Saturday, December 02, 2006

Is Pacifism a Doctrinal Standard of the UMC?

Jonathan Marlowe has an interesting argument:

You are exactly right about this. The Articles of Religion of the ME Church and the Confession of Faith of the EUB Church are doctrinal standards, and it is a chargeable offense for anyone (lay or clergy) to disseminate any doctrines contrary thereto.

Also, remember that the Confession of Faith of the EUB states that "War and bloodshed are contrary to the gospel and spirit of Christ." This is not just a statement from the Social Principles (which can change every four years and are not binding). This is a quote from a doctrinal standard, and as such, it is binding on all UM clergy and laity.

He is referring to Article 16 in The Confession of Faith on p.71 of The Book of Discipline (2004), which reads:

We believe civil government derives its just powers from the sovereign God. As Christians we recognize the governments under whose protection we reside and believe such governments should be based on, and be responsible for, the recognition of human rights under God. We believe war and bloodshed are contrary to the gospel and spirit of Christ. We believe it is the duty of Christian citizens to give moral strength and purpose to their respective governments through sober, righteous and godly living.

Emphasis added. I had never noticed that before. In the context of this entire article and The Confession of Faith as a whole, the sentence suggests that pacifism is mandatory. Unless I can find evidence that the original intent of this sentence was not to establish pacifism, then Jonathan has a strong case.

So I am now at the seminary library trying to find out the original intent of the sentence. Alas, most of Asbury Seminary's resources on the history of the UB and EUB are at the Wilmore campus. Most of what I can find are old hagiographies of EUB leaders and the EUB itself, and only two critical histories. Neither describe the creation of this article, let alone the rationale behind it. I do have in my hands a 1963 Discipline of the EUB, which contains this article verbatim, as well as a general statement that war is very bad, but that individual church members may elect to serve in the armed forces if they feel it is necessary. "God alone is the Lord of the conscience" (177). But this statement is not in the Confession, and therefore lacks its authority.

Key to this discussion is what we United Methodists define as our doctrinal standards. The Book of Discipline says:

In the Plan of Union for The United Methodist Church, the preface to the Methodist Articles of Religion and the Evangelical United Brethren Confession of Faith explains that both were accepted as doctrinal standards for the new church. Additionally, it stated that although the language of the first Restrictive Rule never has been formally defined, Wesley's Sermons and Notes were understood specifically to be included in our present existing and established standards of doctrine. It also stated that the Articles, the Confession, and the Wesleyan "standards" were "thus deemed congruent if not identical in their doctrinal perspectives and not in conflict." This declaration was accepted by subsequent rulings of the Judicial Council.

Jonathan disputes this statement, and is apparently far more well read than I on the debate over what documents form our doctrinal statements:

Heitzenrater goes back to the minutes of the 1808 General Conference (when the First Restrictive Rule was adopted); a motion was made by Francis Ward to establish the Articles of Religion, Wesley's Notes and Sermons and Fletcher's Checks against Antinomianism as the established doctrinal standards. This motion failed. Heitzenrater writes,

"The General Conference was not willing to go on record defining its standards of doctrine in terms of documents other than the Articles, not even Wesley's Sermons and Notes .... In light of those actions of the 1808 General Conference, it is by no means strange that for two successive generations no one ever seems to have raised the question as to what the 'present existing and established standards of doctrine' were. The Articles of Religion were the only standards of doctrine that had been 'established' by the Methodist Episcopal Church, that is adopted between 1785 and 1808 with provisions for enforcement as a measure of Methodist doctrine in America."

This dispute is definitely worth exploring further. Now as for the doctrinal standard issue, I've glanced at Wesley's Notes to see what he had to say about the major Bible verses used to support Just War: Mat 8:8-10 and Mark 12:13-17. Neither of them advance the proposition that Wesley supported Just War Theory. I also looked at what Wesley had to say about the primary Bible verses for pacifism: Mat 5:38-42, Luk 6:32-36, and Rom 12:17-13:7, and he gave pacifistic readings of all three.

I don't have time to look at the Notes further, nor the Sermons, but it's clear that Jonathan has a very credible argument. And as I'm a supporter of Just War Theory, that makes me rather uncomfortable.

Joel Betow also has thoughts on this subject.



Jonathan said...

Thanks for engaging very seriously with this topic, John. You never cease to amaze me.

I have listed several sources for further study and research on this topic at my blog.

Anonymous said...

As a pacifist, I'm thrilled with the observation!

Doctrine is sometimes difficult to "live into", but it is there for a reason and the doctrinal standards possess a wisdom far beyond our own understandings.

There is a great tradition of evangelical pacifism. Relatively recent works I would commend to your attention - with which you may already be familiar - are John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus and Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas & (now Bishop) William Willimon; both books are quite readable and not overly "heavy".

Keith Taylor said...

Okay, but so what? We believe the Bible to the Word of God, correct? I am very greatful that this is a Doctrinal Standard of the UMC. But this is a basic message of the whole new testament. Christ's teachings are complete with talk of love thy neighbor as you love yourself and he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword. Only an idiot Christian who never reads his or her Bible doesn't know that. Then again, we have plenty of those in America don't we.

But, that doesn't mean that I'm not going to pick up a shotgun and defend someone who needs defending (even if that someone is me) if there is no other way.

War is evil and exists in the first place because the Earth we live in is fallen, corrupt, and cursed. That is Christian Sunday School 101, isn't it?

But if the German Fuehrer is hell bent on killing everyone who is not part of his Master Race, I have no problem killing him and his army.

If I'm on an airplane and an Islamofacist is going to take it over and fly it into a building, I will kill him with my bare hands if I have to.

If group of American States thinks it is okay to hold an entire race of Americans in slavery simply because they are not white, then I would have been all for declaring war on them. (that is tough for me as a southerner and it is my Christian Faith that actually brought me to that conclusion)

As a UM Christian, it is self evident to me that pacificism is a Doctrinal standard of the UMC because it is Christian Doctrinal Standard, not just a Methodist one. But that still doesn't mean that we shouldn't have an army and navy and use it to defend ourselves and kill our enemies if they want to kill either us or the weak and defenseless. War will cease to exist in the Kingdom of God, but Christ hasn't established that Kingdom yet, and we still have to live as Christians in a fallen world.

So with all of that, what are you telling me, that as a UM I have allow the weak to die because it is unChristian to defend them? Or I have to die because it is unChristian to defend myself?

Or, I should just let the "unsaved" infadels in America fight for me because I am a UM and my church doctrine rightfully says that war is evil?

John said...

No Keith, I'm not saying that Just War Theory is unChristian, or that is unChristian to defend yourself. I'm saying that a case can be made that doing so is in violation of the doctrinal standards of the UMC. A person is not a faithless Christian because he disobeys the doctrinal standards of the UMC. If that were true, then proponents of adult baptism would be heretics.

Anonymous said...

Hauerwas says, "There are many things I'm willing to die for; there's nothing I'm willing to kill for."

The idea behind nonviolence is that every human life is created in God's image and therefore sacred, and that sina and death are the enemies of God and humanity, so we ought not aid the enemy.

Back in the days of the early Church, a Christian coming out of military service had to serve a period of penance and probation before being readmitted to the community, as killing was seen as completely antithetical to the gospel; "just war" was an unknown oxymoron.

In my view, folks who advocate "just war" are still Christian, of course, but are still moving on to perfection (I'm certainly not there yet!).

Keith Taylor said...

Well, I will tell you that I am a Methodist Heretic when it comes to adult baptism because I personally see no point to infant baptism at all. I don't like the practice, but if it makes the parents happy, then so be it. I personally wish the UMC didn't do infant baptism, but if that is all I have to complain about, I am doing good.

I am personally glad that my parents didn't baptize me and I got to go forward on my own when I was 24 and recieve the sacrament at a time and a place of my own chosing. Plus I remember it clearly.

Keith Taylor - Fidei defensor :-)

I am giving myself that title in light of the past week in the blogosphere.

Dan Trabue said...

"But if the German Fuehrer is hell bent on killing everyone who is not part of his Master Race, I have no problem killing him and his army."

The problem (one of the many problems) with war is that it is rarely so neat. The allied forces may have wanted to stop the Nazis and been willing to use deadly force to do so, but what they did additionally was firebomb and nuke towns - civilian centers of innocent men, women and children.

So peacemakers (pacifists and Just Peacemakers of various sorts) are advocating standing up and trying to stop the "nazis," terrorists and other boogeymen of the world, we're just not willing to do so with deadly violence. Additionally, even the Just War Theorists are generally queasy about war-as-it-is-practiced.

I'd hope that all Christians could at least reach the point where we all agree the deliberate targeting of civilians - whether it's the 9/11 terrorists or Harry Truman targeting hundreds of thousands of Japanese - is just wrong.

Anonymous said...


St.Phransus said...

Keith said, "Well, I will tell you that I am a Methodist Heretic when it comes to adult baptism because I personally see no point to infant baptism at all."

The point to infant baptism comes from our (Methodist) understanding of baptism. Unlike some other denomiations where baptism is the act and sign of having an individual encounter with God and claiming a choice to follow and be "saved", Wesleyans view baptism as a both individual and communal act of initiation into the life of Christian community and discipleship. Infants are welcomed through baptism because through that very same baptism the congregation is charged with discipling and nurturing the infant.

We also understand God's grace to be at work way before baptism happens so although it can be partly our choice to be baptized as adults, or it can be the choice of our parents when we are young, it is ultimately God's prevenient grace that has led those decision makers to that place.

I hope that is helpful in working through "heretical" thoughts. I find myself having many of those myself.