The Politics of Engaged Pacifism

Ted Grimsrud—November 7, 2017

[This is the third in a series of four posts on Christian pacifism. The previous one, posted on November 4, was “Some biblical bases for pacifism.”]

“One of the most pressing questions facing the world today is, ‘How can we oppose evil without creating new evils and being made evil ourselves?’” (Walter Wink). This question points in two directions at once.

On the one hand, human beings of good will assume that we have a deep responsibility to resist evil in our world, to seek peace, to be agents of healing—that is, to enter into the brokenness of our present situation and be a force for transformation. Yet, on the other hand, we recognize that all too often efforts to overcome evil end up exacerbating the brokenness. We recognize that resisting evil all too often leads to the use of tactics that end up adding to the evil—and transform the actors more than the evil situation. So, how might we act responsibly while also remaining not only true to our core convictions that lead us to seek peace but also serving as agents of actual healing instead of well-meaning contributors to added brokenness?

One way of setting up this tension that seems inherent for peacemakers is that we incline in one of two very different directions. The first is that we may move towards “responsibility” in ways that compromise our commitment to nonviolence and the inherent worth of all human beings, even wrongdoers. Or, on the other hand, we may move towards “faithfulness” in ways that do not truly contribute to resisting wrongdoing and bringing about needed changes.

We face a basic choice. Will we understand this tension as signaling a need to choose one side of the tension over the other—either retreating into our ecclesial cocoon and accepting our “irresponsibility” or embracing the call to enter the messy world in creative ways that almost certainly will mean leaving our commitment to nonviolence behind? Or will we understand this tension as a call to devote our best energies to finding ways actually to hold together our nonviolence with creative responsibility? I affirm the need (and the realistic possibility) of taking the “tension as opportunity for creative engagement” path. Let me suggest the term “engaged pacifism” to describe this commitment to peace that sees at its heart seeking to be agents of healing in the entire creation. Continue reading “The Politics of Engaged Pacifism”

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