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The Link Between Pacifism and Denial of Univeral Christian Ethics
I turn now to examine what drives the strong link connecting Christian pacifism with denying the universality of Christian ethics:
- First, I observe how Christian pacifist denial of universality all seems to arise from having to dismiss Paul's teaching in regard to God-ordained government using lethal force in Romans 13. Of course, any pacifist arguing from the Bible must immediately deny that the ethic of the New Testament is the same as the ethic God approves in the Old Testament. This means Christian pacifists can never say that God's moral standards are unchanging and timeless, but are driven to espouse the idea of a new moral order inaugurated in the New Testament. If this was all, they would be able to say that even though between the Old and New Testaments God changed from one moral order to another, that nevertheless Christian ethics have existed and applied universally since the time of Jesus. But Christian pacifists cannot easily say that because of Romans 13.
- Second, I observe that when Christian pacifists deny the universality of Christian ethics they tend to do so rather narrowly. Christian pacifists are not usually opposed to all aspects of universality ”only some” and really only one aspect in particular. They do not deny that Christian ethics are potentially universal. They do not deny that in the future Christian ethics will someday be applied universally. And they do not deny that Christian moral standards apply universally right now for Christians in the sense that Christian standards are for Christians all over the world. Some may even say that Christian moral standards are universal, for everyone, right now, in regard to private life. In fact, the only thing that Romans 13 truly prohibits Christian pacifists from saying is that Christian moral standards are universal, for everyone, right now, in regard to the role of God-ordained government.
- Third, I observe that, while Christian pacifists might theoretically classify government use of force in a category apart from other areas of moral responsibility, and so treat government use of force as perhaps an exception to an ethic otherwise universally applicable to Christians and non-Christians alike, Christian pacifists have never shown any interest in taking this path. Rather than saying that Christian ethics is otherwise universal except for when it comes to government use of lethal force, Christian pacifists have always instead preferred to claim that Christians stand in a completely different moral order than applies to anyone else, and that Christian moral standards in all areas are all different than what applies outside the Christian community. I am not sure why this is so, but I suspect it is because Christian pacifists must handle Romans 13 from a stance that already denies God's moral order is eternally unchanging. In other words, I suspect that, because Christian pacifists must already say that between the Old and New Testaments God changed from one moral order to another, they are not free to consider the idea that Christians live in a moral order that applies the same to everyone--except for the role God assigns government in Romans 13.
- Fourth, I observe that Christian pacifists wanting to break with pacifist tradition by rejecting ethical dualism and affirming the universality of Christian ethics have very few options. They must either affirm biblical authority while trying to argue that Romans 13 does not authorize government use of lethal force, or they must say that Christian pacifism no longer relies on the Bible. If pacifists want to claim radical fidelity to New Testament teaching, they cannot ignore Paul's teaching on government use of lethal force in Romans 13. But if they rely on Romans 13 as radically as the rest of the New Testament, they cannot argue that New Testament teaching is thoroughly pacifist, unless Paul's reference to "the sword" can be interpreted to deny that God authorizes government use of lethal force. This is not the place to review all the ways pacifists have tried to do this. But suffice it to say their efforts have been most unconvincing chiefly because none can be reconciled with the way Paul's original readers would have understood what he wrote. But if Romans 13 does authorize government use of lethal force and pacifists still insist on applying pacifist principles to government, their only other option is to cease relying on biblical authority to take a course by which they can deny that Romans 13 is relevant to the ethic they think applies universally.
I will use these observations now to assess the ways in which Sider, Hayes, and Hauerwas have been dealing with the issue of universalism in regard to Christian ethics. While Sider is trying hard to break with pacifist tradition by championing universal application of Christian ethics, he cannot do so without contradiction. As an evangelical, Sider cannot deny biblical authority, including what Paul says in Romans 13. But doing that is impossible to reconcile in any credible way with claiming that God truly expects everyone in the world, right now, to live by pacifist principles––including government.
Hayes has less difficulty limiting the relevance of Romans 13 because, while respecting the Bible as a human record, he substitutes the human voice of the Christian community for the transcendent authority of God. But, because Hayes relies on the evolving human voice of the Christian community over what the Bible actually says, he is left with no grounds for claiming that Christian moral standards apply to anyone else. Thus, for Hayes, Christians are pacifists only because the community, or at least a significant portion of the community, has agreed to affirm pacifism. These members of the Christian community would like others to affirm pacifism as well, but because their ethic is no more than a human decision pertaining only to themselves Hayes cannot hold that Christian pacifism has any power to obligate others. Hayes therefore has no problem with Christians agreeing to a standard that does not agree with Romans 13, but his way of doing so disqualifies the relevance of Christian ethics for anyone other than members of the pacifist component of the Christian community.
Like Hayes, Hauerwas also substitutes the evolving human voice of the Christian community for the transcendent authority of divine standards revealed in the Bible. But Hauerwas constructs his version of humanly determined Christian pacifism with one important difference. While Hayes does not completely rule out the possibility of universal ethics and relies on the human voice of community only to approach his way of understanding Christian ethics, Hauerwas categorically denies there is, or ever could be, any such thing. According to Hauerwas, "attempts to identify Christian ethics with a universal human ethic fail to recognize that all accounts of the moral life are narrative dependent" and for that reason "there is no actual universal morality."61 Thus Hauerwas too is freed from having to reconcile Christian pacifism with Romans 13, but at the cost of denying biblical authority is relevant to anyone at all, including Christians.