A Third Way?

6:30am is not usually a good time of day for in-depth conversations, even over coffee.  But, this morning I had a good chat with a couple of friends.  We were getting together to talk about a book we are reading together (I think that’s called a book club, but that sounds like something 40-60 year old women do), called “Who Is My Enemy” by Lee Camp.  The book is about Christianity and Islam, but that’s not entirely what our conversation was about.

The fourth chapter of the book explores the blanket non-violent position of the early church for the first four centuries of its existence prior to Constantine.  The author documents a story of a young man named Maximillian who resisted serving in the Roman army to the point of being put to death.  His reason?  “My service is to to my Lord.  I cannot serve the powers of this world.  I have just said that I am a Christian.”

There are quotes from guys with cool names like Tertullian, Dionysius, Athenagoras, and Cyprian.  Tertullian said, “The Lord, in disarming Peter, un-belted every soldier.” So we started talking about Christian non-violence and pacifism, and wondering about how and why Christians have such a broad spectrum of views on war and violence when Jesus seemed to be so clear about it (“Love your enemies” comes to mind).

Eric, my friend who works with urban youth here in Peoria, shared about a student he knows who is a Christian and just graduated from high school.  This student is moving in two days to go to boot camp.  He enlisted in the Army because he didn’t see any other options for himself to get out of his present situation: poor, un-skilled, and under-educated.

Why is this?  How is it so easy for young Christians to choose to enlist in an institution that makes war on other nations?  Why is this his only option?

We started talking about why poor students are taught a narrative that says that enlisting in the armed forces is their only/best option for breaking the cycle.  Granted, the GI Bill is a great thing, and many poor students enlist in order to hopefully attend college someday.  But, in the meantime, they have to compromise Christian standards (such as loving your enemy) for however many years until they can receive aid for college.

I wondered aloud, and I am still wondering, if there is a third way in this narrative.  Could a young Christian, with a goal of receiving government help for their schooling, enlist in the Army and refuse to learn techniques for killing enemy combatants?  Can they be in the armed forces but refuse to bear arms?  I don’t know.  And I don’t understand why the church isn’t helping young people understand non-violence and helping poor students break the cycle by finding alternative ways to receive education or a better life.

I am aware that many of my fellow Christians believe that non-violence and pacifism are not necessary to being a follower of Jesus.  I disagree.  And I think we need to have more conversations about how to bring peace to this earth by refusing to make war or support de-regulation of weapons in this country.

What would be different in this world if the whole church, especially the church in America, decided to search for a third way, refused to wield weapons of war or carry concealed weapons (even for “protection”), and worked together to fight for peace at any cost?

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9 thoughts on “A Third Way?

  1. Certainly one can join the armed forces in capacities where using weapons isn’t required, such as chaplains and medical corps. They would still have to pass weapons proficiencies in boot camp, but after that they would only be required to carry or use them in a defensive emergency.

    I do agree with you that to join and work in an organization that exists to make war, even though it’s always rationalized as “national defense”, requires compromising Christian principles. But hey, people also choose to get divorced, and to own more than they need, and to allow the hungry to stay hungry, and the poor to lack clothes. Hardly any modern Christians outside of cloistered communities follow in Jesus’ footsteps very closely. Most of us believers are only paying lip service, not even tithing.

    I guess I must hope with you that there’s a third way, a path allowing us to be in the world without becoming too worldly. I think about it a lot.

  2. Thanks Jeff! This is a discussion that we cannot shy away from. It’s frustrating how divisive it’s become within the Church. I wrestle with how much to even bring it up because of this but it’s unnerving how hateful, unapologetic, and graceful we’ve become. We want cut and dry answers and don’t have patience for “third way” creativity. We need to start trying and recognize where our loving Father is pulling us…

  3. Interesting post and great topic of discussion.I am always a fan of seeking a third way for decisions that are typically painted as two options. I think that one reason why the church (the typical American church) has not found a third way is cause it does not identify with the pasifism of the early church or Christ’s teaching on the matter. There is no drive to come up with a solution or even ask the questions if it is not a problem in their mind.

    1. Unreal. I agree. I say unreal because my friend Ty (right above you) re-posted my blog on his Facebook and received all sorts of crazy comments about Jesus teaching us to use self-defense, that sometimes violence is necessary, got offended at apparent bashing of military service, and that we need to consider the whole Bible not just Jesus. It’s an “I’m American and a Christian” problem.

    2. “There is no drive to come up with a solution or even ask the questions if it is not a problem in their mind.”

      Well said Sonya. I don’t think the problem is that people are engaging these issues and remaining unconvicted, but that they aren’t engaging them at all. I like to think that discussions like this make people think, but who knows?

  4. Nice post! The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium by Walter Wink addresses the idea of a “third way”. One of the book’s sections is “Jesus’ Third Way”. I think you might find it interesting.

    1. Thanks! Just to throw a book suggestion back to you, try to find Chris Hedges’ “War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning”. He lands in a similar place from the perspective of a journalist rather than a theologian. Difficult and interesting read.

  5. Predictably, I’m going to reference Shane Claiborne here. The Simple Way has made efforts to provide scholarships to young, poor kids whose only other alternative is the military. And I’ve heard countless stories out of their community about soldiers who’ve come to believe in nonviolence who have served as medics, cooks, etc in an attempt to faithfully serve out their commitments alongside their convictions. And of course, the most scandalous, they have a ministry to awol and others out of the service who are seeking counseling and restoration from the damage done to their souls in the battles they’ve engaged. I love the idea of “divine creativity” and think the Spirit of God would be more than willing to pour a little of that imagination out on His people seeking a third way for poor youth seeking betterment through Christian faithfulness.

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