Thoughts on Pacifism

I was once Chair of the Methodist Peace Fellowship. I sought to be a pacifist. I was aware that my pacifism had never been tested. Many members of the Fellowship had had their pacifism tried. At least one argued that our commitment to pacifism must be held even when there was injustice. My opinion then was that there could be no peace where there was injustice.

I was trained for ministry alongside an Anglican who had left the Army to train for the Priesthood with the intention of returning as a Chaplain. He had been disheartened by Chaplains who, in his opinion, had not known what it was like to be serving in the regular Army. He was, in no sense, arrogant. I trusted him and valued our conversations. I think my recollection is correct, that he believed that the world would never be free from war. Reflecting now I believe that we are genetically determined to enable our own survival. We are programmed to fight if we ae threatened. Biologically my friend was probably correct. To be pacifist is against our natural instinct.

The Spirit infects every word, every labour
of those who will follow, of those who will go,
through life full in step with the one some called ‘Master’,
the gentle word crafter of all that we know.

This golden tongued preacher, this living believer,
vivacious in Spirit, courageous in life,
in patient humility waited his moment,
to interpose love in the focus of strife.

And those who had heard him, and ones who came after,
would make the assertion, they’d looked in God’s eyes;
and if we can take up the challenge to follow
this Spirit will graciously love and surprise![i]

Reflecting on the gospel records of Jesus’ execution it seemed, and it still seems, to me that Jesus approach to violence was to interpose himself between the aggressor and the victim. This he did pre-eminently when his embodiment of love met those who would have him dead. He did not resist. He did not fight back. He forgave those who ‘knew not what they were doing’. To do otherwise would be a denial of the love with which he beheld his persecutors. For me this is the seemingly impossible expression of pacifism to which we are called.

It seems inhuman, who could kill
a single mother’s child?
What bitter hatred fires a man?
It seems they had run wild.

Good God, could you not intervene?
Yet once upon a cross
you interposed your human life
and suffered utter loss.

Is this the answer that you give:
use love to counter hate?
And have we courage, dare we risk,
before it is too late.

These children died as martyrs to
the violence we can spawn,
and still we pray, but will we act
to bring a peaceful dawn?[ii]

I remember a previous Chair of the Fellowship, Norwyn Denny, saying that if we were to emulate Christ we would go into wars as human shields. Emulating Christ we would put ourselves in the place of danger. The idea is utterly foolish, in no way expedient, yet I found this to be compelling. After all, the cross was not expedient.

 I pause…

I still believe in my heart that pacifism is an ideal to which I should aspire. Intellectually I would wish to be pacifist.

But I found a get out clause of sorts. Peter, the apostle, failed Jesus. This was not his intention. He said he would stand beside Jesus, yet he denied him. Jesus’ response, following the resurrection, was not to criticise or condemn Peter, but to extend peace to him and offer him a vocation. I still believe that our intention is the most important part of our Christian vocation. But we are human. We will not always succeed, We should intend to be pacifist, understanding that we will probably fail in our pacifism. Yet God will not abandon us.

And where am I now? Conscious that my own sense of pacifism is both frail and probably likely to fail. Conscience says to me that I cannot live in the political climate that pervades the world without offering some sort of resistance.

The question remains, just how passive can my response be? How long can I simply be a bystander in a world of injustice, simply writing, simply waiting? Just watching…

We hear the news in anguish to know what has been done, 
the cameras and recordists show hatred being spun, 
the sound of rockets falling fill broadcasts round the earth, 
Great God, what are we doing while children come to birth?

Our aspirations shudder, our hopes become as dust, 
through war machines are broken, dismembered, turned to rust. 
Our conversations stutter, our talks of peace – hot air, 
Great God, may acts of justice grow from the seeds of prayer.

No place is ever neutral when hatred fuels the fire, 
humanity unites us, let love be our desire.
Join hands across the barriers that other hands have made, 
until your world is mended and violence has been stayed. [iii]

[i] Andrew Pratt

Words © 2016 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England copyright@stainer.co.uk . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.

[ii] Andrew Pratt

Words © 2014Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England copyright@stainer.co.uk . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.

[iii] Andrew Pratt 28/2/2022 Written while watching the Russian-Ukraine conflict.

Words © 2022 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England copyright@stainer.co.uk . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.

Idyllic beaches break the waves – a hymn relating to migration and asylum – sadly still pertinent..

These images will not be diminished by persecuting migrants, nor by making a false distinction between those seeking asylum and so called economic migrants. We need to welcome as fellow human beings people coming to our shores who are fleeing fear or poverty and to provide them with safe passage to our shores and a humanitarian reception.

1	Idyllic beaches break the waves 
	as bathers line the shore
	This view of peace is now disturbed:
	an aftermath of war.
	The ones who fled from lives they knew 
	have gone in fear and dread, 
	the ships that offered hope to them 
	are sunk with many dead.
 
2	And where is God amid the swell 
	where tides still ebb and flow,
	unfeeling of this loss of life,
	as others come and go?
	The commerce of the world goes on. 
	Can we ignore the pain?
	It is as though we're blind to see 
	Christ crucified again.
 
3	The ones who drown are ones we own 
	as neighbours we should love;
	how can we turn our eyes away, 
	avert our gaze above?
	For when our politics conspires 
	to shut the door to grace 
	it is as though we turn away 
	from Jesus' tortured face.

Andrew E Pratt (born 1948)
Words © 2015 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, http://www.stainer.co.uk.
Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.

CMD
Tune: KINGSFOLD

 

Beatitude hymn – In places where there is no church

The Beatitudes are enigmatic – blessings for those who seem least blessed (Luke 6: 17 – 26). I’ve often thought that part of our calling as Christians is to embody and enable those blessings by our love in action. Jesus shows us how. This hymn was inspired by this theme


1 In places where there is no church,
where hope is hard to find,
we touch the hands made rough by life
to seek a common mind.
We go where others would not go,
perhaps would fear to tread,
to go beyond our walls and ways
wherever we are led.


2 Where commerce rules we ply our trade,
our currency is grace,
and all we have to offer is
God's love to fill this place.
In prisons where we sit with those
whom justice has condemned,
we seek to mirror Jesus' love
that fear might have an end.


3 And while a person lives in pain
a quiet voice can say,
this time will pass, love holds you still,
we'll see another day.
In searing heat or arctic cold
where lives are ripped and torn,
or where a family waits in fear
we share another dawn.


4 And is it arrogant to say
we look with Jesus' eyes?
We seek to see his face in all,
to hear him in their sighs.
And so our calling is to serve,
to go where Christ has led,
go out, go all, go to the world,
God's people must be fed.


Andrew E Pratt (born 1948)
Words © 2015 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England copyright@stainer.co.uk . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd
Metre: CMD
Tune: WORKING FOR CHRIST (by Camilla Cederholm who I met in Finland – see More than hymns, No.70)

Discipleship, justice and mercy – a hymn

This last week some of us have remembered Jesus being presented in the temple. Soon our readings turn to the calling of disciples. We follow in their footsteps. As we do we are presented, not just with things we should believe, but how we live, the values we should hold.


1 God's commandments link together justice, mercy, love and grace; elements to guide the framing of our laws within this place. Yet the laws and legal judgments that we form through human thought, all too easily diminish values that the Christ had sought.
2 As we follow in his footsteps as disciples, let us find, ways to live in peace together, ways that bring God's grace to mind; ways of gracious peaceful living, that might spread throughout the earth, ways of God's audacious giving: let the spirit find new birth.
Andrew E Pratt (born 1948) Words © 2015 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England copyright@stainer.co.uk . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd
Metre: 8 7 8 7 D Tune: BETHANY (Smart)