Thursday, January 15, 2009

The trouble with pacifism

Some years ago, my Jesuit spiritual director, Thomas Buckley, OSJ, taught a class in Berkeley on the history of pacifist movements in the United States, and I still have the notes. Tom is a wonderful spiritual director and gentle and articulate teacher. This was not a class on realpoliticks. Of course pacifism is impractical, it will never work, it is naive, it never will stop the tanks.

And yet...

As our world burns, as the tanks roll in Gaza, and missiles fly into Tel Aviv, and bombs explode Iraq and Afghanistan and India and Pakistan and elsewhere, I came across these notes from the class. This is a quote from John Nevin Sayre (1884-1977), who was an Episcopal priest and a founder of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. His brother, Francis Sayer, was a famous diplomat, and Francis' son (John's nephew), was Francis B. Sayer, who became Dean of the National Cathedral. 

As Hitler unleashed his invasion of Austria, John Nevin Sayre noted how futile pacifism seemed. It could not stop Hitler's tanks, pacifism seemed to have failed once and for all.

And yet, Sayer wrote...

"There hangs in my study a picture of Christ, seated on the Mount of Olives, gazing at Jerusalem. I am looking at it today because the news has just come of Hitler’s ruthless seizure of Austria. My telephone has been ringing and a reporter demanding an opinion …and what I as a pacifist thought about it. I am reflecting, and going back over some of the high points of pacifism in my life. Is pacifism adequate to meet aggression?"

“How strange that pacifism so often crucified and defeated keeps coming back generation after generation! Why do the aggressors not finish it? Has it a kind of resurrection force? Is it sown in weakness but later raised in power? Is it a key to civilization which the builders have unwisely rejected?”

“The trouble in the international scene today is not that pacifism has failed. Disaster has come, like the judgment which Jesus prophesied against Jerusalem, because our civilization has refused to try the methods of peace.”
Where to begin? We can start with prayer. Every Monday at noon we host Prayers for Peace at St. Paul's. Please join us. And you can find the prayers we used during our Day of Prayer for Peace in December by clicking PEACE PRAYERS. Blessings and Peace to all.

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