I need to make two things clear at the start of this blog post.
First, I am a pacifist. I believe absolutely and without reservation that for me as a Christian, it is against God’s will to ever use violence against another person. More broadly, I believe conflicts in general are better resolved, and oppression better resisted, through nonviolent direct action than through violence.
Second: it costs me nothing to be a pacifist, and therefore my opinion about pacifism isn’t worth much. (You know that’s not going to stop me from writing a blog post).
It costs me nothing to be a pacifist because I am not oppressed and I have never been a victim of violence. I’ve even been lucky enough (and it is sheer luck) to avoid the kind of casual sexual assault (unwanted touching/groping, etc) that many if not most women experience at some point in their lives. It’s easy for me to be a theoretical pacifist when I have never been in a situation where violence would be a likely or necessary response. I’m an extremely privileged person in this conversation and I get no points for theoretically renouncing a weapon I’ll probably never need to use.
Not only am I not a victim of violence, I probably wouldn’t be any good at using it if I had to. I don’t know how to shoot a gun. I’m not athletic and have never taken a self-defense class. My college boyfriend tried one time to teach me how to kick someone effectively and punch someone in the face without breaking my hand, but as I never practiced those skills I have no confidence I could do either of those things effectively.
When a person with a black belt, or a person who’s a deadly aim with a gun, or a person who’s six-foot-five and three hundred pounds of sheer muscle, renounces the use of violence to solve problems, their renunciation means something. Mine means nothing. Giving up violence, for me, would be like giving up liver for Lent — it’s just not my thing.
When a person who is the victim of systemic oppression — who, because of their skin colour, their social class, their gender identity, the place where they live, is in constant danger of physical harm — when than person renounces violence, it means something. It means nothing when I renounce it.
All that being said, I am still a pacifist. You may disagree with me. A lot of people do. A lot of my fellow Christians read the same Bible I do and come away convinced that Jesus would be fine with them defending their home with a gun, serving in the military, or punching a Nazi in the face (don’t worry, we’ll get back to the Nazis). What can I say? I read Walter Wink at an impressionable age (the age was 35, but still, I was impressionable). I have immense admiration for the tactics and commitment of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others who have led highly disciplined and courageous groups of people into nonviolent direct conflict with oppressive powers. Anyone who marches into a line of armed police or military willing to take a beating without lifting a hand to fight back, is a hero in my book.
All of which was pretty theoretical, living the safe and comfortable life of privilege I live, until the last week or so. In the wake of the white nationalist march Charlottesville, Virginia, the question of whether or not to resist evil with violence is suddenly much more relevant. While I, personally, may never be called upon to punch a Nazi, should I cheer for the person who does? Should I cheer at the sight of a flamethrower burning a Confederate flag (bearing in mind that the person holding the flag could be harmed by the flamethrower)? Should protests against fascists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and their ilk (which, we’ve been promised, we’ll see more and more of, and don’t think we haven’t got them in Canada) be met solely with nonviolent resistance, like those lines of clergy in their vestments and many other peaceful resisters marching down the streets of Charlottesville. Or should there be room for the antifascist protesters who come armed and ready to fight back?