What About Hitler? The Myth of Ineffective Pacifism

When it comes to the non-violent message of Jesus, many people become troubled because of the what if scenarios.

What if my loved ones are attacked? What if I have no choice but to resort to violence in order to protect the innocent? And what about Hitler? Pacifism couldn’t have stopped him. Right?

It is important to remember that the way of Jesus is often counter-intuitive (the last shall be first, give up your life to gain it, etc) and that our call is to obedience and faithfulness, not effectiveness by our measure of such a thing. The Holy Spirit often uses the foolishness of the world to accomplish God’s will supernaturally, and his power is made perfect in weakness. 

The “what if” scenarios that tug on our heart strings also often have some faulty assumptions like:

  • Our choice is between violent action or no action.
  • Violent response would necessarily be the most effective in restraining evil.

Both of these are false assumptions. Pacifism comes from “to pacify” or make peace. It is not standing passively. We have many choices in these situations like prayer, verbal witness and appeal, surprise, fleeing, hiding, non-lethal restraint, placing ourselves in front of an attacker to shield other victims, etc. Christians should always be willing to die for another person while seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance for a creative “third way.”

You’ll notice I listed non-lethal physical restraint there…pacifism includes  a spectrum of physical interference that is not necessarily black-and-white. The cutoff points are retaliating blows (per Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 5:39) and by extension intentionally lethal force.

Christians’ highest allegiance is the Kingdom of God. If Christians should not band together as a church in organized military action to further Kingdom justice, how could they as individuals join a secular national identity attempt it? Secular governments are used by God no matter their actions, yes, but they are not theocracies and have no authority to cause Christians to “advance” justice through violence.

Christians should be known as peacemakers. We are aliens in these countries we live in. We cannot have this witness while fighting their wars.

Regarding Hitler–if the German Church had been a pacifist Church, the Nazi regime would have simply sputtered out. A huge part of the problem was weak discipleship in the church and willingness to take up arms and fight for the powers-that-be. If the Church had been a peacemaking church it would have avoided war in the first place. So war broke out anyway…what is the Church to do?

Go to the battlefields, dress the wounded on all sides, love our enemies, disrupt supply lines, pray, pray, pray, stand in front others about to get shot, and have faith that God will use these counter-intuitive means because that’s what he does.