My good friend and co-blogger, Michael Spalione, has posted a response to my critique of John Piper’s response to Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s remarks. And I’m now responding to him in an attempt at seeing how far down the rabbit hole of blogging back-and-forth we can go. I appreciate that he found my remarks worth not only reading, but also responding to.
Before I respond to Michael’s post directly, let me summarize my position on this broad topic as briefly as I can, for those who have no interest in link-tracking the discussion. The heart of the canonical ethic, I’ve argued, is a balance of love, liberty, and wisdom. We must know when to turn the other cheek, when to flee or endure persecution, and when to defend widows and orphans – tooth and nail if necessary. This requires wisdom. And I would argue both absolute pacifism (Piper) and pugilism (Falwell, Jr.) are equally foolish.
Now, my response:
So Michael has ascribed three different, interchangeable titles to his particular view of pacifism (“nonviolent activism,” “aggressive pacifism,” and “nonviolent ethics”) – which I would suggest is an example of a peculiar mix of contingent, minimal, transformational, and skeptical pacifism. I can’t discern whether his position entails universal or particular pacifism, because he has only discussed how his ethic applies to Christians. Ultimately, I think his position is self-contradictory, but I’ll defend that claim in a moment.
While I can appreciate his discussion of biblical theology, Michael seems to have confused assertion and elaboration for argument and inference. I can stipulate agreement to the first three assertions in his four-point “argument” (although I might have some concerns with defining “the kingdom” as “the church,” cf. Michael’s second and third points), but he gives no reason for accepting his fourth point – the one which is most directly related to a disagreement over self-defense and non-violence. I’m not even sure if it’s a conclusion or a fourth premise. At best, it’s an example of the ipse dixit fallacy.
While I enjoyed his survey of the OT and can appreciate the efforts at filling in a gap regarding canonical perspectives from the pacifistic side of the larger debate, I don’t find most of it to be germane to the discussion at hand – at least none of it seems to be in response to my post. Again, I can stipulate agreement with all of it without abandoning my commitment to wise practices of self and other defense. In fact, Michael gives away the entire debate when he acknowledges that Christians may use violence in self-defense, in accord with Ex 22:2-3.
Acknowledging this exception is reasonable, but it is also the point at which his position is clearly self-contradictory, as I mentioned above. He seems to think his acknowledgement somehow makes me and other self-defense advocates “functional pacifists,” when, in fact, he has accepted a non-pacifistic position. Having a general ethic of non-violence with ethically justifiable exceptions is not pacifism in any meaningful sense of the term. Debates about just war theory are explicitly debates, in part, about what sorts of situations ethically permit violence. Michael is no less an advocate of ethically permissible cases of self-defense than I.
I applaud him for not shirking away from what the whole canon of Scripture teaches in this regard and I would just encourage him to work toward greater consistency in this regard. I might suggest evaluating the implications from his view of ethical instances of self-defense in relation to his assertions regarding Christians as necessarily conscientious objectors. And I’ll note, again, that there is no inferential basis for such a conclusion provided in Michael’s post. Only more mere assertions.
Also, so long as one can acknowledge hierarchies of allegiance in one’s life, then reciting the “Pledge of Allegiance” seems like a matter to be determined by each individual’s conscience, rather than flatly prohibited.
Finally, regarding Michael’s two closing questions for those of my ethical persuasion (i.e. “Which kingdom is constructing your moral vision? How is just violence ethics rooted in the gospel?”), I’d respond that both kingdoms are involved in constructing my moral vision, although I am consciously making efforts to conform that vision more thoroughly to the ethics of the kingdom of Christ. And I can’t answer the second question since I don’t know how broadly or narrowly defined “the gospel” is in this question. Hopefully, the brief summary of my position I gave above would help clarify my perspective in that regard.
(Note: The image for this post is The Piper/Spalione Home Defense Kit: a “9mm,” two “clips,” and a “box of shells.”)