Gospel nonviolence in action: An end to war?

Crossed Swords. Image by Jules & Jenny, Creative Commons licence  CC BY

Crossed Swords. Image by Jules & Jenny, Creative Commons licence CC BY

What does Gospel nonviolence look like in action? The Fellowship of Reconciliation held a joint conference with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship looking at this, and included a talk from the Revd David Mumford. Over a series of 14 blogs, some short and some longer, he outlines the different themes and topics covered in his presentation. 

Wars will cease when men (and woman) refuse to fight. True … but only a part of the truth. However, when someone refuses to fight because they are a Christian, sometimes they do not get the support of their fellow Christians. The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR) was founded in 1914 at the start of the First World War to provide solidarity and support for those Christians who embraced gospel nonviolence and rejected the way of war and killing. It was followed by other groups such as the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship (started in 1937), whose members signed a pledge to renounce war and all preparations for war. FoR continues to provide support and fellowship – for often still the voice for consistent gospel nonviolence is a lonely one in many Christian congregations. Churches may be opposed to domestic violence, and most are opposed to possessing weapons of mass destruction (including, since July 2018, the Church of England) but, with the exception of the peace churches, they allow Christians to be members of the armed forces and to kill.

This is usually argued in terms of just war theory and that in a sinful world violence is sometimes needed to overcome injustice and oppression. Often even within the church, the argument then veers away from what would Jesus do to a very pragmatic what do we think would work in the real world.

At one level this argument effectively puts the realisation of the Kingdom off until the world to come as it argues that following Jesus really doesn’t work in a sinful world.

At another, it is a profound challenge to Christians committed to gospel nonviolence to discern how best to act. How to respond to situations of injustice and oppression?

One response of Jesus was to suggest ways of acting which encouraged the oppressor to see the other as a fellow human being, worthy of respect. Walter Wink shows how the injunction to turn the other cheek challenges the assailant to respect the other. An open handed right hand slap is for a slave; a backhander for an equal (and you don’t use the left hand…)

Or going the second mile… In occupied Palestine a Roman soldier could commandeer someone to carry his pack for one mile. And as Palestine was a rebellious part of the empire, he could not demand more for risk of riot. But if the person so commandeered started to go the second mile, then the soldier would have to beg him to stop – otherwise the soldier would be subject to severe military discipline for abusing the natives.

These, then, are examples of what Wink called ‘spiritual ju-jitsu’, turning your enemy’s strength against him and finding a way in which evil can be opposed without being mirrored. It has been used, knowingly or unknowingly, in nonviolent campaigns from the first century AD to the present day.