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Rom 12,9-21 Pacifism and Biblical Nonresistance

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Anabaptist Teachings



Pacifism and Nonresistance

Romans 12:9-21

9Love must be sincere.

Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

10Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.

Honor one another above yourselves.

11Never be lacking in zeal,

but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

12Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13Share with God's people who are in need.

Practice hospitality.

14Bless those who persecute you;

bless and do not curse.

15Rejoice with those who rejoice;

mourn with those who mourn.

16Live in harmony with one another.

Do not be proud,

but be willing to associate with people of low position.

Do not be conceited.

17Do not repay anyone evil for evil.

Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you,

live at peace with everyone.

19Do not take revenge, my friends,

but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written:

“It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord.

20On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21Do not be overcome by evil,

but overcome evil with good.

For today’s message I have asked two people

       To introduce the theme of

       “Pacifism and Biblical Nonresistance”

       With a Readers’ Theater by Joan Baez.

I present to you Ray Braun as Fred

       And Crystal Klassen as Joan.


What Would You Do If?

By Joan Baez[1]

Fred: OK. So you're a pacifist. What would you do if someone were, say, attacking your grandmother?
Joan: Attacking my poor old grandmother?
Fred: Yeah, you're in a room with your grandmother and there's a guy about to attack her and you're standing there. What would you do?
Joan: I'd yell, "Three cheers for Grandma!" and leave the room."

Fred: No, seriously. Say he had a gun and he was about to shoot her. Would you shoot him first?
Joan: Do I have a gun?
Fred: Yes
Joan: No. I'm a pacifist, I don't have a gun.
Fred: Well, I say you do.
Joan: All right. Am I a good shot?
Fred: Yes.
Joan: I'd shoot the gun out of his hand.
Fred: No, then you're not a good shot.
Joan: I'd be afraid to shoot. Might kill Grandma.

Fred: Come on, OK, look. We'll take another example. Say, you're driving a truck. You're on a narrow road with a sheer cliff on your side. There's a little girl sitting in the middle of the road. You're going too fast to stop. What would you do?
Joan: I don't know. What would you do?
Fred: I'm asking you. You're the pacifist.
Joan: Yes, I know. All right, am I in control of the truck?
Fred: Yes.
Joan: How about if I honk my horn so she can get out of the way?
Fred: She's too young to walk. And the horn doesn't work.
Joan: I swerve around to the left of her since she's not going anywhere.
Fred: No, there's been a landslide.
Joan: Oh. Well then, I would try to drive the truck over the cliff and save the little girl.


Fred: Well, say there's someone else in the truck with you. Then what?
Joan: What's my decision have to do with my being a pacifist?
Fred: There's two of you in the truck and only one little girl.
Joan: Someone once said if you have a choice between a real evil and a hypothetical evil, always take the real one.
Fred: Huh?
Joan:: I said, why are you so anxious to kill off all the pacifists?
Fred: I'm not. I just want to know what you'd do if...

Joan: If I was in a truck with a friend driving very fast on a one-lane road approaching a dangerous impasse where a ten-month old girl is sitting in the middle of the road with a landslide on one side of her and a sheer drop-off on the other.
Fred: That's right.
Joan: I would probably slam on the brakes, thus sending my friend through the windscreen, skid into the landslide, run over the little girl, sail off the cliff and plunge to my own death. No doubt Grandma's house would be at the bottom of the ravine and the truck would crash through her roof and blow up in her living room where she was finally being attacked for the first, and last, time.

Fred: You haven't answered my question. You're just trying to get out of it...
Joan: - I'm really trying to say a couple of things. One is that no one knows what they'll do in a moment of crisis and hypothetical questions get hypothetical answers. I'm also hinting that you've made it impossible for me to come out of the situation without having killed one or more people. Then you say, 'Pacifism is a nice idea, but it won't work'. But that's not what bothers me.
Fred: What bothers you?
Joan: Well, you might not like it because it's not hypothetical.
It's real. And it makes the assault on Grandma look like a garden party.

Fred: What's that?
Joan: I'm thinking about how we put people through a training process so they'll find out the really good, efficient ways of killing. Nothing incidental like trucks and landslides. Just the opposite, really. You know, how to growl and yell, kill and crawl and jump out of airplanes. Real organized stuff. After all, you have to be able to run a bayonet through Grandma's middle.
Fred: That's something entirely different.

Joan: Sure. And don't you see it's much harder to look at, because its real, and it's going on right now? Look. A general sticks a pin into a map. A week later a bunch of young boys are sweating it out in a jungle somewhere, shooting each other's arms and legs off, crying, praying and losing control of their bowels. Doesn't it seem stupid to you?
Fred: Well, you're talking about war.
Joan: Yes, I know. Doesn't it seem stupid to you?

Fred: What do you do instead, then? Turn the other cheek, I suppose.
Joan: No. Love thine enemy but confront his evil. Love thine enemy. Thou shalt not kill.
Fred: Yeah, and look what happened to him.
Joan: He grew up.
Fred: They hung him on a cross is what happened to him. I don't want to get hung on a cross.
Joan: You won't.
Fred: Huh?
Joan: I said you don't get to choose how you're going to die. Or when. You can only decide how you are going to live. Now.
Fred: Well, I'm not going to go letting everybody step all over me, that's for sure.
Joan: Jesus said, "Resist not evil. But overcome evil with good.”

“What would I do if…?

I have thought about that question sometimes

       Throughout my life,

       But, I’ve never been in an extreme situation

       Where I really had to make up my mind

       About this question on the spot.

In my heart I know what that I would want to respond

       As Jesus, my Master did…

But, I don’t know…

When I talk to people of all ages,

       Again and again I hear the same answer

       That’s very natural –

       But also very troubling for a Christian:

       “If someone would take my house and my possessions

       I would let them take it…

       But if they would hurt any member of my family…

       I would defend them with the last drop of blood

       In my vains.”

When I was about 18 years old

       I lived in Paraguay, where Military Service is mandatory…

       Except for the Mennonites and their decendants.

When young men come of age

to be drafted into the army,

       the community leaders organize

a week long “Peace Studies Course”,

coupled with an alternative service to the military service.

The Paraguayan Government granted this privilege

       To the Mennonites on the condition

       That they would settle in the Chaco jungle,

       And urbanize the area.

In exchange for the sacrifice of the pioneers

       The government of Paraguay granted

       The exemption from military service

       On religious grounds to the Mennonites.

Since 1991 the Paraguayan Senate has broadened this Law

       To grant exemption from Military Service

       To “Consciencious Objectors” as well.

From the beginning of the great Mennonite migrations

       In Europe

Mennonites have always tried to negotiate some privilege

That would grant them exemption from Military Service.

As a people of peace

       They have offered instead to provide a civilian service.

Those of you who read the Canadian Mennonite

       Will have noticed that the last edition

       Has a number of articles on peace and pacifism.

One article tells the story of Siegfried Bartel,

       (My understanding is that he spoke

       In our church several years ago).

       He was a former German army captain

       Who ordered the execution of an informer at one point.

At the age of 90, he recently came out of retirement

       To pick up again his mission as a peace promoter.

John J. Friesen, professor of Church History and Peace Studies,

       Writes about the Gospel Call to the way of peace.

He points out some of the arguments

used against the biblical peace position:

There are conflicting texts in the Bible, he says.

For instance, Romans 13:1-6,

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities,

For there is no authority except from God.”

On the basis of this text many people argue,

       That Christians should practice peace,

       Unless the Government orders them to war.

       Then the government’s order

“trumps” the Bible’s teaching,

And Christians should rather obey the government.

Some others argue that Jesus only taught about personal peace,

       But when it comes to a national conflict

       Then you have to obey “Uncle Sam”.

Others point to the problem of wars in the Old Testament,

       Including the so-called Holy Wars during the conquest.

       Some say, that because God Himself is a Warior

       We must also go to war,

       If it is a “justified war”.

John Friesen argues

       That a careful reading of the Old Testament

       Does not glorify war,

       But rather points at the sovereignty of God.

       When the people are successful in battle

       It is not because of their own achievement,

       But rather, because God, has acted on their behalf

       And has granted the victory.

Another argument against the pacifist position

       Is that Mennonites are “cowards and hypocrits”

if they don’t go to war.

We are cowards because

we don’t want to risk our own skin

for the high standard of living

that a victory over Iraq’s and Colombias’s oil fields

would afford us…

and we are hypocrits because

       we get a free ride and enjoy all the benefits

       for which our war vets have lost life and limb.

These people are not all together wrong

       When they argue that it’s a slap in the face

       If we don’t honor the soldiers who go to war

       On our behalf

       So that we can live in big homes,

       Drive expensive cars that use a lot gas

       And never give a thought to our involvement

       In a throw-away society.

Yes, we as, non-violent Mennonites,

who would never kill a fly,

       A Moskito – maybe, but not a fly…

       We are actually contributing to the violence

       And the “need for war”

       By refusing to live a simpler life-style.

In Russia the Mennonites organized “self-defence” groups

       To defend their own interests

       When they were being attacked…

       When their women were being raped,

       And their goods plundered by Machno’s bands.

One has to wonder,

       What would happen in Mennonite communities today

       If our standard of living and our lives

were really threatened.

What would you do…

What would you do if someone attacked your grandmother

       And you had the power to do something about it?

What would you do  

If you were happily playing a game on the school yard

       With your friends

       And a bully came and punched you in the nose?


       Do you tell your kids,

       “Don’t start any fights,

       But if someone hurts you,

       You should stand your ground?”

Little Johny was saying his prayers at night and he prayed,

       “Dear God, I thank you for my glasses,

       It keeps the boys from punching me

       And the girls from kissing me.”

Well, not everyone is so lucky…

And we often stand before decisions

       About how to respond to aggression and violence.

Menno Simons said,

“They who are baptized inwardly with Spirit and fire,

and externally with water,

according to the Word of the Lord,

have no weapons except patience,

hope, silence, and God's Word."

The Anabaptists firmly believed,

       That they needed no weapons

       Other than the a full trust in God.

The simple command of Jesus in Matthew 5:39,

"resist not evil,"

is the foundation for the Mennonite understanding

on nonresistance.

The 16th century European Anabaptists

spoke of Gewaltlosigkeit

(literally, the abstaining from the use of force),

meaning the refusal of violent self-defense

and the rejection of military service.

American Mennonites first faced military conscription

during the Civil War.

The church was poorly prepared to deal with this challenge

and many young men accepted military service.

Nonresistance had implications for every area of life.

Beyond personal relations in the Christian community,

it has implications for industrial,

legal, political, and economic relations.

The early Anabaptists maintained

that killing another human being is wrong,

because it destroys any possibility of repentance

for that person.

“You cannot convert a dead enemy”, they would say.

In 1542 Peter Riedeman said this “Concerning Warfare”:

       “To them of old is said,

       ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,’

       But I say to you, ‘Do not resist evil’.

       Here Christ makes the distinction himself.

       There is therefore no need for many words,

       For it is clear that Christians

       Can neither go to war nor practice vengeance.

       Whoever does this has forsaken

       And denied Christ and Christ’s nature.”

It is true,

       We do not know how we would respond

       If we were in a situation of “kill or be killed”.

The Word of God continually tells us to put our trust in God,

       And to allow God to intervene on our behalf.

When we take up arms

       Whether it is to defend ourselves personally,

       Or to go to war against another nation –

       Even if we believe that we are justified in doing so –

       We are in fact denying that God is in control

       And that He is the just and righteous judge.

When we take matters into our own hands

       And repay evil with evil,

       we deny God His rightful place

as Judge and Avenger.

Joseph Liechty writes about the Martyr Dirk Willems:

Late in the winter of 1569,

Dirk Willems of Holland was discovered as an Anabaptist,

and a thief catcher came to arrest him

at the village of Asperen.

Running for his life,

Dirk came to a body of water still coated with ice.

After making his way across in great peril,

he realised his pursuer had fallen through

into the freezing water.

Turning back, Dirk ran to the struggling man

and dragged him safely to shore.

The thief catcher wanted to release Dirk,

but a burgomaster - having appeared on the scene –

reminded the man he was under oath

to deliver criminals to justice.

Dirk was bound off to prison,

interrogated, and tortured in an unsuccessful effort

to make him renounce his faith.

He was tried and found guilty of having been rebaptised,

of holding secret meetings in his home,

and of allowing baptism there –

all of which he freely confessed.

Dirk Willems was sentenced to execution by fire.

On the day of execution,

a strong east wind blew the flames away

from his upper body so that death was long delayed.

The same wind carried his voice to the next town,

where people heard him cry more than seventy times,

"O my Lord; my God".

The judge present was "finally filled with sorrow and regret".

Wheeling his horse around so he saw no more,

he ordered the executioner,

"Dispatch the man with a quick death."


For his great goodness Dirk Willems received imprisonment,

torture, and death in return

The story of Dirk's simple action

is the embodiment of some of the great strengths

of Anabaptism.

In this action he obeyed Jesus' commandment

to be perfect as his heavenly father is perfect –

that is, to love fully and indiscriminately.

He laid down his life for his enemy.


1569 was a bad year to be an Anabaptist.

The Martyrs' Mirror lists a number of martyrs that year,

some of whom lived close enough to Dirk's home

that he would surely have known of their deaths.

The possibility of death was constantly with him,

a steady part of his inner life.

He may have frequently asked himself,

"What would I do if ...?"

Or even,  "What will I do when ...?"

Because arrest and death were clear and present dangers,

The Anabaptists spent considerable time

preparing one another to meet that end.

What a contrast to the American way

       Of delivering a pre-emptive strike…

The Anabaptists did not see themselves as martyrs

in the way that modern day suicide bombers

claim to be martyrs.

They did not seek persecution,

But they embraced it when it happened

As the will of God for their lives.

I wonder if Dirk considered beforehand

how he might respond to capture and the threat of death.

I wonder what thoughts filled his mind as he ran,

followed closely by the thief catcher.

He must have considered what would happen

if he were caught.

Would he be able to take the torture?

Would he renounce his faith?

And yet, when he came to the body of water

       Covered with thin ice,

He risked immediate death by drowning

rather than giving himself up for capture,

imprisonment, torture, and death.

But having saved his own life,

Dirk turned back across the ice

to save his drowning pursuer.

What is perhaps the most surprising

Is that Dirk even noticed

that his pursuer had fallen through the ice.

That is very unexpected.

       One would have expected that his survival instinct

       Would send him running

       Without ever turning back.

So, why did he turn back?

The only force strong enough to take Dirk back across the ice

was an extraordinary outpouring of love.

The only kind of love I know that extends to enemies

is the love taught and lived by Jesus.

When Jesus' earliest followers struggled to understand

the mystery of his death,

they could only say that:

Jesus died for us

"when we were God's enemies".

This definition of love –

a love that is willing to die for enemies –

had shaped Dirk's character to such an extent

that in circumstances of grave personal danger

he was able to express his love in an intuitive response.

Did the Anabaptists love their enemies?

We may be sure they taught it;

they were never ones to shirk Jesus' hard sayings.

They also had the example of Jesus

in the way of the cross,

which meant a willing, nonviolent

acceptance of suffering.

As we ponder this question in the coming days and weeks

       May we resolve to let the words and life of Jesus

       Be our guide and our model.

May we live with the conviction

       That the Lord Jesus –

       Who told Peter to put away his sword…

       And who healed the ear of the soldier…

       Would ­not pull the trigger.

Jesus laid down his life for his enemies…

       He could have called down legions and legions

       Of angels to save his life…

And he prayed, “Father forgive them

       For they do not know what they are doing.”

As you think about these words in the coming days

       Remember that violence is not the only answer…

       It is not even the most effective answer…

For violence begets violence.

19Do not take revenge, my friends,

but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written:

“It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord.

20On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21Do not be overcome by evil,

but overcome evil with good.


[1] This reading is from The Class of Nonviolence, prepared by Colman McCarthy of the Center for Teaching Peace, 4501 Van Ness Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20016 202/537-1372

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