Army basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C.
We’re at the 100 year anniversary of the War to End All Wars; somehow I don’t think that concept worked so well.
Yesterday, a Cuban friend posted on Facebook a picture of his younger brother, who is performing his compulsory military service. My friend asked for prayers for his brother.
I looked into the face of the young man that I knew from numerous youth conferences, and I was moved. Moved by the thought that, for many of my brothers in Christ, this young man’s status could change from “brother” to “enemy” at the stroke of a politician’s pen. From being one to be hugged and loved, he would become another target to be shot at. All because someone in Washington D.C declared war on another country.
I can’t wrap my mind around it. “At least he’d go to heaven if he were killed,” is the reply I’ve received. And it doesn’t ease my pain.
Fortunately, Cuban troops rarely see action. But we know these things can change. It’s been a mere three decades since U.S. troops last killed Cuban forces (on the island of Grenada). It only takes a few politicians (or just one, if he’s president) to decide it needs to be done.
Of course, we all have full faith in every decision made by our Congress and our President. Don’t we?
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Desiree N. Palacios
We hear stories of persecuted Christians around the world. They’re troubling to me, as I’m sure they are to you. It’s awful to think of people dying for their religious beliefs.
It’s puzzling to me, however, when I discuss war with other Christians and bring up the subject of Christians killing other Christians because they belong to another nation; “That’s just what happens,” I’m told.
Sorry. I’m as troubled by the one as I am by the other. I don’t believe in Christians being killed for their faith. I don’t believe in Christians killing for their faith. And I don’t believe in Christians doing for a nation of this world what’s wrong to do for the Kingdom of Heaven.
Pacifism. Pacific-ism. Passivism. Political Pacifism. Absolute vs. Contingent Pacifism. Maximal vs. Minimal Pacifism. Universal vs. Particular Pacifism. Skeptical and Prima Facie Pacifism. Transformational Pacifism. Consequentialist Pacifism. Active Nonviolence. Deontological Pacifism. Non-violence. Peace making. Just war. Self defense. Proactive strikes. Vengeance. Justice. Pro life. Pacification.
And the list goes on. Not surprisingly, when people talk about pacifism, they tend to paint with broad strokes. They either use “pacifism” to refer to their concept of peace making (a mistake I often make), or they criticize all forms of pacifism by refuting one particular interpretation of it (usually the extreme version, which is one of the least held).
I’m trying to find my place on the continuum. I’ve done a lot of my thinking “out loud” here on this blog. And I’ll continue to do so. I look forward to you helping me find my way, even though I doubt I’ll end up in a unmovable position until I enter the eternal shalom.
I posted a link the other day to an article by Greg Boyd discussing what he (a pacifist) would say to the president about Syria. He raised some interesting points. I’m not sure that I’m in full agreement, but they seemed worthy of discussion. Here are some of the main ideas:
The first thing I’ll say is that I don’t believe that being a kingdom pacifist (viz. on who swears off violence out of obedience to Jesus) means that one must embrace the conviction that governments are supposed to embrace pacifism.… I don’t believe Jesus’ and Paul’s teaching on the need for disciples to adopt an enemy-loving, non-violent lifestyle was ever intended to serve as a mandate for how governments are supposed to respond to evil.
The important point for us to see is that Paul forbids disciples to ever engage in the very activity he says God uses governments to accomplish – namely, taking vengeance (ekdikēsis). We are to leave “all vengeance to God,” in other words, and one of the ways God takes “vengeance” is by using sword-wielding governments.
I believe this teaching implies that there are “sword-wielding” offices in government that disciples simply can’t hold. But I think it’s a complete misunderstanding to think that kingdom pacifism entails that disciples should try to get their government to adopt a pacifist position. This is treating the government as if it were the church!
Since our government has (almost) always been committed to the just-war principle that violence should be used only as a last resort, I’d first press him on the question of whether or not we are absolutely certain Assad is guilty of having engaged in the atrocity he is being accused of.
Moreover, I’d encourage Obama to seriously take a careful look at what the long-term fallout of a violent intervention will be. While violence always looks like a solution in the short run, it turns out to only lead to an escalation of violence in the long run.
Finally, if Obama solicited my advice, I’d inquire if all other avenues of resolving this crisis have really been exhausted. Have we exhausted all attempts to achieve a diplomatic solution with Assad? Have we exhausted all attempts to dialogue with him and/or with his allies?
And if Obama answered “yes” to all these questions, I’d ask him if he’d allow me to ask one further, slightly more personal, question: “Brother Obama, as a professing follower of Jesus, how do you reconcile your position as Commander in Chief with your allegiance to Christ?”
I want to explore that final quote a bit more, but first, I’d like to hear your reactions to Boyd’s ideas. Is he right in saying that God wants Christians to act one way and countries another? Is there a difference in what he expects of government leaders and what he expects of ordinary Christians?
Yesterday, I was pointing out that “peace” in the Bible has a broader range of meanings than merely the absence of conflict. This is especially true in Hebrew. We have to feel that the Hebrew meaning influenced the New Testament writers; this is especially true in the gospel sayings, since Jesus spoke Aramaic, not Greek.
So think about some of the parallel ideas with the word peace:
If we are peacemakers, we are actively working to create these things. We can see some of this in Jeremiah’s words for the exiles in Babylon:
“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:5–7)
The word which the ESV translates as “welfare” is the word “shalom” — peace. The NIV inserts the word prosperity (“seek the peace and prosperity”), trying to convey the idea that peace is much more than absence of war.
As exiles, as strangers and aliens, we live here in Babylonia seeking to be shalom builders, seeking to create good and not ill, seeking to build and not destroy, working for all that is life and opposing all that is death.
As Rex pointed out in a comment yesterday, that’s a far cry from a passive lifestyle. Yet it’s a life of waging peace