Lindsey: On Privilege and Pacifism

This article originally appeared on the blog of Heretic, the magazine of We Are Libertarians.

I am a pacifist.

I believe that when Jesus said “turn the other cheek”, He meant it; that when Jesus said “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”, He meant it; that when Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, He meant every word he said. If you choose to look at the teachings of Jesus from this perspective, it’s clear that humans are meant to love each other, unconditionally. I’m not about to claim that this is something I do, but it is something I try to strive for (with varying degrees of success).

When I came to view unconditional love as an important goal, I could no longer ever view violence in a positive light. Even when violence is used in defense, or in other ways generally accepted by the law and society, it’s still a tragedy. In my mind, I don’t see how I can love one someone unconditionally while at the same time using force against them, in an effort to harm them. I don’t believe that unconditional love and violence can coexist.

Perhaps second only to struggle to be a consistent pacifist is the struggle to resist being a privileged pacifist. It’s easy to preach pacifism when my skin color doesn’t lead to persistent abuse and harassment from the police. It’s easy to preach pacifism when my body isn’t being deliberately pummeled by tear gas canisters. It’s easy to preach pacifism when my ability to live and thrive isn’t threatened daily by this world’s systems and powers.

It’s never surprised me that conservatives would scoff my convictions. It did surprise me when the sneers at the very mention of pacifism came from the left though. I hadn’t yet thought the thoughts I mentioned above, and did not realize that many pacifists are really just fair-weather pacifists: their privileged lives mean that they very rarely, if ever, are actually faced with violence so the choice of pacifism is one they can take lightly, due to their privilege, in order to maintain a haughty, snooty sense of enlightened, liberal smugness.

The reality of pacifism (at least a pacifism born from Christ) is that it is (or should be) the opposite of privilege.

I need to check myself. If my pacifism is truly emerged from my belief in Jesus and commitment to His ways, this means that my pacifism must be defined by the true witness of witness of Jesus, and not the other way around. What I mean by this is that I should be modeling my pacifism off of Jesus’, rather than seeking to form my interpretation of the Gospels around a cushy, privileged form of first-world pacifism.

If I take true Christian pacifism seriously, I will both have and provoke serious enemies. I will make a mockery of and satirize the pageantry and customs of the elite state and capital powers. I will be divisive, in secular and religious circles. I will align myself with the marginalized against those with power. I will practice civil disobedience, when needed in order to do good. And yes, Christian Pacifism will largely render null my bourgeois notions of “property violence”.

My pacifism must accommodate the whole life of Jesus – the radical, the confronter, the unafraid, the temple stormer, the leveler. If it doesn’t then I need to look inside myself and determine where my core ethic truly comes from, whether that’s a desire for civility, being agreeable and liked, rejecting polarization, over-valuing comfort and social standing, etc.

I am one-hundred percent convinced that Jesus commands His followers to be pacifists. I am also now one-hundred percent convinced that true Christian pacifism leaves little (if any) room for comfort and privilege.

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Founder & Editor of WAL Reader |
Christian Anarchism, Star Wars, and Pizza Enthusiast |
Southwest Missourian, Book Lover, Writer

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