This is the perception many white evangelicals have of pacifists. The emergence of evangelicals in the 20th century and their inevitable assimilation with neo-conservative ideology put them at odds with just about all the non-violent movements of the last 50 years. They labeled pacifists as “secular idealists” and “hippies” who denied America’s true place as God’s Kingdom. As a result of this culture of militant and masculine Christianity, there are plenty of well-meaning and faithful evangelical Christians who do not take pacifism and non-violence seriously, particularly in the Reformed Tradition. It is time for that to change. The Reformed tradition itself can argue for pacifism through the faithful and serious interpretation of the Bible’s creation, fall, redemption and restoration theme.
Pacifism is the positive affirmation of the superiority of peace in all scenarios. It demands non-violent action in the face of injustice and considers all human life sacred, specifically in regard to war. It is not passivism or inaction, and it is certainly not apathy towards those trapped in evil regimes.
Calvinists have long been one of the most observantly militant branches of American Christianity, for reasons that are highly complex and debated. Theologically, the story is not as militant. When God created the Garden in Genesis; it was perfect, void of sin, and Adam and Eve existed in perfect, peaceful harmony with all of God’s creation. Violence and war were brought with the fall and not a part of God’s sinless creation. Christ already came and redeemed the world through his death on the cross and he will return to restore the world back to God’s original plan, perfect peace. Pretty orthodox so far.
However, Reformed theology also teaches that redemption is not something we are passively waiting for, but one we are actively contributing to. We are kingdom builders that are presently bringing the Kingdom of Heaven down to Earth. If this is true, it has vast implications for Christian life: we have to shape our lives to match the Kingdom in which we are working to bring about. In other words, we cannot expect to further the Kingdom by actively contributing to the worldly sins of violence and war.
If this seems familiar, you would be correct. It is part of the same systemic theology that serves as the basis of the Reformed biblical justice and pro-life ethic. Human flourishing is a key part of the Gospels, including the social and economic flourishing of non-christians and secular nations. We combat systemic injustices because they diminish human flourishing, thus preventing us from effectively being kingdom builders. Further, we must go about combatting injustices in Kingdom-like ways, as human flourishing includes both the eradication of injustice, violence and war and the establishment of love centered human interactions. Not even a truly evil threat justifies deviating from our commitment to love, else we fail to do our job as faithful kingdom builders.
There is much more that could be said about pacifism that would be impossible to fit in this article. Separate arguments exist entirely for the logic and practicality of the doctrine from socioeconomic perspectives. While these are important, we know that our theology does not hinge on political logic. Human flourishing is not equal to worldly wealth and being agents of the Kingdom is no guarantee for national success. Loving our neighbor is not always logical, but neither is following a God we cannot see. However, we do both regardless because we believe the Heavenly Kingdom is greater than our own, and because we believe that creation can be restored to a glory beyond any human imagination. It is time for Reformed pacifism to make a comeback, and it starts with us.