Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

No, Christian Pacifists Are Not Cowards (But Christian Gun-Slingers Might Be)

I am a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, which naturally means I am a Christian Pacifist. I refuse to use violence against my enemies or intentionally harm them in any way, even if they harm me. I will love my enemies, I will die for my enemies, but I will never kill my enemies.

In fact, since Jesus lived a life of nonviolence (see the inconvenient things we call the Gospel accounts), taught his disciples to live lives of nonviolence (you might want to skip Matthew 5 or Luke 6), and both Jesus and later New Testament writers tell us that we are to follow in the example of Jesus even if it results in suffering (John 13:15, 1 Peter 2:21, 1 John 2:6); I have no idea how one can be a Christian and not be a Christian pacifist. While I express a certain ambivalence on it, Jesus spoke more forcefully saying a commitment to nonviolent enemy love was a requirement of being considered a child of God.

To be a Christian yet to reject the centrality of living a life of nonviolent enemy love would be as silly as saying “I am a Republican who believes in big government, a small military, and abortion on demand.”

It just wouldn’t make sense– and claiming to be a Christian yet rejecting the calling to nonviolence doesn’t make sense, either.

Frequently those of us who have decided to follow and obey the example of Jesus in this way, face harsh backlash from the American Christian Machine. While the vile slung at us by Americanized Christians is vast, the most common name we as Jesus followers are called is that of a coward.

Coward.

Coward.

Coward.

I’ve been called a coward a thousand times.

My commitment to preserving life and not participating in death somehow makes me a coward to the American Christian Machine. My refusal to pick up a gun, place a human being in the sites, and pull the trigger, somehow makes me a coward to this machine that spins and turns in a motion that does not represent Jesus.

The reverse they say, is what I should do to be brave and courageous: I should be like every other “good” American and have a gun locked and loaded so that I am prepared on a moment’s notice to gun down anyone who breaks into my house to try to steal my television.

Beyond the theological requirement to commit to nonviolence in order to become a Christian, let’s just focus on the argument Christian gun-slingers make: Christian pacifists are cowards.

Let’s see if that’s actually true.

The dictionary describes coward as: “A person who lacks the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things; one who is afraid of danger or pain.”

I’m sorry folks, but that’s not a description of a Christian pacifist. A Christian pacifist isn’t afraid of danger or pain– in fact, Christian pacifists have committed to endure danger and endure pain, to the point of DEATH, in order to obey Jesus.

Cowards? How do you call someone who is willing to die for a stranger they’ve never met a coward? How do you call one a coward who is prepared to lay down their life at a moment’s notice?

Becoming a Christian pacifist is only for the brave and least cowardly among us.

It is only for those willing to risk what Jesus said when he taught, “those who lose their lives will find them, but those who seek to save their lives will lose them.”

Beyond the opposite of cowardly, Jesus said that the greatest love someone could have is the willingness to die for others. Thus, not only are Christian pacifists not cowards, but they are the ones committed to a love that Jesus said was actually greater than all the other love in the world.

So, let’s talk about the Christian gun-slingers on the internet who repeatedly call me a coward.

Why do they carry a gun under their shirt? Why do they stock up on ammo and practice shooting at cut-outs of human beings?

Well, they do it because they are “afraid of danger” and as we just saw, being afraid of danger, being unwilling to endure pain, is what *actually* makes one a coward. Futhermore, Christian gun-slingers carry guns in order to kill– not so that they can lay their lives down for another. To carry a gun is to be afraid of facing danger all on your own. To carry a gun is to give into fear and find the teachings of Jesus too risky, too costly, too self-sacrificial.

Thus, not only is this cowardly, but it’s less than the beautiful, ultimate love Jesus called us to– because the greatest love is to have the courage to die and give your life up so that another might live. The “greatest love” has everything to do with dying, and nothing to do with killing.

I am a Christian pacifist not because it is easy– it’s not. I knew when I made this commitment to follow Jesus it might be a death sentence, just as he warned.

A commitment to nonviolence is not safe, it does not offer one security, and it is a commitment that begins with a willingness to one day potentially die for someone I don’t even know.

Nothing about that is cowardly. In fact, this decision has taken more courage than any other decision I’ve made in my lifetime.

So, if you’re a Christian gun-slinger who calls the people who live like Jesus cowards, just be careful– it’s a case of pointing one finger just to have four fingers pointing right back at you.

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Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

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  • So I am curious, in light of the terrible shooting in Las Vegas…. would the “courageous” thing have been to refrain from using violence against Mr. Paddock, preferring to see him continue to carry out his massacre, rather than use “violence” against him in order to cut short his massacre?

    I am asking sincerely, I am not trying to score cheap rhetorical points, I am genuinely interested in the scope and extent of Dr. Corey’s pacifism: is there never a time you would resort to violence to save other’s lives?

  • I will look forward to hearing Mr. Corey’s response to the Las Vegas massacre, and if he will express similar condemnation of the Las Vegas police (the “gun-slingers) formtoting their guns and being willing to kill in responding to the active shooter. I would be genuinely interested to hear what Mr. Corey thinks a Christian with a gun should have done had he been in a position to shoot Mr. Paddock before he could have continued his orating spree.

  • Reprinted with permission of the author Eva,

    These are my thoughts and I hope no one takes offense.
    Firstly, I believe that we cannot extract Jesus’ words from the NT and claim that Jesus was a pacifist. These words of Jesus were written within books and I believe that we must examine His words within the context of the Gospels. For instance, John the Baptist never told the soldiers (who asked him what they should do) to not use the sword. In fact, what He said was “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely–be content with your pay.” This is relevant, because we know that Jesus thought highly of John the Baptist, as He asked John to baptize Him and this was the beginning of His ministry. Moreover, as pointed out by another commenter below goofy, we can see that Jesus’ character was different to that of a pacifist in Matthew 21:12 “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.”
    These were not the actions of a pacifist. He was using physical force. Furthermore, if we look at Luke 22 we can see that Jesus knows he is going to die for our sins, but He doesn’t want this for His disciples so He asks them to buy swords. He said to the disciples if you have a cloak sell it and buy a sword, He was speaking to all of them. I’ve heard it said that this was just so He could prove to his disciples that self-defense is wrong, but no, this doesn’t make any sense to me given the rest of the Gospels, NT and the OT. The reason Jesus reprimanded Peter for using the word, was because He was misusing the sword, he didn’t need to strike the soldier (which is obvious because after he had done it no harm had come to Peter). Plus, Peter was trying to stop something that wasn’t suppose to be stopped (the death of Jesus).
    If we look at Romans 12:18 it says “If possible, so far as it depends on you live peacefully”
    – what does this mean, that there is room to not live peacefully, dependent upon the circumstances (well at least it sounds that way to me)?
    And what does Matthew 24:43 refer to “But be sure of this, if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into” – so maybe we can even infer from the words of Jesus that self-defense it acceptable.
    Again in Luke 11:22 we see Jesus using a self-defense analogy to make an argument, why does He do this if He thinks it’s morally wrong. ““When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own homestead, his possessions are undisturbed. But when someone stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away from him all his armor on which he had relied and distributes his plunder”
    Something else we know about Jesus is that he observed the Law (the Torah), in fact He studied it since childhood and His reason for disliking the Pharisees is because they were hypocritical and although they were all airs and graces in front of people – behind the scenes they didn’t follow the Law. As Jesus said, “But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” Jesus on the other hand did observe the Law for the main part and He says that He didn’t come to abolish it, but to fulfil it. Therefore, Jesus would have known that there was an exemption in the Torah for self-defense, this wouldn’t have been something He would have thought twice about and while He was always going to die, which He stated many times to the disciples (but they didn’t understand), He wouldn’t have expected us to go down that route.
    So, if you look at the bible as a whole, rather than cherry picking what Jesus said, it’s possible to see that it doesn’t make sense that Jesus would be a pacifist (well at least that’s what I thing).
    Ok, bible aside, why did God design our bodies for protection? What I mean is, if you were confronted with a lion, you’re body reacts a certain way. Your body physically prepares you to freeze, fight or flight. When I say physically, I mean biologically – you would find it extremely difficult to prevent it from happening as it is unconsciously done.
    Firstly, you will freeze hoping that the lion won’t notice you.Your face grows pale and your stomach starts to get butterflies, because your blood is moving away from your face and stomach out to your muscles to enable you to fight if needs be. Your body starts to speed up, tense and harden. Chemicals are released into the bloodstream like endorphins which help with pain relief until the fight is over. Your body will release adrenaline and cortisol in order to give the body a burst of energy and strength and most importantly prepare the muscles throughout the body for response. Your blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugars, and fats increase in order to supply the body with extra energy.
    The blood clotting function of the body speeds up in order to prevent excessive blood loss in the event of an injury sustained during the response. Increased muscle tension in order to provide the body with extra speed and strength.
    We are designed for self-defense and we’ve been like this since the hunter gatherer days, so they say. In fairness, some people do fight their urge to defend themselves, but they are fighting against the way they were made by God and according to scientific findings. This happens every time your body perceives that it is in danger (whether that danger is rational or not). You cannot stop it from happening, it’s automatic.
    So, why did God create us like this if He didn’t want us to defend ourselves?And I do respect the opinions of the pacifists on this site (that’s means you JD), I just wish they’d learn to be more tolerant of the views of others.
    ETA the following is a challenge for pacifist Christians. It’s called the Trolley Problem based on the doctrine of double effects. http://imgur.com/1FfL1M1
    If you can do this without allowing murder to take place, then your views as pacifists are credible in my eyes. Morality in terms of faith involves using logic and reason, hence the reason the church has changed its views over time, having gained new knowledge and insight.

  • Lol how f***ed n the head are the gun nutters.

    Jesus drove money changers from the Temple (probably a fictional incident only recounted in Matthew btw) so therefore we can shoot people.

  • Perhaps my question got buried in my post below, since it appears that those who disagree w/ the belief in nonviolence missed the question and went straight to the hypotheticals. So, here it is again:

    So, what actual teaching of Christ can be used to justify violence of any sort?

  • It is alarming, but sadly expected, to see the gundamentalists come out of the woodwork on threads like this.

    I’ll ask what I’ve always asked in this debate: what teaching of Christ do you point to in order to justify the use of violence? Which teaching do you say “see, this right here! This is where He said we can use violence to defend ourselves!”

    Because, what I do know is we are called to imitate our nonviolent Savior. We are called to respond to evil with love. We are called to not resist (original language, the word used meant to violently resist) an evil person. We are called to never seek vengeance. We are called to turn the other cheek. We are called not to live by fear (the source of violence). We are called to be peacemakers. We are called to love as Christ did, which was through nonviolent self-sacrifice. We are called to imitate the Good Shepherd who laid His life down for His sheep, not kill.

    So, what actual teaching of Christ can be used to justify violence of any sort? If we believe that Christ is the exact representation of God’s nature and the full radiance of His glory, then we must hold Christ up as the supreme and authoritative revelation of God. God looks like Christ. What did Christ look like? Someone who loved to the point of death, asking for forgiveness of those killing Him. So, how can we possibly imitate one that the Scriptures state never committed violence, while committing violence? It’s impossible.

  • I have earlier in my professional life bore witness to some of the worst of human experience. Violence, not distant and abstract but immediate…intimate..face to face to where you can feel their breath upon you. While I have great respect for men who do not hide their cowardice behind the veneer of pacifism, I am most definitely not a pacifist. I am simply not naive enough to believe that at this stage of human development that a society of pacifists can survive in this world.

    I carry a gun with me with great regularity. I do not carry a gun because I am afraid, but because I will not stand idly by while those around me might be unjustly attacked by others. I have been the man who has stood up for others while they slept, while they stood frozen unable to move with great violence happening around them as they were unable or unwilling to take action out of fear or surprise. No one has ever mistaken me for a coward.

    While I am not naive enough to believe I can bring justice and peace to the entire world, I do believe…and on some occasions I have…brought justice and peace to my immediate vicinity.

  • Don’t believe in self defense? How do you defend your loved ones? How does Jesus’s act of dying on the cross equate to us dying in the streets…would that make this a better world to you? How do you equate a self defense killing with the act of murder?
    Tell me Benjamin, if no one stopped murderous madmen there would be no one left on Earth but murderous madmen – does that sound like God’s plan to you?

  • I’ve been meaning to write this one and had not gotten around to it. Because yes, I consider millions of gun owners chickensh*** for having to rely on a weapon for a sense of personal security. Somehow millions of other well-adjusted people get along just fine without an AK-47 or even a pocket pea-shooter to “protect ourselves.” As Joseph O’Neill wrote just below me in the comments, the US does have a culture of death. And I ventured a few years back that we also have an addiction to guns. An addiction it is.

  • US has a culture of death, as evidenced by its genocide of native Americans, love affair with guns, violent Hollywood movies, the death sentence, genocide/abortion of poor/black foetuses, and Muslim-killing wars overseas ( with “collateral” Christian deaths in Syria and Iraq), and massive financial support the holocaust of the Palestinians.

    A little bit of pacifism would do US society no harm…

  • Pacifism is one of those ideals that is never and cannot be realized. For just to be part of a culture that relies upon a military industrial complex and weapons of mass destruction, paid for by your taxes, enforced by federal and local laws, makes all citizens of a democracy, like it or not, culpable of state sponsored violence. So to pretend to be a ‘religious’ pacifist is just pretension and illusion. Wishful thinking that hasn’t ever and won’t change anything of substance. The Doomsday clock now stands at two and one half minutes to Midnight!

  • I’ve had it with all this faulty logic and outright refusal to understand Christian pacifism. It’s time for direct action!. I’m making a donation to Doctors Without Borders.

  • During the 1st World War some British conscientious objectors were actually put in front of a firing squad for not wearing uniform. They didn’t break, and the sentence was commuted to 2 years hard labour. Definitely not cowards.

  • Dear Benjamin L. Corey, you have a misguided understanding of the Gospel. Jesus Christ was not a pacifist. If he was he would not have been crucified. He would have shied away from antagonising the Pharisees and they would not have demanded his death. Remember the tongue is equivalent to a sword and with his tongue, Jesus angered the legalistic Jews with truth.

  • Fine. Stand idly by as your loved ones are raped and murdered, your livelihood taken from you, and get out the telephone to call, guess who, a man with a gun to do the dirty work for you.

    How is calling a cop any different from having a gun yourself?

  • In my 60’s years I’ve learned that ones Fear is proportional to the distance one is from God. (The closer you live to the true God, the less afraid you are.). Gun nuts are generally a hypervigilant and paranoid group of hypocrites who hide in sheeps clothing. Lacking true conviction or connection to something larger than their egos, they cling to outward signs of power while trembling in their dreams and thoughts. Some just love the jungle and adrenaline rush of violence. Few have any idea of the deeper meanings of their lives or actions. Thank you Doctor for living True. blessings.

  • Suppose I’m not a believer-why should I refuse to fight back?
    If you can come up with good reasons not to fight, why bother with coming up with religious/theological justifications?
    Religion is either useless or special pleading.

  • If you get robbed, do you call the police?
    If your wife/daughter/son/mother get mugged or raped, do you call the police?
    If you want a Fundiegelical bakery owner to make a lesbian wedding cake and he refuses, do you serve him with a writ and threaten to imprison or fine?
    Why do you rely on the domestic army and not the international one?
    I can see refusing both the police and the military but depending on state violence at home to collect taxes/arrest rapists/sue the unprogressive into “evolving” on gay rights while denouncing the army? Not so much.

  • Great article. I have family in Florida who attend a church where men wear guns openly. I simply cannot wrap my head around that! I do not understand the obsession of the Christian Machine with firearms.

  • My understanding is that early Christians were pacifists up until Christianity became the recognized religion in the Roman Empire, under Constantine. At that time the Church Fathers came up with the concept of a “Just War”. It seems like almost every war since has been considered a just war.

  • I would die for my country, but I won’t kill for my country. I will help those in need, but not shoot those who made them that way. Guess I’m a pacifist..

  • Called a coward? I don’t recall Jesus ever being called a coward, But just like Jesus, “A commitment to nonviolence is not safe, it does not offer one security,
    and it is a commitment that begins with a willingness to one day
    potentially die for someone I don’t even know.” And that is what Jesus did, dies for someone he didn’t even know. That’s me.

  • Jesus is God. God can be very violent. Check out the story of the great flood. Don’t use the excuse that that is God in the Old Testament. Remember God never changes and God is Jesus. Come down from your “I’m superior” podium.

  • I admire Christian Scientists who choose not to use medicine and instead trust in God for healing. Jesus never used medicine to heal people. In the same way, Jesus didn’t use weapons for self-defense. Whenever we use medicine, or guns, or the legal system, we are ignoring Christ’s example. We are saying that something human–a pill, a gun, a verdict–can offer something Jesus can’t.

  • I guess there’s two central things when it comes to progressive Christianity and the impulse for Christian pacifism. Looking at this as someone who’s neither Christian nor a pacifist. From a scriptural point of view, first, I don’t quite see how one can totally cast aside the Old Testament.

    Yes, the actual Jesus killed nobody. Beyond that, the words stated by Jesus talk about violence being inherently terrible. We know the sayings: “Turn the other cheek.”

    However, well, the Old Testament says what it says. God was gleefully happy to order the wholesale mass murder of gigantic numbers of people. Spreading religion by the sword– do as you’re told, or die– was standard operating procedure. The Celestial tyrant clearly and explicitly stated that some human beings are inherent inferiors that must be exterminated, no exceptions. If you happened to be born a gay male, say, then you were killed. That was that. God’s will be done.

    This can’t be reconciled with the non-violent Gospel message. The Gospel’s whites are the Old Testament’s blacks in a lot of ways. And vise-versa. The historical Jesus arose from a Jewish background discussing Jewish ideas. Many/most of those radically alter what came before. But that doesn’t… I mean, morally, it doesn’t quite alter the situation. God spent millennia with “Slay! Destroy! Expand! Eliminate! Reward me with blood!” as his moral code– how can that fit God suddenly going “Whoops, my bad, actually spilling blood is bad now… for some reason”? It can’t. Two plus two doesn’t equal five.

    Second, the New Testament isn’t just the words of Jesus and the Gospels. There’s also the writings of Paul as well as the last chapter, the Book of Revelation. Somebody can argue that those things shouldn’t be held up at the same standard as the Gospels. But that debate was fought and won by one side millennia ago.

    Standard Christianity has long been, and will long be, that whenever the Gospel Jesus says ‘A’, St. Paul says ‘B’, and Revelation’s God says ‘C’, then what Christians believe must be (‘A’+’B’+’C’)/3. An averaging out. The Book of Revelation has God gleefully supporting the murder of countless people. And it ends with the firm doctrine that Jesus Christ commands individuals to go to hell– they had their chance in life to supposedly do the right thing, they failed, and Christ is a stern taskmaster that will show no mercy. So, Revelation goes right on back to the hateful, death-happy and destruction-happy God of the Old Testament.

    All of that Gospel stuff about peace and love? It’s sandwiched between two gigantic groups of texts about warmongering evil. As long as central Christian dogma commands that the Bible is the holy word of God, every single comma and such being inspired such that not a tiny bit is anything less than perfection, and that everything in the Bible must be harmonized as moral truth… yeah. That’s an immense problem. For every pacifist thing said by God (in the form of Jesus), there’s two or more horrific things said by God (in other forms) elsewhere. And that’s just how it is.

    (I could go into other issues regarding the historicity of the Gospels, whether their own morality is actually so clear-cut, and so on, but I’ll stop here.)

  • The Christian embrace of violence floors me. Let’s put aside the multitude of Christ’s teachings that would not remotely allow for the use of violence, even in self-defense, and approach it from a simpler angle.

    Isaiah told us in Isaiah 53:9 that Christ is one who committed no violence. Paul told us in his letter to the church at Ephesus that we are to be imitators of God. How can we possibly imitate our nonviolent Savior while committing acts of violence, no matter how justified we believe they are?

    Of course, this is possibly the simplest, most cut/dry way of looking at it, especially given the gymnastics people undertake to twist Christ’s teachings to minimize what He was saying. There’s also the pre-Constantinian church, w/ men like Hippolytus, Justin Martyr, Origen, Tertullian, etc that were crystal clear on the subject. Or the Apostles who despite all dying a violent death, minus John, we have no record of any of them using violence in their own defense. Or the example of Stephen going to his death truly as an imitator of Christ. We hold these early church martyrs up as heroes of our faith, yet we reject their examples when we are the one facing violence/persecution.

    But, in reality, we need only look to Jesus Christ and the “full radiance of God’s glory” on the cross. Want to know what God looks like? Look to the crucified Christ. He faced His death with self-sacrificial, nonviolent love of enemies. That’s the standard for which we are to aim.

  • Fair enough. I am not sure I agree 100% with your pacifism, but it would be ludicrous to call you a coward.

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