In 1554, in response to his critics, Menno Simons laid down a challenge:
“Peter was commanded to sheathe his sword. All Christians are commanded to love their enemies; to do good unto those who abuse and persecute them; to give the mantle when the cloak is taken, the other cheek when one is struck. Tell me, how can a Christian defend Scripturally retaliation, rebellion, war, striking, slaying, torturing, stealing, robbing and plundering and burning cities, and conquering countries?”
Yes, do tell.
4 thoughts on “If you torture the least of these, you torture me”
When the state is doing it and not the Christian?
It’s easier to point out when a person is doing something wrong. When a system is in the wrong, it sometimes requires more wisdom to know where to point the finger.
Also plenty of war, striking, slaying, plundering and burning cities, and conquering countries in the OT. But the only violence I can recall Jesus advocating is against one’s own eye or hand that makes us sin.
Can we be in the state but not of the state? I think this is an important question to explore.
As for the Old Testament, I think it’s important to recognize, firstly, that the narratives are more descriptive than prescriptive. That they speak of how God transfromed people in their brokenness, and not necessarily of divine endorsement. And, secondly, that the high points of the Old Testament were when God’s people relied on God’s power more than their own, when they allowed God to fight for them and deferred from taking matters into their own hands. Jesus represents the culmination of this movement, the one who deferred unto death.
In many ways, I get and agree with what Simons is saying. But at the same time, it seems to me that sometimes force is necessary to put an end to an injustice. I do not believe that one can sit passively while great atrocities are enacted against other people.
Granted, I do not believe that torture or many of the other things Simons mentions are necessary to end such injustices either. But it does raise the question of how to gauge what is appropriate force to end injustice and what is inappropriate retaliation.
I think its important to recognise the difference between pacifism and passivity. They sound similar, but a closer examination reveals two very different ways of acting in the world.
Take Martin Luther King for instance, a consumate pacifist, but not one to passively sit in silence in the face of injuctice. Quite the opposite, he actively confronted injustice. He exercised power. It was just power of a different kind; emPOWERment rather than enFORCEment; power giving rather than power taking; inSPIRation rather than domination.
This is where I like the term “peace activist”, for it stresses activity. Genuine peace activism means risky engagement.
The problem with using authoritarian force to tackle injustice is that it often creates new injustices in the process of addressing existing ones. It perpetuates the cycle. Breaking the cycle requires power of a different kind.