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Love Your Enemies: Discipleship, Pacifism and Just War Theory.

There is a word folks in the peace movement avoid like the plague: pacifism. Utter it and you must try first to explain what you don't mean by it and then, if anyone is still listening, what you do mean. The discussion always comes around to the imaginary maniac ready to attack the imaginary grandmother. Before you know it, the group divides into those who will and those who won't shoot to protect Grandma. (Notice how Grandpa never enters the illusion.)

Lately, the questions have expanded to include military intervention vs. police action vs. humanitarian action. And that is only the beginning of quagmires that turn any discussion of pacifism and just war into a wheel-spinning, mud-spattering exercise in frustration.

What is needed is a wooden plank to put in the muck under the tire for traction, leverage and support. Lisa Sowle Cahill has provided that plank. Love Your Enemies is a stabilizing resource to help us deal with the age-old, ever-new question, how do we live as disciples of Jesus here, now, in this imperfect world? The book is an overview of pacifism and the just-war theory as they developed historically.

Both traditions exist -- sprung from the same scripture and example of Jesus. Can they continue to coexist or are they mutually exclusive? Cahill ultimately does not answer the question but does bring fresh perspectives to the topic that provide solid ground for discussion.

Cahill presents a redefinition of Christian pacifism as "essentially a commitment to embody communally and historically the kingdom of God so fully that mercy, forgiveness and compassion preclude the very contemplation of causing physical harm to another person."

Historically, pacifism is defined as a theory that begins with an absolute position against war and usually prohibits self-defense. Cahill shows that pacifists have never begun with a moral absolute position and would not describe pacifism as a theory. It is a response of discipleship, part of a way of life.

Cahill's book identifies two distinct forms of Christian pacifism, both in history and in recent debate. "Pacifists who see discipleship above all in terms of obedience advocate a life of faithful witness to the nonviolent, and in some respects even nonresistant, example of Jesus. Pacifists who see discipleship in terms of a love of neighbor reflecting love of God advocate a life of compassion and service, of which violent force would be a contraindication." The distinctions, once known, enable communication and understanding.

A fresh perspective that Cahill offers is a grounding in scripture, especially the New Testament. A key question is, how can scriptural texts on love of enemies be the base of both pacifist and just-war thinking? She does not resolve the tension, but brings it into focus. Her historical survey includes an assessment of the scriptural interpretation of different positions taken by different groups or individuals in history.

The approach to scripture varied even among those who were in agreement on their support for the just-war theory, pacifism, or even the Crusades. Usually, questions of war and peace, pacifism and just-war theory are focused on specific or hypothetical historical-political situations.

Cahill's model begins with interpretations of scripture that support beliefs about discipleship. It is far too easy to get mired in the details of political analysis attempting to determine the most effective action. But the crucial question for our time, for any time, is: To what are we called as disciples of Jesus? Once we answer that question, we will know better how we will respond to suffering and violence in Rwanda or Bosnia or our own cities.

For pacifists, the focus in any situation is to make visible the mercy and compassion of God. For just-war theorists the focus is protection of the neighbor and even care for the enemy by limiting or constricting violence.

While Cahill does not definitely state a preference in the conflict between just-war and pacifist interpretations of scripture, she does lean heavily in favor of communities that reach out with mercy and compassion. Violence or harm of any other seems to be incompatible with the actions of these inclusive communities.

She points out some of the key inconsistencies in the application of the just-war theory in the past to explain how disciples are to love the enemy they kill. A key element in just-war thinking is to describe some people as outside the community. An extreme case of exclusive community identification is the Crusade mentality which demanded the killing of non-Christians to protect the Christian community from harm.

The same mentality was later used to kill heretics who threatened the community from within. The same narrow definition of neighbor by Christians allowed their participation in the Holocaust in this century.

The idea of ever-expanding community is the most radical, yet not fully developed thesis, of Cahill's book. Her idea of community is more developed in praxis among a growing network of base community movements around the globe who model radical discipleship, and in many cases also make a clear choice for nonviolence. Their nonviolent response is primarily to structures of oppression and economic or ecological violence instead of the violence of war that tends to be the focus of just-war/pacifist debates in the United States.

These communities, springing up especially among the poor and most vulnerable in our own country and around the globe, challenge the U.S. church to the core. Cahill's book gives us grounding, the traction needed, for the discussion. These communities lead the way in envisioning the future of discipleship.
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Author:Cunneen, Joseph
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 16, 1994
Words:917
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