Thursday, March 24, 2005

Thoughts on War From a Methodist


This is the first of hopefully a few rambling on war as it relates to the world and the Church. What has sparked this rambling? Maybe it's the fact that we have entered into year 3 of the War with Iraq/The War on Terrorism, maybe it's the fact that I consider myself an adherent to Non-Violence but wonder how one can adhere to that way of life and live in the 21st century, maybe it's that I led a Prayers for Peace Candlelight Vigil on Sunday evening and the Tennessan (our local newspaper) quoted it as a Protest Event (that bothers me but I'm not sure why). All this is moving around in my head right now. So I'll write about these issues a little at a time and hopefully through process- both mine along with your contributing thoughts we might come to some "idea" of how the Church ought to respond to violence and war.

MY TRADITION SAYS
"We deplore war and urge the peaceful settlement of all disputes among nations. From the beginning, the Christian conscience has struggled with the harsh realities of violence and war, for these evils clearly frustrate God's loving purposes for humankind." -The United Methodist Social Principles

PERSONAL REFLECTION
My tradition does say that we deplore war and urge the peaceful settlement of all disputes among nations. I agree with this statement. And I believe that war is wrong and immoral. I also know that I have Christian friends, methodist in fact, who also deplore war and urge the peaceful settlement of all disputes among nations- BUT they also think that war is inevitable and sometimes the only way to settle world conflicts and injustice.

So the question I am dealing with- what makes my IDEA that war is incompatible under any circumstance with Christianity valid?

Ok, many will disagree with me on this because I know that this will not fit the conservative or liberal side of politics northe conservative/liberal church agenda either.

I believe first and foremost that the role of the Church is: to BE the Church. For me, this means that we are to be THE COMMUNITY that lives out "God's loving purposes for humankind." We are to be that body of people who incarnate God's hopes for all creation. Does this mean that war happens? Yes, because the world doesn't understand what it means to live under "God's rule". The world takes matters into it's own hands, but the Church can live a different way- with hope that God will work things out in God's way.

I know there are some folks who believe that involvement in war for a "good cause" is one way God works things out- that those troops fighting for a good cause are instruments of God's justice in the world. I think that is a very naive way of viewing God and war- it's a Crusader/Constintinian mentality. War is between nations; it's never really good versus evil; there are always multiple motives behind war. Let's be realistic.

But if the Church concerns itself with BEING the Church, then our role in the world is simply to be an example of how one can get along with others in the midst of conflict (wow, did you hear that Liberal and Conservative Methodist Friends?). Also, if the Church concerns itself with BEING the Church and we as Christians are trying to live out God's "telos"/purpose/end for the world where peace is part of the framework, then it might just mean that Christians might want to question whether or not military service is moral.

These are my thoughts for now. More to come.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jonathon,

I think you are mostly right in what you say. Although I believe some might criticize this view as being too "pie in the sky". If the church is simply BEING the church, "isn't that a convenient, passive approach?" I believe the criticism would go.

So, I have always wondered if the church should not take a more eucharistic approach to the problem of war and violence in the world. By this I mean bodily stepping into the middle of such conflict and non-violently opposing it. After all, is this not comparable to what Jesus did through the cross? Could you imagine millions upon millions of christians standing non-violently in the path of violence or war. WOW. If we were to see this happen in all cases of violence, both domestic and foreign, this might actually affect change in the world while at the same time allow the church to truly be what it claims to be -- the body of christ on earth.

Obvioulsy, this is not going to happen . . . it is too hard a decision. Hell, I would not do it (for reasons beyond the scope of this discussion). Yet the thought seems both right and intriguing to me.

stephen

John said...

It's a difficult issue. There are sound Biblical cases for total pacifism and for just war, although the case for pacifism is stronger.

Nevertheless, I'm a just war person. There's something decidedly selfish about pacifism. If, let us say, the North had been pacifistic in the 1860s, then Black Americans would have remained in bondage for generations. If Britain and the US had been pacifistic during WWII, then the would would have been swept away by tyranny.

So the smug pacifist can be content that he, personally, has done the right thing, even though so many other people have suffered for it. I see this quite strongly in the recent War on Terrorism, where pacifists cannot support the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (regardless of the arguments for the war) even though there has been a profound net good in the liberation of tens of millions of people.

So until everyone is a pacifist, no one can be one, because until that day comes, pacifists only bring greater, rather than lesser suffering.

St.Phransus said...

John,
I see where you are coming from but it raises a question for me. Are you saying the Christians coopt their faith stance because it does not bring about the most good for people (present day scenario- The War on Terrorism)?

2 questions come to mind for me:

1. By deciding side with the use of war as a means to stop oppression/terror/evil, etc... are we (The Church)basically saying that we don't trust that God is in control of things? If we do believe that God is in control- do we understand God to be a violent God? My understanding of the cross is that Jesus went to the cross as an expression that violence was not an option for his followers.

2. What sets a Christian apart from the world?

jonathon

John said...

Well, being a Christian is messy. Nothing is cut and dry, even though we'd like for it to be.

I'm reminded of the old joke of the man who climbed to the top of his roof when the area around his house flooded. While the water was a foot deep, a truck drove by and the driver offered to take him away to safety. The man responded 'No, I will put my faith in the Lord to save me.'. Later the water was six feet deep, and a boat motored up. The pilot offered to speed him away to safety. The man replied, 'No, the Lord is my deliverance.' Later, the water was ten feet deep, and a helicopter flew over to the man to carry him away. The man waved it off saying, 'I have faith in the Lord to rescue me'. So the water continued to rise and the man drowned.

In heaven, he angrily asked God why He didn't come to his rescue. God replied, 'I sent a truck, a boat, and a helicopter. What more did you want?'

I suppose there is much to be said of the example of Jehoshaphat in response to a similiar crisis. Perhaps waging war shows a lack of faith in God to rescue us. This is a solid, Christian response.

Yet, still, I remember the words of Edmund Burke "Evil triumphs when good men do nothing". I do not want evil to triumph in this world, for my own sake and for the sake of others.

Perhaps I will earn God's wrath for doing so, but I still believe that what we do in this world matters. As you say, war is rarely just good versus evil, but it is naive to say that it is always not. If the Nazis and Fascists had won WWII, would we not say that evil had won? If the Communists had conquered in the world in this century, would we say that evil had won? If the world was swept away now in a second jihad of Islamofascist terrorism because the United States refused to act, would not more people suffer than otherwise?

So what sets the Christian apart from the rest of the world? The Christian, like the world, is a sinner. But the Christian tries to resist sin. Now I am not saying that the US is the embodiment of goodness or even Chrisitianity, but we can see how we wage war and how our enemies wage war and see a struggle between good and evil. Our enemies target civilians, we do not. Our enemies kill and torture prisoners and find it praiseworthy, we do not (except on rare occassions, which we punish, rather than praise). Our enemies seek tyranny, we seek liberty. Our enemies brutalize women, we liberate them. And that is a Christian way to wage war. Not perfect (it war, after all), but it is better.

Pacifism is good, when evil men practice it. Pacifism is bad when good men practice it. So you can be pacifistic, if you want to be morally pure. The consequence is that a lot of people will suffer for it that otherwise would not.

nimrod said...

John,

I apologize for “butting in” but I felt a real need to post a reply to your comment. Please bear with me . . .

Not to give a history lesson, but the military-industrial complex of the US (and Britain for that matter) have set up nearly every Islamic fundamentlalist dictatorship in the world (not to speak of certain non-islamic dictatorships in Latin America). Who put the taliban (and thus bin Laden and radical “Islamofacists”) into power in Afghanistan? The US (and its allies). Why? to combat "communism". Who put Saddam Hussein (and thus the radical Sunni “Islamofacists”) into power in Iraq? You got it, the US. Why? To combat "communism" (and to help protect its interests -- read oil and Israel --in the region). I could play this same game with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and others. Vultures have come home to roost. And when you speak of these people as “evil” (and the things they do, I readily admit, are “evil”) you pretend that they have come to exist in some vacuum.

But I digresss . . .

My point is simply that you believe too strongly in US military power as being used for the "good" (even though you say you are not). Most often it is wielded for purposes of severe self-interest. Sure, all just war theorists love to point to WWII, and I guess you are right. The world would be a vastly different place had no one stopped the onslaught of Nazi Germany. The reality is that this is the closest the US has ever come in fighting for “the good”. But even here you fail to mention that Nazi Germany was also a vastly "christian" nation and that the vast majority of german soldiers who were killed were not by any means "evil".

And that is always the rub . . . war comes down to people killing people and most often it is young men (and women) dying for some misguided nation-state’s deluded self-interests. You can talk all day long of using war to achieve “the good” and that life is messy. But the current “war against terrorism/iraq” does not even hold just war theory “water”.

Do you honestly believe that god would approve of anyone killing anyone at anytime? I am reminded of a “new joke” of a people who were living under tyranny but not asking for some outside party to come and rescue them. Regardless, a “good” country thought it was time they be rescued. At first, tanks came in and destoyed many of the peoples’ homes and businesses while also killing many soldiers and innocent bystanders. Later, battleships fired cruise missles. The result was similar – more destruction and more death. Even later, fighter jets and bombers flew over head and dropped ordinance from one end of the country to the other. More homes, places of worship and businesses were destroyed along with many more innocent bystanders. The war raged and finally hundreds of thousands were dead.

In heaven, a great roar of voices was heard asking god a singular question, “Why did you not come to our rescue?” God replied, “I sent tanks, battleships, fighter jets and bombers. What more did you want? You were just victims of double-effect and your deaths are justified so long as they were not intended but merely accidental.”

Finally, to suggest that pacifists do nothing is a huge slap in the face of a long standing tradition of pacifism (that I would suggest includes people such as Jesus, Ghandi, Dr. MLK Jr.) that has altered the very face of the world in which we live. As I suggested earlier, for christians to practice an eucharistic form of pacifism would be an extremely powerful example. I always find it strange that christians are more than willing to die for a good cause as long as they can kill some other people while they are at it (this is in reference to the large numbers of christians in the US military) . If these same christians were implored with the type of eucharistic pacifism (completely lacking from the mainstream christian tradition) that I think Jesus exemplified they would volunteer to give their lives NOT for the nation in which they live but rather the god they claim to follow – and this without weapons of destruction but merely their own bodies.

But alas the christian tradition is still shackled by the chains of constantinianism that would have it strive to share in the rule of the world as opposed to being its humble servant. Even your own post betrays this self-identification of christians in america with the nation-state itself: you try to distance yourself with “Now I am not saying that the US is the embodiment of goodness or even Chrisitianity,” but then give way to “but we can see how we wage war and how our enemies wage war and see a struggle between good and evil.” Who is this “we”? Americans? or christians who just so happen to reside in the nation-state called America? The answer makes all the difference in the world. If christians want to go to war for the cause of the nation-state, let them. Just do not let them pretend to do so under the banner of God. Rather, let us be adult about it and call a spade a spade. Until then, I fear that christians have allowed themselves to be co-opted.

Stephen

St.Phransus said...

Very insightful, indeed. I have nothing to add to that post- I simply want to chew on it a bit and let it digest.

jonathon

John said...

Stephen, thanks for engaging in the debate.

I apologize for “butting in” but I felt a real need to post a reply to your comment. Please bear with me . . .

Not to give a history lesson, but the military-industrial complex of the US (and Britain for that matter) have set up nearly every Islamic fundamentlalist dictatorship in the world (not to speak of certain non-islamic dictatorships in Latin America). Who put the taliban (and thus bin Laden and radical “Islamofacists”) into power in Afghanistan? The US (and its allies). Why? to combat "communism". Who put Saddam Hussein (and thus the radical Sunni “Islamofacists”) into power in Iraq? You got it, the US. Why? To combat "communism" (and to help protect its interests -- read oil and Israel --in the region). I could play this same game with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and others. Vultures have come home to roost. And when you speak of these people as “evil” (and the things they do, I readily admit, are “evil”) you pretend that they have come to exist in some vacuum.


In politics, there are no perfect solutions. Yes, we supported nasty regimes in the Middle East, Latin America, and other places because they were anti-communist. And the alternative was…what? To let them fall to worse regimes, that would terrorize their people even more and imperil US security?

Yes, we supported Saddam Hussein. He was not as insane as the Iranians were at the time. Are you saying that we should have supported Iranian Islamofascism instead, or allowed the Middle East to be swept away by the Khomeni? What was the alternative?

America, quite simply has done more good for the world than any other nation on earth. It fights for the freedom of others and fights those wars more humanely than any other country. America isn’t perfect (consult the Native Americans, for example), it’s just better. And better is better than worse.

Decisions of war and peace do not exist in a vacuum. Pacifism may seem morally pure, but its consequences are catastrophic.

But I digresss . . .

My point is simply that you believe too strongly in US military power as being used for the "good" (even though you say you are not). Most often it is wielded for purposes of severe self-interest. Sure, all just war theorists love to point to WWII, and I guess you are right. The world would be a vastly different place had no one stopped the onslaught of Nazi Germany. The reality is that this is the closest the US has ever come in fighting for “the good”. But even here you fail to mention that Nazi Germany was also a vastly "christian" nation and that the vast majority of german soldiers who were killed were not by any means "evil".

You’ll have find someone else to defend Nazi Germany. I won’t, and it’s not relevant to my case, anyway.

And that is always the rub . . . war comes down to people killing people and most often it is young men (and women) dying for some misguided nation-state’s deluded self-interests. You can talk all day long of using war to achieve “the good” and that life is messy. But the current “war against terrorism/iraq” does not even hold just war theory “water”.

Rarely do we have a choice between war and peace. What we have now, as we did in WWII and the Cold War was a choice between small war now or huge terrible war later. If we take the pacifist solution, it means that in a few years, our major cities are destroyed by terrorist nuclear bombs. That’s the work of pacifism. Still favor it?

Do you honestly believe that god would approve of anyone killing anyone at anytime? I am reminded of a “new joke” of a people who were living under tyranny but not asking for some outside party to come and rescue them. Regardless, a “good” country thought it was time they be rescued. At first, tanks came in and destoyed many of the peoples’ homes and businesses while also killing many soldiers and innocent bystanders. Later, battleships fired cruise missles. The result was similar – more destruction and more death. Even later, fighter jets and bombers flew over head and dropped ordinance from one end of the country to the other. More homes, places of worship and businesses were destroyed along with many more innocent bystanders. The war raged and finally hundreds of thousands were dead.

In heaven, a great roar of voices was heard asking god a singular question, “Why did you not come to our rescue?” God replied, “I sent tanks, battleships, fighter jets and bombers. What more did you want? You were just victims of double-effect and your deaths are justified so long as they were not intended but merely accidental.”


Again, the choice is between small numbers of casualties now or huge numbers later. You don’t have a yes/no option to war. Yes, people will die. Do you want more people to die so that you can take a moral stand?

Finally, to suggest that pacifists do nothing is a huge slap in the face of a long standing tradition of pacifism (that I would suggest includes people such as Jesus, Ghandi, Dr. MLK Jr.) that has altered the very face of the world in which we live. As I suggested earlier, for christians to practice an eucharistic form of pacifism would be an extremely powerful example. I always find it strange that christians are more than willing to die for a good cause as long as they can kill some other people while they are at it (this is in reference to the large numbers of christians in the US military) . If these same christians were implored with the type of eucharistic pacifism (completely lacking from the mainstream christian tradition) that I think Jesus exemplified they would volunteer to give their lives NOT for the nation in which they live but rather the god they claim to follow – and this without weapons of destruction but merely their own bodies.

Now let’s think about this: why did Ghandi and MLK succeed? Pacifism works so as long as your enemy has a conscience. The British did some nasty things in their colonies, but were basically moral people who couldn’t abide butchering peaceful protestors (eventually). Do you seriously think that Ghandi’s efforts would have been successful if India was dominated by the Nazis or Stalinists?

Now, tell me: do you think that pacifism would deter the Islamofascists?

But alas the christian tradition is still shackled by the chains of constantinianism that would have it strive to share in the rule of the world as opposed to being its humble servant. Even your own post betrays this self-identification of christians in america with the nation-state itself: you try to distance yourself with “Now I am not saying that the US is the embodiment of goodness or even Chrisitianity,” but then give way to “but we can see how we wage war and how our enemies wage war and see a struggle between good and evil.” Who is this “we”? Americans? or christians who just so happen to reside in the nation-state called America? The answer makes all the difference in the world. If christians want to go to war for the cause of the nation-state, let them. Just do not let them pretend to do so under the banner of God. Rather, let us be adult about it and call a spade a spade. Until then, I fear that christians have allowed themselves to be co-opted.

Was Jesus a pacifist? Yep. Without a doubt. The Biblical case for pacifism is stronger than the case for just war.

Maybe I could be a pacifist and stand by and watch my countrymen incinerated by terrorist nuclear bombs. Maybe I could watch the bodies of Saddam Hussein’s hundreds of thousands of victims poured into mass graves. But I’m just not that cold blooded.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago, I had a friend who was diagnosed with cancer. It was completely by accident that they discovered it, but sure enough, it was there, and it was spreading. It didn't pose an immediate threat... she could have lived for years without it affecting her health in any significant way. But eventually, it would have to be dealt with, and the longer she waited, the more difficult and dangerous the treatment would have been.

So she took decisive action, went through surgery and months of gruelling chemotherapy. In fact, that was the only time she felt sick - was while receiving the "cure". It was a terrible experience - one that she wouldn't wish on anyone. But it had to be done - otherwise she would be dead today.

Sure, she could've ignored it for a while, hoping it would get better on it's own. Maybe she could go to some holistic healers, and they could wave some magic crystals over her. Even get her church to pray for her. But outside of divine intervention, she would've eventually died a terrible death.

The cure was costly, painful and scarring, but it was also *NECESSARY*. Just like war. Would God prefer that she not have to go through that? Absolutely. But He too realizes that sometimes you have to take the lesser of two evils in this fallen world.

St.Phransus said...

Not to belittle the tragic situation with your friend, but that's an absolutely lame comparison. The two examples do not remotely relate to one another.

Let's look at the issue you bring up:

1.) Does seeking medical attention for sickness go against (in any way) the teachings of Jesus? I don't see that it does. Jesus WAS a healer. Doctors are healers. We are talking about a situation that PROMOTES a "culture of life".

Does war go against (in any way) the teachings of Jesus? In Matthew 5: 39-44 Jesus teaches that one should not answer violence with violence. Jesus by his very life chose non-violence to respond to a culture of violence- which led him to the cross. So in my opinion, there is reason to hold that war be incompatible with the teachings of Jesus. Also in my opnion, God is a God who promotes life- war is not a cure all treatment for evil. If God uses violent means to bring about God's ends, then Jesus may have well chosen to be a revolutionary to bring about the Kingdom.

2.)"Sure, she could've ignored it for a while... Even get her church to pray for her. But outside of divine intervention, she would've eventually died a terrible death."

Your suggestion with this image is that if we do not respond to violence/evil (such as the situation in Iraq) then people will continue to die.

I want to ask you a serious question- do you believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? If yes, then WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES RESSURECTION MAKE? I believe as Christians, because of reserrection, we are called to live differently in the world- we are called to live and respond JUST as God would, not because it's right or wrong- but simply because it's how God would respond.

If you believe in resurrection why do you live as though that you doubt it? Why do you believe that we must respond to violence with violence? WHAT GOOD IS RESURRECTION if we are still living by the old codes of behavior?

I know that the logic is that others need to play nice first before we can all get along- but SOMEONE has to show others how to play nice- which is precisely what led Jesus to the cross.

No one said we were going to WIN, no one said that nonviolence stops others from doing harm, hurting and killing others. It's not about winning, it's not about being right/doing right for the most people, it's not really even about the means to the end-

IT'S ABOUT TESTIMONY- BEING TRUTH TELLERS to a world that lives by violence. IT'S ABOUT BEING A LIVING BREATHING TESTIMONY THAT GOD DOES NOT APPROVE OF VIOLENCE, THAT GOD IS NOT THAT WAY. We live in a culture of violence and so we, THE COUNTER CULTURAL FOLLOWERS OF JESUS LIVE A LIVE IN OPPOSITION TO THE CULTURE OF VIOLENCE... even when it leads to a cross and it seems that no good came out of it... because we know THAT THERE IS ALSO RESSURRECTION- WHICH MEANS THAT WE DO HAVE THE LAST WORD- THE KINGDOM OF GOD.