The True Pacifist
from a 1917 essay by Vida Dutton Scudder.
The only true pacifist is he who sees that no campaign against war can be effective which views war in isolation. He is forced by the exigency of the times into a constructive social radicalism; his vision travels past the battlefield, past the political relationships of nations. These are to him part of a universal struggle, result of a system that drives peoples, classes, and individuals alike, into a defensive and potentially hostile attitude towards one another. Faith in brotherhood, however ardent, will not prevent war till it prevents also what lies behind war, and the and the search for peace will be an affair of words and sentiment only, till peace be construed as no mere cessation of military hostilities, but as the emancipation and reconstruction of human relationships on a basis of harmony. So long as conflicting interests are the ruling principle of the economic order, it is hopeless to expect the political order to escape the curse of war. To point this out, to link war with the whole causal circle where it belongs -- here is the great opportunity of the pacifist. He will deserve the nobler name of peacemaker just in proportion as he can press this truth home to the world.
Free Enterprise and War
Appendix VI to Discerning the Lord's Body, by F. Hastings Smyth. Louisville, The Cloister Pr., 1946.
Note that when we are forced by the present terrible world situation to think about a remedy in terms of a larger international cooperation, we still keep insisting that such cooperation must not transcend or override "purely" national self-interest. This is of course a completely self-contradictory way of thinking.
The root of the difficulty is that international political cooperation can be achieved only among national units which are themselves organized upon a cooperative economic basis. National competitive capitalist organization of the material means of production and distribution requires international imperialist economic competition, both for markets and for sources of raw materials.
This kind of international competition leads quite unavoidably to wars. Any proposal for organizing for international peace while this economic system prevails must be largely unreal. It is necessarily a mer bandying of words. For political forces always reflect economic forces. The political system is always the handmaid of the economic system. Hence competitive economics require competitive politics in the international scene. War, according to the acknowledged authority of Karl von Clausewitz, is only the continuation of political action by other means. Open warfare is therefore the inevitable and logical outcome of that veiled economic warfare now admired under the formula of "Free Enterprise."
Imperialist international competition which leads to war does not result from the fact that "wicked people" deliberately choose this evil course in spite of the fact that peaceful solutions are open to them. Peaceful solutions often are not open to the international conflicts of interests between capitalist nations. They are not always open even to conflicting economic group interests within delimited national areas. To this all civil wars -- the United States Civil War in particular -- bear historical witness. War could not be avoided within an unmitigated capitalist economy even if the angels themselves attempted to operate it.
Because continuing international peace is illogical among nations which are internally organized on the basis of economic competition, it is our own economic system which needs to be attacked by Christians. Without this, the attempted moral reform of individuals is worse than useless. Its inevitable failure to bring a remedy to the basic situation and to prevent war leads to frustration and defeatism among those who pin their hopes to the Christian "conversion" of individuals, while leaving untouched the basically contradictory problem which the capitalist organization of our material productive forces presents. Hence Christians who now maintain that their religion is indifferent to the economic organization within which they live have fallen into a confusion arising from an ignorance in this day both indefensible and inexcusable.
A homily by Emmett Jarrett, TSSF.
Gandhi wrote: "By a long process of prayerful discipline I have ceased over forty years to hate anybody." This quotation comes from a little book called Peacemaking Day by Day, which is published by Pax Christi. It is the quotation for December 28, so I read it last Sunday, and it has stuck with me all week long. The year starts over again for peacemakers as for everyone else, and so yesterday I came across another Gandhi quotation:
We may never be strong enough to be entirely nonviolenct in thought, word and deed. But we must keep nonviolence as our goal and make strong progress towards it. The attainment of freedom, whether for a person, a nation or a world, must be in exact proportion to the attainment of nonviolence for each.
As I look back on the last year, and on all the years of my own life, I am compelled to face up to the fact that I have not attained Christian nonviolence in my life. But, on the positive side, I am still trying, still practicing "a long process of prayerful discipline," which I believe will lead me to the life of Christian nonviolence, to the attainment of freedom for myself and the community I live in, and to the gift of God's grace which is not only not to hate anybody but to love all of my sisters and brothers perfectly. I am ambitious in the cause of Christ!
My New Year's resolution, then, is to take Gandhi --and the Gospel --more closely to heart in my own life, both personally and corporately, both in my own prayer and in my relationships with others. And there is no other place for me to start than here, with my own congregation: Specifically, I resolve, here and now, in your presence, "to keep nonviolence as my goal and make strong progress towards it." I do this publicly, with you as my witnesses, because I will not be able to accomplish the goal without the help of my community. But more importantly because if you do not also take nonviolence as your goal, as my fellow Christians and the community I live in and with, then I will not have a,prayer of success. So I invite you to share my New Year's resolution, and to join me so that together we can, with God's help, "keep nonviolence as our goal and make strong progress towards it." So that we can all be free, and can enjoy the freedom which our Savior Christ by his incarnation, life, death and resurrection has won for us.
My text for this Second Sunday after Christmas is "Out of Egypt have I called my son," from today's Gospel reading. Matthew relates that after the magi had come to Bethlehem and worshipped Jesus, giving him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they were warned in a dream not to return to King Herod in Jerusalem, as they had planned, but to return home by another route. Joseph also was warned in a dream that Herod was about to search for the child whose birth had been prophesied in Scripture, in order to murder him. So Joseph took Mary and the child and fled to Egypt, and remained there until he learned that Herod had died and there was a new king in Jerusalem. Matthew understands these events as the fulfillment of prophecy from the Hebrew scriptures, specifically Hosea 11:1, which refers to the people of Israel as God's "son," whom the Lord had rescued from slavery in Egypt, the land of oppression for the Jewish people.
What we have here, if we dig our way down deep enough beneath the sentimental misinterpretations of the flight into Egypt, is a story of refugees, a story of people forced by political persecution to leave their country, their town, their friends and profession, their daily habits of life, their religion --everything that makes life seem good and secure to all of us --and become exiles, refugees, displaced persons, homeless, the victims of violence and oppression in the world. It isn't cute to think of Joseph walking beside the donkey with Mary and the Babe, plodding slowly over twilit roads into a rich, exotic and mysterious foreign country. They probably didn't have a donkey! They certainly didn't make their reservations with a travel agent or put up at the Nile Hilton! No, the Holy Family were victims of violence from the moment of our Savior's birth. God became human in order to overcome the alienation from God which we experience as our human life, and that had to take form in practical ways. Jesus "lived and died as one of us," and that meant he had to experience alienation, exile, and violence.
Some time later King Herod died, and Joseph was again instructed in a dream to take his family and return to the land of Israel. But he did not return to Judea, where Jesus had been born. He went rather to the distrJct of Galilee and settled in Nazareth. There Mary and Joseph lived and raised their child until the time when he went into the desert and was baptized and began his public ministry. Jesus, like his parents, experienced uprootedness. Born in one place, picked up and moved, then set down in a new place, not of his own choosing, he knew the rootlessness that is our human lot. He experienced the violence of having his life changed radically without his consent, perhaps without understanding what was happening. Violence, as we know, is not only political, but personal, not merely cosmic but intimate.
And yet that violence which our Lord experienced as a baby and in his childhood was somehow turned to God's purposes. Joseph did not vainly rage against the injustice which Herod inflicted on his family. Perhaps he understood it in some fuller way, and was able to trust God to bring good out of the evil he and his family experienced. Mary, we are told by St. Luke (2:19), "kept all these things, pondering them in her heart." The important thing is that they responded to the violence inflicted upon them with nonviolence. They didn't do the obvious thing, and lash out against the oppressor, but found a creative way to turn oppression into something else. Thereby they lived, survived until another day, and we able to act in obedience to God for the fulfillment of the divine purpose, which is our salvation. The example of the Holy Family, especially in the stories of the flight into Egypt and the re- turn to Israel and settlement in "Galilee of the Gentiles," is a good example of a nonviolent response to violence and oppression, of trust in God when we don't see clearly what God is doing but know that we must at all costs trust God rather than rely on our own counterviolence. The power of God is present in Jesus the infant ~on of Mary, and God chooses for himself the way of nonviolence. The example of Jesus, of Mary and Joseph, is the example of nonviolent love overcoming evii with good. St. Matthew, looking at these events later, in the light of all that happened in the life and ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, sees the flight into Egypt as part of the Biblical pattern of salvation. Matthew's poetic mind, seeking to understand God's purpose and meaning in these events, recalls that Israel had been enslaved in Egypt and God, who chose to become Israel's parent, delivered the people from oppression and brought them into the Promised Land. Jesus, who is the new Israel, is also appropriately called "out of Egypt" to become God's "son." As Moses fled from Pharoah, who was killing Israelite children, so Jesus must flee from Herod, who killed the holy innocents. As Moses, the leader of Israel, returned to Egypt to lead the people to freedom, so Jesus goes to Egypt in order to return and lead Israel, and the whole human family, to the freedom of God's love into a new status as children of a loving God.
Like Matthew, who prayerfully sought the meaning of the life of Jesus in Scripture and meditation, we too can seek the meaning of our life in prayer and reflection upon the Scriptures that tell us the story of our salvation, of God's love for us and God's choice of us as individuals and as the people of God. For me, in this time of resolution and new hope, of putting away not only past failures but failed resolutions from the past, it seems a time to choose the life of Christian nonviolence. It means trying to see our Christian stories through the eyes of men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr, in the past, and of the women and men of our own community who are seeking to allow God's love to transform them into more faithful and loving servants of the Lord Jesus. I don't mean merely, or even primarily, peace marches and demonstrations, collective actions against the violence which threatens all life on this planet. No, I mean first of all nonviolent love among brothers and sisters here in the local congregation and community. I mean the willingness to put the welfare of all before my own desires. I mean nonviolence in my heart, and in your hearts, as we learn to live with our diversity in the enormous magnitude of Christ's love" for each of us and all of us. If we can become nonviolent in our relationships with one another, then we will have a prayer of sharing the gospel of Jesus' nonviolent love in the world, but not otherwise. We will not be able to put an end to war, or to end tyranny and oppression and prejudice anywhere if we are not able to let God's peace reign in our own hearts. We have to learn to love each other.
Gandhi said: "By a long process of prayerful discipline I have ceased over forty years to hate anybody." I invite you to join me today in that prayerful discipline. Help me learn to love, and let us together learn to love one another as Christ loves us, who gives himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.
Church of St. John the Evangelist
4 January 1987
Fr. Emmett and his wife Anne Scheibner currently operate St. Francis House, a House of Hospitality in New London, Connecticut.