Note from Editor: This is a cross-post by Sarah Moon, which originally appeared on October 23, 2013 at Sarah Over the Moon and was later cross-posted on the Jesus Radicals Website. It’s the first post in a 4-part series that will be posted throughout the week. — RH
I’ve been thinking about pacifism lately. It’s come up in my church, in Twitter discussions, and in blog posts. This is not a response specifically to any recent discussions of pacifism, but since it keeps coming up I do want to let out some of the thoughts on the topic that have been bouncing around in my head for months now. This may take more than one blog post, because I have a LOT of thoughts on this topic.
I want to start out by saying that these thoughts apply to me as well. I’m not sure if I’d apply the label “pacifist” to myself anymore (though I still hope for and try to work for a world free from violence), but I used to, and I’ve used that label to be an ass–to be judgmental and dismissive of other peoples’ experiences and emotions. I definitely don’t think everyone who takes on that label does this, but I’ve done it and I continue to see it all the time.
So, speaking to myself and to privileged Christian pacifists…
We need to rethink some things.
I’m going to start with the thing that’s been bothering me the most lately, which isthe privileged Christian pacifist tendency to treat the real lives of survivors of violence as hypothetical thought exercises.
I get tired of seeing privileged Christian pacifists try to play this What Would You Do? game where they say things like, “I’ve been sheltered from violence my whole life, but if someone tried to rape me I would . . .” Or “Thankfully I’ve never experienced abuse, but if I were in an abusive relationship I would . . .”
I’ve heard other pacifists dismiss this game, saying we shouldn’t focus on unlikely, extreme scenarios like this because they’re just a distraction.
But my life as a survivor of rape and abuse is NOT a game, and it is NOT unlikely or extreme.
These people who admit to never having experienced this type of violence or abuse talk over those of us who have experienced it. Sometimes I wonder if they even believe we exist.
When I’ve tried to jump into these conversations with my own story (I was in an abusive relationship. Escaping my abuser involved hitting him in self-defense), I’ve been quickly dismissed with out-of-context Martin Luther King Jr. quotes (and, as much as I have been hurt by this, I’ve probably done this to others as well in the past–again, speaking to myself here as well).
They condescendingly remind me that two wrongs don’t make a right! That violence only leads to more violence and can never ultimately end all abuse.
They tell me about [this oppressed group/person over here] who overcame their situation without using violence. I’m told that I could have been more like [that oppressed group/person]. Not only is my life treated as a game, but the lives of people who were in situations that allowed them to act non-violently become nothing but pawns for winning abstract arguments about what might be or what could have been.
These people who weren’t there for the months and months where I tried to reason with my abuser, tried to calm him with kind words and loving behavior, tried to set boundaries and assert my humanity only to succeed in making him angrier and trickier.
These people who cannot feel the physical pain I was in. Who don’t understand that someone was hurting me so badly that I felt like I was going to be ripped in half, and setting the world right and ultimately ending all abuse were the furthest things from my mind.
These people who have no idea assume that my situation and the situation of some other person in some other setting at some other point in time can be solved by the exact same measures.
I’m not anti-pacifism.
But I am done spending nights lying awake wondering how I could have responded in a more “Christ-like” matter, in order to please privileged pacifists who want to treat my life and the lives of other survivors as aChoose Your Own Adventure book.
Many privileged pacifists need to stop using these stories to pit survivors against one another. They need to understand that no matter how many times they ask themselves “What would I do?” they will never be fully prepared to respond to violence if/when it happens to them. Privileged pacifists need to stop pontificating about issues that they have no experience with and learn to LISTEN to survivors of violence and to members of marginalized that face systematic violence.