Ted Grimsrud with Christian Early
John Howard Yoder begins The Politics of Jesus by characterizing that book as coming from “a Christian pacifist commitment.” Yoder attempts, he states, to respond to ways “mainstream Christian theology has set aside the pacifist implications of the New Testament message.”
In a persuasive way that still today, well over thirty years later, witnesses powerfully to those “pacifist implications,” Yoder presents New Testament teaching as speaking directly of social ethics in ways that remain normative for Christians—and that point directly toward pacifism.
Yoder’s essays included in the present book speak, directly and indirectly, of the significance of a pacifist commitment for how we know, for our epistemology. However, he does not extensively explain what he means by pacifism. As this term commonly lends itself to misunderstanding and caricature, we believe it will be helpful to begin with a short explanation of what we mean by “pacifism.”
When we present Yoder’s “pacifist epistemology” as exemplary, what follows in this chapter will show what we mean by “pacifism.”
“Pacifism” has the connotation of a complete rejection of involvement in warfare, and usually other forms of violence. Beyond that simple assumption, however, the term pacifism is used in many different kinds of ways. Yoder’s classic analysis, Nevertheless: Varieties of Religious Pacifism, describes no less than twenty-nine different types of religious pacifism. Given this variety, no one is in a position to make claims for all pacifists because “pacifism” is an essentially contested concept. We wish to be very clear at the outset that our intent in this essay is to argue in favor of a particular, contestable understanding of pacifism. We thought that perhaps it would be helpful to begin with some examples of what we consider to be misunderstanding pacifism, and then go on to give a short case for what we will call Christian pacifism allowing the rest of the book to be an exploration of the epistemological consequences of our view so that readers may judge it and its consequences more fully. Continue reading