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Mark Tooley on Religious Pacifism

December 13th, 2010 | 2 min read

By Andrew Walker

Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, has an excellent article up at The American Spectator on the Religious Establishment's increasingly pacifist ethic.

This issue is of particular significance to me as I spent most of my college education and the first semester of seminary as a convinced pacifist. Like all other pacifists, I was aware of the inconsistencies and troubling conclusions of my pacifism, but I continued to spew it in the tone of enlightenment. Then, as is the case with many impressionable ignoramuses, I came to encounter the readings of C.S. Lewis on the issue of war, Darrel Cole's When God Says War is Right, and consequently, I gave up my impregnable pacifist hermeneutic in my reading of the New Testament.

Tooley's piece is a brief discussion of an exchange between Ben Witherington and Lawson Stone. As Stone so capably notices, the purist and pacifist ethic of Witherington fails to make important distinctions in the relative values of coercion. Coercion, for pacifists like Yoder, is the persona non grata in pacifist ethics. Stone states,

If one believes in government provided health-care and basic income guarantees, one believes in coercion. Violence and war are just the most conspicuous forms of coercion.

Tooley, no stranger to the onslaught of Social Gospel liberalism within his own Methodist denomination, links this with the more consequential (and subtle) implications of welcoming a coercive ethic for governmental-sanctioned entitlements (which require ever-increasing taxation), but eschewing it for government-sanctioned violence. As the contradiction becomes clearer, it is apparent that many within the Evangelical Left advocate government taxation, and yet deny the government's unequivocal right to protect itself.

This latter point is widely ignored by many contemporary Christian pacifists, legions of whom avidly support an ever wider and more coercive welfare and regulatory state. For them, Caesar's sword may seize the health care system, levy confiscatory taxes, minutely regulate personal habits, and impose various visions of multiculturalism, with enthusiastic cheerleading from Christians. But Caesar must be condemned, or at least denied cooperation, for any forceful coercion of terrorists or other violent malefactors.

Insights like these continue to remove the edifices of pacifism and demonstrate its illusory affair with reality. If coercion is always bad, then excessive taxation in the form of coercion ought always be bad, too.

The problems, however, are removed when balancing the New Testament declaration of the State's right to both taxation and policing (Romans 13:1-7). It's unfortunate, then, that our pacifist brethren choose to permit one form of coercion and overlook another.

(As a side note, if you're not already, you need to be reading everything Mark Tooley writes. He's an important voice for evangelical renewal within Methodism and combatting stalemated liberalism within his denomination. For the sake of ease, here's an easy RSS link to his material at The Spectator.)

Andrew Walker

Andrew T. Walker is an Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.