Oh, Kristy, you crazy Jezebel. Pacifists don’t inflict pain. How can you inflict pain when you’re standing still, allowing people to punch you in the face?
I believe that Christians are called to pacifism. And I also believe that sometimes some Christians are called to inflict a little pain.
Woah. Hold the phone. That doesn’t sound like loving our enemies.
Say someone punches me in the face (for being the mouthy person that I am) and scrapes his knuckles on my front teeth.
I could punch him back, which isn’t at all a Christ-like response.
I could walk away without harming him, which would be a more Christ-like response.
Or I could pull out my first aid kit and swab his knuckles with rubbing alcohol, which would be the most Christ-like response.
When the alcohol hits his scrapes and starts stinging, he might pull back and yell, “You’re hurting me!” but am I really? Am I hurting him or am I helping him? Is causing pain always a violent act?
It’s important to remember that in this scenario, I’m showing off my rad first aid skills on someone who initiated contact with me (via a punch to the face, but still). I didn’t go for a walk in my local park and insist everyone I came across show me their scrapes and scratches so I could pour alcohol over them. And we should never just waltz up to people we know nothing about and “speak the truth” at them because, come on, the gospel is pretty clear about how Christians aren’t supposed to be jerks.
Damage or Discomfort
Sometimes we need to speak the truth, and sometimes the truth is painful for people to hear.
For example, being called out by your congregation for abusing people within the church is painful, but necessary. It’s necessary for the people who’ve been abused and it’s necessary for the person who’s committed the abusive acts. Because how is it loving to allow someone to continue hurting others?
What we have to ask ourselves is are we causing damage or discomfort?
We should never damage other people with our words or actions, but discomfort is absolutely on the table. Discomfort doesn’t cause any true damage, but it can prompt positive change. Because people are always looking for that sweet spot in life, and they’ll weave and bob around anything that makes them uncomfortable to get there.
Last summer, I caused some discomfort. My sister and I showed up at our old church. It could have been a spiritually and emotionally violent sort of raid (even though my sister didn’t let me wear my horned helmet which was a huge disappointment). But I wasn’t there to inflict damage.
The main reason I was there was to pray for that congregation because, you know, Jesus and all. When I got home and recounted the visit to my father, I claimed to have “pulled a total Ananias” because I’m obsessed with Ananias’ interaction with Paul (and I’m also kind of lame). I was there in the spirit of peace and reconciliation. I shook hands. I hugged people. I worshiped with them. And, keep in mind, these are the people who weren’t terribly concerned when a stalker wanted to murder me.
The effect of that peaceful entrance was like pouring rubbing alcohol into a festering wound. It was super uncomfortable. I mean, how would you feel if you’d ignored a teenage girl’s pleas for help while an older man threatened to kill her? And then she disappeared off the face of the earth for 16 years until one day she popped back in on her way to the airport?
But did I damage those people? No.
My presence probably reminded them of some unpleasant moments, but that was all old damage. It wasn’t anything new I caused on that Sunday morning. All I did was bring the alcohol with me (rubbing alcohol, not drinking alcohol, but only because my sister was all, “No, Kristy, you can’t drink a 6-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade before church starts).
You know who else used to cause a lot of discomfort? His name starts with a J. He was never cruel or vindictive about it, but he caused discomfort when it was necessary to bring people closer to righteousness.
Jesus didn’t trade physical punches with people, but he didn’t let them off the hook either. If we’re supposed to follow Jesus, and we find our calling to pacifism in his example and instructions, then we should also find our calling to promote peace, reconciliation, and change through nonviolent action. And sometimes that means a little non-retributive pain and discomfort when disinfection and healing is the purpose.