Evangelical Pacifism in the War on Terror – by Mark D. Tooley

Mark Tooley is President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (www.theird.org) and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth Century. Follow him on Twitter: @markdtooley.


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The new Evangelical Left largely agrees with the old Religious Left that traditional religious conservatives have distorted the Bible with their patriotism, support for America’s wars, and friendship for Israel. For left-leaning Evangelical elites, no less than for old Mainline Protestant bureaucrats, pacifism, at least for America, is the answer.

A new voice for evangelical pacifism is a young missionary named Aaron Taylor, who writes for Jim Wallis’ Sojourners, and who recently authored the book Alone with a Jihadist, which argues that Christian pacifism is the right retort to radical Islam.  Is surrender to Islamic terror the only correct Christian response?  For Taylor, as for increasing numbers of evangelical elites who reject traditional Christian Just War teachings, the answer tragically is “yes.”

“The version of Christ we have in America, especially white evangelicalism, is so huge with nationalism and patriotism, so fused together, we need a radical separation,” Taylor surmised in a recent interview.   Too many religious conservatives take biblical “verses out of context to justify… American wars,” he fretted.  “When it comes to invading sovereign nations.  Or Israel bombing Gaza and hundreds of civilians dying,” we need to “switch the burden of proof around,” he urged.

Apparently Taylor was previously a traditional conservative evangelical. But his 2006 participation in a film documentary by leftist Canadian director Stephen Marshall about Christianity and Islam post-9-11, called “HolyWars,” brought him together with an Irish convert to radical Islam. In the jihadist, Taylor wearisomely “saw a mirror image of my own side, militant evangelical Christianity,” “support for Israel and America,” and the “same militancy I see on a lot of on Christian television.”  His encounter with the radical Muslim that supposedly so reminded him of conservative American evangelicals was a “traumatic experience” that motivated his appeal for Christian pacifism in Alone with a Jihadist.

In a recent column for Sojourners, Taylor naturally lashes out at President Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan, which he found disturbingly reminiscent of George W. Bush, if somewhat “less arrogant.”  Still, Taylor opined that Obama’s “rejection of unilateralism, his willingness to dialogue with enemies, and his understanding of the limits of power—howbeit nuanced—make him about as good of a president as we can expect on the foreign policy front given the current state of American culture and, more specifically, the American Church.”

Americanism militarism, Taylor has discovered, originated with America’s “civil religion of God, guns, and country,” which seduces even liberals into “glorifying military heroes and showing off the Pentagon’s latest weapons technology.”  America’s supposed love of war will not change until “the words ‘fighting for freedom’ become more associated in the average American mind with strikes, boycotts, and voter registrations than with ground invasions and bombing raids.”

Like many left-leaning evangelicals, Taylor is a disciple of the late Notre Dame teacher and Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, who claimed that the demand for non-violence was the central message of Christ’s crucifixion.   Yoder’s devotees, most prominently Duke Divinity School teacher Stanley Hauerwas, insist that pacifism should be Christianity’s defining tenet.  They reject the Just War tradition that has guided the vast majority of Christians, based on Church Fathers like St. Augustine, and St. Paul’s admonition in Romans 13 that God has ordained the state to “wield the sword” against evil.

“What if John Howard Yoder replaced Augustine as the intellectual giant of the Western Church?” Taylor dreamily asked in his Sojourners piece.  “For that to happen, a lot more Bible-believing Christians are going to have to be convinced that Romans 13 is not a carte blanche for Christians participating in state-sanctioned violence, that the Old Testament is a poor pretext for just war theory, and that John the Baptist wasn’t condoning violence when he didn’t tell the Roman soldiers of their day to give up their occupations.”

Like most Christian pacifists, Taylor boasted that his approach is “radical.” And he is untroubled by his break from most Christian tradition, complaining that Protestant Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin “didn’t go far enough,” but the “people who did were the Anabaptists,” or the spiritual ancestors of Mennonites, Quakers, and Amish.   Apparently Taylor’s seven hour meeting with a militant Jihadist was enough to persuade him that most of Christianity was wrong about government’s vocation to protect its people from violence and terror.  Historically, most Mennonites and Quakers have allowed others to fight their wars without condemning them.  But the new breed of Evangelical Left Anabaptist wannabes  insist they must denounce people of faith who appreciate police and militaries as moral necessities in a fallen and turbulent world.

Taylor’s Jihadist interlocutor complained to him that Christianity and democracy failed to create “godly government” and allows evil to “run rampant,” by not executing homosexuals and adulterers, among other omissions.  Of course, thousands of years of Jewish and Christian tradition have addressed how faith should interact with governance. But Taylor seems largely to ignore these moral teachings, or portray them in caricatures, with his website asserting that “many Christians support warmongering and unnecessary bloodshed rather than peacemaking.”  His website describes his discovery of pacifism grandly as the “solution to end all religious/quasi-political warfare.”  Purportedly, “many fundamentalist/evangelicals tend to ascribe [sic] to a Zionist theology, which believes that it is good to be at war with anyone who opposes the Christian right, to expedite the glorious return of the Messiah, there is one crusader, Aaron Taylor, who believes otherwise.”

The Evangelical Left, so ashamed of the patriotism of traditional religious conservatives, believes that its own brand of absolutist pacifism will cleanse the American’s church of its warmongering sins and ultimately, perhaps, redeem America from its supposed thirst for bloodshed.  Taylor’s website claims that if “Christians everywhere were to return to their pre-Augustine heritage of non-violence as a way of life, then the social impact of the church would be greater than that of the Protestant Reformation.”

Such utopian pacifism may appeal to seminary campuses, book fairs, and religious online chat rooms.  But mainstream Jewish and Christian ethics have always chiefly addressed the real world, not an imagined ideal.  Historic Christianity empowers the state to repress, where possible, crime and terror, not surrender to chaos.  But for many on the Evangelical Left, contempt for America, and for Israel, override fidelity to historic Christian beliefs.

  • MindMadeUp

    Pacifism is a personal, moral choice. If you choose to turn the other cheek when someone hits you, that's your business. If you tie my hands behind my back so I can't defend myself when someone hits me, you're not making me a pacifist; you're just aiding and abetting a crime. Using the coercive power of government to force pacifism on the rest of us in the face of terrorism isn't pacifism, it's treachery and tyranny.

  • Ashan

    What raving hypocrites these Evangelical leftist “pacifists” are! Their thinly disguised anti-Semitism (anti-Zionism, anti-Israelism) – call it what you will – exposes their fundamental phoniness. They are always ready to defend the terrorists.

    Israel bombs Gaza in a defensive reaction to years and thousands of Palestinian rockets fired deliberately on the Israeli civilian population, and they blame Israel/Zionists/Jews and not the attacking Gazan terrorists. Ariel Sharon cruelly pulled all Israelis, civilian and military, out of Gaza, making the Strip judenrein and leaving a defensive vacuum. The genocidal terror thugs of Hamas filled that vacuum. But the pacifist/leftist Olmert government left Israeli civilians in the south exposed to those Palestinian rocket attacks, and finally, when push case to shove and an election loomed, did something about it.

    I don't see those leftist Evangelicals lift even a pinky finger to help the still-traumatized children of Sderot and the communities close to Gaza. And the terror thugs of Gaza still lob rockets at Israeli civilian towns. They have built an even stronger terror infrastructure that will further utilize their own people as human shields and have re-armed as never before in preparation for the next conflict against Israeli civilians.

    Oh, the chutzpah of hypocrites!

  • Robert Bernier

    We are told that there is a difference between extremist Islam and peaceloving normal Islam.
    Judging by their behavior, Muslims are anti-West, anti-Democracy, anti-Christian, anti-Jewish, anti-Buddhist, and anti-Hindu. Muslims are involved in 25 of some 30 conflicts going on in the world: in Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Cyprus, East Timor, India, Indonesia (2 provinces), Kashmir, Kazakastan, Kosovo, Kurdistan, Macedonia, the Middle East, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Somalia, Sudan, Russia-Chechnya, Tajikistan, Thailand, Uganda and Uzbekistan. Doesn’t this mean that extremist Islam is the norm and normal Islam is extremely rare? More at :
    http://israelagainstterror.blogspot.com/2007/12

  • Robert Bernier

    Every American should see this video !

    The ambition of Islam to conquer the world.
    For centuries Islam of the militants have been on the march to conquer the world. We did not notice because we chose not to notice. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1920 by Hassan al-Banna in Egypt and was in deep confrontation with the Egyptian government. The current goals for Islam to achieve global domination for a Muslim Caliphate: a world under strict Islamic “Sharia” law, pulling Muslims back to the 7th Century. Consult : http://xrl.us/bf66jj

  • Jonathan

    It sounds to me like Mr. Taylor has been “going with the flow ” in our country's continuing slide to the left. I saw that phrase about the “militant” support for Israel and it made my eyebrows perk up. I do know how much the left likes to portray Christians as “militant” when they evidence any support for Israel.

  • Jonathan

    ” Purportedly, “many fundamentalist/evangelicals tend to ascribe [sic] to a Zionist theology, which believes that it is good to be at war with anyone who opposes the Christian right, to expedite the glorious return of the Messiah”

    This is an outright lie coming from somewhere, I don't know where. I have never heard of any mainline or major Christian denomination that teaches or proposes such doctrines, either one. And certainly not the latter. Christians believe the second coming of Jesus is in accordance with a divine timetable which God alone determines.

    In fact, it is Islam that teaches that the appearance of the Muslim Messiah is dependent upon the efforts of jihadists and holy warriors to purify the Earth by war and firey destruction first. Muslims believe that it is THEIR job to blow the world up. Christians don't.

  • cindylou52

    Hopefully this very naive young man will never be put to the true test of allowing a criminal or Jihadist to torture and kill someone he loves and is supposed to protect, such as his children, while he idly stands by watching and holding onto his pacifistic views.

    Personally, I am thankful that there are people such as my 24 year old daughter who are willing to fight for us. She's an MP in the military. Interestingly, SHE is sacrificing for him and his family.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.komaransky Steve Komaransky

    Oh how nice it is to be a pacifist when someone else is doing the fighting for you, the pacifist, to be free to be a pacifist! That's eating your cake and having it, too.

  • josephwiess

    I'm sorry but surrender only works if you want to be a complete slave to muslim law. I refuse to surrender and be slave to any man.

    Since the muslim's are declaring a holy war against us, and want to kill as many people as possible, maybe it's time to return to the age of the crusades and the spanish inquisition. Maybe if we send more armed people into their country and do what the catholics did 200 years ago, we wouldn't have to worry about the muslim fanatic.

    Maybe it's time for them to bow down to western sensibilities, and act like mature people, instead of like spoiled children.

    No, surrender isn't an option.

  • buffalo2

    Jesus had guards who carried swords for use against bandits. HE scourged the moneychangers in the temple. HE was against unjustifiable violence. When bandits proliferate and individuals cannot defend themselves, the state must take preventative action – i.e. a just war. War against Islamic terrorism is such a just war. As each individual terrorist has the potential to kill hundreds, thousands, or even millions (with the appropriate man carried weapon) we must kill those espousing such violence before they act. This requires military action. Police act only after a crime has been committed.

  • http://www.christiansofasia.com/ Paul

    I am not surprised with this report because most adherents of the New Evangelical left are apostate “Christians” .

  • BS77

    Pacifism is one of the least moral positions one may choose….When Hitler's regime was slaughtering, torturing, starving, freezing and brutalizing millions of Jews, Poles, gypsies, Russians, Slavs etc etc, only the most idiotic self worshipping fools endorsed pacifism. To remain aloof and distant when women and children are being subjected to torture and death….this is a moral stance? it is not. it is cowardice and moral bankruptcy.

  • Ed "What the" Heckman

    As I was reading the Bible last week, I was struck by a passage I hadn't really noticed before; 2nd Corinthians 11:19-21:

    “For you gladly put up with fools since you are so smart! In fact, you put up with it if someone enslaves you, if someone devours you, if someone captures you, if someone dominates you, or if someone hits you in the face. I say this to our shame: we have been weak.”

    The Corinthians had apparently been boasting about how “enlightened” they were; so “enlightened” that they were permitting evil men to do literally anything they wanted to them. Paul calls such an idea shameful and weak. (Note the heavy sarcasm in his phrasing.)

  • SpiritOf1683

    It is telling how George Orwell summed up pacifism in 1941:

    “In so far as it hampers the British war effort, British pacifism is on the side of the Nazis and German pacifism, if it exists, is on the side of Britain and the USSR. Since pacifists have more freedom of action in countries where traces of democracy survive, pacifism can act more effectively against democracy than for it. Objectively the pacifist is pro-Nazi.”

    As he said, pacifism only benefits our enemies, and in this day and age, Islamists benefit from our cravenness, and one of history's oldest lessons is that a nation of pacifists will fall to the first thug that comes along.

  • v.j. rushing

    What are we told to put on the armour for?

  • Timmy

    It is as much in the Bible a metaphor, a figurative way of getting a point across. They were surrounded by Roman soldiers in armor, it was a daily part of life. Today perhaps they would have used an analogy to computer viruses, install your anti-virus protection…, but seriously, it is clear that it is not a call to actual armor and waging physical battle. Anyone who tries to live a good life can appreciate how the forces of evil work against you in battle daily.

    Ephesians 6:10-18

    “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

    “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.

    “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints….”

    http://www.crossroad.to/Victory/Armor.htm

  • Timmy

    It is an interesting thing to consider, regarding Islam which was invented over 600 years after Christ. Had all of the Christians of that time and through the ages maintained absolute pacifism and either willingly renounced Christ and accepted Islam or bent their neck for slaughter, Christ's church, his mission, would have been wiped out, wiped off the face of the earth. Does anyone really believe that that is what Christ would want? Perhaps if all Christians had done this then Christ would have returned before they were all gone to save the day but that is not assured. No, it would seem obvious that in order to survive in a violent world that even Christians must fight at times. Much of the “turn the other cheek” doctrines are meant for our individual relationships not community relations. That is, an individual can forgive and forget but the community must punish the criminal. And a nation or civilization must defend itself using whatever force is required to survive. Islam is an existential threat to the West, it will with zero doubt destroy freedom and democracies. Will the West wake up to this before it is too late and end all Islamic immigration and expansion and turn back what has already occurred? If not, say goodbye to the Christian churches of the West, already weakened, they will be eliminated eventually by the much more militant Islam.

  • v.j. rushing

    Thank you.

  • Lazlo H.

    Seriously, Mark, do you ever write a different article? You seem smart enough to realize that you're misrepresenting your opponents, so you must know you're spinning the truth instead of engaging in honest argument with the so-called evangelical left. Doesn't that ever bother you? I guess it's all part of the fundraising process for the IRD — you have to pander to people who aren't motivated enough to do their own research and make your enemies sound as scary as possible. To the extent that that's your goal, I hope and pray that you fail. The radical gospel of Christ will continue spread regardless of its supposed messengers.

    “Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

  • Ed "What the" Heckman

    He doesn't seem to be misrepresenting Mr. Taylor's claims. However, since you think he is, then please enlighten us about what these misrepresentations are. And please, be specific.

  • Lazlo H.

    My complaint is not just with this article, but with Tooley's polemic writing in general. I don't know enough about Taylor to say whether he's worth defending or not, but Tooley consistently uses strawman versions of his opponents' viewpoints to tear apart, and the targets are frequently Yoder and Hauerwas, for some reason. In fact, if you'll search Google News for “John Howard Yoder” and “Stanley Hauerwas,” you'll see that 70% of the English-language results are from Mark Tooley's articles. It's almost as if he's on a smear campaign targeted at Dr. Hauerwas. Yet despite this laser focus, you'll never see Tooley interact substantively with any topic he delves into.

    From this article specifically, I would point to the quote “mainstream Jewish and Christian ethics have always chiefly addressed the real world, not an imagined ideal.” For one thing, there is no such defined thing as “mainstream Jewish and Christian ethics.” The very phrase denies the centrality of Jesus as God to Christian faith and practice. Secondly, it assumes that whatever undefined thing Tooley is arguing against — which appears to be an amalgam of the pacifist beliefs of Taylor, Yoder, Hauerwas, and the “evangelical left” — is only concerned with “an imagined ideal” instead of the real world. Since it's unclear what the referent “such utopian pacifism” means, I can't argue in favor of it, but I can say that Hauerwas and Yoder are/were quite concerned with pacifism in the “real world.” The real world is the one that God came into as a man in order to save and heal. If this doesn't inform our every action, then we can't claim it as reality.

    Also, Tooley refers to “traditional Christian Just War teachings” as an alternative to this undefined pacifism that he's countering, without giving us any idea what he's talking about. Does that mean the Catholic standard of Jus ad bellum/Jus in bello? Does that mean Augustine's own vague concept? Either way, the implication is that “Just War teachings” are traditional, and pacifism is newfangled. In reality, Christian pacifism predates Augustine's writing on warfare — he was attemping to refute the pacifism that had been part of Christian practice since the days of Jesus, because he couldn't imagine human civilization surviving into the future without the Roman Empire. And if we're looking at the Catholic concept — which would make sense since it's the only really detailed just war theory I know of in Christian theology — then we have the problem of Mark Tooley's own position. The Catholic bishops evaluating the Iraq war on the basis of their theory have declared it unjust, yet Tooley has continued the laud the war effort regardless.

    So, Tooley is basically a polemicist — demonizing his opponents without bothering to refute their positions accurately or even clarify his own. I personally think the church doesn't need that kind of behavior.

  • Ian

    The difficulty with the Pacifist position is that the God of the Bible is called the Lord of Hosts – lit Lord of Armies. So how does one be a true pacifist when your God has armies!

  • Lazlo H.

    Actually, that's one of the reasons many people are pacifists: refusing the use of violence is a way of recognizing that humans are not God. Only God has the proper right to give and take life. That God is called the Lord of Armies is evidence that we humans should not assemble armies ourselves. God's armies appear to be quite different from ours: “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!'” That doesn't sound to me like it's talking about a group of human beings, but rather some sort of supernatural army.

    “Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.”

  • Phil

    Have I missed something. Wasn't Jesus asked to call down the angel armies? By whom? Have I missed something: Wasn't Jesus killed unjustly by a violent anti-semitic state? To then suggest that the violent death of innocent Christians for the sake of the Kingdom is immoral (the christians being immoral) becomes problematic.

    Another thought. If the church in Germany understood who Jesus was, over against patriotism and self protection, do you think the Nazi's could ever have got a foothold? Do you think that if the church in Europe would have rejected anti-semitic lies (over centuries) so many "Christians" could have looked the other way? Whilst we must live with real politics and the world as it is – we are called as followers of Christ to imagine the world differently and not blindly follow the common sense view.