But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Matthew 5:39
The direction from Jesus is pretty clear. One might try and get around it by noting that this is the highest possible response, on the order of "Sell all your goods and give the money to the poor," or "Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect." But that might be an evasion. Jesus did say it, and having lived in the same world we inhabit, He presumably knew that this is counterintuitive, unnatural, and difficult.
What we do not have from Jesus, however, is any indication how this applies when it's someone else who is being struck, or what this means for people under our protection. The classic pacifist would immediately apply this to all situations of aggression. By that reading, attacks on your wife, your children, your flocks, fields, or nation would fall under the same command - to never use force in response.
Perhaps so. That is more counterintuitive, unnatural, and difficult, but it is the same sort of difficulty. Certainly Jesus does not say anything here to suggest exceptions for group behavior or protection of others. Maybe we're stuck with it as is: if someone takes your son, give him your daughter as well; if the Mongols burn your fields, deliver your flocks as well, that the tribe might perish, but you all die a witness. Perhaps the Mongols will be stunned by your righteousness and convert. Maybe it will take the righteous capitulation of a dozen Christian nations before they get the message, but it will eventually work. Won't it?
So let's apply this cheek-turning command to other progressive causes. If Caucasians have better jobs than African-Americans, then give them better schools as well. If the state forbids you to have an abortion, give up birth control as well. If your rich neighbor cheats on his taxes, then pay his share and give him one of your cars. If the mills burn too much fossil fuel, let them dumb junk in the river as well.
Hmm. Something seems to be going wrong here. It seems this cheek-turning is being applied selectively. Community action to enforce justice seems to be a good thing when it's taxes or pollution, but a bad thing when it's war. What exactly is the difference between them? Is Jesus's command only for the rich? But he delivered it mainly to the poor. Are Christian progressives to encourage the poor to seek greater oppression, then?
Perhaps the behavior of nations, and the Christians who inhabit them, is too far a jump to make cleanly. Jesus gave an individual command; it just might mean something in the political realm as well. But how are we to make the leap and apply it? Taking Matthew 5 as command for nations and warfare leads us to a terrible contradiction with what the religious left espouses in other areas.
And the contradiction is enormous, almost complete. Not only is the verse only applied to the examples of warfare and redistribution, it is applied in reverse in other areas. Working for justice means confronting the powerful, sending them to jail if they're wrong, making the system give the oppressed what they deserve. And probably rightly. In the history of getting justice for the downtrodden, the confrontative, strong-arm tactics do seem to have worked better. Christians just can't have it both ways. If the community can organize to tax the rich at higher rates because it is just, then it can organize to defend the oppressed of other nations. Just 'cause we wanna, even.
I offer the following explanation. The religious left would like to believe it is against war because they believe it such the way of Christ. They don't mean it. They are not lying to us, but to themselves. What they really believe is that talking works better than war. They see avoidance of war as a tactic, not a principle. They don't perceive this. But there really isn't any escape. They don't believe Christ, they believe Gandhi, and quote Christ in support. They want to be servants of Christ, when you pull off the disguise, it's Gandhi underneath.
That last was a brutal accusation on my part, but I make it with full knowledge of the fact. The religious left does not believe in the principle of returning good for evil - not at the community level - as much as they believe in the principle of nonviolence, which is not the same thing. They embrace pacifism not because they are prepared to apply non-resistance to all injustice, but because they think it will work. (There is one escape I see. They might also believe that military action is only justified when sanctioned by the United Governments, uh, I mean Nations. They believe transnationalism has some innate holiness.) If you have a better explanation, give it a try.
I think there is a way of envisioning these issues in an intermediate step between individual and society at large: imagine a village. Imagine a village of predominantly Christian people, who wish to do well by each other and be an example for Christ. When one woman starts to break into houses and steal, what do they do in response? When one young man begins to rape the women of the village, what should they do? Cast them out? Kill them? Give them more? Try and reason with them? Send for the King's men? - And what would the king's men do?
Once you've answered that set of difficulties, go on to a harder one. What if the next village is stealing your sheep, or not letting you get to the market town to trade? Pretend you are a simple Christian villager, even the Village Idiot, and determine what should be done.