I am a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, which naturally means I am a Christian pacifist. I refuse to use violence against my enemies or intentionally harm them in any way, even if they harm me. I will love my enemies, I will die for my enemies, but I will never kill my enemies.
In fact, since Jesus lived a life of nonviolence (see the inconvenient things we call the Gospel accounts), taught his disciples to live lives of nonviolence (you might want to skip Matthew 5 or Luke 6), and both Jesus and later New Testament writers tell us that we are to follow in the example of Jesus even if it results in suffering (John 13:15, 1 Peter 2:21, 1 John 2:6); I have no idea how one can be a Christian and not be a Christian pacifist. While I express a certain ambivalence on it, Jesus spoke more forcefully, saying a commitment to nonviolent enemy love was a requirement of being considered a child of God.
To be a Christian yet to reject the centrality of living a life of nonviolent enemy love would be as silly as saying “I am a Republican who believes in big government, a small military, and abortion on demand.”
It just wouldn’t make sense — and claiming to be a Christian yet rejecting the calling to nonviolence doesn’t make sense, either.
Those of us who have decided to follow and obey the example of Jesus in this way frequently face harsh backlash from the American Christian Machine. While the vile speech slung at us by Americanized Christians is vast, the most common name we as Jesus followers are called is that of a coward.
I’ve been called a coward a thousand times.
My commitment to preserving life and not participating in death somehow makes me a coward to the American Christian Machine. My refusal to pick up a gun, place a human being in the sites and pull the trigger somehow makes me a coward to this machine that spins and turns in a motion that does not represent Jesus.
The reverse, they say, is what I should do to be brave and courageous: I should be like every other “good” American and have a gun locked and loaded so that I am prepared on a moment’s notice to gun down anyone who breaks into my house to try to steal my television.
Beyond the theological requirement to commit to nonviolence in order to become a Christian, let’s just focus on the argument Christian gun-slingers make: Christian pacifists are cowards.
Let’s see if that’s actually true.
The dictionary describes coward as: “A person who lacks the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things; one who is afraid of danger or pain.”
I’m sorry, folks, but that’s not a description of a Christian pacifist. A Christian pacifist isn’t afraid of danger or pain — in fact, Christian pacifists have committed to endure danger and endure pain, to the point of DEATH, in order to obey Jesus.
Cowards? How do you call someone a coward who is willing to die for a stranger she’s never met? How do you call one a coward who is prepared to lay down his life at a moment’s notice?
Becoming a Christian pacifist is only for the brave and least cowardly among us.
It is only for those willing to risk what Jesus said when he taught, “those who lose their lives will find them, but those who seek to save their lives will lose them.”
Beyond the opposite of cowardly, Jesus said that the greatest love someone could have is the willingness to die for others. Thus, not only are Christian pacifists not cowards, but they are the ones committed to a love that Jesus said was actually greater than all the other love in the world.
So, let’s talk about the Christian gun-slingers on the internet who repeatedly call me a coward.
Why do they carry a gun under their shirts? Why do they stock up on ammo and practice shooting at cut-outs of human beings?
Well, they do it because they are “afraid of danger,” and as we just saw, being afraid of danger, being unwilling to endure pain, is what actually makes one a coward. Furthermore, Christian gun-slingers carry guns in order to kill — not so that they can lay their lives down for another. To carry a gun is to be afraid of facing danger all on your own. To carry a gun is to give into fear and find the teachings of Jesus too risky, too costly, too self-sacrificial.
Thus, not only is this cowardly, but it’s less than the beautiful, ultimate love Jesus called us to — because the greatest love is to have the courage to die and give your life up so that another might live. The “greatest love” has everything to do with dying, and nothing to do with killing.
I am a Christian pacifist not because it is easy — it’s not. I knew when I made this commitment to follow Jesus it might be a death sentence, just as he warned.
A commitment to nonviolence is not safe, it does not offer one security, and it is a commitment that begins with a willingness to one day potentially die for someone I don’t even know.
Nothing about that is cowardly. In fact, this decision has taken more courage than any other decision I’ve made in my lifetime.
So, if you’re a Christian gun-slinger who calls the people who live like Jesus cowards, just be careful — it’s a case of pointing one finger just to have four fingers pointing right back at you.
Benjamin L. Corey, an Anabaptist author, speaker and blogger from Auburn, Maine, is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus. This first appeared on his blog, Formerly Fundie, where he discusses the intersection of faith and culture from a progressive/emergent/neo-Anabaptist vantage point.