Christian Pacifism and Big Hero 6

What are we going to do about ISIS?  That’s the question on everyone’s mind.  We’ve seen the pictures.  We’ve read the articles.  They must be stopped.  But how?  Perhaps the the answer can be found in a children’s film called Big Hero 6.

I may seem callous comparing a work of fiction to a problem this real, but I believe in the power of story.  Stories transcend culture, language, and race.  Stories cut through pundits and Facebook post missiles.  Stories disarm us, because we’re wired for them.  And if the creator of the universe communicated truth through parables, maybe we can too.

Big Hero 6 tells the story of a boy named Hiro.  When we first meet Hiro, he’s a smart kid with no purpose.  His older brother Tadashi changes that.  Tadashi introduces Hiro to a special band of misfits – a group of friends with a passion for inventing.  Tadashi’s friends take turns showing Hiro their unique creations, and then Tadashi shares his – a pudgy first aid robot named Baymax.

The Temptation of Violence

The turning point of the film comes early on when a fire claims the life of Tadashi.  Hiro is devastated.  His sadness turns to anger, however, when he discovers that the fire was intentional and the culprit is still at large.  Hiro forms a team with Baymax and Tadashi’s old friends to stop the villain and save the world.

A striking moment comes when Hiro discovers the identity of the villain.  Hiro’s emotions get the better of him, and he switches from trying to stop the enemy to trying to hurt him.  He inserts a new computer program into Baymax to turn him from a huggable robot into a killing machine.

Hiro’s friends are horrified.  The goal was never to kill.  The goal was to pool the team’s creativity and thwart the villain’s plans.  When Hiro and Baymax narrow their eyes to destroy, Hiro’s friends turn to stop them.  They block the attacks and allow the enemy to escape.  The team could have stood by and let Hiro finish the job, but they couldn’t let the end justify the means.

In our response to ISIS, we have become a lot like Hiro in his darkest moment.  We see the despicable deeds and switch to our own version of “kill mode.”   Violence seems like the only answer.  After all, their ideology is fixed.  Their minds can’t be changed.  They want to take over the world. They must be destroyed without mercy.

The Command of Jesus

But what does Jesus say?  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.   Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you?  For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you?  For even sinners do the same” (Matthew 5:43-44; Luke 6:27-28; Luke 6:32-33).

Jesus didn’t just say these words, he lived them.  He entered a time in history where Rome ruled the world.  Rome was a despicable nation that reveled in immorality and violence.  Jesus could have called a whole legion of angels and showed Caesar who was the true king, but he didn’t.  Instead, he allowed himself to be captured, tortured, and crucified.  Jesus defeated Rome by dying on a cross.

The early church followed in his footsteps.  They took Jesus’ words to heart when he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).  The early Christians prayed for their captors as they were led to Coliseums to be eaten by lions.  They rescued babies tossed in the street and raised them as their own.  They stayed and ministered to the sick when plagues swept through the city.  The early Christians chose the cross, and they transformed Rome from the inside out.

Christian Pacifism Today

What does this look like in 2015 against an enemy like ISIS?  On a national level, it means finding another way than violence to solve the problem.  I’m not advocating that we sit on our hands and let ISIS destroy us.  The most common misconception about pacifism is that it advocates doing nothing.  Perhaps this is because the word so closely resembles “passivism.”  On the contrary, pacifism is active nonviolence.  Christian pacifism involves using every creative solution at our disposal to stop evil, short of killing.

Shane Claiborne likes to say, “Violence is always a failure of imagination.”  What if we took all of the money and creativity we spend on guns, tanks, and explosives and invested those resources in alternate solutions?  Electrical disarming machines.  Mass tasers.  A giant inflatable perimeter that gets more shiny and bouncy with every missile strike.  I’m kidding – kind of.  We claim to be a country with the best and brightest minds in the world.  Why aren’t we utilizing them?

On a personal level, our response must be to follow Jesus no matter the cost.  That may mean losing our lives.  If the unthinkable happens – if ISIS arrives on our doorstep with no escape in sight -we must put down our sword and pick up the cross.  Until that day comes, we also must do the hardest thing of all: pray for ISIS.  Pray that our government would find creative ways to stop ISIS from hurting more people.  That’s loving our neighbor.   Pray also that ISIS will be isolated humanely, so they have the chance to repent of their deeds and be transformed by God’s grace.  That’s loving our enemy.

Many will scoff at the notion of a member of ISIS repenting and turning to Jesus.  I bet that’s what the early Christians thought about Saul too before he became Paul.  Saul hated Christians as fervently as the most jaded ISIS member.  He sought them out in every town he traveled to and killed them.  Then, one day, on the road to Damascus, God changed Saul forever.  In time, he became the Apostle Paul and wrote the majority of the New Testament.  Clearly, we can never declare anyone too far gone for the grace of God.

Fixing Our Eyes

Following the failed confrontation with the villain in Big Hero 6, Hiro comes to his senses by watching a video of his brother Tadashi.  Hiro is moved to tears as he watches Tadashi talk about Baymax and the things he’s going to do for people in need.   Hiro realizes in that moment that he has turned his back on everything his brother stood for.  He decides to rejoin his team and fight again, only this time the right way.

Similarly, I think the only way to regain our calling as Christians is to look deeply in the face of Jesus.  We need to read the Gospels with fresh eyes and see the love our Savior had for sinners.   Jesus didn’t come to seek and destroy the lost, he came to save them.

Jesus could have joined the Pharisees in pointing the finger at murderers, prostitutes, and tax collectors.  Instead, he loved them.  Jesus could have dominated the crowds and forced them into submission.  Instead, he ministered to them.  Jesus could have called fire from heaven and slaughtered the Romans in seconds.  Instead, he died for them.

What will we do?