I’ve been posting some lyrics from Derek Webb’s provocative new album, Mockingbird, along with my own thoughts. "My Enemies Are Men Like Me" goes like this:
I have come to give you life
And to show you how to live it
I have come to make things right
To heal their ears and show you how to forgive them
I would rather die, I would rather die
I would rather die, than to take your life
How can I kill the ones I’m supposed to love?
My enemies are men like me
So I will protest the sword if it’s not wielded well
My enemies are men like me
Peace by way of war
Is like purity by way of fornication
It’s like telling someone murder is wrong
And then showing them by way of execution
Later in the song, we hear Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice: "Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions
of our time; the need for man to overcome oppression and violence
without resorting to violence and oppression." I believe later in that same quotation he says, "the foundation of such a method is love." Sounds like Jesus to me. And it is remarkable what Martin Luther King Jr. accomplished without resorting to violence. Up until Augustine, I think all the major church leaders believed war and capital punishment were wrong. This song begs questions of pacifism and a "just war" and execution by the state. The case for pacifism is pretty strong, in my opinion. Especially in light of the kingdom of God, and our call to live in the present age in a way that will make sense in the future, when the fullness of the kingdom comes. "How can I kill the ones I’m supposed to love" is a pretty hard question to answer in light of Christian discipleship and the ethic of love.
I don’t think there is one correct Christian answer to these questions, because we live in a twisted and dark world. Check Jesus on divorce, for example: it’s a horrible thing, but he makes concessions, he meets us where we’re at. And check John the Baptist talking with Roman soldiers who are asking "What should we do? We want to repent." John doesn’t tell them to quit the Empire, he tells them to stop extortion and practice contentment. It’s hard to imagine a better case for a "just war" than World War II, but there are lingering questions there as well (people like Noam Chomsky have deconstructed the West’s "official" reasons for going to war). But then you look at what people like MLK and Gandhi managed to accomplish without resorting to violence, and you wonder if there could have been another way in World War II.
Jesus pretty clearly showed us that the way of love is not the way of violence, it is the way of the cross. Jesus conquered not through superior firepower, but through love, bleeding to death on the ultimate symbol of Roman violence, a cross. That’s why death is swallowed up in victory, why the powers have been defeated, why we can receive kingdom life "ahead of time," because Jesus didn’t retaliate. So it’s a tricky question, one that we should wrestle with. But it’s not one that should divide us. I believe the pacifist can worship with the soldier, because there should be "charity in all things" and what unites us is not our belief systems, but Christ himself. We are part of Jesus’ body along with everyone else who names him as Lord, even the "parts" we don’t agree with. This song just serves to provoke some of the issues we often think are "givens", especially in conservative evangelical faith. Where do you lean: pacifism or "just war"? Captial punishment or not?