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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You raise some excellent points and dilemmas.  For me, pacifism is very different than "non-resistance" or "non-violence".  The last quote you put here about the doctrine of pacifism is one that I agree with only IF those who practice it do not act in ways that seek to break cycles of violence such as working tirelessly towards justice - in actions more than words, and in a way that does call for sacrifice.  I do think that pacifism should be something that we Friends embrace as a disciplined lifestyle that moves us to go out and serve the world with a commitment and sacrifice not that dissimilar from the sacrifices and risks of the military.


As for 'non-resistance', I do think we should always engage in a struggle that is worth engaging in, but also striving to hold on to our principles.  I would not ever take up arms, but that doesn't mean I might not use a baseball bat to try and overtake a person if put in a desperate situation.  Again, the idea would be to overtake the person, and realizing that in the struggle I might be the one who is overtaken.  It's the constant battle of "what is one willing to die for, to live for, and to put his/her on the life for?"  Too often,  I find we may righteously embrace the labels but not the struggles to live the ideals as you have raised them.  Thanks,

I have once intervened in a very violent encounter in a less-violent-but-enough-to-stop-it way.  I saw someone being strangled, so I used my fingernails on the strangler's wrist, which was enough to make them withdraw.   In other situations (these two people were on the ground),  I'd have no problem (well, other than sheer physical strength) with pushing an attacker away from a victim. I think the minimal-force-necessary is a good rule to follow.

As a college student, I had intellectual difficulty with "utopian nonviolence", as advocated by so many Friends.  It is in the very nature of a sovereign state to use violent means to maintain its integrity and order.  The claim that nonviolence is always an effective tactic in the face of evil does not stand up under close scrutiny.

During my first year of graduate school, I discovered books by Guy Hershberger and J.C. Wenger on Mennonite doctrine. I was nearly overwhelmed when I found the “two kingdoms” doctrine and nonresistance (as opposed to nonviolence). The two-kingdoms doctrine asserts that government can use violence to "protect the innocent" and "restrain evil doers", but the Christian should not participate in such use of power.


Responding to aggression directed at oneself or to others in one's family and/or community seems to me to be a different matter.  I could not stand by and watch anyone abuse an innocent person without trying to stop that abuse.  Even if I saw a police officer being attacked, I would risk my life to help the officer.


I suspect that the story about the Mennonite who allowed his daughters to be raped again and again is apocryphal.  No one in his right mind would allow this to happen.



You are on to something, Mackenzie.  One thing I have not seen enough of is the fine art of restraint.  How do we effectively restrain an attacker, either to ourselves or to others?  And I don't mean put a bullet in him/her.

The interesting thing about the word Aikido is that the first character  ("ai") means "love."  The interesting thing about it as a martial art is that it works entirely by turning the attacker's own energy against them. It doesn't really work on someone standing still, since they don't have any momentum for you to reflect.  All the attacker has to do to stop from being thrown to the ground is...stop attacking. I just described it to a friend as "very masterful tripping" since you can't trip someone who is neither running nor walking.


One of my friends who studies Aikido explained it as every movement ending with "and then I lay you gently down."

I began to realize that I was a pacifist during an debate my freshman year of college. Over lunch I was discussing my pro-life position, and as I reasoned through it I realized on the grounds that I opposed abortion, I could not support capital punishment because there was no reason to believe that life lost its spiritual value at any point - that the lives of newborn babies were not more valuable in God's eyes than that of a criminal, since God loves all humans (sinful as they are) equally. After capital punishment went out the window, I definitely couldn't support war anymore. It helped that this all occurred after 9/11, while our culture was becoming steeped in a nationalistic vitriol that I had never known before. Seeing the ungly side of American Christian fundamentalists, I began to realize we were not much different than our enemies, who were supposedly Muslim fundamentalists. (Unstoppable force meets immovable object in my mind.)


A few years later, reading works by Leo Tolstoy shed more intellectual light on the Christian pacifism I was feeling led towards. He is renowned as a great Russian novelist, but I think underappreciated as a spiritual Christian author.


However, for the sake of clarity I should add, in the past decade although I still don't believe that abortion is right, I have changed my position slightly. I think that it should remain legal. Rather than forcing an already tragic situation into more tragedy (by making it more dangerous), I have to agree with the words of Susan B. Anthony, that we need to get to the root of the problems that cause women to be desperate enough to do such a thing.


I suspect that the story about the Mennonite who allowed his daughters to be raped again and again is apocryphal.  No one in his right mind would allow this to happen.



And thank you for this. I was thinking the same thing - it doesn't sound real to me. I suspect it might have a kernel of truth, but is an otherwise (greatly) altered account.

Brad, could you please elaborate more on how you differentiate 'pacifism', 'nonresistance', and 'nonviolence'? I understand (I think) the difference between pacifism and nonresistance, but am unclear about how nonviolence differs from either or both of these.

Let me preface that everything I say here is from a layman's perspective, as much intuitive and some amalgamation of thoughts, observations and experiences.  For me, pacifism, as an "ism", is about action (as in "activism") that stems from the belief that war and violence do not solve things, and the action entailed calls on us (me) to work to break the cycles of violence by working for justice and economic equality - going to places where people are vulnerable and discriminated, building bridges of compassion and understanding, and serving in ways possible.  As I write this, I see that there is a lot of overlap between non-violence and pacifism, but I have two distinctions: the first is just simple language.  "Non-violence" is a term laden with struggle; I think of "non-violent" protests which can be antagonistic, pointing the finger of blame, and not really encouraging dialog.  There is a difference between young African-Americans sitting at a lunch counter in the south in the 1960's, a remarkable display of non-violence, and peaceful protests that are as much "passive-aggressive" as anything.  So, all to say, I suppose, non-violence that flows from a sense of inner-peace and serenity with a passion for justice is different that non-violently screaming slogans.  Pacifism, ultimately, is to work for the more just world while constantly nurturing that peace, love and serenity within as the source of energy. As I said, very much a layman's thing at this point, but thanks for having me think deeper about it.

This story seems 100% false. As a Mennonite, let me tell you stories get around our circles & I've never heard this story or anything like it. Pacifism, Nonresistance, & Nonviolence are powerful tools, but if the tools are never used for a job they are no good. If you are a Pacifist but not a Peace-maker are you really doing anything? If this strange story was true, the father was not being a Peace-maker he was causing more evil. He could have used the tools of Nonresistance to be a Peace-maker. As Peace-makers we resist violence & doing so resist evil. we do not pass evil on. Peace-making & reconciliation should be the product of Pacifism.

In going through my father's papers I found this response to a similar question in 1975.

Sometimes we are stimulated to write a statement and lay it aside, then wish that we might share it. About three years ago I was part of a group conversation where pacifism and especially Quakers were being criticized and war was being justified. Someone made a forcible; "I guess the Quakers just want us to love 'em to death."

I made no reply because, although the statement was made for my "benefit," it was not made directly to me. I am glad that I did not get into an argument. However, I remember how that statement stayed with me. A few days ago I came across a written reply, mainly made to myself. This I want to share just as I found it:

"We are not asked to love 'them' (enemies) to death. We are asked to love them to life, but that means a cross and who wants to be crucified? I don't want to be anymore than you do, so I go along with the ways of the uncommitted or partly committed in putting bad guys (thieves) on crosses, creating Calvaries all over the world. But if we look, I think we will see that with them hangs the very Son of God whom we continually crucify with our ways of violence."

Thank you, Brian. I would imagine a story like this would travel far and wide. So now I guess the troubling part is, a religious man that many people respect and follow is telling false stories to support his own beliefs, to peddle those beliefs to others (while smearing another religious group). My grandma is a member of a Mennonite church and the one thing I regret about the pastor/congregation is that they are not outspoken about nonviolence or pacifism. I think it is one of the most important teachings of the 'peace churches'. And as you and others have said,  as "peace-makers" we need to be actively building foundations and bridges for peace. Pacifism is not passive.
It isn't an easy way, that's for certain!

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