be sinful and benefiting from what he believes to be sin.

My response, in a nutshell (you can read the conversation here) was that Boyd doesn’t view American military action as right or wrong, but simply as incompatible with the mission of the church.

In Boyd’s view (as I understand it), violence isn’t wrong but it’s something a disciple of Christ has no recourse to.   The central metaphor I used to explain Boyd’s perspective was this.

Think of a martial arts instructor overseeing a sparring match between two 12-year-old students.  Each of the participants is right to try to drive a blow into their opponent.  They aren’t doing a demonstration, but actively trying to hit one another, and for the hit to really connect.  They’re doing exactly as they should.  But if the instructor stopped the match and stepped in instead, he would not try to hit either of them.  Even if he was actively sparring with a student, he has resources and skills that the students don’t possess.  He will pull punches, because his goal is not to score points, but to teach.

Christians likewise have resources and abilities that those outside the church lack.  We know that God will bring history to a good end; we have been enabled to love our enemies; we have the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives so that we would rather see harm come to ourselves than to those who oppress us; we can see that the real battles are spiritual and the real enemies are not flesh-and-blood.

So with all that in mind, it makes sense that we would refrain from participation in earthly war, because it’s incompatible with our true mission, without condemning as sinners those who do lack both mission and resources to refrain.  Some acts of violence are cowardly and committed by cowards; others are honorable and good.  The man who shoots an intruder to save his family, the soldier who fights a foreign invader, these are honorable acts, even if they are not the actions a cross-shaped disciple would engage in.  Even if the disciple did, it would not be an evil action on his part, but rather a sign that some loyalty had overwhelmed their dedication to the gospel.  Thus Boyd calls that loyalty an idolatry.

So, with that in mind, it does not seem to me inconsistent for Boyd to thank God for the freedoms found in America while also maintaining that Christians have a duty to withhold military service.  I am not at all certain that I agree with Boyd on this point, and it should be noted that Boyd is not really a pacifist.  He is rather a pietist for whom loyalty to Christ and the motivation of one’s heart is all that matters.

Still, he is enough like a pacifist as makes no odds for most people.  Many would still think that unless he is willing to pick up a gun to defend American freedoms, he should have the consistency and courage to give up those freedoms, both for himself and for others (see the comment thread linked above).

What do you think?  Can pacifists be patriotic, thanking God for the freedom others killed to attain?  It is like being thankful for the genocides of Native Americans while condemning the genocides themselves?  What image would you use for patriotic pacifists?

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One response to “Patriotic Pacifists?

  1. Overly simplistic commentary? Which freedoms did soldiers die to secure in Afghanistan? In Iraq? In Libyia? In Vietnam? That’s all so much political hype. None of those wars were necessary, no freedoms were at stake, and all those soldiers died in vain.

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