Weary of Violence: Just War, Peace, and the American Christian

I’m weary of the all the talk about violence. 

Maybe I just need to step away from the internet and its cavalcade of rhetoric about the justice, or lack there of, surrounding Osama bin Laden’s  death.  I find that’s there’s just a lot of opinions–most emotionally charged.  But here’s the deal, emotions can’t determine how we respond to the means by which he died…or lived.  The Christian community is demonstrating itself to be nearly void of clear biblical thinking about war, justice, and ultimately our role here in the outer regions. 

Was America right to do what they did to bin Laden?

I find that answering the question is difficult because of two issues: 1) I hate for people to suffer under the hands of another.  So much of our war campaigns have, at least in theory, promised defense for the defenseless.  I still believe that democracy is the best way to honor the image of God in every individual. But, 2) I can’t presume that we {the United States} understand well enough the justice of God to presume our military actions reflect His heart.  {I know too much history.}  The kingdoms of man are flawed, so I reserve how much trust I put in them.

I, as a Christian, am called to a greater allegiance.  I’m to represent the values of different kingdom, not just those of the “land of the free and home of the brave.”  {Probably a discussion for another day, but America should consider its freedom more carefully as it relates to our servitude to our national debt.  We’re hardly free–we’re bound.}  Do the events of this week discomfort you like they do me?  Is your heart longing for peace?  Do you find the words of the daily newspaper running against the grain of the gospel written on your heart?  Please tell me I am not alone. 

Stuart Murray in his book The Naked Anabaptist offers some timely words for those of us who are wrestling with what it means to be a Christian in a week like this one.  I think they offer necessary needling at our preconceived ideas about “just war” and “pacifism.” 

It is the peace witness of the Anabaptist tradition that attracted Christians from many other traditions.  Not all are convinced pacifist, but most are convinced that “peace is at the heart of the gospel,” that Christians are called to pursue peace as well as justice, and that we need to take with utmost seriousness Jesus’ insistence that we love our enemies. 

Peace, of course, is multifaceted, especially if we have in view the remarkably rich Old Testament concept of shalom.  The biblical vision of universal restoration (Acts 3:21) includes peace between God and humanity; enemies reconciled; disintegrated personalities healed; weapons of war decommissioned and transformed into agricultural implements; injustice and oppression removed; communities flourishing; creation liberated from bondage; and the abolition of sickness and death.  Peace is at the heart of the gospel because the mission of God is to bring peace to the whole of creation.

The Anapabtist commitment to nonviolence, then, is not found on naive expectations that people can be persuaded to be nice to each other.  We realize that we are followers of Jesus in a divided and violent world, and we are utterly realistic about the evil that lurks in the hearts of our fellow human beings–and in our hearts–and spills out in acts of terrible violence.  But we are followers of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and we choose to believe that his way of nonviolent love is ultimately more realistic than embracing violence.  Whether or not nonviolent alternatives are effective in the short-term, or even the medium term, peace churches are signs of the coming kingdom of God.  We choose to align ourselves with the future to which God is leading history.

I’m not inclining myself to pacifism.  As long as Hitlers, Stalins, and bin Ladens find their way to power, action must be taken to defend those who are powerless to defend themselves.  I am proud of my nephew, and his grandfather who went before him, and the thousands of other service men and women who take up the cause of fighting for freedom.  There are just wars.  Yet they are not all just; and none bring true justice.  In contrast, pacificism fails to honestly address the needs of the suffering.  However, the point Murray makes in his book is that pacifism is not the same as passivism.

Church, where are we initiating peace?  What are we waiting for?  The gospel bears not enough power in our life if we think the only peace to be brought is that which gets enacted by our government.  We’re all weary from the violence that surrounds us and inhabits us.  The world is tired from the torture of physical, emotional, and spiritual violence.  They need the peace of the gospel.  You and I have been called to go make it.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God” Matthew 5:9

 What about you?  How are you wrestling with this issue?  {I hope you are!}  I know I shouldn’t be writing about such matters–they are way over my head…but they are heavy on my heart.  So bear with me through the struggle.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and learn from you. 

Here’s a couple well-thought out posts I’ve read this week that you might find helpful for the conversation.  Feel free to recommend anything you found out there on the web:

John Furman http://www.furmanifesto.com/justice-with-a-side-order-of/

Albert Mohler http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/05/02/the-trial-that-still-must-come-the-death-of-osama-bin-ladin-and-the-limits-of-human-justice/

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