Almost exactly halfway through my seminary experience, the first gulf war broke out; and it helped me to realize that I had made up my mind…I was a pacifist.
I came to George Fox College pretty much knowing I felt called to be a pastor, and not knowing “Quakers” and “Friends” were the same thing. I began worshipping at Newberg Friends, and realized that these people took seriously something all Christians say they believe, but often don’t take too seriously–that the Holy Spirit really is present. Chuck Mylander (he’s Kirk’s dad, the one I went to the movie with the other night) said that pastors really ought to be a part of a denomination, a community, a group to hold them accountable. So I spent the last two years of college trying to figure out if I was going to be a part of Northwest Yearly Meeting or the Pacific Conference of the Evangelical Church of North America, the church I had been a part of in high school.
First, I read the Discipline of the ECNA church. It was sort of like eating saltine crackers; nothing really bothered me, nothing really excited me. When I read the Faith and Practice of Northwest Yearly Meeting, it was like eating Thai food for the first time; some of it was so unbelievably good, like nothing I’d had before. And some of it (at the time) just made my stomach turn. I struggled with Friends’ views on communion and baptism, and I struggled with peacemaking and pacifism. Sometimes, isn’t the world an evil enough place that lethal force might be necessary?
It’s hard to trace the changes in one’s own worldview. One significant piece I remember well was watching the movie “The Mission”, about Jesuit priests in South America. What’s so powerful about the movie is they come to a place where they are being attacked, forcibly removed from their mission. Some chose to fight; some chose simply to stay and worship while the guns blazed.
They all die. In the face of great evil, it didn’t have any consequence what choice they made. They all died. And staring that in the face, I realized there was a different question than what works, what is most effective, what does the greatest good for the greatest number of people. I realized that the ones who chose to simply stay and worship and NOT fight did what they felt Jesus would have done. They stood with the oppressed and enslaved native american tribes, and they did not fight. The better question is, how would Jesus have us live, regardless of the outcome?
By the time we were all huddled around tv sets, watching cameras with night vision on CNN show us the explosions in Baghdad, I knew what I believed. I knew I believed that war was never a choice that God would have us choose. What surprised me was how many people in the Fuller community (still a minority, but a sizeable minority) were in the same place. What surprised me was listening to a debate on campus between professors who were pacifists and those who held to just war theory, and realizing ALL of them were against this particular war. What surprised me was how many ways articulate and brilliant people could show that not only is war not what God would have us choose, but ultimately doesn’t practically work. World War II stopped Hitler and Japan, but it couldn’t stop the Balkans or the Iron Curtain or the Cold War.
I read this to the monthly meeting at Glendora Friends Church on February 10, 1991:
Having come to the conclusion that I could not in good conscience fight in any war for any reason, I request that my personal affirmation of the traditional Friends testimony of pacifism be placed in the permanent record of the monthly meeting of Glendora Friends.
In my reading of the Scriptures and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit I have seen that God through Jesus Christ has brought a message of hope and love to all people. That hope is the ability to choose to accept the offering of Jesus’ death for sins and receive eternal life. Because that freedom to choose exists only as long as a person is alive, and because Jesus has called us to love our enemies as well as bring the message of salvation to the whole world, I believe that war in general and killing in particular are diametrically opposed to the will and purpose of God. On a personal level I cannot find any justification–not protection of freedom, property, or even other human life–that would allow me to have the right to take away God’s gift of life from another individual. God has given life, and it is my belief that it is not in my power to decide when to take it away.
These beliefs have developed in my heart and mind through much prayer and thought since I entered college in 1986. By my sophomore year (1987-88), I had come to the basic conclusion that I could not personally take the life of another person. I have come to see that God also calls us to actively strive for peace, not just passively stand against war. My family of origin does not hold these same beliefs, although my wife does. Besides the influence of the Holy Spirit and the Bible, reading some of the works of George Fox,
Barclay’s Apology, and The Rich Heritage of Quakerism have helped to shape my beliefs. The students and faculty at George Fox College during my years there have added input as well.
My desire to join and serve in the Friends church has been influenced by many things, not least their commitment to working for peace and justice in our world. I desire and strive to work actively for peace in relationships around me as further testimony to my understanding of God’s will and purpose for my life.