As Harvey Yoder and many others have noted, Christianity has largely jettisoned the non-violent core message of its founding figure. From the time of its enthusiastic alliance with the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th century, Christianity became an imperial and warrior religion. Only a relative handful of Christians today hold to Jesus’ central values of unconditional love and radical pacifism. Are they impossible idealists? Yes and no.

Their pacifism, representing a minority view, is not going to bring about world peace in the near future. But their vision is essential: that peaceful means can triumph in conflict zones, as in India with Gandhi, in Poland with Solidarity, in Czechoslovakia with Havel, in South Africa with Mandela.

Peaceful means would not have stopped Hitler but it seems possible, in retrospect, that the Nazis might have been prevented from their worst evils if German Catholics—undermined in the 1930s by the Papacy—and Protestants had strongly opposed Nazi anti-semitism, militarism, and imperialism. Prevention, for Christian pacifists, becomes the key to stopping wars before they break out.

So there is hope. Surprising changes in societal ways of thinking and values are possible. Witness the rise and seemingly impossible victories of the environmental movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, restorative justice as an alternative to punitive justice. Most of these seemed far-fetched as global movements just decades ago. So Christian pacifists, and Jewish, Muslim and Hindu ones, need to stand up and make themselves heard. The future of humanity hangs in the balance.

Bob Bersson


(9) comments


Pacifist or coward? Sometimes it's hard to tell who is who!


Yeah, some of the pacifists headed to Canada when the rubber hit the road; others threatened to. We might be speaking a different language if everyone felt that way.

R B Tate

And some (pacifist or not), didn't have to concern themselves with that. Just show the correct church denomination card, or even a college enrollment. And since the early 70s, very few have been conscripted at all. We all make our decisions and live with the consequences.


This is a great statement, Bob. Very provocative. I believe that one of the key challenges we face as citizens is to resist simply giving our national government a blank check when it comes to issues of war and peace. Pacifism by definition seems to provide a person with a sense of suspicion toward what often turn out to be unworthy claims by the state for our acquiescence.


Thank you Mr. Berson for this historical account of the role of unconditional love and non-violence as being at the core of Christianity in its early years. I wonder why this is followed by so few Christians?


Because if they had, there would be a lot fewer Christians?[scared][beam][whistling]

Harvey Yoder

Thanks for publishing this, Bob. According to Harvard researcher Erica Chenoweth, author of Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Non-Violent Conflict, "Countries in which there are non-violent campaigns were about ten times likelier to transition to democracies within a five-year period compared to countries in which there were violent campaigns--whether the campaigns succeeded or failed. This is because even though they 'failed' in the short term, the nonviolent campaigns tended to empower moderates or reformer within the ruling elite who gradually began to initiate changes..." War is such a tempting short term solution, but almost inevitably sows the seeds of ever more escalating and enduring violence.


Walk softly and carry a big stick.....I once asked a Jehovah witness if they would protect their children if someone was breaking into their house...their answer was they would let the lord handle it...I kicked them out immediately!

Harvey Yoder

Not all pacifists are passive-ists, and would do everything physically possible to defend their loved ones, short of killing another human being or bombing the intruder's neighborhood to bits.

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