Archive for the ‘Pacifism & Non-resistance’ Category

Having just about finished the third book in my ongoing quest to better understand why God allowed such gruesome violence in the Old Testament era and why many modern Christians believe some level of participation in war is justified, I felt it appropriate to pause and assess my understanding–for the benefit of both myself and you who found relevance in my previous posts about such things.  Originally, I set out to understand what, if any, scriptural basis there was for a Christian killing another person in the name of their earthly nation, and while I have gained a much firmer conviction about this I’ve also uncovered a web of theology and philosophy underneath all of it that is much more complex than I expected.  But that’s fine.  The more I read about the two issues (1. OT violence and, 2. Christian applications), the harder it is to just focus on one without running into a discussion about the other.  I guess this is to be expected to some extent since the authors I’m reading hold orthodox positions and thus view all of the Bible as canonical and authoritative, and both issues are dealt with in the Bible.  So, I have had to approach the two issues simultaneously even though the interpretations and conclusions between the two have been very different.

‘Just’ War Theory

Without going into tremendous detail and writing a grand book report I would like to first summarize the point I’ve reached on Protestant Christianity’s acceptance–albeit a vague one–of the Just War Theory.  In doing so I’m not really addressing the specifics of the Theory.  This is intentional.  My reason is that every church that I’ve been to that openly takes an affirming position on Christians in the military draws on the Just War Theory–either explicitly or implicitly–only in the most loose and general way.  Since the Theory is essentially Catholic doctrine and I attend Protestant churches, this is not surprising.  So, because Protestants refer to it generally, I am critiquing it generally.  While I know more could be said in defense of the Theory, I do not hold the Catholic belief that the Church’s teachings are authoritative therefore I am more concerned with what Scripture says than with dogma, and from what I understand of this issue thus far I can say that the Theory doesn’t work.

While there is much thought and care behind the Just War rules of engagement, I believe it is too idealistic and antiquated to base one’s life upon.  This is because the way in which war actually happens today makes it impossible to apply Just War principles, and I see two primary reasons why.  1) Modern warfare is not the low-tech, hand-to-hand combat it was when this theory was dreamed up by St. Augustine.  The tactics and technologies that have been used since WWI could not have been foreseen by Augustine even in his worst nightmares–especially nuclear weapons.  As a result, modern warfare involves–as a byproduct–the taking of innocent, non-combatant lives.  Thanks to worldwide industrialization, soldiers are no longer the only ones who die during conflicts.  In this sense, engaging in a “just” war is virtually impossible.  2) World governments, often intentionally, do not reveal to its citizens truthful, unbiased information about the nation’s conflicts or its enemies rendering individual Christians ill-informed as to whether or not they would be ‘justly’ participating in a military campaign should they choose–or be forced–to fight.  With respect to the Just War Theory, individual Christian citizens simply do not and cannot know enough to make a correct assessment of a situation.  In the United States, this leaves the “moral compass” in the hands of elected officials and military personnel.  While that might not sound too bad to many American Christians who trust in the benevolence of our government, imagine if you were a conscripted soldier in Nazi Germany, Stalin’s U.S.S.R., Omar al-Beshir’s Sudan, or even modern North Korea!  Would you blindly obey your government’s orders to commit genocide because you thought God wanted you to “be subject to rulers and authorities” (Titus 3:1)?  Of course not.  If the Just War Theory cannot be applied timelessly and universally then it is nothing more than a theory and is only useful in the theoretical realm not the practical reality in which we live.  This is very unfortunate because a vague ideal of a just war, along with a narrow application of the biblical principle of submitting to authorities, seems to be the best and most widely accepted justification Christians, especially Western Evangelicals, have come up with for killing others in the name of their country.

Old Testament Violence

The next issue I sought to learn more about is why God either commanded or allowed such brutality at the hands of the Israelites.  Prior to trudging through these three books I felt I had a pretty good understanding of this but I knew there is always more to learn when it comes to the ways of God.  At this point I have heard from 11 different authors, not to mention the many that they cite, and all of them make the same conclusion that the “holy war” of the Old Testament does not provide a model for engaging with the world that the Christian Church ought to follow.  All the authors agree that Christians, or any modern nation for that matter, have no right to engage in warfare the way in which ancient Israel did.  There is no biblical justification for “fighting for God” or taking up arms to “defend Christianity”.  Where there is disagreement, however, is with the explanation for the murder of so many thousands of people, as recorded in Old Testament books like Joshua.

In no particular order, here are the three most interesting explanations that I came across for why this violence took place.  1) God did not in fact command these wars; they were the result of Moses’ imperfect understanding of God’s will.  God works with fallen humanity where we are at and therefore allowed the Israelites to carry out such violence, even though it was not done at his command.  This is evidenced by the fact that the book of Deuteronomy, where the rules for war first appear, is essentially Moses’ interpretation and retelling of the Law he was given by God at Sinai—it is a not a verbatim quotation of God.  The book is filled with a great deal of creative liberty and embellishment when compared to the account of the event in the book of Exodus.  Furthermore, Moses’ commands to Israel concerning the rules of war tend to change from situation to situation and at times seem to be totally arbitrary.  Additionally, Israel’s understanding of the events of their wars and God’s commands have a progressive quality whereby from Moses to Joshua to the Book of Chronicles things get clearer over time.  This suggests that the Israelites, like us today, didn’t always hear God correctly at the time they moved forward with a decision, but understood God’s will more fully in hindsight.  In other words, God allowed the violence but he didn’t command it.  2) Holy War in the Old Testament should be best thought of as “Yahweh War” for the reason that the chief objective of war was the annihilation of foreign gods.  That this was the case is most clearly articulated by God himself when he states that by killing all of Egypt’s firstborn he “will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt” (Exodus 12:12).  Because foreign gods could trip up the Israelites, the only way to protect God’s people was for him to exterminate the idols and by extension those who worshipped them.  In this way the violence should be termed “deicide”, not “genocide” or even “homicide,” because the gods were the primary object of the Lord’s wrath, not the humans.  3) While the wars of Israel and Judah were historical, some of the details, such as the number of casualties or the method of victory, are most likely not.  This is because the judgment on other nations that was carried out by the hands of God, or God via the Israelites, most importantly serves the purpose of pointing to the eschatological reality of God one day destroying evil and all who do it and preserving a remnant for himself: the Church.  Thus, the warfare during the Old Testament era is an allegory, created by God, for things to come.  The concern then should not be with the violence itself, since many details themselves are probably part of the allegory, but rather with understanding the themes and eternal reality it points to.

Each of these three explanations was new to me and each one of them definitely requires a lot or more study on my part to fully understand.  The other explanations, in my assessment, were basically more technical and scholarly ways of articulating what I wrote about in my previous post on this issue.  So, having pondered all these explanations by all these smart guys over the last nine months I have reached this noble and commendable verdict as to which one I believe is right:  I have no idea.  (This stuff is really complicated!)  I see convincing arguments within them all, so the best I can say is that they are probably all correct to some degree.  While I feel pretty secure (right now, anyways!) in my conclusion regarding a Christian’s obligation to their government, this second issue will probably take me a lifetime to wrap my head around.  Thankfully there’s lots of people who have devoted their lives to understanding these things and writing about them so we can all benefit from their insights.  If you’re interested in learning more, be sure to check out the books I’ve recommended on these topics and please let me know of any additional ones you’ve found helpful.  For now, thanks for reading and…



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Have you ever been to a church service, perhaps in early July, where they “honor veterans” by asking them to stand while the rest of the congregation erupts into applause and the pastor, or whoever, says something to the effect of “Thank you for your service”?  I have been to at least three.  And in case you’re wondering, these weren’t churches in Texas full of gun-toting Republicans; it was here, in the Bay Area, at good Bible-teaching churches.  This is a tragedy.

I call this an “American tragedy” because I believe it to be a peculiarly American phenomenon–that, being the Cross+Flag faith that I’ve alluded to before.  Perhaps this occurs in churches in other countries with standing armies, a history of military interventionism, and a strong sense of nationalism.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it did–the U.K., France, Canada, Australia seem likely.  Yet, America is unique in its historical relationship to Christianity and I am convinced that this is the source of our syncretism.  That being said why is this a tragedy?  The role of a Christian church is to affirm and encourage obedience in the form of acts of love towards God and others, not to affirm and encourage sin.  As Christians we are called to submit to and obey our respective governments (see Romans 13:1-5, Titus 3:1); we are not called to sin for them.  Unless an individual is a cook, doctor, or some other kind of non-combatant, job duties in the military will unfortunately require the taking of human lives in violent warfare–or at least the preparation and willingness to do so.  Violence, murder, and vengeance are the very essence of warfare and each one is sin.   If our government asks us to sin then we must be prepared to join with the Apostles and shout, “we must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29), and then be willing to endure any persecution that might come as a result.  This is the brutal and dangerous nature of being a Christian and loving our Lord and I say that it is a tragedy when our churches affirm and encourage sin rather than obedience!  It is safer, and certainly more P.C., but what a tragedy it is when Christians gather together and those who have participated in sin are esteemed rather than corrected and pointed towards love.  And let me quickly offer the disclaimer that this is not a critique of the so-called Just War Theory, the necessity of a strong national defense, rules of engagement, or any other secular, political idea.  I am talking exclusively to the Church here because “what business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?  Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside!” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13).

You know what I would love to see?  I would love to go to church next 4th of July or Veteran’s Day and witness submission and obedience to God in relation to government affirmed.  Do you pay all your taxes?  Do you obey traffic laws?  Have you never stolen or vandalized property?  Do you show respect to government officials?  Do you fill out government forms honestly?  If so, you should be standing and receiving applause from your congregation!  You are the role model for your fellow Christians!  You show faithfulness to God through your fearless submission to the government!  You are the one deserving a “thank you” from the pastor for your faithful witness and obedience to God “rather than men”!  If churches feel so obligated to use patriotic holidays as an opportunity to affirm acts done for our earthly kingdom then let them affirm acts such as these for they show allegiance to the Kingdom of God and are the only ones that should be encouraged at church.

Church is for affirming and encouraging righteousness and “blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.” (Romans 14:22)  Since God desires for us to obey our government, so far as it doesn’t conflict with His Kingdom, let’s encourage each other to do so.  But let’s not allow our government or American culture define obedience for us.  That would be a tragedy.


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A couple months ago I got an email from a dear friend raising some really good points about what I had written in my post entitled, “Overturning ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’: The Hidden Injustice of Gay Rights.”  The most important of his points, to me, was the apparent contradiction between the New Testament’s pacifism and the Old Testament’s holy wars.  I believe reconciling this is crucial to justifying a case for Christian pacifism so the following is an adaptation of that email conversation, which I am grateful for having had.

An Apparent Contradiction

If you were involved in a church Sunday School class as a child–against your will or not–then you’ve long been aware that violence and war were a regular part of life for God’s people, the Israelites, in the Old Testament.  Indeed, any quick survey of the Old Testament might lead you to believe that God’s favorite rod of discipline against His people and His enemies is violence.  If He’s not wiping people out by His own supernatural acts, it seems He’s commanding the Israelites to do so and then blessing their efforts by granting them success.  Flip a few hundred pages to the right, to the New Testament, and the tables seem to have turned.  Now it is God’s people, the Christians, who seem to be the scum of the earth and are in danger of getting wiped out through religious persecution.  Yet in this context there is a different type of religion being advocated by God and His people as a response to their enemies: pacifism.  This is summed up nicely in the three passages I cited in my post: Matthew 5:43-46, Romans 12:17-21, Ephesians 6:12.

Hmm.  Isn’t this a contradiction in the message of the New and Old Testament scriptures?  Where is the continuity in the faith?  How can God’s commands allow for violence and war in the Old Testament, then condemn it in the New?  And, how can Jesus and the Christian message be considered the authentic fulfilment of Judaism if it deviates from its principles so radically?

Great questions, right?  Well, if you’re a Christian like me you may have never played devil’s advocate with yourself on this issue until right now.  The reason for that might be because your instinct is to gloss over this issue by quickly recalling something Jesus or Paul said about love and then moving on.  Doctrine reinforced.  Theology unshaken.  Unfortunately, when we do this we miss an opportunity to better understand this and many other objections people have with the Bible and the Christian god, and as a result we miss an opportunity to better understand the God who can help us address them.

As for me, I treasure opportunities such as these and thus seek them out.  This is why I’m willing to explore the difficult social issues that you’ll find addressed on our blog;  I want to be able to understand the true nature of an issue from all angles and then ask God what He thinks and if there’s anything He wants me to do about it.  My motivation is that I’ve come to realize that there are too many people with too many issues for us to be satisfied living out our Christianity in cultural fortresses every Sunday morning (and maybe Wednesday night), oblivious to the suffering of the world.  I also know that people with legitimate struggles will conclude that God/Christianity is cold, irrelevant, condescending–and worse–when we don’t understand their issue yet spout out shallow theological answers.  This is why I hope and pray that this blog inspires and equips you Christians out there to engage with the world as Jesus did.  We might not change the world but that doesn’t make our efforts any less faithful to God.  With that being said, the issue at hand is such an issue requiring our attention if we are to wisely engage with the world.

The Wrath of God

To understand why violence is not permissible for Christians I had to first come to terms with why, exactly, it was for Jews.  The issue, I believe, comes down to the judgement and wrath of God.

Before Jesus was sacrificed for all our sins, God’s judgement and wrath upon sin was happening in real-time both for the Israelites and other peoples of the world to an extent that it is not today.  For the Israelites, their sins were punished in all sorts of ways both by God and by each other as prescribed by the Law.  Against groups that didn’t know God and were opposed to Him, their punishment sometimes took the form of being killed by the Israelites or sometimes God himself wiped them out, or sometimes they just lived and died natural deaths without ever having known the God of Israel (God hiding Himself is certainly a form of punishment).  This might sound extreme or even gruesome but as the Bible clearly shows us the Israelites were chosen by God to be the vehicle to bring God’s fellowship to all people groups, which was finally accomplished with Jesus’ death and resurrection.  So, because the ultimate purpose for the Israelites was to pave the way for Jesus, anything that stood in their way stood in the way of God’s plan to bring forgiveness and fellowship to the world.  Therefore, God did not hesitate to remove and even destroy anything opposed to this purpose.  God and His people were not being homicidal imperialists, they were ensuring that satan would not thwart God’s plan of bringing a way for the whole world–not just the Israelites–to be “God’s people.”

So what about all the people God killed?  Are they just out of luck because they happened to be born outside of the Nation of Israel and were therefore merely rubbish waiting to be discarded?  Well, there are two answers from what I understand.  First, the tradition and doctrine derived from verses like 1 peter 3:18-20 say that Jesus preached the Gospel to some of them before ascending to heaven after he was crucified.  Second, just like today there are those whom God saves and those whom He doesn’t–so as it is confusing as to why God chose to make contact with Noah and Abram instead of others, so it is confusing as to why God allows some to trust Jesus and some not to (i.e. John 6:44).  Theology, we can forget, can’t explain all the mysteries of God:

‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.’  (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Implications and Applications

Does this make God/Jesus a hypocrite for telling us to love our enemies in the Gospels?  Or, are the Gospels inconsistent man-made novels?  No.  These questions, and other similar questions have more to do with us than with God.  More specifically they have to do with the way we view the Bible.  If we treat the Old and New Testament as a complete work of religious philosophy from which we can extract principles and rules then we have missed the point.  For too long I myself had the idea that I could study the Bible on my own and deduce the truths from it and lay them out in a sort of divine system which I needed to follow if I wanted to live correctly.  Uhg!  What I had to realize was that scripture tells a story.  The story progresses and unfolds and more and more things make sense along the way.  The theological term is “progressive revelation.”

In light of this, I read the “Sermon on the Mount” with Jesus appearing to contradict the Old Testament Law with his talk of love, charity, and peace, and see that the battles to preserve the Israelites until salvation could be offered to everyone are no longer necessary now that Jesus has come.  I see that the wars, exiles, and violence of the Old Testament are now officially over because Israel’s true king is here, and that all the fighting was to ensure that he would arrive safely, right on schedule.  And by the end of the Gospels I see that there really is no need to fight against your enemy anymore because the only battle worth fighting for–eternal safety–was won by Jesus.  Amen.

In conclusion, God’s desire for humanity to live peaceful, loving lives has never ever changed.  The story of salvation has certainly been a messy one, but since Genesis it’s been clear that God’s intended goal was always for us to be people of love–love for Him and for each other.  Therefore, I see no contradictions in the Bible with regard to this issue.  And while I’m sure there are hundreds of different ways to articulate the centrality of pacifism and/or non-resistance to New Testament faith, this is just the one I felt inspired to use.  Finally, I should also note that while I am aware of some of the differing conclusions about issues of war and peace by those within Christianity during its long history (for example, Augustine of Hippo’s “Just War Theory”), what I have just laid forth in this essay and in my previous one compels me to disagree in deference to the simple wisdom of Jesus:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40)

The Lord is God

For further reading on this issue, here are two sources which I found helpful:

> “Spirituality While Facing Tragedy: How Then Shall We Live?”, by Henry A. Gustafson
> “Can a Christian be a pacifist?”, by Don Murphy

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Recently I read C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.  It’s a thought-provoking book for anyone, Christian or not, desiring to understand the tendency toward the sinister that we all have.  One passage of the book stuck out to me as being relevant for the discussion about patriotism/pacifism here on the blog.  I found it to be a clever warning for the zealous Christian committed to either the cause of patriotism or pacifism.

The scene is one demon writing a letter to another demon about how best to lure a particular Christian human into evil and thereby secure his fate in Hell. The setting is England during World War II:

“Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as part of his religion.  Then let him, under the influence of a partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part.  Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the ’cause’, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism…Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.  Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours–and the more ‘religious’ (on those terms) the more securely ours.  I could show you a pretty cageful down here [in Hell]…” (Lewis 1996, 34)

Take heed.

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By General Smedley D. Butler, published 1935

Published 1935

Smedley D. Butler (July 30, 1881 – June 21, 1940) was a Major General in the U.S. Marine Corps and, at the time of his death, the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. During his 34 years of Marine Corps service, Butler was awarded the Marine Corps Brevet Medal (the highest Marine medal at its time for officers), and the Congressional Medal of Honor twice.  He is one of only 19 people to be twice awarded the Medal of Honor, and one of only three to be awarded a Marine Corps Brevet Medal and a Medal of Honor.  Butler is the only person to be awarded a Marine Corps Brevet Medal and a Medal of Honor for two different actions.  Upon retirement, Butler gave hundreds of speeches across the U.S.  In 1933, in one of his more famous speeches, Butler said the following:

War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses. I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag. I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers.

I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 (where have I heard that name before?). I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested. During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket. There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its “finger men” to point out enemies, its “muscle men” to destroy enemies, its “brain men” to plan war preparations, and a “Big Boss” Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.

It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

What follows is a short, 5 chapter tract published by Butler in 1935, 4 years after his retirement from the Marine Corps…

Chapter One:  WAR IS A RACKET

WAR is a racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

In the World War a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.

How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few – the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

And what is this bill?

This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out.

Again they are choosing sides. France and Russia met and agreed to stand side by side. Italy and Austria hurried to make a similar agreement. Poland and Germany cast sheep’s eyes at each other, forgetting for the nonce [one unique occasion], their dispute over the Polish Corridor.

The assassination of King Alexander of Jugoslavia [Yugoslavia] complicated matters. Jugoslavia and Hungary, long bitter enemies, were almost at each other’s throats. Italy was ready to jump in. But France was waiting. So was Czechoslovakia. All of them are looking ahead to war. Not the people – not those who fight and pay and die – only those who foment wars and remain safely at home to profit.

There are 40,000,000 men under arms in the world today, and our statesmen and diplomats have the temerity to say that war is not in the making.

Hell’s bells! Are these 40,000,000 men being trained to be dancers?

Not in Italy, to be sure. Premier Mussolini knows what they are being trained for. He, at least, is frank enough to speak out. Only the other day, Il Duce in “International Conciliation,” the publication of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said:

“And above all, Fascism, the more it considers and observes the future and the development of humanity quite apart from political considerations of the moment, believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace… War alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the people who have the courage to meet it.”

Undoubtedly Mussolini means exactly what he says. His well-trained army, his great fleet of planes, and even his navy are ready for war – anxious for it, apparently. His recent stand at the side of Hungary in the latter’s dispute with Jugoslavia showed that. And the hurried mobilization of his troops on the Austrian border after the assassination of Dollfuss showed it too. There are others in Europe too whose sabre rattling presages war, sooner or later.

Herr Hitler, with his rearming Germany and his constant demands for more and more arms, is an equal if not greater menace to peace. France only recently increased the term of military service for its youth from a year to eighteen months.

Yes, all over, nations are camping in their arms. The mad dogs of Europe are on the loose. In the Orient the maneuvering is more adroit. Back in 1904, when Russia and Japan fought, we kicked out our old friends the Russians and backed Japan. Then our very generous international bankers were financing Japan. Now the trend is to poison us against the Japanese. What does the “open door” policy to China mean to us? Our trade with China is about $90,000,000 a year. Or the Philippine Islands? We have spent about $600,000,000 in the Philippines in thirty-five years and we (our bankers and industrialists and speculators) have private investments there of less than $200,000,000.

Then, to save that China trade of about $90,000,000, or to protect these private investments of less than $200,000,000 in the Philippines, we would be all stirred up to hate Japan and go to war – a war that might well cost us tens of billions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of lives of Americans, and many more hundreds of thousands of physically maimed and mentally unbalanced men.

Of course, for this loss, there would be a compensating profit – fortunes would be made. Millions and billions of dollars would be piled up. By a few. Munitions makers. Bankers. Ship builders. Manufacturers. Meat packers. Speculators. They would fare well.

Yes, they are getting ready for another war. Why shouldn’t they? It pays high dividends.

But what does it profit the men who are killed? What does it profit their mothers and sisters, their wives and their sweethearts? What does it profit their children?

What does it profit anyone except the very few to whom war means huge profits?

Yes, and what does it profit the nation?

Take our own case. Until 1898 we didn’t own a bit of territory outside the mainland of North America. At that time our national debt was a little more than $1,000,000,000. Then we became “internationally minded.” We forgot, or shunted aside, the advice of the Father of our country. We forgot George Washington’s warning about “entangling alliances.” We went to war. We acquired outside territory. At the end of the World War period, as a direct result of our fiddling in international affairs, our national debt had jumped to over $25,000,000,000. Our total favorable trade balance during the twenty-five-year period was about $24,000,000,000. Therefore, on a purely bookkeeping basis, we ran a little behind year for year, and that foreign trade might well have been ours without the wars.

It would have been far cheaper (not to say safer) for the average American who pays the bills to stay out of foreign entanglements. For a very few this racket, like bootlegging and other underworld rackets, brings fancy profits, but the cost of operations is always transferred to the people – who do not profit.

In the interest of the space, the four remaining chapters of  War Is A Racket may be read via the following website:

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A while back my wife brought home a stack of documentaries from work that have been, or will be, aired on PBS’ Independent Lens program.  We’ve been slowly working through them and recently I watched one that, out of disinterest, I was avoiding: Ask Not.  The 53-minute documentary looks at U.S. military policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” with regard to homosexual orientation.  My disinterest was rooted in my general disinterest in the military in general, not in the rights of homosexual people–therefore this issue felt irrelevant to me.  However, in the past few weeks there’s been a reoccurring theme of war–past and present–in what I’ve been watching, reading, and thinking about, creating a sudden curiosity in the film and in an issue which I was pretty ignorant about.

The policy, as the film says, was the resulting compromise of Bill Clinton’s push to allow openly homosexual civilians into the military in 1993–a push he vowed to make and succeed at during his campaign for president.  At the time of the 1993 compromise Clinton, though discouraged, praised the policy as a huge step forward in civil rights for homosexuals.  Conversely, many homosexuals felt let down and upset by Clinton’s inability to win over the military and other policy makers to the effect of removing a ban they felt was unjust.  Later in the film we hear an audio clip from a 2005 interview where Clinton himself expresses a desire for the policy to be changed saying that it has been abused, by means of increased discrimination against homosexuals, since it went into effect back in 1993.  This is essentially the same thesis as the film’s.  Despite its brevity and clear bias, the film was informative and interesting and I recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about the issue, particularly the view that the ban ought to be removed.

Hidden injustice

Having never really thought about homosexuals being disallowed in the military, or why they should or should not be, the film really got me thinking.  As the information and the stories were presented I began forming an opinion that by the end of film I felt fairly confident in.  However, after the film ended I continued to think about the different arguments for and against the policy and realized that there, underpinning the entire issue, lay the assumption that violent conflict is acceptable.  At this point the question for me was no longer whether or not denying homosexuals admittance into the military is just, but whether or not violent conflict itself is just.  Thinking further, I realized that since I disagree with the idea that violence can be inherently good and just, I cannot logically enter into the debate about whether or not homosexuals should be allowed to participate equally in violent conflict alongside heterosexuals.  In other words, the former question is totally irrelevant to me because I reject the assumption that it makes; it’d be like asking me to debate whether or not prostitutes should be paid the minimum wage by their pimps when I think wrong prostitution is wrong in the first place.  In conclusion, it is my view that, biblically speaking, it is dishonest and hypocritical to label this debate as a fight for ‘justice’ or ‘morality,’ no matter what side you stand on, if you have first made the leap that violent conflict is moral.

How has this debate evolved to the point that the morality of war can be entirely overlooked?  If gender and sexual equality is such an important moral issue to Americans why isn’t the murder of non-Americans?  Shouldn’t the real issue being debated by the activists and ‘moralists’ fighting over homosexual inclusion be the military’s use of force?  Satan has truly deluded our culture if it feels American sexuality is more important than non-American life.

Now, there may be many specific reasons how and why the morality of war is not included in the discussion of the morality of homosexual inclusion; perhaps some accept that violent conflict is a necessary and unavoidable part of our existence, perhaps some view working for pacifism as too idealistic and see more hope in winning smaller moral battles such as sexual equality, or perhaps some are being swept up into a misguided pursuit of universal American equality to the neglect of more important and fundamental issues.  There are probably other reasons too, but these three seem the most plausible to me so I will focus on them.

False Assumption #1: War is necessary

The first reason, that violent conflict is necessary and unavoidable, seems to be the most common.  Socially and politically, most people in the world would probably think it to be naive, or even insane, to not have an armed national military.  This view seems to be the predominant view of Americans.  Take, for example, the eruptions of applause after Barack Obama sternly said the following words during his inauguration:

“We will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense. And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that, ‘Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.'”

Or, recall an identical response from the audience listening to Obama and John McCain both declare that evil exists and that we should “defeat it” during their interviews with Pastor Rick Warren a few months ago. These are very rousing and patriotic things to say, no doubt.  And such rhetoric is usually embraced at every end of the political spectrum.  But, should it be embraced by Christians?  Let’s see…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?” –Jesus, Matthew 5:43-46

“Do no repay anyone evil for evil…If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.  On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink’….Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” –Paul, Romans 12:17-21

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” –Paul, Ephesians 6:12

“You shall not murder.” –God, Exodus 20:13

Yes, evil exists.  But overcoming it with violence is not the behavior of a Christian.  New Testament, Gospel-faith is one of worldly pacifism and non-resistance, rooted in a calling that is higher than the one spoken to us from Washington D.C.; it is rooted in love.  So, as treasonous and unpatriotic as the application of scripture may be, this is God’s heart as revealed to us in Christ.

Christians, of course, should not expect unbelievers to naturally embrace such thinking, but shouldn’t we who try to trust God’s son be troubled when see other Christians rejecting it?  Let me elaborate.  So many times I have walked through the doors of a church, passed through the foyer on my way to the sanctuary and noticed a bulletin board honoring those with ties to the church who are enlisted in the military.  “Pray for our troops”, “Support our troops”, “God bless America”, etc., can often be found nearby.  This sight is so common that I wonder how many stop and think of its significance.  When I see these genuine, heartfelt displays I am both puzzled and troubled for I fear that some Christians aren’t just being reminded to pray for the safety of their friend’s son serving in Iraq, but actually equate engaging in violent conflict on behalf of their country with serving God.  Case in point, the church-going sister of a close friend recently enlisted in the U.S. military because, in her words, she thought she would be “fighting for God.”  Given the Church’s affirmation of military service, I would not be surprised in the least bit if there were thousands of other Christians out there who have already enlisted, or soon will, under the same presumption–to the rejection of God’s will for them.  This should be a cause for concern for us in the American Church, but it doesn’t seem to be.  In fact, I don’t observe many Christians even giving a second thought to these things.  This, too, is quite troubling for me as it appears many in the Church have taken the principle of “submission to authorities” to mean: “allegiance to the ideology of the nation-state.”  Let me explain.

The Church has always fought against any internal syncretism and heresies, and rightly so.  Yet, I believe an overlooked battlefield is the one pitting The Flag against The Cross.  Now, I am not some wacko conspiracy theorist, I am just calling it as I see it, and what I see happening in many American churches is embodied in the presence of an American flag located in the front of many of our sanctuaries.  Perhaps this is a generational thing.  Perhaps the Flag and the Cross co-existing in sanctuaries hearkens back to a generation that saw Nazi Germany defeated by the Allies and a united America–arguably a true battle between good and evil.  Perhaps this has never really been questioned since then so the flags remain part of church tradition.  And perhaps my generation, that has witnessed the U.S. wage an illegal war in Iraq based on what turned out to be false pretenses, will remove them and leave them to be flown by post offices and government buildings.  Time will tell.  Regardless, it is indeed ironic that as an evil dictator was defeated in Europe–with a supportive, patriotic American church watching–many churches today flirt with the very ideology that America helped destroy: fascism.  I say this because by exchanging the Gospel and the words of scripture for an ideology of American preeminence supplanted by military strength, many Christians have helped foster a relationship between the Church and the American government that is more fascist than democratic, and certainly not Christian.  In short, some in the Church have compromised their Christian beliefs in favor of patriotism.  This is not good for our democracy and its even worse for our souls.  Fascism, let’s not forget, is the same evil method the Lawless One (i.e. the final Anti-Christ) will employ to subordinate the masses (see Revelation 13), and those masses will “perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” (2 Thessalonians. 2:10)  I pray that the illusion of America and its military as a sinless force for good will soon pass for many in the Church, and be replaced by a worldview marked by reverent critical-thinking.  The Flag and the Cross are not interchangeable and rarely compatible, no matter how persuasively Satan may argue the contrary.

False Assumption #2: You have to pick your battles

The second reason why the morality of war may be excluded in one’s discussion of the morality of homosexual inclusion–choosing small moral battles over the larger battle for pacifism–is inconceivable for me because it’s not an option I think a Christian has.  To use this reason one has to admit defeat in the movement for pacifism, or at least ignore it altogether.  As Christians, we know the battle against evil will continue until Christ’s return.  Therefore the opportunity to do right in the face of wrong will always exist for us.  Such is the cause for pacifism; nations will always wage war against each other, as the scriptures say, so a peacemaking disposition will always be relevant and necessary in our world.  For those doing the work of Christian social justice and activism, this raises an interesting question: is it ever right to accept defeat in the larger ‘war’ and settle for fighting smaller ‘battles’?  One major world issue always comes to mind when I ponder such questions: Israeli occupation of Palestine.  The unspoken position of many Westerners seems to be that Palestinians should stop fighting Israel, accept that their land has been lost, and try to forge a civil relationship with their former enemy.  As we all know, this position is rejected by many Muslims around the world and others sympathetic to Palestine’s struggle.  For we who are concerned with following and trusting Jesus, what should our position be?  Would biblical justice be served if we overlooked the means by which Israel has gained national rights to the land they now occupy and only concern ourselves with the people in Gaza being treated kindly?  This is a question I pose to anyone reading this; I don’t have a good answer worked out yet.  Let me know what you think.

False Assumption #3: Political correctness is correct

The third possible reason the morality of war may be excluded in this debate is similar to first reason in that Christians seem highly susceptible to it: being swept up in popular movements for social equality to the neglect of more important and fundamental issues.  Unlike the first reason, I have seen this one to be particularly common in the younger, “post-modern” generation of Christians who are often very in-tune with popular culture, college educated, and socially engaged.  This is the generation I belong to so I am especially concerned for them.  While I’m pleased to see my generation of brothers and sisters explore and engage in works of social justice I fear that sometimes it becomes more of a “cool” hobby than a movement of the Holy Spirit.  What I mean is that discernment is lacking when the only causes one joins are the ones that popular culture deems important.  Society shouldn’t be our point of reference for what is and is not just and good; God should be.  If we believe that “justice” is another word for all-pervasive social fairness and equality then we are only adopting the “politically correct” philosophy that increasingly governs more and more of U.S. culture and politics.  And if we fight for ‘justice’ on the basis of this philosophy we will find ourselves being more concerned with whether homosexuals should be allowed to fight with heterosexuals than whether or not anyone should be fighting in the first place, or being hung up on whether or not it’s unfair to deny women the right to choose to abort their babies and ignoring the bigger issue of abortion itself, or being drawn to any of the other popular movements for social equality.  Simply put, we won’t be working towards Christian justice, we will be working towards worldly justice–and what fruitless and unproductive work for the Kingdom of God that will be.

We must not settle for fighting small moral battles while neglecting the larger war against spiritual evil.  We need to resist joining the ranks of self-proclaimed moralists fighting inconsequential moral battles.  We are God’s instruments for righteousness and change in the world, and the world, whether it knows it or not, needs us to fight for it because “many seek an audience with a ruler, but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice.” (Proverbs 29:26)  And while the world may not always agree with Christian justice it will always benefit from it, in small and large ways.

May God help us and may He bring peace to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Congo, Zimbabwe, and everywhere else violence reigns.

The Lord is God

(I apologize for the length of this post, but thank you for your interest in this topic.)

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