Hello Friends,


Here I thought I was gone from QuakerQuaker for only a week or so, and boy do I have reading to catch up on already!


I would like opinions on the matter of pacifism vs. nonresistance. Last night I was looking through the website of an author a relative of mine recommended, because I wanted to know more about the author's platform. While I was there, I found this:



I have a question concerning self defense in the home and while "out and about" with my children. My husband wants me to get a conceal-and-carry license and to carry a small handgun.

I am in somewhat of a turmoil as I want to obey my husband and of course I want to protect my children. Do I have a right biblically though to protect my kids with force? Also, should Christians go off to war and fight? What about “Thou shalt not kill?”  Thank you for any help you might give me.

Michael answers:

Christians should be entirely pacifists in the face of legally-sanctioned persecution. If the government comes after Believers for their faith in Christ, we should be entirely non-resistant, as it says in Romans 13. Likewise, if a Christian is living in a land dominated by another religion, as is the case with 100,000 believers living in Iraq, and the Muslim religion were to launch a campaign of persecution against Christians, we should again practice staunch non-violence.

But, if a believer is appointed by his government to bear the sword, as is the case with a soldier or policeman, then he is the arm of God’s justice and should practice violence as is necessary, and no more. If a believer is the object of attempted random assault by a crazed dopehead or an evil man controlled by Satan, he is not at liberty before God to be non-resistant. He must defend himself, his family, and any other innocent party of which he is capable. Self-defense is sanctioned under the laws God gave to Israel and no where in the New Testament does God revoke the duty to self defense.

We have a Mennonite neighbor who practiced non-resistance under all circumstances. Some evil men found out about it and came into his home demanding to take sexual liberties with all his daughters. He did not resist but gave them his younger daughters as well. The men returned. His daughters became pregnant and bore little bastards. No man ever wanted them for wives. He stood by and watched the evil men strip and rape his daughters. It destroyed the family. They had to move so as to cease being used by evil men at their will. He was a fool. His doctrine was of the Devil. He should have risen up in righteous wrath and slain the enemy, like Joshua of old.

I have been struck and pushed and cursed for the gospel’s sake. I have had my life threatened several times. I have been non-resistant in all cases, but when I came across a man raping a woman in the woods, I reached for my pistol and saved her life. To this day she is thankful that I was not a pacifist. She didn’t need a spectator; she needed a deliverer.

The doctrine of pacifism is a selfish doctrine of weak men who are not led by the Spirit and are seeking salvation in their own sacrifice. I will have no part of it.




I understand that Quakers have at times disagreed on the subject of nonviolence. However, as far as I am aware, nonviolence is at the center of the faith. I have also read that Quakers (like other peace churches) are typically nonresisters, not pacifists, though some Quakers interpret nonviolence as pacifism.


Supposing that the story of the Mennonite is true, and intruders broke into his house demanding to rape his daughters, it seems to me that this example is flawed even in the sense of nonresistance. As far as I know, nonresistance is something you choose for yourself. But by what right could he hand his daughters over to endure bodily harm? The treatment of the women first of all bothers me, because they are treated as commodities (which would go against Quaker belief in equality). First the Mennonite hands his daughters over to the rapists again and again. Then the writer goes on to say that the consequences for this were that no one wanted to marry the daughters - they were "spoiled goods" essentially. I know that Mennonite and Amish churches can also be misogynistic, so misogyny was one of the things about this little story that stuck out to me. It doesn't seem to be a Quaker trait.


That aside, surely there was something else a nonresister could have done rather than let his daughters get raped over and over and over again. A pacifist would usually recommend to use nonviolent means to divert or prevent the attacks, but does nonresistance extend beyond letting harm be done to you, to also watching passively as others are harmed without intervention? What would you, as a Quaker, have done in this Mennonite man's shoes?


In this article, the author equated pacifism with nonresistance and did not seem to recognize a distinction between the two.


And what do you make of this charge? (Which I've encountered often):



The doctrine of pacifism is a selfish doctrine of weak men who are not led by the Spirit and are seeking salvation in their own sacrifice. I will have no part of it.



I have never interpreted it in this way. As an elderly Mennonite once told me (not a plain dressing one) that as a young man he refused to fight in the war because, "I always thought, what if I killed someone before he had time to know Jesus?" So it seemed this Mennonite was more concerned about the other person's salvation, as he felt assured of his.

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Thank you!
In discussing all of this I'm reminded of the movie "Friendly Persuasion". In the movie, the Quaker mother (when faced with the advancng Confederate army) says something to the effect that if it is God's will for the Confederates to come, just as they can't stop storms from coming they won't stop the Confederates from coming, either. I wish I knew the direct quote - it seemed profound at the time, a true nonresister quote.


Then later, when the Confederates do come, she voluntarily directs them to her smokehouse and their other food reserves, and invites them into her house for a meal. She finally lashes out by hitting one of the soldiers over the head with a broom when she finds him about to break her pet goose's neck. She is immediately ashamed and embarrassed by her actions.

In Hollywood portrayals of Quakers, the background assumption for those making the picture is: "This won't work; this can't work!" So of course you get this kind of "fall"; everyone can feel sympathetic and be reassured that violence is okay after all.


"High Noon" was another good example.


Of course, in the Civil War, there were a great many young Quaker men conflicted about whether to fight for the Union or maintain Quaker principles. Some landed on one side, some on the other. There was at least one in a Confederate State who died in prison for refusing to fight.

John Wayne's Angel and the Badman is another. At least Wayne didn't shoot the bad guys at the closing show down, as the Quakers show up and convince him to lay down his gun. The bad guys are about to dispatch Wayne, when the sheriff takes them out. So...you get the message.

First, I do not believe Michael's story is accurate. The Mennonites that I know of practice "non-resistance" rather aggressively; that is, they don't cringe or submit to evil; they are not spectators; they stare it down without violence on  their part. If the story is accurate, then this particular Mennonite does not understand Christ; he had no right to give his daughters to anyone. He may give himself if he likes, but not anyone else. In any case, Michael does not understand Christ either.

Secondly, Christ would not have us be passive victims. Christ's own suffering was not passive, and He was not a victim. George Fox was repeatedly beaten, but his taking a beating was not passive, nor was he a victim. In the words of Lucretia Mott:

I have no idea, because I am a non-resistant, of submitting tamely to injustice... I will oppose it with all the moral powers with which I am endowed. I am no advocate of passivity. Quakerism, as I understand it, does not mean quietism. The early Friends were agitators; disturbers of the peace; and were more obnoxious in their day... than we are.


Gene Hillman, in his article, "Quakers and the Lamb's War: A Hermeneutic for Confronting Evil" writes that the Quaker peace witness has been

...an active struggle against evil... an assertive, if not aggressive, witness to the Truth.


He further states that

It is not that we are not to resist evil, but that we are not to resist evil on its own terms.


He also states that Christ's admonitions in Matthew 5:39-41

..are not admonitions to passivity, but to non-violent assertiveness, asserting one's integrity and dignity when faced with a contemptuous superior power.


Just how to deal with evil men will neither be found in violence nor in passivity, but in a defiant, non-violent confrontation of evil.  The defiance of the man with a gun may very well dissipate when his gun misfires, but the defiance of one empowered by God's Truth will stand up to evil without fail.  

"...the ugly side of American Christian fundamentalists..."

Keep reading Michael Pearl if you want more of the above, Lauren.

I think I am surrounded with it, Kenneth. At least when my neighbors and relatives tell me about what they have been reading, I can begin to understand where they're coming from.
Are there any films where pacifism "wins"?

I've read that his books are on recommended Mennonite reading lists. I can only guess that the churches that list these books have no idea that he actually believes that they are wickedly misled.


By the way, do you think that pacifism and nonresistance are practically one and the same?

I think they are practically the same, though to me their connotations are differrent. Pacifism seems to imply passive surrender, as in "passivism", while nonresistance, for some reason, seems to imply action, taking the initiative, more like non-violent resistance than actual nonresistance. 

I have a book on Zen Buddhism, by Omori Sogen, in which is described "standing up in response", as when a sumo wrestler "encounters the opponent at the same time he stands up with a stance sufficient to meet his attack." Sogen says that it has always been  a basic principle of religion to stand up in response to the modern world. He also believes Jesus' "turn the other cheek" means to stand up in response and therefore seize the opportunity. "Otherwise," he says, "the same words are no more than the cry of a weakling." As Sogen sees it , by turning the other cheek you are no longer the object, but the subject.

I suppose I see nonresistance as "standing up in response".   

Ken - I think your connection of pacifism and passivism is the very thing we need to pull apart from.  In my work with youth, I've been encouraging that pacifism does not mean to be passive at all, but to be extremely active in pacifying potential violence.  I think of the pacifier that quiets the agitated infant, and it is the active and engaged parent that knows how and when to use it wisely.

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