The Religious Left & Pacifism

The Religious Left & Pacifism


Because they tend to view the United States as an aggressive, militaristic, expansionist nation in pursuit of worldwide empire, religious leftists typically embrace one or both of the following perspectives:

  • They contend that most or all U.S. warnings about foreign threats to American interests are either wildly exaggerated or entirely false.
  • They claim even if a threat does exist, it is only because U.S. foreign policies have been persecuting and alienating the perceived enemies for many years.

By the same token, the religious left invariably condemns military-related spending by the United States as evidence of the nation’s imperialistic objectives and its eagerness to divert vital funds away from programs that could otherwise have aided impoverished people, both at home and abroad. In recent decades, this perspective has animated massive faith-based campaigns against American weapon and defense systems such as the neutron bomb, the MX missile, the deployment of Pershing missiles in Europe, and the Strategic Defense Initiative.

Many religious pacifists believe that God will take care of Christians, and that therefore military defense is not essential. Others maintain that while God may not necessarily protect believers physically, pacifism nonetheless is the morally correct attitude – even if it ultimately results in the slaughter of many innocents.

These theologies of “peace” have long held sway among the religious left. Indeed, prior to World War II minorities within American churches loudly opposed American rearmament. In False Presence of the Kingdom, French theologian Jacques Ellul explains how their mindset prevented many Christians from grasping the enormity of the Nazi threat prior to 1937:

“That was when the clarity of vision was essential. After 1937 it was already too late. The fate of the world was already sealed for thirty years or more. But in those years the Christians, full of good intentions, were thinking only of peace and were loudly proclaiming pacifism.”

The spirit of religious pacifism today is embodied with crystal clarity in the worldview of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), founded by Quakers in 1917 “to provide … conscientious objectors an opportunity to serve those in need instead of fighting during World War I.” To this day, AFSC remains “committed to the principles of nonviolence and justice” in the face of any and all external threats, confident that “the transforming power of love, human and divine” will ultimately cause aggressors to lay down their weapons and permit peaceful reconciliation to prevail. Following what it calls “the radical thrust of the early Christian witness,” AFSC members affirm that they “regard no person as our enemy.” Thus they “seek to understand and address the root causes of poverty, injustice, and war … [and] to confront, nonviolently, powerful institutions of violence, evil, oppression, and injustice.”

But it is the group Sojouners which most clearly embodies the religious left’s willingness to appease tyrannies around the globe. “It is sometimes difficult to remember how the Russians became our enemy,” said Sojourners in the 1990s. “… At each step in the Cold War, the U.S. was presented with a choice between very different but equally plausible interpretations of Soviet intentions, each of which would have led to very different responses.

Witness For Peace (WFP), which was created by Sojourners, typically echoes the positions of its parent group. When a U.S. invasion of Iraq was imminent in early 2003, for example, WFP stated that the Bush administration had “manufactured a crisis to suit its warlike political needs,” thereby bringing the U.S. to the brink of “this unnecessary military excursion.” In February 2003, just a month before the war was to begin, WFP likened the United States to Nazi Germany. In 2006, the organization began sending “delegations” to Hugo Chavez‘s Venezuela to join the latter in condemning “U.S. government aggression.”

Additional Resources:

Modern Christian Pacifist Philosophy
By David B. Kopel

The Religious Left and Disarmament
By Edmund Robb and Julia Robb

Religiously Battling for Pacifism
By Mark Tooley
December 13, 2010

Anti-American Pacifism Rules Religious Left
By Mark Tooley
June 1, 2011

Religious Left Dreams of a De-Nuked America
By Mark Tooley
August 11, 2011

Bin Laden’s Death Discomfits Religious Left
By Mark Tooley
May 9, 2011

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