In the last chapter of the book, Boyd’s pacifism comes out in full force, and he argues for it by answering the most common questions he receives whenever he addresses the themes of this book. Although many things could be said about all this, I want to limit myself to two.
First, the way Boyd approaches the imitation of Christ is highly inconsistent.
“I think it is clear from Jesus’ teachings, life, and especially his death that Jesus would choose nonviolence” (p. 166). “Jesus didn’t concern himself with fixing or steering the Roman government” (p. 175).
Christ’s example is of course authoritative for all Christians, but throughout this book, Boyd has mentioned that Jesus did not take an interest in politics. He was here to do something else. He did not get swept up into our issues. But suddenly this radical non-engagement becomes radical engagement via nonviolence and that is a a very different thing. Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. are mentioned glowingly in this chapter. Christians before the War Between the States should have (non-violently) been involved in the Underground Railroad. But what happened to the imitation of Christ? Christ would heal a slave, for example, and that slave would stay a slave in the house of his centurion master (Matt. 8:13). What do we do with that? For Boyd, the imitation of Christ really is highly selective. Refusing to defend Himself. Check. Teaching us to overcome hate with love. Check. Making a whip to clear the Temple. Ummm . . . Accepting centurions into His company. Uhhh . . .
To his credit, Boyd here does acknowledge the existence of a number of passages that seem to exclude his position (Luke 3:14; Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10; Mark 15:39; Acts 10:22, 34-35). He finally mentions the centurions, but, unlike prostitutes and tax-collectors, he keeps them at arm’s length.
“They also reveal that John the Baptist, Jesus, and earliest Christians gave military personnel ‘space,’ as it were, to work out the implications of their faith vis-a-vis their service” (p. 168).
Whatever this is, it is not radical imitation, but rather selective imitation. Imitation of Christ becomes a nose of wax.
The second point concerns the nature of his dismissal of just war theory. It is at this point that the radical individualism of Boyd’s position comes out (for all his talk of a kingdom). What is the problem with just war theory according to Boyd?
“Do you know — can you know — the myriad of personal, social, political, and historical factors that have led to any particular conflict and that bear upon whether or not it is justified . . . do you truly understand . . . are you certain . . . Are you certain . . . Are you certain . . . Do you know . . . Are you certain (p. 171)?
But of course just war theory is meant to be applied by those making the decision to go to war, and not to be applied by every infantryman or sailor who might be participating in the conflict. Those making the decision generally do have the facts they need to have in order to make a just decision, and are accountable to God to do so. Those in the ranks do not have to weigh the ethics of every geopolitical event and, as Boyd points out, cannot do so. God doesn’t require that of them. Individual Christians in the military must know what their duties are with regard to rejecting unjust and wicked behavior at their level of the conflict, and they must be prepared to refuse unlawful orders. But Boyd’s criteria depend upon a democratic individualism that makes just war theory cumbersome and impossible.
This means that a Christian soldier may fight honorably in the eyes of God in a cause which is ultimately unjust. Moreover, a man might fight dishonorably in a just cause. Kings answer to God at their level, and soldiers at theirs. A Christian may not fight for a cause which he knows to be wicked, but if there is no manifest wickedness he is not responsible to ascertain all the facts beforehand. He must be salt and light where he is, with the facts that he has.
Boyd believes his position to be radical and principled. In reality, in this chapter and throughout this entire book, his position has been revealed to be sentimental, individualistic, and in “radical solidarity with” the kind of ethical sentiments you might expect to hear on NPR.
“Now, there is precedent from certain countries that have allowed gay marriage for concluding that hate speech against homosexuals may soon be outlawed. But why should Christians be against this? To the contrary, wouldn’t we find Jesus entering into solidarity with gays and others who might be the objects of hate speech” (p. 180)?
Oh, okay. Suit yourself.