Ted Grimsrud

Posts Tagged ‘violence’

Christian pacifism in brief

In Biblical theology, Jesus, Pacifism, peace theology on December 20, 2016 at 8:30 am

Ted Grimsrud

[This lecture was given at the June 28, 2015, Action by Christians Against Torture, USA, annual meeting, at Pleasant Hill Community Church, Pleasant Hill, TN, June 28, 2015]

I want to start with a hypothesis that you may or may not agree with: A clear convictional commitment to pacifism is very helpful for opposing torture and capital punishment. I’m not going to make an argument for this hypothesis. I merely state it in order to tell you why I am giving this presentation on Christian pacifism as part of an abolish the death penalty event. Non-pacifists certainly may—and should—oppose the death penalty and torture under all circumstances. But it’s probably easier to do so as pacifists. At the least, pacifism may provide one angle for advocating abolition.

What is “pacifism”? Let’s start with a simple working definition: “pacifism” is the in-principled unwillingness to engage in lethal violence, including most obviously the unwillingness to participate in warfare or to support the death penalty. “Pacifism” connotes a complete rejection of warfare, and usually other forms of violence. I will suggest, though, that pacifism understood theologically, is a broader, more positive conviction than simply saying no to violence.

Some examples of those who oppose “pacifism”

Let me start with several examples of what I consider to be misunderstandings of pacifism, and then go on to present the case for Christian pacifism.

Some non-pacifists are strongly anti-pacifist. They see pacifism as a refusal to take responsibility for the use of violence that is necessary to stop evil people in our rough-and-tumble world. Popes Paul VI and John Paul II expressed views equating pacifism with “a cowardly and lazy conception of life” and “peace at any cost,” respectively.

Pundit, Michael Kelly, wrote a widely circulated op-ed essay for the Washington Post shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks. He asserted that, in relation to the war on terror, “American pacifists…are on the side of future mass murderers of Americans. They are objectively pro-terrorist.” Pacifists do not want the U.S. to fight back and neither do the terrorists. Therefore they are on the same side. And since terrorism is evil, he concluded flatly that the “pacifists’ position…is evil.” He defined pacifism primarily as principled opposition to the use of American military might, including opposition to going to war to resist the obvious evils of “global terrorism.”

So, according to these two Popes and to Michael Kelly, pacifism seems largely to be understood as the refusal to fight back (or even to support fighting back) in the face of evil. As such, it is seen as directly complicit in the furtherance of said evil. Read the rest of this entry »

Christian pacifism and the “Good War”

In Just War, peace theology, Politics, World War II on December 16, 2016 at 5:16 pm

Ted Grimsrud—June 1 2015

[This essay was written for what appears now to be an aborted book that was to collect essays from various writers on Christian pacifism.]

Does Christian pacifism make the claim that everyone should be pacifist? Or is pacifism only a calling for those who affirm Jesus as Lord? This issue can—and should—be addressed on a theological and philosophical level. However, it may also be addressed on a more pragmatic level. Are there wars that should have been fought, that could be considered legitimately justifiable wars? If there are no ways that any actual war could be justifiable, is that a basis for claiming that everyone should be pacifist (defining “pacifism” here as the conviction that one should never take part in or support warfare)?

The one certain “just war”?

One way to begin to address the question about how widely we should advocate for pacifism is to look closely at the one war that most Americans, at least, including even many American pacifists, believe was a “just war”—World War II. Robert Brimlow, a Roman Catholic philosopher and committed pacifist, draws such a conclusion: “The war against Hitler, Nazism, and the atrocities they perpetuated certainly satisfies all the requirements for a just war: even if no other war was justifiable, even if every other dispute could have been settled by nonviolent means, that dispute could only have been solved through violence.”[1]

This statement is part of Brimlow’s argument in favor of pacifism—but it’s a pacifism based on a sense of the special calling of followers of Jesus. The kind of nonviolence Brimlow advocates is based on faithfulness, not on the expectation that it might practically be the best way to deal with conflict.

In the same book with Brimlow’s essay, Methodist theologian Stephen Long makes a similar argument. Long also suggests that World War II may be seen as a just war, where it was shown that “violence and war do sometimes work.”[2] Long argues for what he calls “christological pacifism,” an approach that “only makes sense because of the christological convictions we hold about what God has done in Christ. If Jesus is not the unique and definitive expression of God’s economy, of how God redeems the world and engages it politically through the cross, resurrection, and ascension—if he were not bodily raised from the dead—then pacifism makes no sense.”[3] Read the rest of this entry »

An interview on justice, mercy, and God’s love

In God, mercy, Restorative justice, violence on June 17, 2015 at 9:18 am

Ted Grimsrud—June 17, 2015

In February, 2015, I was privileged to be a guest on a radio show, Community Justice Talks, on KHEN-FM, Salida, Colorado. The show’s host, Molly Rowan Leach, interviewed me for about half an hour. We talked about an article I had written, “Violence as a Theological Problem” and my two books, Instead of Atonement: The Bible’s Salvation Story and Our Hope for Justice, and The Good War That Wasn’t—And Why It Matters: World War II’s Moral Legacy.

The recording of that interview is now available. Here’s a link to a page that allows visitors to listen to the interview directly or to download a podcast. Or it can be listened to here as well. What follows is an edited written transcript of the interview.

Molly Rowan Leach—This is Community Justice Talks. And I’m your host, Molly Rowan Leach. And you’re listening to KHEN-LP Salida, Colorado, 106.9 FM. You can stream us at khen.org. It’s great to be here today and I am really looking forward to the conversation that we’re about to have with Professor Ted Grimsrud from Eastern Mennonite University. He’s on the line live with us, coming from his university back east in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Here on Community Justice Talks we like to talk with people from local and statewide as well as nationwide movements towards solutions in conflict and crime. This show aims to provide hope, solutions, and to have an open, honest dialogue about justice that is unfiltered—at the very personal as well as communal and national levels.

We are focusing today on unpacking violence as a theological problem. Ted had a blog post that was published just last week on Open Democracy, which is an excellent blog and news site. You can get more information and read blogs and news there at opendemocracy.net. His post, on the 16th of February, was called “Violence as a Theological Problem.” It has a lot of inspiring details that unpack why we in the United States seem to justify violence. He writes: “Deeply ingrained in the religious consciousness of the United States is the belief that retribution is God’s will. According to the logic of retribution, holiness governs God’s behavior. As a holy God, God cannot stand to be in the presence of impurity, of human sin. Human beings invariably violate that holiness because all of us are sinners. God is bound to respond to sin with punishment because to forgive would violate God’s holiness. Compassion without satisfaction is not possible for God in this tradition.”

Further on in the article, Ted talks about restorative justice. And of course at Eastern Mennonite University, there’s a powerful program called the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice that was spearheaded by Dr. Howard Zehr, who is considered and honored as one of the wayshowers and leaders of the movement here in the United States, at least of the modern movement.

Ted is Professor of Theology and Peace Studies. Prior to teaching at EMU, beginning in 1996, he served ten years as a pastor in Mennonite churches in Oregon, Arizona, and South Dakota. He is especially interested in the connection between Christian theology and pacifism. He teaches classes in theology, peace studies, ethics, and the Bible. His books include, most recently, published just this last November, The Good War That Wasn’t—And Why It Matters: The Moral Legacy of World War II. He also blogs at ThinkingPacifism.net and has a website that gathers his writings at PeaceTheology.net. Read the rest of this entry »

Are Human Beings Violent By Nature?

In Pacifism, Politics on June 4, 2011 at 11:17 am

One of the big issues pacifists face today is the issue of human nature. Are we genetically determined to be violent as expressed in much contemporary writing by biologists, et al, as well as political thinkers? If so, is pacifism simply unrealistic, terribly naive, even problematically romantic?

Or is it possible, with scientific credibility, anchored in the actual experience of human beings in the world, to argue for an understanding of human nature more compatible with pacifism?

This debate deserves the attention of all people concerned with the problems of violence, oppression, warfare, and militarism in our world today—that is, all people of good will. I spent significant time a number of years ago reflecting on these issues, teaching a class called “Violence and Human Nature” several times. In March 2006, I arranged a public forum with my friend Carl Keener, professor of biology emeritus, at Eastern Mennonite University. Here is the presentation I made. I hope to give this issue more attention in the not-too-distant future. Read the rest of this entry »