War is not the only – nor, would I argue, the greatest single – form of violence in the world. If we were to take a much wider and necessary lens to the subject of violence, I propose that we consider three primary forms through which it comes: Poverty, sexism, and racism/ethnicism. Because war is special; it is declared; it is relatively infrequent; it is targeted. Yet poverty, racism, and misogyny are underlying and ignored facets of reality and the violence they wage are enfleshed and lived out every moment and in myriad and dynamic ways.
Those who do not believe that poverty is the basest of evils have never had the privilege of meeting poverty and its hunger, want, need, constant fear and worry. Nothing else kills as many people per day. Nothing else cuts the lives of children shorter, reduces men, women and children to mere numbers, consumable goods and numbers. Pacifists who consider war to be a great violence because of sheer lives killed are like anti-abortionists who only care about the life before birth, but not about the quality of life – not about abuse, neglect, health and well-being, or, well, poverty. They focus on lives being killed rather than lives being stolen and impacted.
We cannot look at any form of violence – whether it be poverty, war, or colonialism – without considering the weight of racism/ethnicism within it. What allows us to conquer and conquest a people is the evil internalized machinery that otherizes our fellow human being. We are so callously brutal to our fellow person because the evils of racism allow us to view them as brutes and bugs in need of destruction on the one end, in need of our rescuing on the other – but for most of us who reside somewhere in the ambivalent center, they remain the targets of our pity or the forgotten of our imagination – pushed out to the margins of remembrance. Here is the radical notion: People of color are human and are made in God’s image. The violence that befalls on them – whether through abusive microaggressions such as iconography and words that ostracize or stigmatize or institutional apartheid such as in South Africa of the 1980’s and Chicago of now – is not accidental. And we, White Christians, allow it through nullification, marginalization, and justification. Many Christian pacifists took to the blogosphere when Mark Driscoll said that pacifism is wimpy, but where was the outcry when Christian preacher John MacArthur said that slavery is a neutral good? Or when slavery apologist Douglas Wilson was saying he isn’t racist, but black people need to listen to him.
Misogyny is the premise that half of the human population is not quite fully human – that half of the population deserves to be the object of male sexual, psychological, and physical violence. But yet misogyny is the devil most often ignored or downplayed by Christian pacifists – the overwhelming majority of whom are white, economically-advantaged, and male. It is the physical and sexual abuse of women ignored by a party that largely idolizes a man, Yoder, while ignoring or downplaying his serial sexual assaults on women? Let us be unwavering here: Sexual assault is violence! Christian pacifism follows another man who had problematic statements telling Christians that their sex organs are not theirs* – a familiar Christian teaching with deep roots into Christian rape culture.
White Christian pacifists need to grapple with and antagonize over these demons within their leadership before they find they have much to say among themselves, least over the bodies of underprotected women and children who are taught to sacrifice themselves for the cause of peace.
It is with disembodied detachment that Christian pacifists imagine scenarios that they have little experience in (“What if I saw a man attacking his girlfriend? How shall I act to not cause harm to the man?”), giving priestly advice to those who very seriously want to follow and honor God, but in the process teaching them to privilege their attacker more than themselves. This goes above and beyond Jesus’ teachings about loving our neighbors.
Christian pacifism needs less theoretical scenarios and more space for analytical praxis. It needs to be based on life lived within and amongst the violence.
Christians – and particularly any Christian men interested in pacifism – need to listen deeply and long to the stories of those who suffer and/or survive domestic – or economic, racial, or sexual – violence before we offer even suggestions for what they should or could do in any given situation. More importantly, we need to reduce sexual oppression that allows for and justifies wife-beating and rape culture.
Middle Class, Male, White Christians are not in a place to forget those who bear the brunt of our social, economic, or sexual sins. Nor are we in a place to put them on a pedestal nor demonize them. No one who believes that all of humanity is made in the image of God can dear afford to Other our fellow God-bearers. Doing so reduces each of us and reduces our God to nothingness.
*In the Stanley Hauerwas Reader we find this (italics mine):
Christians, to be more specific, do not believe that we have a right to do whatever we want with our bodies. We do not believe that we have a right to our bodies because when we are baptized we become members of one another; then we can tell one another what it is that we should and should not do with our bodies. I had a colleague at the University of Norte Dame who taught Judaica. He was Jewish and always said that any religion that does no tell you what to do with your genitals and pots and pans cannot be interesting. That is exactly true. In the church we tell you what you can and cannot do with your genitals. They are not your own. They are not private. That means that you cannot commit adultery. If you do, you are no longer a member of “us.” Of course, post and pans are equally important.
Because pots and pans and privates are the same, y’all!