Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Janzen and some meat to chew on...

I had an interesting conversation, this past Sunday on the idea of pacifism – especially from a Mennonite perspective. We were outside in the balmy S. Alberta afternoon barbequing some pork loin and chicken – I hope those beasts died peacefully.
We talked about peace and activism; whether the two ideas were complimentary at all. So Rob said something like this, “I think peace and evangelism (the gospel) are very closely tied together!”
I think being a peacemaker and being a pacifist are two different things. Being a peacemaker in my view is essential an activist role – often stepping in to bring conflicting parties to and understanding of peace. I think that to be a peacemaker you may require the use of force (and maybe that is a just a semantically obtuse way of saying violence). A pacifist – at least as I commonly understand the teaching as passed down from our Anabaptist roots is essentially not activist. This position would hold that efforts are made to avoid conflict at almost every cost in order to maintain peace. It honors the understanding of how we are to sacrifice our very lives and all we hold dear to the cause of Christ. Is it possible to be both peacemaker and pacifist?
When the commanding officer implicates all of humanity for the genocide in Rwanda due to our apathy over the situation, does a pacifist perspective allow us to justify our inaction? Or on the other hand can I legitimately ask my youth group to raise money to free the child slaves in South East Asia, knowing the methods used to free them are certainly not free from force. Can pacifism accurately hold us accountable for our global responsibilities? Can peacemaking really be anything more than glorified self-interest?

i never lie awake at night
hearing the whistle and whine
i never wake up sweating
from the dream of guns and screams
i never check who is following me
who is checking up on me
i never hold a white tea towel
at the end of a stick
just to cross the street
just to go outside
bullet holes on tin roofs
shells and casing – keepsakes of misses
i never have to give up my clean white bed sheets
to make a crimson flag
and so maybe it never


Ryan Dueck said...

Interesting stuff Dale, you've accurately summed up the problem in your last sentence:

"Can pacifism accurately hold us accountable for our global responsibilities? "

I remember having the same questions after I read Dallaire's book. As a responsible global citizen, and as a committed follower of Christ, what sort of response would be legitimate. Maybe sometimes "loving our neighbour" must involve violence - how else do you stop such evil? Pray harder? Be content to clean up the carnage? It just doesn't seem like anything short of a full-blown military operation agains the perpetrators of that genocide would have been acceptable.

Maybe this relates the discussion on free speech that I have been following on your blog, Gil's, and others. Free speech is a valuable thing, but the Kingdom of God calls us to a higher standard. Sometimes, this may involve the wisdom to recognize that good things (free speech, peace without violence) are not realizable here yet.

By the way, did you write the poem? If so, well done...

Incoming... said...

very perceptive ryan. we can never attain those things that we can recognize as being most honorable or good. it really shows our depravity. i sometimes get really annoyed about the postulating that happens over violence/war vs. peace/pacifism especially from people who are so convinced about their position without having any first hand experience with the subject. this is complicated stuff without easy answers. i think you pointed that out nicely - thank you! - and yes i did thanks again...

Clinton said...

"this is complicated stuff without easy answers"

Sometimes, I think that you are more optimistic than I am, Dale. There are prolonged periods of time when I'm not convinced that there are any answers, easy or other, to that question on this side of eternity. The tension between 'being a pacifist' and being an 'agent of justice' seems insurmountable.

I think it's easiest to hold a dogmatic viewpoint on most issues when one doesn't have firsthand experience with the issue. This issue is no different.

It's generally easiest to ascertain what is 'right' with the benefit of hindsight. Bush's foray into Iraq was much more palatable before the event while the presence of Weapons of Mass Destruction where a liklihood. The defeat of the Germans by the Allies in WWII was quickly portrayed as a conquest of good over evil as the extent of Hitler's crusade against the Jews came to light. This despite the fact that Allied efforts against the Germans had nothing to do with German anti-Semetism or that the Western world was almost as anti-Semetic at the time.

The question of using violence to establish justice is tricky. The variables in the equation are so numerous.
a) How do we define violence,
b) How violent are we prepared to be?
c) Who establishes what is 'just'?
d) Who is entitled to use violence to this end?
These are just a few which come to mind as I look at the Rwanda tragedy. I remember talking to survivors of the 'genocide', in particular one Tutsi woman born in Uganda. Her entire family save her had been killed in the genocide. She told me that she had forgiven the perpetrators and then went on to tell me a little of Rwanda's history. She told me that in the 1980's the then Hutu dominated government of Rwanda had offered complete amnesty to all Rwandan Tutsis living outside of Rwanda and invited them all to return home as full and equal citizens. This is when her family and numerous others returned to Rwanda. Most, however, she said, chose not to return at that time. Stating, instead, that they would return when they could govern the country. Tutsi rebels (RPF) then began to run raids across the border into Rwanda, they initiated border skirmishes and sought to destabilize the nations government with hopes and plans of overthrowing the government and taking control of the country. It was, she said, in this climate of unrest, that extremist within the government were moved to, and permitted to seek a 'permanent solution' to the political chaos which has plagued Rwanda for generations. It's easy to see who was right and who was wrong when one takes only a small segment of history into account. Where does one stop in one's quest for justice? Was it just for the majority of Rwanda's population to live in a state of perpetual unrest because a very small minority of Rwandans wanted to govern the nation? What degree of violence was permissable to stop that, assuming that was unjust?

It seems obvious that violence begets violence. That said, I tend to believe that there are instances when the option of non-violent response certainly seems to be a non-option.

"Blessed are the peacemakers"....

.... but how do we make peace?

Incoming... said...

yes you are right - there likely are no answers...
I have been trying to apprehend the cynic in me and move to other perspectives.
Any ways I really appreciate your take because when we talk about Rwanda or these other places I do feel embarrassed that I essentially am an outsider trying to "have a take" on a situation i do not have first hand knowledge of. I know all to well how damaging those thoughts and actions can be. I trust I have honored the complexity of horror that no doubt is still vivid for you.
One thing that struck me...
we do not really know the meaning of that word in a situation where no one will ever forget. forgiveness then is either greatest defeat of human dignity or the greatest power of human will to grace...
and maybe both!