I am a pacifist.
That is not always an easy position to hold, in this world of pragmatism and pain. Nor is it always an easy position to hold in the Anglican church, where the history of Established religion in England has made the church a partner in war. Article 27 of the 39 Articles states that “It is lawful for Christian men (sic)…to bear weapons, and serve in the wars.”
It is lawful. And that is surely a basic statement of fact; it is indeed lawful. But I take that statement and sit it alongside one by St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians: “‘All things are lawful’, but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful’, but not all things build up.” I recently read a quote from Einstein in which he said that World War III might be fought with nuclear weapons, but World War IV would be fought with sticks and stones.
When I consider the question of war, what I see is the deliberate diversion of funds, people and good will away from building up our world, to destroying lives, livelihoods, cultures and civilisations. I am not convinced by arguments about a “just war” that this is ever, in fact, justified. Nor am I convinced that Christians ought to be so dedicated to a nationalistic – or indeed an economic – agenda, that they are prepared to compromise on God’s agenda; which we know is one of peace.
But where does that leave us? Perhaps we need to begin by realising that peace is not simply the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice. Instead of trying to define a just war, let us try to define a just peace, and to work towards it as a concrete reality. We will need to begin with the very small and local spheres of influence, but also be willing to enlarge those spheres as opportunities arise. The world is a small place in this electronic age, and networks of goodwill can span it more easily than ever before.
Aung San Suu Kyi has said that “The spiritual dimension becomes particularly important in a struggle in which deeply held convictions and strength of mind are the chief weapons against armed repression.” I think St Paul knew something of that, too, when he wrote that “Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
I’ve recently bought this book, Stop the Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism. I look forward to making my way through it, and enriching my own understanding of how ordinary citizens can make a difference in a hostile world, and reflecting on this offering in the light of my own faith tradition. I hope to blog some more about it as I go, and I hope that might be useful for other people whose hearts are burdened with the current sickness of our world.