My good friend Rachel (who has sadly since passed) used to run a ministry that built bridges between impoverished inner-city Los Angeles and the surrounding suburbia.1 She desired to help students learn and experience more about the city and its people who lived right next door to them.
I occasionally brought Sunday school groups to participate in these experiences. One year we got more than we bargained for.
Our assignment on this particular afternoon was to “start up a conversation with a homeless person on the street and use $5 to help them to meet some need.” Three high school students and myself were one team who wandered about looking for someone who would talk with us.
Working up the boldness to talk to a stranger on the street wasn’t easy, but eventually we started up a conversation with a couple people, the second of whom was a small, middle-aged guy with an Irish accent. He said that he had been a boxer, and I believe him – I’ve known punch-drunk former boxers before, brains reeling from years of abuse, and he looked and acted just like one of them. He told us that all he wanted was some prayer. And so we prayed for him right there on the street.
However, our assigned task was to use that $5, and so we asked if there wasn’t some need we could help him with. He thought about it and admitted that he could use some bus tokens. We asked how to get those and he pointed to the booth where they were available. It had a line.
It was already past the time when we were supposed to have everyone back, so I sent the students to join the rest of the group and told them to tell everyone I’d be late. The old boxer and I walked to the line to get the tickets.
The boxer cut to the front to talk to the ticket seller. In the process he disturbed a woman who was at the window, possibly bumping her. The woman’s boyfriend took offense and got in the little guy’s face. I attempted to diffuse the situation by standing in-between the two of them. The boyfriend did not take kindly to my presence, but the one he really wanted to deal with was the boxer, who felt he had done nothing wrong and at this point was really mouthing off at the young guy.
As I kept them apart from each other I realized that the woman’s boyfriend had pulled a switchblade knife and was holding it out. And I was between him and his target. Boy, that escalated quickly.
My main thought at the time was that I was responsible for this poor guy and had to see him out of the situation. I told the disgruntled boyfriend that the old guy wasn’t all there in the head and didn’t mean any harm. And I kept my position such that neither the boxer nor the boyfriend could get around me and meet each other face-to-face.
It’s okay, I’m sorry, he didn’t mean anything, he’s not all there, it’s okay, look, he’s not all there, he didn’t mean anything.
Eventually the situation cooled down and the guy put away the knife. The boxer got his tokens. I went back to the group, figured it was best not to let the students know what had just gone down but whispering it to the coordinator later.
Those of us who believe that Jesus preached an ethic of peace and nonviolence are often targeted as weak, or unloving. Somehow, the word “pacifist” was distorted by detractors into “passive.” The assumption developed that if someone steadfastly chooses approaches other than violence, they must be passive, unwilling to act, a coward. I’ve even been told that I don’t really love my family, by people who think violence is the only true act of love in violent situations.
There is an idea out there that if you believe in a peaceful response to violence, you will end up “doing nothing” while a loving action that requires violence is right before you.
This is never a true dilemma.
We don’t have to chose between “peace” and “love.” We believe in a peace with which God wishes to envelop all of His children on Earth, and that’s a peace that must be active, loving, and intentional in every situation. Whenever violence is confronted, there is something you can do that works towards that peace with love. The trick is spend enough time thinking and caring about such situations that you discover responses that result in peace while loving the potential victim and potential perpetrator. You’ll find those responses if you work hard enough at it.
Especially if you’re a pacifist.
Even if the other guy has a knife in his hand.
 Coincidentally, one of our coordinators there was Jason, who I didn’t know at the time but who is now a strong voice for nonviolent actions and enemy love.
5 thoughts on “Peace versus love”
This is also one of the many, many scenarios where using violence (in the form of a gun) turns out to be ill-advised when thought through. Imagine what would actually be possible.
option a. You pull the gun after he pulls the knife. He feels threatened by your movement and stabs you before you get the gun out.
option b. You successfully pull the gun, and he realizes he is outmatched. Except his friend to the side who you’re not looking at pulls a gun and shoots you because you are now a violent threat.
option c. You successfully pull the gun, he is outmatched, has no friends. At gunpoint you force him to put the knife away…and then what? He didn’t actually stab anyone so there isn’t any legal recourse, but if you just let him walk away you’ll be looking over your shoulder…and since he’s both angrier and feeling emasculated now, he might be that much more likely to take it out on the punch-drunk boxer when you leave.
option d: You wait to pull the gun until he actually stabs the guy. Except…by then it’s too late because he’s already stabbed the guy. And option b is still possible at that point too.
option e: You pull the gun at some point, get him to stand down, he really doesn’t want to mess with you so it’s all okay, nothing bad happens. Except…he now feels that the reason he lost the interaction was because you had more firepower than him. Which gives him an incentive to get his own gun to use next time, because the knife wasn’t enough. You’ve taught him the lesson that violence is the right answer, he just didn’t have enough of it ready. And everyone watching in the crowd learned the same lesson.
When you bring lethal violence into an already dangerous situation, the number of things that can go wrong almost always outnumber the number of things that can go well. You’re either playing a dangerous game by escalating the violence, or you’re giving yourself a low chance of success by being late with the violence. And either way, your long-term contribution is to encourage a world with MORE violence in it. Every once in a while you might get a superficially “good” outcome, but in both the short-term and the long-term the odds point towards poor outcomes more often than not.
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This is really interesting (and sounds extremely scary!) I guess I consider myself a pacifist but I haven’t spent a great deal of time wrestling with it. Moere and more, I’m wrestling with the fact that most of my political views and labels (like pacifist) are inherited from my parents. I agree with most of them, but I also think I need to take more of my own action instead of passively accepting these labels. It’s one thing to be dragged to a peaceful protest or whatever when you’re 4 years old, and another to go to one when you have a choice about it.
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I was at a bible study a year or two ago, where a side-conversation started out with “Everyone in our church owns a gun!” and descended to excited discussion about how prepared they would be when someone breaks into their house. I was somewhat mystified by the conversation because 1) this really didn’t sound like an attitude that would be supported by the gospel, and 2) they all lived in wealthy towns with next-to-no crime. Its a common thing in the US, and not one that I really understand.
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I believe that it is deeply rooted in our nation’s origin, the ongoing effect of the reality (or even mythology about the reality) of a nation founded via fighting and killing, with the original human residents of the land, with the wild animals who inhabited the land, with the French, with the British, with the Mexicans, with the Spanish, and eventually with each other. To some degree there is a reality that we are a nation founded on blood, and that has become such a controlling narrative that many people believe that we HAD to be a nation founded on blood, that we only maintain our collective or individual sovereignty by being ever-willing and ever-ready to draw more blood, and that as we are (in the mythology) a God-blessed nation, our history is all the proof we need that God wants us to keep moving along that path.
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