Navigation
DOCUMENT INDEX
SHEPPARD INDEX
  Selection of Dick Sheppards writing

 

christian attitudes to war

 

Suggestions, comments
let us know

© Peace Pledge Union

Speaking generally and with considerable experience I should say that pacifism is more misunderstood and misrepresented in church circles than outside. Those who make no profession of Christianity say, rather naively, that of course if they were followers of Jesus Christ they would feel compelled to be pacifists. But the vast majority of professing Christians, and certainly an overwhelming majority of those who attend churches, do not agree.
We pacifists find ourselves about as welcome at the usual church gathering as a temperance orator at a policeman's picnic, and on that account I must express especial gratitude to the Rector here for allowing us to expound our point of view. We are also grateful to you for your willingness to hear it.
I naturally wish to state the case for Christian pacifism with respect and courtesy towards those who reject it. Verbal ferocity may be nearly as harmful to peace as physical violence, and neither you nor I have any use for the pacifist who seems to suggest that he is the only righteous and peace loving man in the world, marooned on a planet of rogues - all of whom hope soon to be blowing each other to pieces.
We all desire peace, but where I think we differ is that some people still think of war as a possible and justifiable means of settling international disputes, while others have come to regard it in its modern dress as the last word in man's futility and wickedness. These latter - among whom I am included - do not believe that a people who engage in war will be able to maintain either the old values and the ancient liberties that they desire to defend, or the new values that they desire to establish. No man who has become a man minds dying for some noble purpose; but to die in a process which kills all human purpose - that is both futile as well as obscene. There is, incidentally, a world of difference between the old soldier's baptism of fire and a modern soldier's total immersion.
This conviction, held by an ever increasing number, that modern warfare can determine nothing, cannot save the lives, treasure and culture of those who engage in it, and that another large scale war will undoubtedly ring down the curtain on Western civilisation enormously encourages, though it does not determine, the Christian attitude to war.
The teaching of Christ, two thousand years ago, is not only the word of God for yesterday but the last word in concrete contemporary reality and commonsense for today.
Even if all the so-called wisdom of this world were ranged against the pacifist it should not make any difference whatsoever - at least so I maintain - to the attitude which the Christian must adopt. If he is asked to prepare for war there is only one answer that he can give - an uncompromising and resolute refusal.
The art of killing is the essence of war, and no Christian can uphold war unless he is prepared to kill his brother. If a man believes in the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of man war is murder and all war is civil war. The core of Christian pacifism is the belief that it is never right to take human life. It has nothing to do with quietism in the sense of immoral apathy or cowardice. Its basis is not utilitarian. It does not condemn all use of force. It is a constructive philosophy of life. It does not make an unconditional surrender to evil. It attacks it with something much more effective than violence, namely the constructive power of non-violent resistance.
We believe that modern warfare, under whatever label it is conducted, for which the only method of defence is the wholesale and indiscriminate slaughter of humanity is not only out of date but totally and finally irreconcilable with the spirit and teaching of Jesus Christ; and that there can be no hope of Christianity prevailing or justice being established between the nations under the League of Nations or any other system whose ultimate sanction is violence. It makes very little difference if a bomb is labelled 'With love from Geneva' or 'Go to blazes' from this or that dictator.
To us pacifism is a fundamental article of our creed and the crucial issue before the Christian Church today. And to me a Church that cannot perceive that all war must be anathema to Christ is apostate.
Turn to Christ's teaching. We may twist His sayings with all the perversity of ecclesiastical casuistry but we shall have a very poor case when we try to make Him bless war. The nearer we get to Calvary the more obvious, surely, that truth becomes. The Christian Church will never be destroyed by opposition, but it will indeed be in danger when its moral judgements provoke the indignation of enlightened men and compel them to believe that nothing induces us to take our Lord seriously.
I am a pacifist first and last because I wish to be a sincere disciple of Jesus Christ. For me Christianity is the following of Jesus Christ in incorruptness of living; and I think we follow not merely when the going is good - by the shining lake of Galilee - but out beyond Jerusalem where the redemptive power of suffering love was perfectly and effectively consecrated for the salvation of the world. I cannot pray to God or try to look in the face of Jesus Christ at Cana of Galilee or at Calvary and then prepare to kill my brother.
And I want to ask the leaders of the Christian Church this question: Why - at a crisis - when a clear, reasoned and passionate lead from Christendom might arouse the world from its nightmare of terror and impatience do you not give it?
Why? Surely our Master's teaching is not obscure. Why? Since the last twenty years have demonstrated like writing in the sky that it is futile as well as unChristian to serve Christ by methods appropriate to Moloch. Why? When the fear of war, the fear lest youth and innocence should again be caught in a greater hell than 1914-1918 gets between all men and the sun.
WHY, WHY, WHY - do you hesitate to denounce war now, today, yesterday, as the vile thing is actually is - the betrayal of God, the self-abuse of nations and a blasphemy against the future of man? I am persuaded that the supreme test today of adherence to Christ as Lord and Master is provided by the conflict between those who say that war is inevitable and under certain unhappy circumstances justifiable, and those who when asked to prepare for it and take part in it are able to answer: Not on my life - God being my helper.

  P E A C E  P L E D G E  U N I O N  1 Peace Passage London N7 0BT, Britain.
  phone  +44 (0)20 7424 9444  fax: +44 (0)20 7482 6390     CONTACT US