The reason why I am no longer a pacifist



Vebjørn Selbekk, chief editor Norwegian Dagen

Sculpture "The Knotted Gun" at the UN Headquarters in New York. Photo EPA, Justin Lane

The notion that Christians should be pacifistic is utopic and, in addition, bad theology. But I understand those who support the idea. Previously, I was one of them.

I still remember the small-hearted feeling I had when I walked through the entrance of the sheriff's office in Stjørdal. A few days earlier, I received a letter with the police logo. The local police authority summoned me for questioning.

But I was neither a suspect nor a witness in any criminal case. Instead, the interrogation was about my refusal to serve in the Armed Forces for the first time.

Vebjørn Selbekk, chief editor Norwegian Dagen. Photo Vebjørn Selbekk

That was how it was at the end of the 80s of the last century. At the time, the Cold War was ongoing; fear of the Russians and the need for personnel in the armed forces were a real thing. Therefore, denying service to the military was a serious matter. It was so serious that the police had to be called in to investigate the reason for my refusal.

Only religious or philosophical convictions that it was not right to carry a weapon were valid reasons for exemptions. Then one received the opportunity to perform military service as a civilian worker instead, preferably at an institution or in a church, which was perhaps most relevant in my case.

However, anyone who refused service for another reason could get into serious trouble. At that time, there was a lot of debate about military denial on a so-called situational basis. It could, for example, be that someone opposed our NATO membership and therefore did not want to wear the Norwegian uniform. In such cases, the denier could end up in jail.

To distinguish worthy deniers from the unworthy, the long arm of the law had to become involved.

Once I sat in the chair in front of the policeman's desk, I was asked what I would do if a foreign power threatened to invade Norway. I must have said that I would pray to God to protect our borders but not resort to violence. I was holily convicted that it was not suitable for Christians to use force.

The police officer did not seem to be very impressed. But at the same time, this was precisely the answer that was needed to be granted civilian service. He and I both knew it. So, in a certain way, the problem was solved for both of us.

Dreams of a world without killing

I was reminded of this episode – which is now more than 30 years ago – when I read in Dagen about the well-known and respected Swedish Christian author Magnus Malm's thoughts on Christian pacifism.

In a well-written article, Malm presents a thought experiment he carried out in the light of Russia's war in Ukraine. He asks what would have happened if Ukraine had not resisted militarily.

First, Malm lists things that would not have happened: "No one would have been killed, children would not have been separated from their fathers, and no one would have been forced to move. No houses, schools, hospitals and other buildings would have been destroyed." In addition, Ukraine's wheat harvest would have been saved. Food prices in Africa would not have skyrocketed. We could have continued to work in peace on our climate problem. And so on.

Magnus Malm dreams of a life where "the Christians of the world simply decide not to kill each other." He writes that for him, as a Christian, Jesus of Nazareth is an "even more important guiding star than democracy and national borders." In practice, that is the same argument that I used towards the policeman, but then, in other words, as the word artist Malm, of course, expressed it much better than an 18-year-old from North Trøndelag with a free church background managed.

Christian pacifism sounds pious, but is wrong

Fortunately, my military history did not end at the sheriff's office in Stjørdal. Even though I was granted the opportunity to work in civilian service, I never managed to serve it. I was supposed to attend the Bible school in Uppsala for two years and therefore postponed the service.

Once back from Sweden, I had changed my mind: I was no longer a pacifist. Therefore, I returned to the sheriff's office. This time with the opposite message: I applied to serve my first military service. Again, the officer did not seem very impressed.

Although the Christian pacifist idea sounds very pious, I think it is wrong. The Lutheran two-regiment doctrine helped me sort out my thoughts on these questions.

First of all, the ideas that Magnus Malm advocates are entirely utopian. It is not true that no lives would have been lost if Ukraine had not resisted militarily against the invading Russian army. Just look at the pictures of massacred unarmed civilians in Bucha and other cities.

Also, the theology behind this thought experiment is very dubious. There is no Biblical ground for the argument that it is wrong for a Christian to serve in the military.

On the contrary, we learn from Romans 13 that the government is a servant of God. And we understand that God has a purpose with armament: The evil in the world must be kept in check.

That principle applies both within a nation as well as between countries. Ukraine's heroic military efforts have denied Russia the opportunity to conquer the capital Kyiv. NATO's armed forces prevent Vladimir Putin's war machine from attacking other countries in Central and Western Europe. And it is Israel's strong defence that prevents the country's enemies from destroying the only Jewish state in the world.

Aircraft soldier 140 Selbekk's military service at Værnes airport was probably not a crucial contribution to Norway's defence forces. But I am still proud to have fulfilled my duty.

This is a translation of an article that was published in the Norwegian Christian daily Dagen on April 22nd 2022.



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