taking the words of Jesus seriously

Recently a pastor wrote an article about why God is not a pacifist. Not only so, he argued that Jesus (the “God-human”) is also not a pacifist and never taught such. He went on to claim that Jesus wasn’t a “pansy, ”[1] as though being a pacifist equates one to this derogatory title. [Note: I, personally think, that such a word that has caused many folks shame, is not one to throw around. I use it in this article with that conviction.] Jesus is a man’s man.

Those who want to portray Jesus as a pansy or a pacifist are prone to be very selective in the parts of the Bible they quote. But the God of the bloody Old Testament is Jesus Christ. When he became a man, he walked the earth as a working-class carpenter. The European, long-haired, dress-wearing, hippie Jesus is a bad myth from a bad artist who mistook Jesus for a community college humanities professor.” (Source)

I’ve read two responses that do a good overall job of dealing with the theological flaws of this argument. Check out Preston Sprinkle’s article and Greg Boyd’s article. I’ve also written numerous blogs on why I’m convinced that Jesus and the early church in fact taught nonviolence (see my series Nonviolence 101). Therefore, I have zero intentions of defending nonviolent resistance at a theological level. For me, it’s a given. This article is seeking to draw out the implications for discipleship. In what follows, I want to offer two observations to consider, based on the logic of the above-mentioned quotation and article.

#1 Pacifism (or nonviolence) is not a “pansy” perspective

The nonviolence of the Scriptures (which is foretold in the prophets and enacted in Jesus and the early church) has little to do with cowardice. In fact, cowardice is contrary to the God who invites us to allow “perfect love to cast out all fear.” To be a coward, although not to be judged, is to not fully grasp what it means to be a pacifist.

Related: Mark Driscoll’s Badass Jesus – by Craig M. Watts

In Matthew 5, for instance, where Jesus invites his followers to peacefully combat evil, he says: “But I say to you: don’t use violence to resist evil!” In other words, there exist other means to resist evil. Violence and passivity are not the only options; we can stand up in the face of evil – unarmed! Think about it. Such a move takes more bravery and creativity that the binary options of violence and passivity.

Think here of Gandhi or those in the company of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Would we say that those who peacefully marched or did sit-ins in the 60s were “pansies?” No way! They modeled what true heroism looks like – loving your oppressors even when they bomb, beat, imprison, degrade, kill, or harass you. Sounds a lot like Jesus: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5.44-45 CEB). Being lovers of enemies looks more like civil rights activists in the 60s and a lot less like beating the hell out of our oppressors. This is the Jesus way.

Even the Apostle Paul agrees with Jesus in numerous places. One oft-overlooked passage is in Ephesians 6 where Paul reminds us that our battle for justice is not against “flesh and blood” but rather against the “principalities and powers.” Based on the ways in which Paul draws this out in the rest of the passage (making various allusions to Hebrew Scriptures where God is a warrior who fights for the oppressed), it is clear that Paul invites us to metaphorically wear God’s armor as we nonviolently fight against injustice which is fueled by evil invisible forces. [For more on this, see this paper.] Warfare is no longer with physical weapons but is fueled by the God who empowers us to walk into dark situations as unarmed ambassadors of peace, justice, and hope. Again, the point is this: it takes MORE courage to choose beyond the binary options of passivity and violence – not less.

#2 If Jesus is in fact a pacifist as a human, we ought to be too, which might mean being called “pansy”

The call to discipleship is the invitation to follow Jesus as Lord and rabbi. A disciple, by definition, seeks to become like their rabbi. This is often referred to as Christlikeness. The more we become like Jesus, the more we will be able to partner with God in the restoration of all things and thereby become more fully human.

So, when we think of Jesus, we have a choice to make if we are truly committing our lives to follow him. Either he taught nonviolent resistance or he did not. If he did, according to the above quote from that other article, then he would be deemed a “pansy.” And if this is what it means to be a “pansy, ” then all Christians ought to become “pansies” as well. This is going to be a counterintuitive and irrational move for those who have been conditioned by the ways of the world[2] (and some forms of theology), but embracing this sort of pansy pacifist identity is part of identifying with the way of Jesus. The cross exemplifies this summons to foolishness. Paul states the following:

In God’s wisdom, he determined that the world wouldn’t come to know him through its wisdom. Instead, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of preaching. Jews ask for signs, and Greeks look for wisdom,  but we preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But to those who are called—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom. (1 Corinthians 1.21-24)

The cross is the ultimate model of what it looks like to love our enemies and to choose to overcome evil with good. Jesus dying on the cross for the very people who betrayed him and for the very culture that crucified him (Israel and Rome) is a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. Yet, this God demonstrated a deeper wisdom – evil is conquered not by violence, but ultimately through love. And however we might nuance this reality of the Kingdom of God, we find another Apostle – Peter – inviting us to understand the cross as the ultimate paradigm of discipleship. First Peter 2.21ff reminds disciples:

You were called to this kind of endurance, because Christ suffered on your behalf. He left you an example so that you might follow in his footsteps. He committed no sin, nor did he ever speak in ways meant to deceive. When he was insulted, he did not reply with insults. When he suffered, he did not threaten revenge. Instead, he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.

No matter our lot in life, whether a slave in the 1st century or a writer in the 21st, as disciples the cross is our model for what it means to follow Jesus – to “carry your cross.” Being insulted, being referred as “pansies, ” is what worldly wisdom will offer us for the decision to choose peace over the sword. But rest assured, Jesus is no “pansy” in the sense that such a word was utilized in that other article. No, Jesus conquered death and evil through self-sacrificial love!

Also by Kurt: Following Jesus, The Best Gun Control Ever!

In the case of the cross and of discipleship – nonviolence courageously wins against evil – even when the evil of worldly wisdom seems to have the upper hand in gruesome situations. To be a disciple is to allow the presence of Christ to transform our character into the kind of people who are willing to “follow in his footsteps.”

Courageously Following Jesus

Even if we are considered “pansies” as pacifists, no insult should hold us back from following our crucified Lord. Resurrection is on the other side of the cross, so even when hope looks bleak, it remains. If Jesus is a pansy pacifist, I want to be one too. We don’t allow what seems rational to define what it means to follow our rabbi; we follow because he is who we want to be. Such an approach to life actually requires more courage, not less, because we are refusing to play by worldly rules.

So here’s my invitation to the broader church: let’s become known as pansiespacifists! Not only out of obedience to the teachings of Jesus but also because the world is literally dying for a better way of being human.

[1] The word pansy has been used to marginalize various peoples who refuse to give dignity to people who are different than standard gender stereotypes. This word, in this usage, needs to never graze our lips. I’m using it subversively only because of how it was used in the article I referenced.

[2] To be clear: When I use the language of “world” or “worldly” in a negative sense, I mean the mentality or culture of the world as it presently is, not as it will be. In other words, I have zero desire to see the church involved in theologies predicated on some sort of belief that this world is one to be abandoned (in some version of a rapture) for the hope of spiritual bliss in heaven. The Scriptures speak to the opposite – that heaven will one day come to earth to restore all things.

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