Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Book Notice: Peace to War

I love people and movements who break stereotypes.  The stereotype that people have about Pentecostals (and Charismatics) is that they are always ignorant fundamentalists, racist, sexist, heterosexist, and extremely militaristic.  Well, it’s a rare Pentacostal who is pro-GLBT (those I’ve know about have had to leave for other Christian communities) , but that could be said about MANY Christian denominations or faith traditions.  But the other stereotypes, while having some basis on the current U.S. scene, are absolutely false about early Pentecostal history.  During the early days of the movement, Pentecostals were strong for racial justice and reconciliation (even though this was at the height of Jim Crow segregation). They also had many women ministers during a period when few mainline denominations did (although they still preached male “headship” in the home).  And most early Pentecostals were PACIFISTS.  

That heritage has been buried, its true, but younger Pentecostals are trying to recover it. So, even though I am not a Pentecostal (I might be considered a semi-charismatic Baptist!), I cheer such efforts.  Friday, my copy of Peace to War: Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God arrived.  This book by my friend, Paul Alexander (co-founder of the Pentecostal Charismatic Peace Fellowship), is a revision and popularization of his Ph.D. dissertation (at, of all places, Baylor University!). My mentor, Glen H. Stassen, wrote the forward.  I cannot wait to finally read this important work.

It builds on the earlier book by Jay Beaman, Pentecostal Pacifism:  The Origin, Development, and Rejection of Pacific Belief Among the Pentecostals.  The forward to that work is by the late Mennonite John Howard Yoder, another of my mentors. 

I also recommend, Proclaim Peace: Christian Pacifism from Unexpected Quarters, ed. Theron Schlabach and Richard Hughes, which includes 3 chapters on Pentecostal pacifism, chapters on the Churches of Christ (one section of the Stone-Campbell movement), the Church of God, Adventism, Mormonism, Liberal Christian pacifism between the World Wars, Methodist COs during Vietnam, Catholic pacifism and the seduction of Reformed Just War theorists into blind Christian nationalists. 

All of this reinforces my claim that Christian pacifism is not, per se, a theologically liberal position.  Sure, many Christian pacifists have been theological liberals or political liberals.  But many more have been theologically conservative and either politically conservative or apolitical.  Christian pacifism (or, as I prefer to say, Gospel Nonviolence) is simply biblically faithful and while not every theology will support it  (some definitely will NOT), several different theological approaches do yield strong pacifists.

April 13, 2009 - Posted by | church history, discipleship, pacifism, theology


  1. Peace to War is one of the next books on my to read list.

    Last month I finished Beaman’s Pentecostal Pacifism, and was actually really disappointed with it, Beaman’s smaller contribution to Proclaim Peace is much better.

    Comment by Richard | April 13, 2009

  2. very timely post the news is now telling us that Obama gave the order for the navy to kill the Somali “pirates”–in my view that makes him nothing more than a cold blooded murderer. he didn’t even try to use nonviolent conflict resolution. He just told them to go ahead and kill the three Africans. I’m starting to think he is even worse than the neocons.

    Comment by Kathy | April 13, 2009

  3. Actually, the Navy negotiated with the pirates for 3 days.
    That doesn’t mean that I approve of the way this was handled, Kathy, just of getting facts straight.

    But what does a post on Christian pacifism have to do with this? You seem to be my only regular reader who was under a delusion that Obama ever claimed to be a pacifist. No U.S. president in my lifetime would have handled this much differently.

    To you, a politician is apparently either a pure pacifist or a cold blooded murder and war monger. Can you show me one politician around the world who could meet your test of purity?

    This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t press Obama to be stronger on peacemaking. We should. I am working with several organizations on this. But worse than the neocons?

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 13, 2009

  4. yes–he is worse than the neocons because the PERCEPTION is that he is a “progressive.” This legitimates violence even more than if it was done by the neocons. everyone knows that THEY are warmongers and anti-peacemaking. when it comes from a “progressive” it is even worse.

    You accuse me of having a “test of purity” and yet you say that you don’t approve of how this was handled. what test would you use? and would it be “pure” You seem to say that what Obama did was wrong? don’t you have a “test of purity,” too?

    You are either going to be a peacmaker and speak out prophetically against this murder or you will be accused of being little more than a hack for Obama, despite all your denials.

    Comment by Kathy | April 13, 2009

  5. Since very few progressives OR conservatives are pacifists, I fail to see how Obama legitimates violence more than neo-cons. Some of the greatest violence in history was done by progressives or liberals. The only reason that “progressive” leads you to expect otherwise is because of the neocons.

    Classic political conservatism, while seldom pacifist, was more aware of the limits of military power and was reluctant to give into military adventurism.

    Obama is only slightly progressive. The McCain camp claim that he was “the most liberal senator” was nonsense. He wasn’t Russ Feingold or Bernie Sanders or even Barbara Boxer.

    On foreign policy, Obama is pushing for a two-state peace between Israel and Palestine; massive nuclear disarmament; negotiating with Iran; ending missile defense. Both pacifists and progressives ought to be completely on board with these goals. On Iraq, he is too slow. On Afghanistan, he is going in the wrong direction–but it is a direction he SAID he was going all through the campaign (when you were apparently not listening). It’s a dangerous direction, too.

    So, there is plenty to criticize. But if McCain had become president, we would have doubled the troops in Iraq (tearing up the Status of Forces Agreement), started war with Iran, ignored Israel-Palestine, threatened war with Russia and North Korea. (Not to mention what he would have done to the economy!)

    But all of this is off subject. I dislike when posts are hijacked for other debates. And Kathy, every time you come here it is only to bash Obama and demand that I call him “worse than Bush,” etc. Further, you have no link to your own blog, so I cannot find out anything about you to know why you are so angry (usually with ME, though I quit the army 20+ years ago and have never killed anyone).

    I have no idea whether Obama’s presidency will be, on balance, good or bad for peace. Only time will tell that. I only know that his candidacy was the best chance for creating a context that was better for peacemakers than the last 8 years and better than we’d have been able to expect from McCain/Palin.

    Now, Kathy, do you have any comments about the BOOK that is the subject of this post?

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 13, 2009

  6. […] rest is here: Book Notice: Peace to War « Levellers Share and […]

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  7. Sorry–I thought all that stuff about “proclaiming peace” had something to do with things that are in the news–like Obama telling the navy to put a bullet throught the brains of a few “pirates.” sorry for bringing it up.

    But that’s OK, I guess, as long as Obama is for a two state solution, is for massive nuclear disarmament (what a joke!)and negotiates with Iran. Let’s hope his idea of negotiating with Iran is different from his idea of “negotiating” with African pirates.

    Comment by Kathy | April 13, 2009

  8. While I self-identify as a Christian pacifist, I’m well aware that most people aren’t. That being the case, about the most I could ever hope for from any nation or administration is that they don’t deliberately kill innocents.

    Three violent pirates are placing themselves (and others, of course) in danger and I don’t find it surprising that they met a violent end.

    It reminds me of the joke about the Quaker farmer who, being frustrated with his mule said to the mule, “Friend Mule, thou dost know that I am a Quaker and will not kick thee for thy behavior. However, if thou dost persist, I shall sell thee to my neighbor, who is a Methodist. And HE shall kick thee…”

    Or words to that effect.

    While I’m a pacifist, I am also a realist and I know that those who embrace violence in this world often bring violence down upon themselves and I’m more accepting of that end – so long as the violence ends with the violent and does not extend to the innocent – as a natural consequence.

    For what it’s worth.

    Michael, what I was planning on writing was this: What was the process/motivation of the charismatic (or Nazarene) move from pacifism to not? WWII?

    Comment by Dan Trabue | April 13, 2009

  9. Michael, just curious, which theologies “definitely will not” support Christian pacifism, in your opinion?

    Comment by NJL | April 13, 2009

  10. Good question, Dan. I hope to find that out, at least with regard to the Assemblies of God, by reading Paul’s book.

    BTW, Jesus himself predicted that those who take up violence will meet violent ends.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 13, 2009

  11. NJL, it seems to me that the form of biblical inerrancy that has a “flat Bible” in which all statements are given the same authority do not support pacifism because those who hold that view tend to read the nonviolence of Jesus in a fashion that makes it forced to fit in a framework determined by the Holy War narratives of Joshua and Judges. Biblical inerrantists that find ways to subordinate those narratives to the words of Jesus are in a different place.

    Other theologies: Niebuhrian realism is specifically opposed to pacifism. All theologies that embrace forms of nationalism will not support pacifism because Christian pacifism demands that Christian loyalty to particular nation-states be subordinated to loyalties to the global Church and the Kingdom of God. Some types of Reformed theology will not support pacifism (although others will), nor will some types of Lutheranism.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 13, 2009

  12. Anyone who pays attention to someone Kathy and other “seamless garment” Christians will not be a pacifist because it is just too nutty and irrational. I used to be a pacifist but people like Kathy and Westmoreland-White turned me into a defender of just war. The pirates got what they deserved. That is justice.

    Comment by Jack | April 13, 2009

  13. Let’s see: Kathy attacks me as a pacifist for not being anti-Obama (even though I am hardly uncritical in my support), the “Dear Leader” types attack me for daring to criticize Obama on anything, and Jack accuses me of being “too nutty and irrational” because of my pacifism.
    I must be doing something right.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 13, 2009

  14. I like you, Michael…

    Comment by Dan Trabue | April 13, 2009

  15. Thanks, Dan. 🙂

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 14, 2009

  16. yes, michael, you are right. Kathy is a major kook. you are just a kook!

    Comment by Jack | April 14, 2009

  17. Ah, Jack, you care! BTW, Kathy, I don’t think you are a kook, major or otherwise. I am thrilled for your passion for nonviolence. I just don’t think that such dedication means that “all cats are grey” among non-pacifist politicians so that “Obama is worse than Bush” or “there is no difference.” I remember in 2000 the Naderites telling me that there wasn’t enough difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush to matter. Would they still say that now? Politics is, unfortunately, about compromise. It is the art of the possible.
    But, I dare to believe that what is impossible today may be possible tomorrow if we push hard enough.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 14, 2009

  18. MWM said:

    “To you [Kathy], a politician is apparently either a pure pacifist or a cold blooded murder and war monger. Can you show me one politician around the world who could meet your test of purity?”

    And then MWM said:

    “BTW, Kathy, I don’t think you are a kook, major or otherwise.”

    I suppose one definition of a “kook” might someone who believes that a “politician is apparently either a pure pacifist or a cold blooded murder[er] and war monger.” That would be Kathy. if the shoe fits…

    Another definition is anyone who takes “pacifism” seriously as an answer to things like piracy on the high seas. If the shoe fits, Michael….

    Comment by BILLY the Kid | April 14, 2009

  19. Michael, I’m not a fan of inerrancy, but I think the inerrantist tendencies actually are generally toward pacifism. If you look at the major restoration movements that emphasized “literal” interpretations of the Bible, from the Anabaptists to the Stone-Campbellites, to the Seventh Day Adventists, to the Plymoth Brethern, to the Pentecostals, they all began with significant pacifist wings. This is because the pacifism of Jesus is hard to avoid if one really tries to take the Gospels seriously. It also helped that these groups tend to see themselves as seperated from the culture around them, and thus the detached from allegence to the state, and that they tended to view the end of the world as imminent. You could probably make the same observation about the early Christians as well.

    It is only after the movement starts to become more mainstream and thus they began to accept the values of the outside culture, including nationalism/militarism, and when enough time has passed that they realize the world may not be coming to an end as quickly as they thought that these groups tend to drop the pacifism. I think the Anabaptists were only able to remain pacifist because it took so long for them to be accepted by the outside world, allowing the time for pacifism to become truly ingrained with their theology in a way that never happened for the other groups. And they were not accepted for so long, ironically, because their non-pacifist wing had been way too violent.

    Comment by NJL | April 14, 2009

  20. I think I’m with NJL on this one.

    Comment by Richard | April 14, 2009

  21. NJL, I said CERTAIN kinds of inerrancy wouldn’t support it, specifically those that place all statements on the same level. The Anabaptists and the Stone-Campbell movement and the early Pentecostals all clearly subordinated the Old Testament to the New Testament. The Plymouth Brethren and Seventh-Day Adventists were “vocational” pacifists. That is, they didn’t really object to war and saw God using war for God’s own ends. But their form of Dispensationalism saw CHRISTIANS being nonviolent, even nonresistant, during these apocalyptic wars. This places them in a very different place than the Hal Lindseys or Tim LaHaye’s who dream of “Christian commandos” during the apocalyptic wars after the “rapture.”

    So, the question is not really inerrancy, but hermeneutics. I should have left the word inerrancy out and emphasized more than it is the “Flat Bible,” every statement on the same level of authority, approach that rules out pacifism.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 14, 2009

  22. Perhaps I was misusing the word “inerrancy,” and it should only be applied specifically to the fundamentalist movement which coined or popularized it. And what they mean by inerrancy is the “traditional” interpretation of the Bible (and sometimes that “traditional” interpretation might only go back to 1909 and the Scofield Bible!) in opposition to the “liberal” interpretations. This is of course different from the restorationist movements I was referring to, who were trying to reinterpret the Bible from a clean slate.

    It’s true that there are different forms of pacifism and the groups tend toward certain views of it, but I don’t think it is totally clear-cut. I think to this day there have always been plenty of “vocational” pacifists in the Anabaptist tradition, even if that is not the dominant doctrine. I think most of these restorationists groups more or less started out vocational pacifists (as a group, certainly some of the leaders had more universal pacifistic views) to go along with their chiliastic theology. As long as you think the world is about to end with a violent battle between good and evil, it is pretty hard to be more than a vocational pacifist. Which is why the Seventh-Day Adventists and Plymoth Brethern, with chiliastic theology central to their beliefs, didn’t go beyond vocational pacifism. When the idea that the world is about to end fades away, these groups either drop pacifism or start adopting a more universal view of it. Thus the tendancy of universal pacifism among Mennonites, and the general lack of pacifism among Pentecostals.

    Comment by NJL | April 15, 2009

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