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.)

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Posted by Andrew Walker

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


  1. Is it possible to avoid the contradiction by believing that it is fair and appropriate in the kingdom of this world’s worldview for governments to protect their property and interests through force and yet believe that Christ established a different kingdom, one that demonstrated and advocated that non-violence and self-sacrificial love, even in the face of torture and persecution is the way this kingdom will operate? Are those two separate issues or are the inextricably linked in your understanding?


  2. ANDREW: You talk about spending “most of [your] college education and the first semester of seminary as a convinced pacifist.” Who or what convinced you of pacifism? Were you convinced by exegetical and hermeneutical arguments? Theological arguments? I’m not a pacifist, but the best theological case that I’ve read on the subject is Stanley Hauerwas’s PERFORMING THE FAITH: BONHOEFFER AND THE PRACTICE OF NONVIOLENCE.


  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Camille Apple Prieto, Mark Tooley. Mark Tooley said: (Mark Tooley on Religious Pacifism | Mere Orthodoxy) […]


    1. Christopher,

      Good question. Keep in mind that there was, as it were, a level of impressionism that sought to be rogue and/or doctrinaire from my conservative upbringing. That said, the contributions to my pacifism were a confluence of Richard Hays chapter on nonviolence in his magisterial “Moral Vision of the NT” + Greg Boyd’s “Myth of a Christian Nation” + heavy doses of Stanley Hauerwas.

      For me, pacifism was more exegetical than theological. To this day, I am still sympathetic with the theological contributions of pacifism, though I ultimately reject them. Hays’ view of the eschatological nature of pacifism is very enticing.


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  5. I have not read “Myth of a Christian Nation”, but I frown on the whole genre after reading “The Search for Christian America” by Noll. I’m a bit skeptical of Boyd so I didn’t bother with his. Even with Noll’s good scholarship in the end they define what they mean by “Christian nation” without enough clarity and spend the entire book refuting a view that few hold, while advancing arguments their scholarship does’t support. In the end my rather harsh judgment is that young students get about the same sort of knowing skepticism from this type of book you’d get in a public school history class along with various liberal political ideas thrown in.


  6. Andrew! What’s a brotha gotta do to get a response? ;)


  7. Josh: Well I’m not Andrew but here’s my two cents. You can usually avoid contradictions at the theoretical level by separations of one sort or another; the problem is not at the same time dividing them in ways that depict the whole as something other than what it is. What does it mean to be in the world and not of the world? What does it mean that the Kingdom of God has come? I’m doubtful a separation can be formulated such that you could avoid the contradiction and have a coherent view of the world left.

    True non-violence isn’t possible since the society depends upon it, even within families, so how you’d formulate a principle where you could deny the type you want to exclude from the type you want to allow is the trick –an impossible one in my view. In contrast, sacrificial-love can be practiced in any of life’s circumstances in any place, and even in the midst of evil. So in my opinion I don’t see that separating the world’s interests from God’s interests into autonomous spheres works. I would call it a separation into a sacred/secular and I think that view is harmful.


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