One Old Testament reference to war is in Exodus 15: 1-3. "Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord saying, 'I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider, he has thrown into the sea (The Red Sea). The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and will exalt him. The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name'." (This may be the passage from which Reverend Jerry Falwell got the title for a recent essay upholding our war in Iraq, "God is Pro-War.")
Isaiah 2: 1-4, contains that well-known passage, "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."
New Testament passages that speak to the issue of Jesus' teaching about human relationships include: Matthew 5: 5, 7, and 9, three of the Beatitudes dealing with the Meek, the Merciful and the Peacemakers being the ones who will inherit the kingdom of God. In Luke 12:51, Jesus is reported to have said, "I have come to give peace on earth."
Those of us 70 years of age or older have known a lot about war. The twentieth century was one of the bloodiest centuries in human history. Approximately 54 million people were killed, millions of them innocent civilians. The United States was reluctant to get involved in both World War I and II. There was a strong strain of "isolationism" among our citizens. Great Britain was in dire straits from the German bombings -- but we shied away. Hitler had run roughshod over much of Western Europe and was aiming at Moscow on the east. It took the bombing of Pearl Harbor to get us fully engaged in World War II. The Korean "Conflict" was the first of the "Cold Wars" that got very hot. The 38th Parallel in Korea became the line of demarcation between the Communists' push of China and the resistance of the U.S. Thousands of U.S. troops are still in Korea to protect South Korea from the North. Thousands of American troops are still in Germany and Japan after 60 years of "peace" with those countries.
Vietnam became the first war of the twentieth century that polarized the American people. The war was finally lost after hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. Since then we have had "little" wars and "skirmishes" around the world, eg. the Balkans, Grenada, Panama, pacification efforts in Lebanon (many of our Marines killed by a suicide car bomber) and in Haiti. Then we had the Gulf War in the early 90's to drive the Iraqi military out of Kuwait. Now at the beginning of the 21st century we are at it again. When will we ever learn? Much more about the present war follows.
What is the tradition of the Christian Church in regard to war? Actually, there are many traditions. We have a rather "spotty' record, sometimes even engaging in war for purposes of evangelizing the world (getting rid of the Muslims in the Great Christian Crusades). The Quakers have been one of the great traditions of pacifism down through the years. Some Christians from all the great traditions have refused to engage in war.
The United Methodist Church has taken the following position, "We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy and insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them; that human values must outweigh military claims as governments determine their priorities; that the militarization of society must be challenged and stopped; that the manufacture, sale, and deployment of armaments must be reduced and controlled; and that the production, possession, or use of nuclear weapons be condemned." [THE DISCIPLINE OFTHE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, paragraph 75-C]
United Methodists join with many other mainline Christian denominations in recognizing the "Just War Theory."
The Just War theory guidelines are:
-Just in cause - for instance, in self-defense
-Just intent - correcting wrong and bringing about peace
-Last resort - exhausting all peaceful means of resolving conflict
-Legitimate authority - individuals and groups possessing authority
-Reasonable hope of success - not being a hopeless cause
-Discrimination between combatants and non-combatants- civilians and innocent people being immune from attack and every effort being made to avoid killing them
-Proportionality - violence used in war being proportional to the injury suffered and to the limited goal of redressing the wrong
[OPTING FOR VIRTUE IN PUBLIC LIFE, p. 106]
There are many critics of the "Just War Theory" who are doubtful if such a theory can be implemented and believe it is not likely to be very successful in any type of warfare.
What does our experience tell us about war? What does our reason tell us? Many have never experienced war first-hand, but all of us are affected by war and the way our country chooses to deal with international conflicts. Reason would certainly tell us that war is unbelievably de-humanizing at best and is a deeply flawed approach to settling international disputes at worst.
During the height of the Vietnam war, on March 1, 1966, Senator Fullbright (D) Arkansas, spoke on the Senate floor, challenging the Johnson (D) administration and the American people, regarding the Arrogance of Power -- and what arrogance does to a nation. He said, "To criticize one's country is to do it a service and pay it a compliment. It is a service because it may spur the country to do better than it is doing; it is a compliment because it evidences a belief that the country can do better. Criticism may embarrass the country's leaders in the short run but strengthens their hand in the long run; it may destroy a consensus on policy while expressing a consensus on values. Criticism, in short, is more than a right -- it is an act of patriotism -- a higher form of patriotism, I believe, than the familiar rituals of national adulation." [THE ANNALS OF AMERICA, VOL. 187, p. 362]
Oh -- how we need a Senator Fullbright in the Senate today!
What about the current war, sometimes called a "War on Terror," but more directly is a war against Iraq? The Christian community is not of one mind on this. As in many political and social policies, the dividing line seems to fall most directly between the "so-called" Evangelicals (I say "so-called" because I do not believe many of the Fundamentalists are truly Evangelicals) and mainstream Protestants. Roman Catholics would have some of the same divisions as Protestantism.
Former President Carter has this to say in his recent book OUR ENDANGERED VALUES: "One of the most bizarre admixtures of religion and government is the strong influence of some Christian fundamentalists on U.S. policy in the Middle East. Almost everyone in America has heard of the LEFT BEHIND series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, twelve books that have set all-time records in sales. Their religious premise is based on carefully selected Bible verses, mostly from the book of Revelation, and describes the scenario of the end of the world." (Remember what Martin Luther said about the book of Revelation? He said, "It either finds one mad or leaves him mad [crazy].")
Carter goes on to say, "There are literally millions of my fellow Baptists and others who believe every word of this vision, based on self-exaltation of the chosen few along with the condemnation and abandonment, during a period of 'tribulation', of family members, friends, and neighbors who have not been chosen for salvation." Whew!
In an article in The New York Times by Charles Marsh, published January 20, 2006, "Wayward Christian Soldiers," Marsh states: "In the past several years, American evangelicals, and I am one of them, have amassed greater political power than at any time in our history. But, at what cost to our witness and the integrity of our message?"
Recently, I took a few days to reread the war sermons delivered by influential evangelical ministers during the lead up to the Iraq war. That period, from the fall of 2002 through the spring of 2003, is not one I remember fondly. Many of the most respected voices in American evangelical circles blessed the President's war plans, even when doing so required them to recast Christian doctrine.
Charles Stanley, pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta, whose weekly sermons are seen by millions of television viewers, led the charge with particular fervor. "We should offer to serve the war effort any way possible," said Mr. Stanley, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. "God battles with people who oppose him, who fight against him and his followers." In an article carried by the Convention's Baptist Press news service, a missionary wrote that "American foreign policy and military might have opened opportunity for the Gospel in the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Iraq)."
As if working from a slate of evangelical talking points, both Franklin Graham, the evangelist and son of Billy Graham, and Marvin Olasky, the editor of the conservative World magazine and a former adviser to President Bush on faith-based policy, echoed these sentiments, claiming that the American invasion of Iraq would create exciting new prospects for proselytizing Muslims. Tim LaHaye, the co-author of the hugely popular Left Behind series, spoke of Iraq as a "focal point of end-time events," whose special role in the earth's final days will become clear after invasion, conquest and reconstruction. For his part, Jerry Falwell boasted that "God is Pro-War" in the title of an essay he wrote in 2004.
The war sermons rallied the evangelical congregations behind the invasion of Iraq. An astonishing 87 percent of all white evangelical Christians in the United States supported the President's decision in April 2003. Recent polls indicate that 68 percent of white evangelicals (again, I insist on using "so-called evangelicals") continue to support the war." (NOTE: Since this column was written in January it may be somewhat outdated -- since more recent polls indicate that the percentage of the American people who support the war has dropped considerably. Perhaps even some so-called evangelicals are finally seeing through this whole moronic affair!
Another prophetic voice (and there have been too few of them to suit me) comes from Rev. Dr. Myers, pastor of Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City, at a Peace Rally on November 14, 2004.
Dr. Myers said, "Tonight I join ranks of those who are angry, because I have watched as the faith I love has been taken over by fundamentalists who claim to speak for Jesus, but whose actions are anything but Christian.
"We've heard a lot about so-called 'moral values' as having swung the election to President Bush. Well, I'm a great believer in moral values, but we need to have a discussion, all over the country, about exactly what constitutes a moral value -- I mean, what are we talking about? Because we don't get to make them up as we go along, especially if we are people of faith. We have an inherited tradition of what is right and wrong, and moral is as moral does!
"When you start a war on false pretenses, and then act as if your deceptions are justified because you are doing God's will, and that your critics are either unpatriotic or lacking faith, there are some of us who have given our lives to teaching and preaching the faith who believe this is not only not moral but immoral.
"When you live in a country that has established international rules for waging a just war, built the United Nations on your own soil to enforce them, and then arrogantly break the very rules you set down for the rest of the world, you are doing something immoral.
"When you cause most of the rest of the world to hate a country that was once the most loved country in the world, and act like it doesn't matter what others think of us, only what God thinks of you, you have done something immoral.
"When you act as if the lives of Iraqi civilians are not as important as the lives of American soldiers, and refuse to count them, you are doing something immoral.
"When you claim that our God is bigger that their God (a statement by an American general early on in the war), and that our killing is righteous, while theirs is evil, we have begun to resemble the enemy we claim to be fighting, and that is immoral. We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.
"Don't be afraid to speak out, Don't back down when your friends begin to tell you that the cause is righteous and that the flag should be wrapped around the cross, while the rest of us keep our mouths shut."
Mr. Lee Raymond, CEO, Exxon-Mobil Corp, recently very much in the news because of the exceptionally high profits in the energy related companies, in an interview soon after Mr. Bush was elected president, witnessed by this writer, said, "The difference with this administration (Bush) and the last administration (Clinton) is that this administration knows how to read maps."
Somewhere, this writer recently saw where someone came up with a play on words and suggested that the reason we are in Iraq is OIL (Oil, Israel, and Location). For those of us who believe that a small cadre of neo-cons had actually planned to invade Iraq before 9-11, and used that terrible tragedy as an excuse for doing it, we cannot forget the rosy scenarios painted by some of these same characters about how we would be welcomed by the Iraqi people and the conflict would be a "cake-walk." (I usually do not buy into conspiracy theories, but this one keeps showing its ugly head where people are wise enough to see it.)
By all odds, this present war cannot be justified by any measure of a "just" war. It would be wonderful if all the peoples of the earth who are oppressed could be freed, all who are hungry could be fed, and all people could live in freedom, justice and peace. We are a great nation that seeks to embody those great qualities. But, the question we must face, as the one remaining superpower, "Is that our mission?" And if so, "What more creative ways are open to us to spread democracy and justice" besides preemptive wars against two-bit dictators around the world? Surely there is a better way than the way we are attempting to do it in Iraq.
What do you think? How do you feel about war and peace? What can you do to work for a better world? A world of freedom, peace, and justice?